Dobro player, producer, composer
Jerry "Flux" Douglas is a contemporary American dobro player well known in bluegrass circles for playing with bands including Country Gentlemen and Alison Krauss & Union Station, but also because he has continued to explore and expand the vocabulary for the instrument as a solo artist. CityBeat's Jon Weisberger crowned Douglas "the world's foremost resonator guitarist." Douglas is a busy session musician with a seemingly endless list of credits on Nashville recorded albums in both the country and bluegrass genres, and is considered by many to be one of the finest dobro players in contemporary acoustic music.
A 1998 article in City Paper stated, "When the call goes out for dobro players … there's only one guy that makes up the entire A-list, and that's Jerry Douglas." That call has gone out from a diverse group of musicians and composers that reads like a who's who of contemporary music, including Garth Brooks, the late Ray Charles, Bill Frisell, Emmylou Harris, Tim O'Brien, Maura O'Connell, Dolly Parton, Peter Rowan, and Trisha Yearwood. Douglas has said that his approach to playing has essentially been to demonstrate the versatility of the dobro across musical genres, especially because it has been pigeonholed as being only a country instrument. This can be seen in his eclectic and inventive solo recordings that gather ideas from jazz as much as from bluegrass.
The dobro, or resophonic guitar, is an instrument created in the late 1920s by the Dopyera brothers, immigrants to the United States. The word dobro is derived from the words "Dopyera Brothers," and is considered one of the six classic bluegrass instruments, although it is also used in other musical contexts, including country and popular music. Still, many people are unfamiliar with the instrument. "I will consider myself personally successful when I don't have to explain to people what it is anymore," Douglas said, in an interview with JamBase.
Bluegrass music was common in the Douglas household in Ohio while Jerry Douglas was growing up. Douglas's father, John, was a musician as well as a steel mill worker. Douglas recalled, "I'd wake up to Flatt and Scruggs every morning before I went to school." In the JamBase interview he explained that he originally intended to play banjo, "But then the dobro really caught my ear; the way Josh Graves played it. It was really soulful, it was like a voice." His fate was sealed after hearing Graves play live with Flatt & Scruggs in 1963. Douglas's father altered a guitar so that the strings were high, allowing the youngster to play it in a fashion similar to that of a dobro. "He found a real one for me when I was about 12 and then I really started learning how to play," recalled Douglas in an interview on the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) website. "Playing dobro came easy to me. I didn't sit down and practice 20 hours a day or anything like that. I did all the normal things kids do all the way through high school, played football and did everything," he commented on the NEA website. "But I didn't have a lot of dobro musicians to listen to. It wasn't the kind of instrument that you could just kind of copy four or five different guys. There were only one or two guys that I could even listen to on record and I learned as much as I could from them. I just used my own intuition on what to do after that."
Douglas performed periodically with his father's band, the West Virginia Travelers, and began touring with the Country Gentlemen by the age of 17. The band is among the most respected bluegrass bands in the United States and is often credited with having pioneered the sub-genre known as "new grass." Among its alumni are Doyle Lawson and Ricky Skaggs. He toured with the band in 1973, between his junior and senior years of high school, and opted to tour with them again after his graduation. At the prompting of Skaggs, Douglas joined J.D. Crowe & the New South in the mid-1970s. Their instrumental track "Fireball" was awarded the Grammy for Best Country Instrumental in 1983, and it would be the first of many honors for Douglas.
With Skaggs, Douglas formed the short-lived Boone Creek in 1976-77. Its members included ex-New South players Wes Golding and Terry Baucom. The group disbanded when Skaggs joined Emmylou Harris's now legendary Hot Band. Douglas and his career moved to Nashville in 1978, and released his first solo album, Fluxology, in 1979. This would be the first of many solo projects Douglas would record when not touring or recording with others. Among the most critically acclaimed of these projects were 1992's Slide Rule and Restless On the Farm, released in 1998.
According to his own count, Douglas has appeared on more than a thousand albums. These have included some of the most highly regarded albums in the acoustic music field, such as Tony Rice's Manzanita, Drive, with banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, and Skip, Hop & Wobble with Douglas, Russ Barenberg, and Edgar Meyer. In addition he has produced a growing number of albums, for himself as well as for such artists as the Del McCoury Band, the Nashville Bluegrass Band, and Jesse Winchester.
At the end of the decade, Douglas was invited to join up with Alison Krauss & Union Station. The band's schedule gave him ample time to continue pursuing his own projects. "It felt great, to be able to go ahead and get on the road with them," he said in an interview with CityBeat in 2002. Trying hard to keep his solo career on course, however, meant turning down some prime assignments from A-list groups. In a 2002 interview with Andy Ellis of Guitar Player, he confessed that "it freaks me out to say 'no,' but if I want to have a solo career, I can't be perceived as a session guy who jumps at everything that's thrown at him."
For the Record . . .
Born in 1955 in Warren, OH; son of John Douglas (a steelworker and bluegrass musician).
Began playing dobro, 1963; performed with West Virginia Travelers, c. 1964-65; member of the Country Gentlemen, 1973-75; member of J.D. Crowe & the New South, 1975-76 and 1980s; formed Boone Creek, 1976-77; member of the Whites, 1979-85; released first solo album, Fluxology, 1979; frequently recorded in Nashville studio sessions on various artists' projects, 1980–; released solo project Slide Rule, 1993; member, Alison Krauss & Union Station, c. 1999–; solo project Lookout for Hope released, 2002.
Awards: IBMA awards: Instrumental Performer of the Year, Dobro, 1990 through 1995 and 2001, 2002; Instrumental Album of the Year, 1992, and 1994; Recorded Event of the Year and Instrumental Album of the Year (with various artists), 1995, and 1997; Album of the Year 2001-02; Recorded Event of the Year (with various artists), 2003; Album of the Year (with Alison Krauss & Union Station) 2003; Grammy Awards: Best Country Instrumental Performance (with J.D. Crowe and the New South), 1983; Best Bluegrass Album, 1994; Best Album (with others), 2001; Best Country Duo or Group with Vocals (with Alison Krauss & Union Station), 2001; Best Country Instrumental (with Earl Scruggs and other artists), 2001; Best Bluegrass Album (with Alison Krauss & Union Station), 2001; Best Country Instrumental (with Alison Krauss & Union Station), 2003; Americana Music Association, Instrumentalist of the Year, 2002; National Endowment for the Arts, National Heritage Fellowship, 2004.
Addresses: Record company—Sugar Hill Records, P.O. Box 55300, Durham, NC 27717-5300, website: http://www.sugarhillrecords.com. Website—Jerry Douglas Official Website: http://www.jerrydouglas.com/.
On one break, Douglas worked with T-Bone Burnett on the soundtrack for the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Although some in bluegrass circles expressed concern about the stereotyped light in which O Brother cast their music, Douglas felt it allowed many more people to become acquainted with bluegrass music, and the soundtrack has been credited with reviving interest in roots acoustic music as well.
Douglas recorded the album Lookout for Hope in 2002, and toured in support of the project. To create the record, he compiled all the ideas he had been collecting for years onto a recording. The project fused his interest in jazz with his acoustic roots, and brought together musicians he had been playing with for years, including Bill Frisell, Sam Bush, and others.
In 2004 Douglas declared in the interview with the NEA that music is "both my therapy and my way of making money. In fact, it's more important to me as an emotional therapy than it is as a job." He added, "Being a musician … keeps me happy and keeps my family happy. It's my job but it's also my quest. I've never had more fun in my life than I'm having right now."
Fluxology, Rounder, 1979.
Fluxedo, Rounder, 1982.
Under the Wire, MCA, 1986.
Changing Channels, MCA, 1987.
Everything Is Going To Work Out Fine, Rounder, 1987.
Plant Early, MCA, 1989.
Slide Rule, Sugar Hill, 1992.
Under the Wire, Sugar Hill, 1995.
Restless On the Farm, Sugar Hill, 1998.
Lookout for Hope, Sugar Hill, 2002.
With Alison Krauss & Union Station
Two Highways, Rounder, 1989; reissued, 1992.
New Favorite, Rounder, 2001.
Alison Krauss & Union Station LIVE, Rounder, 2002.
With Tim O'Brien
Hard Year Blues, Flying Fish, 1984.
Odd Man In, Sugar Hill, 1991.
Rock In My Shoe, Sugar Hill, 1995.
Red On Blonde, Sugar Hill, 1996.
When No One's Around, Sugar Hill, 1997.
The Crossing, Alula, 1999.
(With the Country Gentlemen) Return Engagement, 1963; reissued, Rebel, 1983 and 1994.
(With J.D. Crowe & the New South) J.D. Crowe & the NewSouth, Rounder, 1975.
(With the Whites) Old Familiar Feeling, WB/Curb, 1983.
(With the Country Gentlemen) Country Gentlemen FeaturingRicky Skaggs, Vanguard, 1985; reissued, 1987.
(With J.D. Crowe & the New South) Straight Ahead, Rounder, 1986.
(With the Whites) Doing It By the Book, Word/Epic, 1988; reissued, 1991.
(With Strength In Numbers) Telluride Sessions, MCA, 1989; reissued, 1998.
(With Barenberg, Douglas, & Meyer) Skip, Hop & Wobble, Sugar Hill, 1993.
(With the Country Gentlemen) The Complete Vanguard Recordings, Vanguard, 2002.
(With the Whites) A Lifetime In the Making, Ceili, 2004.
Rosenburg, Neil V., Bluegrass: A History, Illini Books, 1993.
Dallas Morning News, January 4, 2001.
Guitar Player, January 1993; July 2002.
"AKUS Biographies," AKUS Official Website, http://www.alisonkrauss.com/biographies/jerry.html (October 28, 2004).
"Critic Pick / County—Jerry Douglas," City Paper,http://www.citypaper.net/articles/031998/pick.douglas.shtml (October 28, 2004).
IBMA, http://www.ibma.org (October 28, 2004).
"An Interview with Jerry Douglas: Bluegrass For A New Century," JamBase, http://www.jambase.com/headsup.asp?storyID=2424 (October 28, 2004).
"Jerry Douglas," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (October 28, 2004).
"Lifetime Honors—2004 NEA National Heritage Fellowships: Jerry Douglas," National Endowment for the Arts, http://www.nea.gov (October 28, 2004).
"Prolific Bluegrass sideman Jerry Douglas steps to the forefront," CityBeat, http://www.citybeat.com/2002-10-31/music2.shtml (October 28, 2004).
—Linda Dailey Paulson
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