About Jerry Douglas (Courtesy the Artistís site, 2005)
Jerry Douglas has been described as the Jimi Hendrix and the Charlie Parker of acoustic music. The New York Times has called him "dobro's matchless contemporary master." He has been nominated for twenty Grammy Awards, won nine, as well as several Grammy Acknowledgments, and countless specialized awards. Though he got his start in bluegrass, he has made an impact in fields ranging from rock'n'roll to jazz, from blues to Celtic, from mainstream country to contemporary classical.
Douglas' legacy is multi-faceted with him having been a member of such bands as Alison Krauss & Union Station, the Whites, J.D. Crowe & the New South, the Country Gentlemen and Strength in Numbers. Having played on more than 1500 albums, he has defined the sounds of many diverse recordings including discs released by Garth Brooks, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Reba McEntire and the late Ray Charles to name just a few.
At the producer's helm, Douglas has used his warm analog sounds for albums by Maura O'Connell, Jesse Winchester, the Nashville Bluegrass Band and the Del McCoury Band, while having a major hand in shaping such recordings such as Ricky Skaggs' "Don't Get Above Your Raising," Emmylou Harris' "Roses in the Snow," and the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack.
In addition, he is a bandleader in his own right and composer and soloist on some of the finest instrumental recordings of the past quarter century. Those recordings have ranged from sparkling, traditional bluegrass to rule-bending improvisation.
For this latest solo album, Lookout for Hope, Douglas showcases all these aspects of his career - from the high speed of "Patrick Meets the Brickbats," to the deliberate "Senia's Lament" to the freewheeling jazz of "Lookout For Hope" and the traditional Appalachian of "Sweet By and By."
"I play a lot of sessions." He points out, "Those are other people's projects. In an effort to figure out who I am, I sat down and tried to identify what ties the music all together. On this record, I feel I have arrived at that point of discovery. It's not bluegrass, jazz, classical or rock'n'roll; it's an amalgamation of all those things."
On this new album, the various facets of Douglas' experience are no longer compartmentalized but bleed into each other. The opening track, for example, is the Allman Brothers' "Little Martha," but Douglas transforms this Southern-rock classic into a string-band number with one dobro part stacked on top of another. "Monkey Let the Hogs Out" and "In the Sweet By and By" are both unaccompanied performances on Kona guitar, an Hawaiian instrument with a big, hollow chamber and raised strings.
There are two vocal numbers on this 11-track album. James Taylor, who has often asked Douglas to help out on his projects, returns the favor by singing lead on Hugh Prestwood's "The Suit," the story of a farmer whose inner dignity is revealed by the formal clothes he is buried in. Ireland's Maura O'Connell, whose 1992-97 albums were produced by Douglas, sings on Boo Hewerdine & Annette Bjergfeldt's "Footsteps Fall," a confession of ache for a departed lover.
The album's title track was composed by Bill Frisell, the noted jazz guitarist who hired Douglas for the 1997 album, "Nashville." Douglas turns the tune into a 10-minute exploration of harmonic tangents.
"That was an experiment to see if I could do a decidedly rhythmic track without a drum kit," Douglas explains. "So I had Chris [Thile] on the right and Sam [Bush] on the left to see what would happen. Byron [House] the bassist, is the kick drum and the mandolins are the rest of the drum kit. Bryan [Sutton] played the main acoustic part, and then we added Trey's part later."
Trey Anastasio is the longtime leader of the now defunct band Phish. "When Phish came to Nashville one time," Douglas recalls, "I got a call from Mike Gordon [the band's bassist] who explained that they were all bluegrass freaks and wanted me to come to the show. I met them all and wound up playing several shows with them and playing on their album 'Farmhouse.'"
A blend of jazz and string-band music can also be heard on "Cave Bop" and "The Wild Rumpus," two numbers that feature Douglas leading a quintet. Backing up the leader are Jeff Coffin, the tenor saxophonist from Bela Fleck & the Flecktones; Victor Krauss, Lyle Lovett's bassist; acoustic guitarist Bryan Sutton; and drummer Larry Atamanuik.
"I first I got into jazz when I was playing with the Country Gentlemen," Douglas remembers. "We started listening to a lot of Grappelli and Reinhardt. Then when I went to the West Coast to record with Tony Rice, he listened to nothing but Miles Davis, and I just listened to so much of it that I understood it. I'm not a jazz musician, but I like the whole atmosphere of the music."
Jerry Douglas was born in Warren, Ohio. His father, John, was a steelworker who played bluegrass on the side. John took his young son to a Flatt & Scruggs concert in 1963, and Jerry was so entranced by the sound of Uncle Josh Graves and Brother Oswald Kirby playing the dobro that he committed himself to the instrument then and there.
After playing for several years with his dad's group, the West Virginia Travelers, the 17-year-old Douglas was invited and joined the pioneering new-grass band The Country Gentlemen in 1973. The following year he became a member of J.D. Crowe & the New South and was part of the milestone 1975 bluegrass album, "J.D. Crowe and the New South." He won his first Grammy trophy for Best Country Instrumental for the 1983 track "Fireball."
In 1976 Douglas and Ricky Skaggs co-founded Boone Creek, (Vince Gill was a member for a brief time), the band that introduced a whole new generation of bluegrass bandleaders. In 1979, Douglas released his debut solo album, "Fluxology", followed three years later by "Fluxedo".
In the meantime, Douglas became a full-time member of the Whites, the family band led by mandolin legend Buck White and featuring the sweet harmonies of his daughters, Sharon and Cheryl. Douglas stayed with them from 1979 through 1985 but he still found time to play on such landmark albums as Emmylou Harris' 1980 "Roses in the Snow" and Ricky Skaggs' 1981 "Don't Get Above Your Raising".
By the mid-'80s, Douglas was the number one dobro artist on Nashville recording sessions. He kept his solo career alive, however, with albums such as 1986's "Under the Wire", 1987's "Changing Channels", 1989's "Plant Early", and 1992's "Slide Rule". He formed the quintet Strength in Numbers with Edgar Meyer, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck and Mark O'Connor. Their landmark recording, "The Telluride Sessions", was released in 1989.
Douglas formed a trio with Russ Barenberg and Edgar Meyer to record the 1993 album, "Skip, Hop & Wobble". Douglas and Tut Taylor co-produced and performed on the multi-artist project, "The Great Dobro Sessions", (featuring Josh Graves, the late Oswald Kirby, Mike Auldridge, Rob Ickes and others) in 1994, bringing him a second Grammy trophy for "Best Bluegrass Album".
In 1996, Douglas joined Nashville bassist Edgar Meyer and India's Mohan Vina player Vishwa Mohan Bhatt for the genre-bending experiment, "Bourbon & Rosewater". That same year Douglas and singer-songwriter Peter Rowan collaborated on the album "Yonder." Douglas released his next solo album, "Restless on the Farm", in 1998.
Alison Krauss asked Douglas to fill in on a 1998 tour. That trip went so well that Krauss offered the dobroist a full-time job and Douglas accepted. He has been with Krauss & Union Station ever since. Because they work only a portion of the year, he still finds time to pursue his other projects.
One of those projects was the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack. Producer T-Bone Burnett asked Douglas to help him round up players who were familiar with both old-time mountain music and professional recording sessions. Douglas not only put him touch with the right people but also played on three tracks (including the Soggy Bottom Boys' "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow") as well as having appeared on screen during the revealing live performance at the political rally.
In 2002 he picked up three Grammy Awards for his work with Union Station and Earl Scruggs, and received five Grammy Award Acknowledgements for the soundtrack and accompanying album "Down From The Mountain". He was named the Academy of Country Music's Musician of the Year, the Americana Music Association's Instrumentalist of the Year, and The Country Music Association's Musician of the Year.
Summer 2003 found Douglas on stage with Norah Jones and band for sets at the Montreal Jazz Festival and at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville. He was honored in the fall with his second Instrumentalist of the Year title from the Americana Music Association. Alison Krauss + Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas were featured in a CMT Most Wanted Live special as well as an NBC Sania Twain special, taped in Nashville.
In early 2004 Douglas visited his ancestral Scotland where he led a "Transatlantic Sessions" reunion as part of the Celtic Connection Festival. NARAS handed Douglas, along with Alison Krauss + Union Station, two more Grammys in 2004 for Bluegrass Album (Live) and Country Instrumental Performance (Cluck Old Hen). The Nashville Scene Critic's Poll has named Jerry Douglas 2004's Best Musician . Eric Clapton played host to Douglas at his Crossroads Guitar Festival at the Cotton Bowl in early June.
The National Endowment for the Arts awarded Douglas a 2004 National Heritage Fellowship for his contributions to the excellence of Dobro guitar music as "a composer and arranger who has explored musical forms, from bluegrass to blues and from country to classical". The NEA National Heritage Fellowship program acknowledges the contributions that artists make to America's cultural wealth and health, with the Fellowship award being the country's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.
Douglas is currently wrapping up his next solo release which is due in early summer, his first for Koch Records. This project finds Jerry Douglas stretching out more than ever, with exploration both with his instrument and in choice of material. Look for some familiar names to be backing Douglas as he calls on a wealth of musical collaborators.
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