Prolific Grammy and Bluegrass Award-winner Jerry Douglas has played Savannah before, but generally this genius of the Dobro plays with other musicians. In a very rare and special opportunity, Douglas played an all-solo set – well, almost all solo – at the Morris Center, showing off not only his incredible mastery of this delightful instrument but an affable, entertaining personality.
The beauty of the Dobro – a type of resonator guitar – is not only its unique, fluidly metallic sound, but the deceptive simplicity of being fretted by a single slide. In one of his many humorous and interesting asides, Douglas explained the pedigree of the Dobro: on the eve of WWII, two Czech immigrants devised a wooden variant of the all-steel National guitar (“they figured all that metal was about to go to build airplanes and tanks”), intended to magnify the sound of the Hawaiian slack-key slide guitar style they so admired.
Douglas’s abilities are such that his Dobro – usually used as a tonal instrument providing color rather than mainstay sound – becomes a showcase, almost symphonic instrument, combining swooping slides, intricate staccato, Polynesian/Arabic sinuousness, and enormous, big-hearted all-American soul.
The heart of the show were several solo numbers, after which Douglas brought out two fiddle players, Luke Bulla (touring with Lyle Lovett) and Casey Driessen (usually with Sparrow Quartet), both in town for other Music Fest gigs. While this was a great treat, Douglas didn’t need the support to make this a killer show.
The highlight for me was Douglas’s hauntingly beautiful version of Paul Simon’s “American Tune” --- though Douglas really sparked the audience with a brief quotation of the Allman Brothers instrumental “Jessica.”