Dobro and slide guitar legend Jerry Douglas has made a career out of not just providing his signature playing style for the likes of Alison Krauss and other country/bluegrass heavyweights, but also collaborating with artists in a number of genres and crossing stylistic boundaries with slide instruments.
He’s become one of the most in-demand session and touring players in the world, and for good reason - there might not be anyone better at what Jerry Douglas does than Jerry Douglas.
Douglas returns to Savannah Music Festival on April 4 for two performances - one solo and one with the Earls of Leicester, a band he fronts that presents the music of Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, and the Foggy Mountain Boys. Ahead of his performances, we did a Q&A with Douglas to learn more about his remarkable career.
What were some of your influences early on?
Douglas: In the house where I grew up, certainly Bluegrass and Classic Country ruled. It was Either Flatt and Scruggs, or Johnny Cash or Buck Owens, or George Jones playing on the stereo at all times.
What, specifically, attracted you to the dobro and more specifically the world of slide guitar?
Douglas: From listening to Josh Graves, who played the dobro with Flatt and Scruggs. I started wanting to learn how to play a slide instrument.
Was there a point where you realized you could do this as a career?
Douglas: I went on the road with a band called the Country Gentleman between my junior and senior years in high school, and was bitten by the music bug. And more than that, the traveling part seemed to suit me. It wasn't long until I was recording with other people and saw that as an inroad further into the music business.
You've played with a lot of people over the years and worked in a lot of genres. What's your favorite thing/the most rewarding thing about that hopping around stylistically?
Douglas: I've been lucky enough to play with many top level performers, singers, and musicians. Everyone of them has taught me something and the one thing that I know for sure is that music is the language that breaks down all barriers. It doesn't matter what country you're in, or what kind of music you're playing, you're able to communicate with other people.
One of my favorite projects of yours is the Transatlantic Sessions. To me it really bridged the gap between the folk/country world and the Celtic music world in a beautiful way. Do you have a favorite memory or performance from one of those sessions?
Douglas: I love playing in the situation that Transatlantic Sessions brings to my table. I love the way the country music genre and the Celtic music world seem to meld so easily. Some of my Favorite memories our when James Taylor came to Scotland to sing on the Sessions. Then there was the time when Alison Krauss came. Or was it Rosanne Cash and John Martyn, or Cara Dillon, or Paul Brady? They were all so wonderful, it's hard to pick out one.
I was lucky enough to see a workshop of yours at Grey Fox when I was a kid, and it made a huge impression on me as a young musician. What do you get the most out of doing that sort of thing?
Douglas: I'm glad you liked it. Workshops are a blast because they let me meet the audience on a more personal basis. So many times my interactions with people are for five minutes tops, and I think that would like to have a longer conversation with that person, but then I never see them again. Doing workshops is a way to let them into my world a little more and I think it builds more of a relationship. I try to keep them light and funny. Usually there are all age groups watching, and hopefully learning.
If you could pinpoint one thing that you feel keeps you interested in evolving and continuing your craft, especially after such a long career, what would that be?
Douglas: The thought of playing with new musicians. That has been my path all along. I want to keep learning, and the only way to keep doing that is to stay current with musical patterns and those that create them.