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Jerry Douglas

May 28, 1956

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Jerry Douglas has been compared to such musical giants as Jimi Hendrix and Charlie Parker for his innovations on the Dobro, an acoustic resonator guitar played with a slide. “I didn't know that it was a limited instrument,” Douglas says. “No one told me it was, so I assumed I could play whatever I wanted to play.” Photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Jerry Douglas publicity photo, courtesy Jerry Douglas  
<www.jerrydouglas.com>
Jerry Douglas, 2004 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Jerry Douglas, 2004 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Jerry Douglas with Paul Simon, publicity photo, courtesy Jerry Douglas  
<www.jerrydouglas.com>
Jerry Douglas, 2004 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Jerry Douglas, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Jerry Douglas, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Jerry Douglas publicity photo, courtesy Jerry Douglas  
<www.jerrydouglas.com>
Jerry Douglas, rehearsal for 2004 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Alan Govenar

Jerry Douglas grew up in Warren, Ohio. He has been compared to such musical giants as Jimi Hendrix and Charlie Parker for his innovations on the Dobro, an acoustic resonator guitar played with a slide. His father, John, who had emigrated from West Virginia in search of work, was a steelworker who played bluegrass. As a boy, Jerry began performing on an acoustic guitar with his father’s band on weekends. When he was 11, Jerry Douglas fell in love with the Dobro when his father took him to a Flatt & Scruggs concert. Uncle Josh Graves’ Dobro playing inspired the boy to devote his life to the instrument. “It seemed to me that he was getting as much emotion into the voice of his guitar as the singers were getting into their vocals,” Douglas recalled. “I couldn’t go to sleep that night. That sound was echoing in my mind, possessing me. It was not a question of whether I would own one of those guitars. The question was how soon.”

As soon as he graduated from high school, Douglas became a touring professional musician. In 1973, the joined the bluegrass band The Country Gentlemen. The next year, he joined J.D. Crowe & the New South, which was taking the music in a new direction. Douglas won his first Grammy in 1983 and was the top Dobro player on Nashville recording sessions during the 1980s.

Douglas collaborated with producer T Bone Burnett on the soundtrack for the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? and appeared in the movie, playing with the Soggy Bottom Boys on “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow.” He has played with everyone from jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli to Ray Charles to classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma and has written an opera that has been performed in Italy. In 1998, he began performing with Alison Krauss & Union Station, which gave him time for other projects, including fronting his own band.

Asked about his expansion of his instrument’s role, Douglas said, “I didn’t know that it was a limited instrument. No one told me it was, so I assumed I could play whatever I wanted to play.” That ranges from nimble solos to unobtrusively accompanying a singer, as he told NEA interviewer Mary Eckstein, “I can play harmonies against a vocal to complement or supplement a singer. I try not to distract from the vocal but to add to it. I think that it’s an art form to stay out of the way, to be subliminal in a way and to enhance whatever the vocalist is saying and trying to put across.”

In response to a question from Eckstein, Douglas offered some advice to young musicians beginning their careers, “When you reach a plateau in your playing and you think you'll never learn anything else, that’s when it starts to get really hard. And that’s when you just have to keep playing a lot. You have to play through those plateaus, and eventually something will push you on to the next level. You need to really turn it on and play as much as you possibly can because something is going to jump out at you that's going to send you in another direction. Your development never ends.”

Bibliography
“Dobro Master Jerry Douglas Won’t Play Second Fiddle Here.” St. Louis Post (August 2006).

Discography
Douglas, Jerry. Best of Sugar Hill Years. Sugar Hill, 2007.
_____. The Best Kept Secret. Koch-KOC CD9847, 2005.
_____. Lookout for Hope. Sugar Hill-3938, 2002.
_____. Restless On the Farm. Sugar Hill-3875, 1998.
_____. Yonder. Sugar Hill-3847, 1996.
_____. Sugar Plums. Sugar Hill-3796, 1996.
_____. Under the Wire. Sugar Hill-3831, 1995.
_____. Slide Rule. Sugar Hill-3797, 1992.
_____. Plant Early. MCA-6305, 1989.
_____. Changing Channels. MCA-5965, 1987.
_____. Everything Is Going To Work Out Fine. Rounder 11535, 1987.
_____. Under the Wire. MCA 5675, 1986.
_____. Fluedo. Rounder 0112, 1982.
_____. Fluxology. Rounder 0093, 1979.

Watch

Jerry Douglas, 2004 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Jerry Douglas, 2004 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Listen

Jerry Douglas answers the questions 'When and where were you born?' Arlington, Virginia, 2004, interview by Alan Govenar

Jerry Douglas explains the struggles of being a Dobro player, Arlington, Virginia, 2004, interview by Alan Govenar

Jerry Douglas answers the question 'When did you get your first Dobro?' Arlington, Virginia, 2004, interview by Alan Govenar

Jerry Douglas performs 'Fireball', a Josh Graves tune, Arlington, Virginia, 2004, interview by Alan Govenar

Jerry Douglas performs the traditional fiddle tune 'Sally Goodin,' Arlington, Virginia, 2004, interview by Alan Govenar

Jerry Douglas answers the question 'When did you first start playing music?' Arlington, Virginia, 2004, interview by Alan Govenar

Jerry Douglas answers the questions 'Who invented the Dobro?' Arlington, Virginia, 2004, interview by Alan Govenar

Jerry Douglas answers the question 'Why was the band The New South so influential?' Arlington, Virginia, 2004. Interview by Alan Govenar

Jerry Douglas, 'Pearlie Mae,' Slide Rule, 1992 Sugar Hill Records SH-CD-3797

Jerry Douglas, 'When Papa Played The Dobro,' Slide Rule, 1992 Sugar Hill Records SH-CD-3797

Jerry Douglas, 'Uncle Sam,' Slide Rule, 1992 Sugar Hill Records SH-CD-3797

Jerry Douglas, 'A New Day Medley,' Slide Rule, 1992 Sugar Hill Records SH-CD-3797

Jerry Douglas with Sam Bush and Béla Fleck, 'Who's Your Uncle,' The Best Kept Secret, 2005 Koch Records KOC-CD-9847

Jerry Douglas with John Fogerty, 'Swing Blues No. 1,' The Best Kept Secret, 2005 Koch Records KOC-CD-9847