Jerry Douglas Interview
(Dobro is used generically to describe resonator guitars) Q: Can we start with how you started to play music? JD: My father had a bluegrass band so I grew up listening to them, just like I listened to the Beatles. I started to play the mandolin at 5 and I did guitar about the same time. I started Dobro at 10 or 11 Q: Where did you live? JD: Northeast Ohio near Cleveland [Streetsboro?] Q: Your father was a professional musician? JD: No he played it a hobby. He worked at a steel mill Q: So you've been playing Dobro for a long time JD: Yes Q: I heard you were influenced by Josh Graves JD: Yes, and when I was 16, I started playing in a country band and I went on tour with a country band in 1973. I graduated from high school and then instead of going to college, I went on tour. In 1975, I started New South with J D Crow and we went to Japan, too. The same year, I started Boom Creek with Ricky Skaggs. In 1979, I joined Whites [?]. I left the band in 1986 and have been playing solo since. I never had a "normal" job. Q: What kind of Dobros do you use? JD: I have different types but now I have a contract with the Dobro company and they made a guitar as I specified. I think it's going to come out as a Jerry Douglas model. Today I used one by Tim Sheerhorn and another by R Q Jones. These are my main guitars. Q: You don't use Gibson's? JD: I have a few of them but I prefer rounder tone like nylon guitar. Usual Dobros have a keg-like round part inside but recent ones have a sound post to transmit the sound from the top to the back and use the enire body to produce sound. So Dobro can produce various sounds without losing the original guitar sound. After that, you can just plug in. Q: You have a pick up on your guitar? JD: Yes, I use Carl McIntyre's. It has a Shure SM98 inside and the output is stereo into a pre-amp made by Richard Petalier [spell?]. I also use an external mic and I send them though EQs. I also use effects to retain the acoustic sound
Q: You use normal picks? JD: I use Golden Gate thumbpick and Dunlop metal fingerpicks Q: Golden Gate? JD: They are made by Saga. It's a little harder than usual and I like that. Q: What about your slide bar? JD: It's made by Tim Sheerhorn but it's available commercially. I actually like ones made by Guron [spell?] Tipton, but Tim can make it very close to the Tipton's. It's based on Stevens', a little longer and the bass is wider so it's easy to hold. Q: You've playing in so many sessions. Which ones are most memorable? JD: I essentially enjoy all of them. It's like listening to radio - I like some songs and don't like others. So sometimes I just have to do what I'm supposed to do. I enjoyed the sessions with James Taylor and Paul Simon. I've worked a lot with other bluegrass players like Tim O'Brien and I also participate as a producer in many cases. Q: A lot of rock musicians single you out among bluegrass players. JD: John Fogerty is a good friend of mine and I have a lot of friends among rock musicians. I participated a lot in sessions. I'm hoping to play lap steel like David Lindley and Ry Cooder. I'd like them to join me on my next album. And slide players like Bonnie Raitt. I don't think, however, I get to play on a rock album much. If I wanted I guess I could since the possibilities of using Dobro in rock music have not been realized yet by rock musicians. Maybe it's my job to pursue the possibilities. I've been lately playing lap steel a lot and it's been fun. It's as if switching from a hand saw to an electric saw It's quite handy and does not have much noise. Rock players are now interested in acoustic music but they got too noisy We spend a lot of time trying to reduce that noise. Q: Who takes care of your guitars? JD: I ask a lot of people. Tim Sheerhorn. Gene Rootin [spell?]. They do repairs since they understand Dobro. AS far as repairing Dobros, you really need to know the structure Q: Are you always experimenting, like tunings? JD: I don't do anything special about tunings, but I experiment a lot on the sound. I try various microphones and I experiment with various effects. For example, when I record, I sometimes use an amplifier. So I'm always on look out for something new but I also try not to step out of boundary of my own music. Q: What's the knack to use the slide bar? JD: First of all, you must surpress sound from other strings. It doesn't take special technique but you just have to practice. There are some techniques but not many. You don't have to make it more difficult than necessary Q: Do you practice everyday? JD: Yes, I try do to something everyday. I try to practice at least five hours a day [this is not a typo - he's serious]. UNless I play always, I can feel my muscles going weak. Dobro playing requires different muscles from what you need for guitar. You use thumb and wrist a lot, like you play bass. These are muscles you don't use in daily life so you must keep playing to stay in shape. Q: Do you change your style when you play solo or in a band? JD: When I play solo, I don't have bass and guitar so I must fill the empty space. So I play lead but I also have to do other stuff like Merle Travis did. I don't swing like he did but I try to do something like fingerpicking on guitar. It's hard What's most difficult to me is that I have to work hard at it especially since I'm not too interested in such styles. I often play a medley since it gets boring quickly if I keep playing one tune. Q: Any advice to beginners? JD: I started playing a long time ago and you would fall into thinking that there's nothing more to learn after a while. I felt that way, too. The truth is that you are only at a rest stop and there's a long way to do. So you ought to keep in mind that there's no end in learning. A number of folks stop playing once they reach a certain stage and they feel the limit. You must overcome this and then you can reach a higher level. I've been playing for thirty years and I still feel like I'm stuck and getting nowhere. It often changes when I play with others and I get some new ideas or when I get inspired. So my advice is not to give up and stick with it. If you're a real beginner, learn one entire song. You don't have to understand the tune perfectly. That's only possible for the composer, but you can come close. Once you learn one, go onto another. Then you can apply the technique you learn on the second tune back to the first tune. It can be a technique or it can be feeling. Also a beginner can choose about four tunes and practice each simultaneously. Once you get tired of one, try another and then another. You can keep going back and forth among these tunes since you can get stuck if you work on one tune for too long. When you compose, it's the same. It's good to be focused but if you get too involved, it can be detrimental. Q: You have an instructional video JD: Yes, it was meant to cover from the beginner to the advanced but does not really address the advanced, so we are planning another aimed at the advanced players. It is really difficult to teach beginners. When I play, I don't think about what I do and I just play what comes to me naturally. I'm teaching my son who's eight years old and it is tough. When I started playing Dobro, I knew a little about guitar and understood some basic rules. So I don't really know what a real beginner feels like. Q: Do you use G tuning [GBDGBD]? JD: I usually use the standard Dobro tuning (open G). I sometimes use open D Q: Do you use an amplifier? JD: Yes, but I'm only using a pre-amp today. I send two signals from mic and from pick up to the pre-amp. I use more of the pick up signal, since it sounds very good. It is mounted under the cover plate and picks up the vibration from the spider so the sound is very faithful to the Dobro sound. In order to make it perfect, you do need the mic signal too. I add delay and chorus and use the equalizer on the pick up signal.