STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
When Jerry Douglas embarked on his musical journey more than four decades ago, he could never have scripted the thriving career he would one day enjoy.
“I was pretty timid at first,” said Jerry Douglas, speaking from his Nashville, Tenn. home, when recalling the early days of his career. “I fell in with these great musicians. I’ve just been really lucky to be in some really good spots at some really good times. It’s been amazing. I’ve lived out my dream.”
As one of music’s most highly touted studio and touring musicians, Douglas routinely works among music royalty in a variety of genres.
Douglas has spent years in countless recording sessions, offering his award winning talents on the resonator guitar and lap steel. Music icons Paul Simon, Elvis Costello, Dolly Parton, Ray Charles, Johnny Mathis and Phish, among many others, have enlisted the musical prowess of Douglas. It is estimated that he has appeared on more than 1,600 albums and counting.
A highly regarded solo artist in his own right, Douglas has been a member of such distinguished groups as “New South,” “The Whites,” “Strength in Numbers,” “The Country Gentleman” and Elvis Costello’s “Sugar Canes.”
As if Douglas’ talents as a musician aren’t enough, he has also successfully produced albums by Alison Krauss, (with whom he has toured extensively as a member of “Union Station”), Jesse Winchester, Del McCoury Band, Maura O’Connell and Nashville Bluegrass Band. He also serves as the music director, along with Aly Bain, for the successful BBC Television program “Transatlantic Session.”
“Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed about being a musician, pretended to be one and, when it got down to taking up a vocation, there it was, and it just took me,” Douglas said.
“I didn’t have to do anything. I just played,” added Douglas. “I got better and better and learned more. There are people that I’ve played with, (such as) James Taylor and Paul Simon — I can’t believe I’m doing it, but I don’t let it overwhelm me. I have such great respect for them at the same time. I’m gonna give them everything I’ve got. What I’ve got to give is a long history at this point of being a chameleon and adapting to situations.”
Re-signing with Rounder Records, the same label on which he made his original debut back in 1979, Douglas has released two new albums, “Three Bells” and “The Earls of Leicester.”
“I released both records the same day, ‘Three Bells’ and ‘Earls of Leicester.’ Everybody thought I was crazy,” says Douglas. “‘You’re just pitting yourself against yourself.’ I didn’t care. I just wanted them to see daylight.”
For the ‘Earls of Leicester’ recording sessions, Douglas assembled an incredibly talented group of musicians that included, Shawn Camp (lead vocals/ guitar), Johnny Warren (fiddle/ bass vocal), Barry Bales (bass/ baritone vocals), Charlie Cushman (banjo/ lead guitar) and Tim O’Brien (mandolin/ tenor vocals). This same line-up will be joining Douglas on his current tour with guest appearances by Frank Solivan (mandolin/ tenor vocals) and Shawn Lane (mandolin/ tenor vocals).
“I never dreamed that I’d find guys like this to do it with,” added Douglas. “It makes it feel like I’m playing with Flatt and Scruggs. This is as close as I could ever get. We all love Flat and Scruggs so much, and that’s what the whole record is about. We tried to be true to their arrangements and the whole feel and the instruments. Everything is down to the minutest detail, even trying to record the same way they did. I had five days to do it in, and we did it in four.”
“The Earls thing has just exploded,” says Douglas. “We have to figure out what to do about it, because we didn’t figure on being a travelling band. But here we are starting this tour, and we’re going to do a lot this summer. I’m sort of going against what I wanted to do with it, which was for it to be a special event every time we did I so it wouldn’t become a job. We didn’t plan on being a travelling band. We’re just going to ride it and see what happens and have fun. When it’s not fun, then we’ll have to sit down and talk about it. So far so good.”
While both albums were nominated for a Grammy, it was “The Earls of Leicester” that awarded Douglas his 14th career Grammy.
“I was sitting at the Grammies thinking, ‘It would be really great if we won, but if we don’t I understand. I’ve been here before,’” says Douglas. “You think you’re just going to take it in stride, and then they call your name. I thought my heart was going to jump right out of my chest. If you do that on your 14th Grammy, I don’t guess it gets any easier (laughs).”
Douglas is the recipient of numerous industry awards, including The Country Music Association’s “Musician of the Year” 2002, 2005 and 2007, The National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship (2004), Artist in Residence for the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008 and The Americana Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
Douglas was honored at the 36th annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado for his 25th consecutive year playing at the festival. He also appeared with Vince Gill at Eric Clapton’s “Crossroads Guitar Festival” (2004).
“I do this for a living. So, every time I get to pick up the guitar and play, that’s the pay off,” says Douglas. “I work with so many nice people. I want to keep it that way. I have a good reputation, I think, around town. The reason is because I’m just a musician, and I love to play. I think I’ve got something to offer. I’m a team player. It’s fun when it all happens and comes together.”
Measuring success as a musician and at home is a balancing act that Douglas does not take lightly.
“It’s easier to figure out what defines the musician and the artist,” added Douglas. “What defines you is what kind of person you are, your morals. What you believe in. What excites you. What your legacy is. It becomes a little more challenging all the time as this career thing gets in the way of me being just me. It’s a battle that we go through. Are you a musician, or are you a husband and a father? What is more important to you? When you figure that out, everything else falls into place.”
IF YOU GO
What: Jerry Douglas and the Earls of Leicester, with special guest Gretchen Peters.
When: The Colonial Theatre, 227 Bridge St., Phoenixville.
When: Performance is at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 7.
Info.: Tickets are available at the Colonial Theatre Box Office by calling (610) 917-1228 or online at www.thecolonialtheatre.com. To stay up to date with Jerry Douglas visit www.jerrydouglas.com.