Jerry “Flux” Douglas is among a handful of innovators whose life work has defined, transformed, and elevated the dobro, taking it from a little-known instrument used primarily in bluegrass to the point today where it is heard and welcomed in a wide variety of musical styles. Much of the credit for the dobro’s growth in popularity results from Jerry Douglas’s skillful musicianship and free-wheeling approach.
Several years have passed since I last heard Douglas take front and center in the instrumental spotlight. He is much more likely to be showcased playing his role as sideman extraordinaire, as with Alison Krauss + Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas (longest band name ever) or on more than 1500 albums.
Thus, last evening promised to be special. I joined friends at the Rams Head in Annapolis to hear Douglas front his own trio and show off his monster instrumental chops (and idiosyncratic singing voice). He didn’t disappoint, playing a generous set of almost two hours and covering a range of musical styles. A couple of my favorites were from those old-time bluegrass stars Jimi Hendrix (Hey Joe) and Chick Corea (Spain). There was also a great version of the Tom Waits tune 2:19. How can you not love a tune with the verse:
“On the train you get smaller, as you get farther away
The roar covers everything you wanted to say
Was that a raindrop or a tear in your eye?
Were you drying your nails or waving goodbye?”
The trio included two other stellar musicians: drummer Doug Belote and bassist Daniel Kimbro. I was floored by Kimbro’s masterful work on the double bass, which even elicited some appreciative looks from Flux.
Douglas mentioned, after one extended jam, that he’d spent the summer playing with The Earls of Leicester (the Flatt & Scruggs tribute band that he founded), and that this opportunity to play with his trio at the Rams Head was like receiving a “Get out of Jail Free” card. He did return to his bluegrass roots (in a sense) to wrap up the main portion of the set with his blazing tune, Who’s Your Uncle?
I first heard Jerry Douglas in the early 1980s, and he remains one of the most adventuresome and eclectic musicians around. Take the chance to see him live. It will be worth it.
More to come…