The Dobro may not be the most mainstream of guitars. But Grammy Award winner Jerry Douglas has played it professionally for the past 35 years and become the face of the instrument, both as a solo artist and with the Country Gentlemen, Boone Creek, JD Crowe and the New South, and – for the past decade – Alison Krauss and Union Station.
Krauss' latest album and recent tour with Robert Plant gave Douglas time to work on a solo album, “Glide,” which was released in August. In advance of his concert at Neighborhood Theatre tonight, Douglas spoke to the Observer about the impact of the current financial crisis on his tour, how music fans and genres have evolved, and the Dobro's popularity.
Q. So what kind of effect has the economy had on touring?
For a band like ours, to fly round-trip costs $750 to $1,000 just for luggage. That dips into my bottom line. Many bands have taken it off the road, but I wanted to keep my boys working.
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Q. What can we expect from you in 2009?
Next year, I'll probably be going back to (Alison Krauss and Union Station). We'll make a new record, and tour that record in the fall – I imagine with warm-up dates in the summer.
Q. Tell me about your approach as a songwriter.
The way I start every record is to sit down for about three weeks, pour everything out, and start writing songs. If you write songs in consecutive days, you kind of stay in the same mind-set. … If you write over a period of two years, you may go (off in) too many directions.
Q. Do you find that listeners have become more open-minded since you started out?
Definitely. You don't have to show up in a green suit and play one kind of music. There are two kinds of music: good and bad. You play well and have a good song selection, or you don't.
Q. Bluegrass was pretty stringent 30 years ago.
It was. If you violated a tradition, it was frowned upon. If you came out with an electric bass or drums, people would boo you. Thankfully, that time has passed. … Influences and genres have mixed, and those lines have been blurred.
Q. Has the popularity of the Dobro increased?
The number of Dobro players now compared to when I started playing when I was 10 or 11 years old is 5,000 percent difference. From when I started playing with (country music vocal group) the Whites in the '80s, it's about 1,000 percent difference. They're of all ages. It's not just men, either. There are a lot of girls that play. It's surprising and flattering.
Q. Were you trying to bring more attention to the instrument?
I feel like I'm an ambassador for it. … Once you see it played and hear it in person, that's what makes people want to learn to play it. We've also made great strides from the instruments that were built in the '20s and '30s. It's friendlier on the ears. It's a lead instrument. It's not so whiny. (But it's) pretty hard to play. Someone may give up on it quickly. That's kept people from seeing it more.