Music’s Best Kept Secret

May 28, 2008

Today is the birthday of one of my musical heroes.  Jerry Douglas turns 52 today, and though he has no idea who I am, I’d like to give him a big old birthday shout out.  

How to explain to the uninitiated who and what Jerry Douglas is.  Jerry is a bluegrass musician.  He plays dobro, an acoustic guitar equipped with a metallic resonator that gives the instrument a distinctive sound.  Dobro is generally played with the instrument lying flat on one’s lap.  Rather than pressing the strings to the instrument’s frets to make notes, as is done with a guitar, a dobro player uses a metal slide that glides along the strings.  Douglas has played with the likes of Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Del McCoury, Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile, Tony Rice, and other bluegrass giants.  He has also played on the albums of countless rock and folk and blues musicians ranging from James Taylor to Phish to Ray Charles.  In all, he has appeared on over 1600 albums.  For the past several years he has been playing with Alison Krauss and Union Station.  He’s won a dozen Grammy awards, as well as awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association, the Country Music Association, and the Americana Music Association.  He has also been awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts.

So there you have it.  Except that saying Jerry Douglas plays dobro is about the same as saying that Tiger Woods plays golf.  It’s true, but it totally misses the point.  Jerry Douglas is not merely the best dobro player in the world (though he is).  He is not merely the greatest dobro player who has ever lived (though many believe that this is true as well).  He has completely redefined the instrument, allowing him to transcend the boundaries of musical genre and make his mark not only on bluegrass and country, but also on jazz, rock, folk, and blues.  In doing so, he has maintained a surprising level of anonymity.  He usually works with others, allowing his talents to enhance their music, taking the spotlight to play yet another mind-boggling riff, and then stepping back to give others their turn.  In looking over the albums I own that he has put out under his own name, or that have been made by one of the many ensembles of which he’s been part, I find it hard to choose just a few to recommend.  I have too many favorites.  But here goes:

My Five Favorite Jerry Douglas Albums

1.  “Skip, Hop and Wobble” — Jerry Douglas, Edgar Meyer, and Russ Barenberg
2.  “The Telluride Sessions” — Strength in Numbers (Douglas, Meyer, Bela Fleck, Mark O’Connor, Sam Bush)
3.  “The Best Kept Secret”  — Jerry Douglas
4.  “Lonely Runs Both Ways” — Allison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas
5.  “Restless on the Farm” — Jerry Douglas

Today’s music:  Jerry Douglas (Restless on the Farm)


One Response to “Music’s Best Kept Secret”

  1. Mark Wise said

    Isn’t he the guy who did the whistling theme song to the Andy Griffith Show?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: