By John Benson
“My band is a different kind of music from Union Station. It’s edgier music."
A few years ago, he performed with Alison Krauss and Union Station in Youngstown.
A little bit country, a little bit rock ’n’ roll.
It should come as no surprise that Leavittsburg native and Nashville resident Jerry Douglas has forged a successful music career falling somewhere between the two aforementioned genres.
Quite literally, that’s where Douglas felt he was raised, listening to the Music City’s country jukebox station WSM-AM 650 in the morning when his dad, John, was getting ready for work and then Cleveland’s popular ’60s pop rock station WIXY-AM 1260 as he fell asleep at night as a teenager.
“Growing up there, we didn’t hear a lot of bluegrass or music like that,” said Douglas, calling from a Nashville studio. “My father had a band The West Virginia Travelers. All the guys in the band were steel mill workers from West Virginia. They all came up there to Youngstown for work and brought their music with them.
“So I grew up listening to live music. I didn’t have to just listen to the radio or records, but I actually watched bands going through their routine of learning songs and rehearsing and that kind of stuff.”
Feeling as though a career path in music was laid out in front of him, Douglas left the Warren area the same month of his 1974 graduation from LaBrae High School.
“I moved to Washington, D.C., and was working in a traveling band,” Douglas said. “It was really the opportunity to be in a band. I was too young to think about just getting out of there.
“Chances are, if I would have stayed, I would have ended up in a steel mill somewhere. And we’ve seen how good that worked out for everybody. Our fathers, it worked out for them, but for me, it wouldn’t have been good or pretty.”
Today, Douglas, winner of 12 Grammy Awards and numerous International Bluegrass Music Association awards, remains one of Nashville’s most critically acclaimed dobro players.
For years he worked as a studio musician, adding his unique dobro style to more than 2,000 albums, including discs released by James Taylor, Phish, Paul Simon, Bill Frisell, Earl Scruggs, Ray Charles, Lyle Lovett, Bill Evans, the Chieftains and the 8 million-plus-selling soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art Thou.”
He was content being a hired hand until he hooked up with bluegrass queen Alison Krauss and her Union Station backing band.
“I’ve been in that band for 10 years,” Douglas said. “There’s just this magic ingredient that happens when we’re all in one place and on stage. I’ve known Alison since she was 14, produced the first couple of her records and played on all of them.”
When not working with Krauss and company, Douglas has his own band, which will be releasing new disc “Glide” this August.
“My band is a different kind of music from Union Station,” Douglas said. “It’s edgier music. With Alison, there’s a laidback quality to her tunes that she chooses, but with my band it has more of a rock ’n’ roll attitude and a jazzier element. Just a lot of different time signatures, and the arrangements are really complicated.”
Joining Douglas for the recording of “Glide” were guests Rodney Crowell, Travis Tritt, Earl Scruggs and Tony Rice.
“It’s just cool,” Douglas said. “I like it. It’s not real country or like what you hear. It’s not Kenny Chesney country. It’s my kind of country.”
Even though Douglas played a few years ago with Krauss and Union Station in Youngstown, his free show Friday at the Warren Amphitheatre marks the debut of the bluegrass-tinged The Jerry Douglas Band in Northeast Ohio.
So what exactly took Douglas so long to bring his solo project back home?
“I don’t know, I really don’t,” Douglas said. “I’ve been trying to find a way to get the chance to play up there for years, and it just didn’t present itself in this way until now. So the timing worked out, and it’s high time too. It’ll be a lot of fun.”