Jerry Douglas

Jerry Douglas built his career behind the scenes. Growing up listening to his father’s bluegrass band, he dove headfirst into the world of music at the age of 10 after being struck by the sound of the dobro. To say he was taken with the dobro wouldn’t give Douglas enough credit – it was more like the instrument was taken with him. It’s a love affair that has lasted decades – and is still going strong.

Douglas spent years playing with his father’s band before joining seminal groups like the Country Gentleman, and J.D. Crowe & The New South. His mastery of the dobro made him the go-to man in Nashville for session work, recording on more than 75 albums for artists including Garth Brooks, Ray Charles, Emmylou Harris, James Taylor and Ricky Skaggs. Years passed; he kept recording, putting out albums, forming groups and winning armfuls of awards.

But something was missing. Despite all his claims to fame (Douglas has been called everything from the premier dobro player on the planet to the Holy Ghost of the resonator guitar), and being admired by so many artists in the business, he was ready for something new.

“I was doing nothing but sessions,” Douglas told Pollstar. “The music seemed like it was turning in a direction that I wasn’t really that crazy about. It seemed like it was becoming more of a parody of itself than having any really good musical content.”

Around the same time, old friend Alison Krauss asked him to temporarily fill a spot in her band Union Station after one member quit. He accepted and, nearly eight years later, is still recording and touring with the group.

Being a part of Union Station gave Douglas the ability to give input and become involved in the direction of a band once again, and once again he received critical acclaim for it.

Douglas has never been an artist who seemed willing to rest on his laurels, so along with Union Station, he continued to work on solo projects. “I don’t know if it’s ambition or drive or, I don’t know what it is. I just love to play and I need an outlet at all times,” he said, laughing.

Manager D.J. McLachlan approached Douglas about four years ago at MerleFest, because he saw that drive and thought Douglas could go in a different direction, and take things to another level.

“I said, do you realize that there’s so much more that you could do in your life? I have some ideas for you and I’d love to be involved in your management,” McLachlan told Pollstar. “He looked at me like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ because he had a very solid career.”

Jerry Douglas

McLachlan piqued his interest and became his manager soon after.

It was a good fit. Not only was McLachlan the head of APA’s music department for 21 years, he is also a former musician and a manager who focuses on instrumentalists. “Instrumentalists have a tough time. We wouldn’t have any music without them, but they don’t really get recognized that much,” McLachlan said. “He can really step above other great instrumentalists because of that character he has and that personality it’s really special. He gets the response of a vocalist.”

McLachlan took some very specific steps to make sure Douglas’ career would continue to broaden as a solo artist, and after releasing his latest album – ironically titled The Best Kept Secret in November 2005, Douglas was advised by McLachlan to sign with a new booking agency, CAA.

Douglas put together a new band in February of this year, and his agent Blake McDaniel booked it in the opening slot for Paul Simon – a fairly bold move, but one that paid off.

“That was pretty adventurous of Paul and the agency to put this together because an instrumentalist very seldom gets that slot,” McLachlan said. “Every show I saw, the greatest percentage of people walked in and didn’t know who the hell he was they came to see Paul Simon. And before you know it, after a song or two, they’re applauding and he’s getting standing ovations.”

Following the success of the Simon tour, which ended in October, Douglas will take some time off this winter, but won’t rest for long. Movie soundtracks, television specials and another album are in the works. And he’ll go back out with both his band and Union Station next year.

Even though he spent years behind the scenes, things just seem to keep falling into place for Douglas as a soloist – and McLachlan said he is most deserving of such recognition.

“It’s almost frightening how good he is. Musically, he’ll be one of the legendary figures, and even at the young age he is, he’s already up in the legendary category.”

/ Pollstar