Interview: Union Station's Jerry Douglas chats about his new album 'What If' and much more
© A Prairie Home Companion, used with permission

Jerry Douglas is one of the few masters of the Dobro guitar alive today and he knows how to make it 'sing.'. He has performed on over 1600 albums of many different genre of music since he started playing professionally at the age of 14. His first major gig was with the Country Gentlemen in 1973. Jerry has performed with some of the most famous entertainers in the world from Ray Charles, Paul Simon, Sting, Eric Clapton, Dolly Parton, Phish, Ricky Scaggs, Elvis Costello, James Taylor, and Johnny Mathis to name a few. AXS was able to do a telephone interview with Jerry and here are the highlights.

AXS: Who were your biggest musical influences?

Jerry Douglas: I have to say Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs of the Foggy Mountain Boys. I was able to see them perform when I was ten years old. Flatt and Scruggs were always playing in the house when I was growing up. Josh Graves played Dobro with Flatt and Scruggs. They were like bookends for him. I liked the lonesome, vocal like quality of the sound of the Dobro. I quit singing and just played Dobro.

AXS: How did you get involved with Alison Krauss and Union Station?

JD: I’ve known Alison since she was 14 years old. I started playing with her and the band in 1998. I had been involved in some projects with Victor Krauss, her brother, before that.

AXS: Victor plays with Lyle Lovett and his large band.

JD: Yes and he is an excellent musician. I have played with Lyle Lovett in the past as well. I’ve got a tour date with them in July.

AXS: What can you tell me about Alison? What’s she really like?

JD: She’s really funny. She has a great sense of humor. A lot of people wouldn’t know that since she is very quiet on stage. Her son really grew up with the band almost 20 years ago. The band is really great to work with. There are no ego problems within the band. Alison is a real team player. Everyone tends to play off of each other.

AXS: How many days in the year are you on the road with Union Station?

JD: We used to be on the road about 250 days a year. We cut that in half the last few years back in 2015. We took off about a year ago. We figured that Alison deserved to take a rest.

AXS: What do you do when Union Station is of the road?

JD: I am involved with two bands, Earls of Leicester and The Jerry Douglas Band. The Earls of Leicester is an all-star tribute to the legends Lester Flatt, and Earl Scruggs. The band is strictly bluegrass. The Jerry Douglas Band is more of a fusion band blending jazz, bluegrass, be-bop, country, blues, rock and soul.

AXS: I understand you have a new album called What If. Has it been released yet?

JD: This is the debut album for the Jerry Douglas Band and it will be released in August on Rounder Records. We are really proud of it and the band will be touring this summer, playing many of the tracks on the album.

AXS: AXS managed to hear a pre-release version of the album and it is amazing. It was surprising to hear a blend of jazz with bluegrass. It was a pleasant surprise. The title song, “What If,” starts out in a classical groove but quickly goes into a very melodic, cinematic mode. It is a beautiful song. Did you write the songs on the album?

JD: I wrote all of the songs on the album except for two cover songs. Jimi Hendrix’s tune, “Hey Joe” and Tom Waits’ “2:19” are the cover songs. I rerecorded the album opener, “Cave Bop,” adding horns this time around.

AXS: Are any of the members of Union Station in the Jerry Douglas Band?

JD: No, this is a whole different band configuration. Christian Sedelmyer plays violin. Mike Seal is on guitar. The drummer is Doug Belote. Daniel Kimbro is on bass. Vance Thompson plays trumpet. James Mitchell is on saxophone. He is the nephew of Willie Mitchell who produced Al Green. He is the son of James Mitchell who was one of the original Memphis Horns. He has quite a pedigree in music.

AXS: Who is doing the vocals on the album?

JD: I am doing the vocals.

AXS: Wow. I didn’t realize that you sang as well. Your voice has some R&B influences.

JD: You can’t be around some of the best singers in the world and not pick something up from them. I played with Ray Charles, Vince Gill, Elvis Costello, Johnny Mathis, many awesome vocalists. As a side note, I was moving out of one of the first houses I had in Nashville. Everything had been packed up except the telephone. The telephone rang and it was Ray Charles. Not his people, but the real Ray Charles. He was asking me to play with him. Of course, I accepted. After, the phone call ended, I yanked the phone out of the wall. I decided I wanted that to be the last memory that I had in the house.

AXS: I had always heard that Ray was as nice as he could be. I had the pleasure to review Vince Gill’s show lately. He was a great storyteller and seemed to be very nice.

JD: I’ve known him since he was 16 years old. He is the same guy now as he was when he was 16. You know he just signed on to tour with The Eagles. I got to work on an album with Johnny Mathis. The interesting thing about him is that he came into the studio and recorded every song with only one take. He was that good. All of the singers that have been around for a while are very nice like Johnny Mathis, James Taylor, Vince Gill, Lyle Lovett, all of them. I have been very fortunate to be able to work doing what I love best and still be able to raise a family and have a home in Nashville.

AXS: You’ve had a remarkable career. I wish you good luck with your new album and tour.