If you pick up a copy of “Traveler,” the new album from veteran instrumentalist Jerry Douglas, you might be surprised to hear the legendary dobro player sing lead, as he does on the opening track, “On A Monday.” It’s a never before heard side of Douglas’s talent.
“That was one of the scariest moments of my entire life,” Douglas told Billboard in an exclusive phone interview from Manchester, England, “but I liked it. I sang as a child, but when I took up the dobro, I stopped singing. It took up the same space in your brain. I’ve always wanted to sing. I’ve sung backup on everybody’s records. I’ve been around these great singers from Ricky Skaggs and the Whites to Alison Krauss (with whom Douglas has played with as part of Union Station since 1988). Those three taught me more about pitch and control — the way to give a song a reading. So, I decided I would take a shot at it. I did it on ‘Letterman’ the other night. It went great.”
“The Boxer” (feat. Mumford & Sons and Paul Simon)
Douglas told Billboard that the recording process behind “Traveler” (which includes cameos from Mumford & Sons, Paul Simon, Keb’ Mo, Marc Cohn, Eric Clapton, and Alison Krauss) was different than any album he has ever done. “That was the idea, to get out of my comfort zone. I wanted to get about as far away from bluegrass as I could. I was able to until the very last song. I wanted to do something different. I’m 56 years old, have done a lot of things in my life, and there was an itch that needed scratching, so I got with Russ Titelman, and he helped me scratch. He put me in a lot of situations that I wouldn’t normally be in unless I was playing on other people’s records.”
One of the aspects of making the disc that made it different was t hat in working with Titelman, it was the first time Douglas had worked with a producer on recording one of his albums. When asked how that felt, he said “It was a completely different process than any of my other records. He listened to the big picture, and I was able to concentrate on what I was playing. It was nice. I remember the exact moment when I knew what having a producer was like. We were in New Orleans, and we were cutting the track with Eric Clapton, ‘Something You Got.’ There was something wrong with the horn section, and as soon as the track stopped, I saw Russ go into the horn room. He said ‘Don’t do it like that. Do it like this.’ I went ‘Alright.’ He heard it too, and he took care of it. I didn’t have to. He and I had been friends before but never worked together. You have to trust your producer, and I did. He did a great job.”
Another aspect of the album that set itself apart was that it was recorded in several different cities — including New Orleans, where they were really able to capture the vibe of the area. “I was the only Nashville guy down there. Everybody lives there, and breathes the air. You’re a different person. That’s what I wanted in these different moves to other cities. It created a different sound attitude in the people that contributed in these cities.”
Jerry Douglas – Something You Got (feat. Eric Clapton)