Guitar masters give the dobro its due

March 19, 1993|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

You may not know it, but if you're a fan of country or bluegrass, you've probably heard Jerry Douglas. Over the last decade, he's played with an enormous range of musicians, from Roseanne Cash to Ricky Skaggs, and from Davis Grisman to Art Garfunkel.

Widely considered the world's foremost dobro player, he won a Grammy in 1983, and was voted "Best Dobro Player" by the readers of Frets magazine for five straight years. But because the dobro -- a steel-shelled guitar that serves in country music as the acoustic equivalent to the pedal steel -- is generally used as a background instrument, it's rare that many of us get a chance to hear what he can do.

Tonight, that changes.

Douglas steps into the foreground as part of a package called Masters of the Steel String Guitar, a program designed to showcase some of the many styles of acoustic guitar picking. And that means he really gets to strut his stuff.

"It's a little more recognition for the instrument," he deadpans. "A lot of people don't know what a dobro is, you know. I'll just have to explain it a few less times."

In truth, Douglas' set stands as an object lesson in just how much a dobro can do. "I start out my set solo, and end the set solo," he explains, over the phone from a tour stop in Nyack, N.Y. "Then in the middle, in the tunes that I use the band on, one of them is a country tune, and the other tunes are fusion jazz and rock and roll stuff. I try to cover a variety of music in my small set."

This may seem a far cry from the bluegrass music he grew up on, but Douglas -- who cut his teeth on the work of bluegrass

legend Josh Graves -- doesn't really see these excursions into jazz as much of a stretch. Bluegrass, he says, is "an improvisational music. So it kind of doesn't have these boundaries, you know, that holds you in to just play in a certain style and a certain role for your instrument."

Moreover, the structure of the show encourages each of the guitarists to expand their stylistic base. "We have our individual sets pretty much thought out and rehearsed," he says. "At the end of the night, we usually all get together, and it all comes unglued."

Considering the range of players involved -- a grouping that includes country picker Ray Flacke, jazz player Cal Collins, bluesman John Cephas, Hawaiian slack-key great Ledward Kaapana and Appalachian guitarist Wayne Henderson -- you BTC might think that a group jam would border on chaos. But as Douglas point out, these six have quite a lot in common despite their stylistic differences.

"I think we all rub off on each other a little bit," he says. "I know all these different styles kind of come from blues, which is pretty much what all guitar players have in common, unless you're strictly a classical guitar player. So we're sort of working from that as a base."

Masters of the Steel String Guitar

When: Tonight, 8 p.m.

Where: Kraushaar Auditorium, Goucher College, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson.

Tickets: $15.

Call: (410) 337-6333 for information, (301) 565-0654 for tickets

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