Hard Travelin’: A Q&A With Jerry Douglas

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 So does that kind of thinking enter into it at all when you’re lining up guest stars for a project like this?

I don’t think about that. This thing just lined itself up — but I also had [producer] Russ Titelman running interference this time. All my other records I’ve produced myself, and that’s always been a chore. I’ve never felt like I played as well on my own records as I did on other people’s. What I wanted to get out of this was that I played as well as I could play on my record, and not look back and wish I’d had more time to put into my own work. It’s different when you’re making a record and paying attention to everyone else, thinking about the big picture — you can’t focus on what you’re doing.

This time, Russ was there to take care of it. It felt great. The first time it hit me, we were in New Orleans recording “Something You Got.” We’re rolling, everything sounds good, Dr. John is out there playing the piano, no problem. Three horn players — great. [bass player] and [drummer] just killing it, you know? B3 — everything is going. But something is bothering me. I don’t think too much about it, and then the take ends, and Russ comes out and looks at the horn players and says, “No. Like this.” And then it was like, boom — that was it. But I didn’t have to go that extra distance and drop what I was doing. Russ nailed it. It really hit me at that point — that’s what a producer does. That’s what I’ve been doing all this time, and that’s why I haven’t been able to play as well as I want to. That was worth the price of admission for me — however many millions Russ was paid. [Laughs]

 Still, whether you thought about it or not, the end result must have been pretty appealing for the label. I mean, even just having Mumford & Sons and Paul Simon on “The Boxer” with you is like winning the guest star lottery.

Those were built in, you know? All the people who were guests on there — the only person I didn’t really know was Marc Cohn, and he and I met up at Carnegie Hall for a thing we were doing for James Taylor a couple of years ago, and we got reacquainted. I was so glad to see him, and so glad he was doing so well after the accident he had. I decided we needed to get together at some point, and then when this song came up, it was perfect — and he nailed it.

But everything else — the Mumfords are sort of surrogate sons of mine. Craig Ferguson of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival put us together a couple of years ago. Nobody else really knew about them, but he has a big ear for talent, and he brought them to the festival. They loved it — they had the time of their lives. Craig had me play with them, and we became such good friends — when they came here to Nashville, they’d stay with us, and they got to be friends with my kids, who are about the same age they are.

Marcus and I were talking about songs to do, and they wanted to do “The Boxer.” I said, “I think Paul Simon’s gonna do ‘The Boxer.'” They didn’t want to mess with that, and then I started thinking about it — I realized, you know, it’s crazy for me to ask Paul to do “The Boxer.” How many times does he have to sing that? He’s done it once and that’s enough. He can’t top what he’s already done. So I went back to Marcus and said yes, we should absolutely do “The Boxer,” so we went into the studio, and I realized he’d learned it from Emmylou Harris’s version — which I didn’t play on, but I had been in the studio with her on the sessions for that album.

And then I played it for Paul, and he said “Oh, man — I want to be on that.” So we did it with him anyway. [Laughs] He did a ton of stuff that’s just mixed deep in there. Rhythm guitar, tons of stuff that’s on the backbeat against my solo, big bells — some really high harmony vocals. He had the greatest time, he spent the whole day going until we made him quit. It was beautiful, and it all just kind of fell together like that. Same thing with Keb’ Mo’, same with Eric. If you look at the credits, you think “This must have taken a lot of phone calls,” but it really didn’t. It was a great feeling for me to know that those people wanted to do it. As soon as I asked, each of them just wanted to know where to show up. It was flattering.

That’s great to hear. It’s a comfortable record — it feels good to listen to it.

Yeah, it’s a comfortable record, and it’s a driving record. It lasts exactly long enough to get out of New York City and into the Berkshires, and then it ends. [Laughs] It’ll take you from one place to another place, and you’ll feel good when you get there.


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