A Gift from One Dobro Player To Another: Jerry Douglas’ Musical Tribute to Tut Taylor
When legendary dobro player, Tut Taylor, talked about his history in music, it was clear I was talking with a national treasure. Even so, at 87, he looks back on his life in music with a sense of humility and gratitude. Jerry Douglas, famed instrumentalist and long time member of Allison Krause’s Union Station, decided it was time for Tut to be recognized. So last year Jerry called some of the finest dobro players in the business and quietly recorded and released, Southern Filibuster: A Tribute to Tut Taylor. If this Christmas season, one needs an example of egoless gift giving the back story behind this cd is a case in point. The two interviews that follow tell that story along while it demonstrate the kind of passion, loyalty and love that are inherent in Americana music today.Interview with Jerry Douglas
Terry: How did this project get started?
Jerry: I met Tut years ago. It came out of a telephone conversation. So many of the great dobro players are gone now. Tut’s 87 and it seems like it’s time to do something for him. I’d really like to do a sequence of records for the pioneers of the instrument.
Terry: You got quite a good response.
Jerry: Yes we did. Tut had been in poor health and was selling off stuff. I put it out on the grapevine. The dobro players did it for free. We paid the band. But we had different bands on different days. So we got it so all of the songs were written and published by Tut so there’s no middle man. Everything goes to Tut. Hopefully he’ll see the money. The record cost barely anything to make. It’s a tribute. People recognized what he had given. Tut didn’t give a damn about what he’d done. I always liked his tunes. The players changed the songs a bit but kept the essence. You know they may revamp the tune a bit. A lot of young players came in. They’d mess with the arrangement in a way that made it more interesting to the modern ear.
Terry: Did Tut know this was going on?
Jerry: No. He didn’t know we were making the record. Didn’t know until it was finished and delivered to him. I told him, this is for you. I think he cried for the first time in his life. He’s thrilled about this thing. You know, it’s like, give me my flowers while I’m living. Do it now. And he reaps the benefit of it.
Terry: What were the sessions like?
Jerry: Everybody came in and just blew the thing away. They came in, did a tune and then no one left. They just hung around and talked to each other. Some of it was filmed and there are lots of pictures. We could put out a companion book.
Terry: What’s up with you these days?
Jerry: I’m working with Russ Titleman on a project. I’ve never had a producer before. We’re taking the music in a different direction. We’ll be going to a different part of the country to give myself a different view. You know, I play well on other people’s records, but I never play as well on my own. Because I’ve produced my own albums, I’ve worn too many hats. I’ve given up the hats. Russ has a good track record so I’ll turn things over to him. I’ll shoot for a broader appeal, call in some cards. There will be a couple of singers on it. But, it’ll be a surprise. We’re going to cut it live as much as possible. I’d like to do it right the first time, create the essence, get it all in one big shot.
Tut Taylor Interview
Terry: Tell me about this new CD.
Tut: It was a real surprise. I gotta call from Jerry. I’d just had cataract surgery. I ask him, ‘why you callin’ me?’ He told me about the CD project, it was a secret project and he swore everyone to secrecy. He said the only reason he called was for the publishing on the tunes. I was flabbergasted! I didn’t know what to think! I didn’t think anybody would do anything like this for me. You know I play flat pick, so I didn’t think anyone noticed. It liked to knock me hour. I played all my life for fun to make others feel good. But, playing dobro with a flat pick was different from other players. I figured I wasn’t good enough for the attention. Lo and behold, Jerry got 14 tunes and 14 dobro players. I still don’t know how to explain it. Just didn’t expect it.
Terry: So, it sounds like you’re happy with the results.
Tut: Happy? Absolutely! A few nights later after we talked he sent some tunes that were downloaded. I couldn’t believe it. It knocked me out! Just beautiful. I was thrilled to death. It’s happy music. I can’t believe they played it that well. These guys nailed it! I went back and got my old recordings and my old songs and new ones behind it on a cd. It was amazing you can play one into another. My songs are weird. I play with a flat pick. I don’t have three picks like they do. I have to do my melody with one pick. I had to do it like it’s not supposed to be done. But didn’t play it like that.
Terry: How did you get started?
Tut: I started playing when I was 12. I had an uncle who played mando so I started playing that. A couple of brothers played banjo, but we never played together as a band. I got a lap steel from a boy going into the service during World War ll. I just kept playing with the flat pick. That’s how I started playing with the mandolin and I just kept playing that way.
Terry: So where did you go from there?
Tut: I got acquainted with Earl Scruggs. It was funny. He handed me some finger picks and told me to get rid of the plat picks and use them. I never used ‘em. Just stuck ‘em in a box. I still have them though. I think I’m gonna auction them off.
Terry: How did you meet Jerry?
Tut: I met him in Nashville at my little old shop down on Broadway. We stayed in contact. We did a dobro cd in ’94 with a bunch of players. It went on and won a Grammy. One day we were talking and one of us said we ought to get a bunch of dobro players and do a cd. We both wrote down all the players we knew. And we ended up winning a Grammy. That was a fun time. It was a really big step exposing it out there for people to hear.
Terry: What’s up for the future?
Tut: I don’t have any great plans. You know, at 87, you don’t make a whole lot of plans. One day I look up and I’m old. I spend time on the computer and listen to a lot of music. I play a little, not a whole lot. The reason I don’t play every day is because I’ve had to have two hearing aids. Two of ‘em gives me a hard time. The dobro’s sound projects upward. It’s not as much fun to play. But, I listen to it on cd.
Terry: What’s your feeling today about your musical journey?
Tut: Well, in the music, I see people trying to reach back into the past for a lot of things. Like they’re trying to get a little bit of the history of this country. I was fortunate. I’ve been able to live it. I don’t want to go back to the good old days. My take is a train stopped in front of my house. I’ve been a passenger. It’s been good to be a part of it. Life wasn’t always easy. But, I don’t think I deserve this. I give Jerry credit for thinking about things. He’s trying to preserve it. It’s good to get this done while I’m still here. He wanted to give me flowers while I’m still here.