Doug Strahan: J.J. Cale with a Twist of Merle Haggard
The music comes on like a warm, balmy wind in the aftermath of a crazy storm. Like a Texas flood. The album cover displays a black and white close-up of a young world-weary artist in mid-exhale of barroom smoke, a worried look across his brow. He resembles Tom Waits with a hint of Hank Williams peering out through his eyes. The opening lyrics hook you right away, with words worthy of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark:
Coal black dreams and late night schemes –
No wonder I can’t find no rest.
It’s no wonder Doug Strahan gave those opening lines the title for his 2014 debut solo effort, Coal Black Dreams & Late Night Schemes. What unfolds on the disc is a stream of music like a current in a river of song, bringing together Texas folk, Delta blues, country, and rock into a unique blend of American music. It’s a Texas-Goth-metal-like sensibility through the lens of a young artist raised on Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Merle Haggard, J.J. Cale, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Strahan fulfills the promise of a bright new songwriter on the Texas horizon.
His new project, Strahan and the Good Neighbors, is launching a campaign on IndieGoGo this week to help finish up an album of new material that approaches Texas blues-rock with a J.J. Cale vibe and Haggard-influenced, poetic lyrics.
Following are highlights of our recent conversation on the phone from his Austin home, where he resides with a now swampy front yard thanks to recent Texas weather conditions.
Terry Roland: So, tell me how you came up with such a unique blend of music.
Doug Strahan: My dad played guitar all through my childhood. He was a picker. Also, I had access to his vinyl collection. He had everything from Buck Owens and Jimi Hendrix to Junior Walker and the All Stars. When I started playing guitar and getting into metal, he’d steer me toward his Fender Strat and the music that would go along with that. When it seemed like I could get into trouble, he’d keep me busy with the guitar.
How about your songwriting and recording?
My grandpa on my mom’s side had a tape recorder he’d use for family visits. The first time you hear your voice, it freaks you out, but I got some confidence in singing from listening back to that. I started writing pretty much right away. Once I began guitar lessons I started writing verses. Those became songs. I went to college to get out of the small town I was from in Illinois. I was an English major. I started a band. And I got a job at radio station.
How did the radio station job help you?
It opened me up to all kinds of music. They had a huge library. So I listened to rock, soul, jazz, and some country I’d never heard. Even though my dad had a band, I’d never really heard Merle Haggard. He really changed the way I write songs. I owe a lot to Merle Haggard. After I heard him I started writing like a banshee!
Tell me about the new album.
I just got out of mastering. I’ve been working new songs on over the last two years with my band. I love playing a kind of J.J. Cale in a country vein. We’re working toward capturing the way we sound live. It’s like the last album. It wasn’t exactly straight up country. It’s an American sound. I get tired of all the sub-genres. So, I just call it American music. You can hear soul, 60’s and 70’s rock. J.J. Cale mixed with Merle Haggard, you know? And I love the Allman Brothers combination of two lead guitars and a keyboard.
It sounds unique. It’s a sound that sets you apart from the crowd in the crowd-funding arena.
That’s our goal.