Randy Scruggs – Pick your friends
RS: …for his writing as well as everything else, but his writing’s so incredible and real. I had met Joan Osborne at a Sheryl Crow concert in New York shortly after that, and we ended up just sharing a lot of stories, had time together. I really admired her work and found out that she was actually from a place called Anchorage, Kentucky.
JD: (laughing) She doesn’t look like she’s from Kentucky.
RS: And so I called her about doing a vocal for that; at first I wasn’t sure about doing vocals, I was going to do more of an instrumental thing. So, talk about going to the edge and looking over (laughs). That’s the stuff of either dreams or total nightmares.
JD: Yeah, I sang a song on one of my records once. I cut the track, and then I had a really bad cold, so I went away for a couple weeks. I came back, and I still had the cold, but I had this bottle of whiskey to help me cut the stuff out of my throat. By the time I got through like half that bottle of whiskey I had the song down. (laughs) And I haven’t sung it since. I can’t sing it without whiskey, I don’t know what it is. (laughs)
RS: And then you used the bottle [for a slide]. (laughter) So what was it like having dobro as an instrument? To me it’s not an exact instrument…
JD: It’s all relative pitch.
RS: …it’s passion and technique and just…
JD: It’s the most like singing that I can imagine, except for being a violinist, maybe, where you don’t have a fret that stops you at a certain point, or that you have to bend at that point. You can keep the note moving however long you want to. I was a singer when I was six, and then my voice changed. (laughs) If I’d continued singing, then I would have been a singer, and who can say? But I loved playing an instrument so much, and when I stumbled onto playing dobro it was because of your dad and Lester Flatt and Buck Graves.
JD: I had a Silvertone guitar, and the strings were almost high enough to be a dobro already. So it wasn’t much of a stretch to get the strings up just a little higher and play dobro on it. That lasted until I left it in the sun too long and the guitar folded up. Then I had to search out a real dobro. But growing up playing the dobro in northeastern Ohio, especially, was a strange deal because no one knew what it was, no one could tell you how to play it. My father was a guitar player and always had a good band up in that part of the country, so I grew up listening to them play live. I can remember rolling around — and I’m sure you do, too — rolling around the floor watching these guys practice.
JD: Just hearing music that close up, and being able to jump up and grab some kind of little guitar and start beating out a rhythm and them not shooing you away was a plus in your direction.
RS: What’s amazing to me about what you’ve done on a dobro is that you’ve just taken it to another level. And that shows by obviously the influence and effect you’ve had on other players.
JD: I had so much to listen to, too. You know, I listened to Flatt & Scruggs and the Beatles at the same time, and the Byrds, and everything that was going on. And going as far as I could with the style of dobro that Buck played, which seemed to me like a very soulful thing, and worked so much like a voice that when I started playing dobro, I stopped singing.
RS: Your influences must have been really broad.
JD: I always listened to a lot of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli and a lot of swing and a lot of rock ‘n’ roll. I remember taking my dobro to school when I was in the sixth grade and everybody was, “Wow, what kind of guitar is that?” Green River had just come out, the Creedence record, and John Fogerty was standing on the front with a dobro. And I said, “This guy could call me any day.” (laughs) And like 25 years later, he did.
It’s an instrument that people hear every day, but they don’t really know what it is and they don’t know what it looks like. It’s an art deco kind of guitar, but it sure is an unknown instrument, and along with that goes the boundaries of what it can do.
RS: That’s why I think you’ve broadened those, because…
JD: It’s still wide open. You know, there’s still plenty to go. I hear guys like Rob Ickes, guys like that, and I have somebody to listen to.
JD: And it’s been a long time, since I’ve had somebody I could go, Wow! You know, he’s playing the same thing I am, but that’s different.