If you are from ‘round these parts and involved in the music business in South Carolina or you just love homegrown music, there’s a very good chance you have listened to Doug Jones’ records over the years, seen him play at almost any venue in the state, visited with him at any number of shows where he was supporting another artist, or you are his friend. In my getting to know Doug personally over the last ten years, I’ve run the gamut of the afore-mentioned possibilities. And in doing so, something became very clear to me about the value Doug brings to our community of music and musicians – there just isn’t much he hasn’t experienced in the doggedly wild ride that is the music business. No, Doug does not have RIAA certified platinums glistening on his wall, nor will you find him chilling in the back of a shiny penthouse on wheels (aka tour bus) waiting for his stage call. But for over 20 years, he has accomplished what many of us either couldn’t, or gave up on for one reason or another…he has made a career as a professional musician. This singer/songwriter has entertained countless thousands since his early twenties, and today, you can find him playing weekly to very satisfied (sometimes devoted) crowds at venues all over the state. That said, I am hopeful that this multi-part article accomplishes two main things – 1) Doug’s got an interesting musical story, and it’s worth hearing, and 2) for younger musicians, their friends, and their families to get a little insight into the kind of musical path that is most likely (given the odds) of a similar ilk that one might expect absent superstardom, but even then only with the utmost dedication to the craft and a refusal to ever give it up for the proverbial “real job.” So, we will call this installment…the early years…
Interestingly, Doug didn’t grow up playing an instrument, didn’t take singing lessons, not even a middle school choir. Nor was he an audiophile in the least. No, Doug carried about his childhood like most of us did, just growing up doing our thing, whatever that means for each of us – point is, his “thing” wasn’t music. A 1985 graduate of Eastside high school in Greenville, Doug will tell you that the only thing about music that he was really conscious of was that he always “wanted” to sing. By my translation, it sounds like things I’ve heard from just about everyone I know that never gave it a shot – let’s call this very large group the “shower” singers – after all, we all sound great in our own shower, right? So, Doug left high school to attend Clemson, where he would graduate in 1989 with a degree in Animal Industries with a concentration in Zoology and Dairy Sciences. That’s obviously a very specific and thoughtful choice of education. Why? Because Doug had all intentions of going on to vet school and specializing in large animal breeding. Little did he know music was going to find him rather than the other way around.
Now for a little anecdotal, but I believe essential history of Doug’s path. A funny thing happened on the way to the shower (I’m obviously parodying all sorts of other art today for some reason)… and I simply love to hear stories like these. Yes, Doug was a member of the international band of shower singers, and his dormitory days at Clemson were no exception. Over the semester, where once you could count on having your choice of shower stalls, Doug apparently quite accidentally pied-pipered attention with his singing in the shower that people wanted to hear and would actually go take their showers if they heard his tunes echoing from the acoustically-ripe floors and walls. On another occasion, when he volunteered to be the guinea pig for a hypnotist at a college event (and he swears he has no memory of this occurring), he was later told that several people from the audience told the hypnotist to make him sing, and that he did, quite well, to an audience of over 30 people. Keep in mind that at this point in the story, Doug had still NEVER given a true public performance of singing. But even such funny bits of history, when they occur, can have a little effect on the ‘ole subconscious. And perhaps these bite-sized portions of outside affirmation led to later things.
College came and went, and Doug had still not had his first singing gig – he hadn’t even tried to. But with the wanderlust of a typical college graduate ready to take on the world, it was time to do a little travelin’, so he and one of his best friends scratched together enough cash for a plane ticket and a few extra bucks, packed their backpacks, and headed to Australia. This was 1990. On their shoestring budget, the boys looked around for ways they might earn some money to finance their continued travels. Enter…yes….Karaoke. This Asian sensation that took the world by storm spawned contests at bars in every city of every country, and these contests paid $$ to the winners. At 21 years old, Doug had still never even picked up a guitar or written his own songs, so he certainly wasn’t hunting solo gigs. So, brave and broke, he started entering them here and there, and found he was winning the darn things. Four and a half months in Australia turned into a couple more over in New Zealand. Come to think of it, maybe that trip was Doug’s career-making international tour!
He returned to the states with a growing desire to be more serious about music. Back home, he started picking up the guitar his grandfather had given him and working out his chords and his strumming. At the time, it was all about the late 80s, early 90s indie college rock for him, and he specifically mentioned R.E.M. and Indigo Girls as two of the biggies that came to mind. Armed with a growing confidence in singing, a once foreign instrument (the guitar) now beginning to feel comfortable, and batch of cover tunes to play for friends and work on his skills, it’s no surprise that as he moved toward a public stage, he also found an interest in writing. And in 1991, Doug authored his first original song, “Land of Oz.”
Then came the turning point. Doug and Jeff Pruitt had been putting together tunes and were ready to play. They went to an open mic night to discover a very solid crowd for the joint, with over 50 people in attendance. Figuring it to be like most other open mic nights, the guys walked up to the guy running the event to sign up for their slot, only to be shot down. To their dismay, this “gentleman” said he required a demo before agreeing to let them play. Ahh, but Doug and Jeff had friends, and one of them hunted down the manager, had a little chat, and suddenly, they were on the bill to play their two songs first. And play they did, but two songs turned to three, and three to four, and management ultimately chose to scratch the other acts for the night because the audience was so into what they were doing up there. “That was the official beginning of the rest of my life in music,” Doug told me.
And so it was, and so it will be told in the next installment of this article. But to close it out, I think it appropriate to leave with one of Doug’s many unique, often profound, and sometimes humorous musi-losophies, this one pertaining to writing songs. In music “words are great, and you fight for the definition and ultimately with music you can change the definition – just don’t spell ‘em.”