April 2001 – Cravin’ Melon, I suppose one would say, “officially” disbanded. Pardon the pun. The end didn’t arise out of animosity. In fact, the guys still play together. They played last weekend come to think about it, at Eddie White’s Awendaw Green down in the lowcountry. These days, there’s a maturity of individuality and a maturity of music that’s different from the old days, but no matter what, the guys still love to jam together and they jam well. That’s cool.
Still, this series of missives is about Doug Jones in essence, because his traveled path is interesting at least, and inspiring at best. I hope this last in the series of three helps explain why. Cravin’ Melon, as mentioned, officially disbanded in the spring of 2001. But Doug knew far beforehand that he needed to move on, not necessarily to something better, but to something that he knew about himself, soulfully. And so it came to pass that in the summer of 2000, he announced to his bandmates that he planned to do something different. But not to dismiss them, not to leave them hanging, Doug determined that if the band were willing to do a long run of “farewell” shows, it would be a great idea, a fun plan, and a good way to give time for everyone’s transitions into the next adventure. So…they did. “People would bring trinkets and memorabilia and other cool stuff as a send-off. We went out with a bang and riding a wave of good feelings and good momentum.”
Doug knew that he wanted to grow as a musician by becoming a better songwriter, by becoming a better guitar player, by becoming…. Any musician reading this knows that feeling of “becoming.” Perhaps it is about proving something to an audience, but I would suggest it’s more about proving something to oneself. Musicians are complex creatures. Lots of folks tend to think professional musicians have it made. Lots of folks think they have it easy, where their work is about having fun. There’s definitely some fun, but it’s far more work than most people know, and it can bring more defeat than victory as one labors in music, even with all the sweat and the practice and the undervalued compensation in many situations. Being a musician who is serious about his or her craft is no different from any other professional – a musician wants to make his own way in the world – to enjoy growth artistically and economically, to feel personally competent, to be able to stand on his/her own two feet, and to fulfill whatever individual goals he may have. But often, one can feel like Sisyphus pushing that damned rock up the hill over and over. Doug Jones, through hell or high water, has stuck to his mission in a way that is admirable – philosophically, psychologically, and professionally. It’s never been about being famous.
“In leaving the band, it led to me becoming so passionate about it that I’ll never stop, no matter what,” he said over his gyro with extra tzatziki sauce. “I had to learn how to write songs and how NOT to write songs…on my own, in ways I couldn’t do with the band.” Doug had to do it his way, in that moment and at that time, and that’s just what he did. Not only that, but his location mattered to him. Doug Jones has an unyielding passion about Greenville, South Carolina. “I don’t think you should have to leave. I hate that artists and progressive thinkers have felt they had to move from Greenville in order to be taken seriously.” In some ways, this philosophy has probably hurt Doug. He may well have had more “big time” success settling in the big music hubs. Or maybe not. But that’s not the point. Staying in Greenville mattered almost as much as the personal need for the musical growth he was seeking.
Fast-forward to 2005. Doug had written a lot of songs. From his years of making musical connections throughout the South and continuing to run the circuit, Doug continued to see his old friends Mark Bryan, Gary Greene, and Hank Futch, among others. Over some time, these guys and a few others, in a collaboration for the common goal of helping Doug make his first eponymous record, determined it was studio time. It took about one and half years. This was somewhat piecemeal, far more organic than a typical recording marathon for an LP, with everyone doing their own thing and gathering from time to time to create sounds that brought substantial life to Doug’s music that theretofore had been his voice, his lyrics, and his six string alone. Doug said that “each song was a stand-alone. Each song was for the sake of the song, not the sake of the album. And so each song evolved and the result– “Doug Jones Everybody, Doug Jones.” If you know him, you know how poignant that title is.
The record was released independently in 2007. To all whom purchased or received it, both industry and otherwise, it was enjoyed and respected. But commercial success was not its destiny (at least not then…I don’t think it’s nearly lost its shelf life in today’s world). Doug mentioned, “Due to my naivety and the product of the times, my record turned out to be too pop for country and too country for pop.” One can only imagine how many musicians out there have heard similar things from the labels or other industry magnates when creating truly original music rather than the flavor du jour. Nevertheless, this is a record Doug is proud of, and justly so. It’s still available and always will be. It’s Americana at its truest level, with dashes of sugar, salt, pepper, sweet and sour, and spice for those inclined, but in my opinion, suitable to all palettes whether one song or all.
Will there be more records from Doug? Definitely, but he is in no hurry. His patience and path were evident when he began his “Harmony Grits Supper Club.” At the historically best music venue in Greenville, “The Handlebar,” Doug launched a monthly show wherein he invited both local and national musicians to showcase their music alongside his own performances. This was not a typical concert in the sense of having one or two openers with Doug to headline. Doug would emerge from the green room onto the stage. He might open with a few words or just go straight to song. This would be followed by gracious introductions of his stage invitees. He says “[he] didn’t know what [he] was doing.” But I was there many times, and even had the pleasure of playing it twice (he doesn’t remember inviting me – I might have snuck up there), and I assure you he did understand how to put on a quality showcase. “Sometimes it was a packed house, other times you could hear the crickets,” he said wryly. Harmony Grits petered out after about two years for a couple reasons, though Doug remembers it more fondly than not. On the one hand, it got overwhelming. People found out about it and word was spreading, and press kits started pouring over his mailbox like a flooded gutter in a summer southern thunderstorm. Doug wanted to give everyone attention, but it was taking over. On the other hand, he offered his hospitality (i.e. free place to stay) to many of his guest musicians, and a lot of good times were had sharing space and music in his home with artists from around the country. That’s what I call the real experience, and very few people could pull that off with joy and goodwill like Doug Jones. Nevertheless, Harmony Grits ran its course.
Doug can be found playing often, all over the Southern market, sometimes 5 times a week, sometimes 1, but always on his terms. He has one ensemble, “Simple Syrup,” that he spends a lot of gig time with, his band mates being the very talented Charles Hedgepath and Adam McFarlane. Check them out. But there’s still his solo thing, and his duos with his lovely sister. And don’t forget Cravin’ Melon – the guys still do their thing from time to time. Doug is having fun. Doug makes a living playing music and always has. Wow – that’s quite a thing.
Today, Doug has confidence with no arrogance regarding what he does and how he does it, and he plans to continue to enjoy his musical evolution. “Change is not my enemy. I don’t actively seek to, but I’m glad to accept and evolve, and I’m glad I have that attitude.” When asked about what he hopes for the future, “stay out of jail,” he quips. “Seriously, though, I’d like to affect and be a part of Greenville and get back to affecting and being a part of the greater musical communities. South Carolina is well positioned to become something better that what it already is, but also to repair people’s impressions everywhere about who we are and what we believe.” Yep, that’s Doug for sure, and it’s apparent on so many levels why he’s still cravin’ after all these years.