Folk blues artist Doug Dickens talks about “Big Boy” Crudup, Pete Seeger and the blues muse

"Music is infectious. It gets under your skin and you can’t let it go. Push your limits, but don’t allow others to define who you are."

Douglas Dickens: 

Creedence Clear blues Revival

Doug Dickens have been playing and singing the blues for over thirty years. He spent eight years on the road traveling around the country, working in clubs and coffeehouses from Wilmington, NC to Sarasota, FL and then out west to Denver, Oklahoma City and Fort Worth. Doug spent quite a bit of time in the early 80's managing other bands and clubs in upstate New York.

Now he is back recording some of the material in preparation for the next phase of wisdom and writing. It has always been his first love. Many of these songs have never been heard before anywhere and some; he has played in performances without mercy. Sometimes a song just hits you and you have to sing it. His originals come from life's experiences, many through disappointment and joy, always from the heart and never canned. There is no major production here, just him, his guitar and the songs. You are sitting in my living room in a private concert. Music is the muse of life.

Music is the driving force in his life and has been since a young lad. He played professionally for years and will again during the later years of his life. Write a lot and share a bit but it is always a pleasure to meet and get to know new folks which is why he is here. The one common ground that most of us have is music and, even though our tastes are diverse, it aids in the tolerance and acceptance of all who cross our paths. He is a chef manager right now for Compass Group, operating a cafe at the Caterpillar plant in Clayton, NC. He currently works on a career change that will take him back to where he started on this journey. He have been a blues guitarist-vocalist for over forty years and spent many years on and off the road performing at clubs, coffeehouses, concerts and festivals.

He plays the blues and country blues with a bit of a twist. He does have his own style and like to think: “that it is a bit unique, as I do not copy but interpret the music that I choose to perform. Somewhat arrogant, I suppose, but if I can't feel it, I can't sing it.”       

 

Interview by Michael Limnios

 

What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the blues mean to you?

The blues has always been a feeling that translates well into music. It transcends the time/space continuum and will always be a way to record the history of our day. For me, it has become a process that allows me to comment about life as I see it. I am not a traditionalist, but I play some of the early pieces because they allow a freedom of expression that other music doesn’t. 

 

In what age did you play your first gig and how was it like?

My first engagement was in Montreal at a small café down from the university back in 1963. It seems that I always played solo and that was the way it was then. There have been other musicians along the way for various gigs but I always return to solo acoustic in the end.

 

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN and SONGWRITER?

I would have to say that what drew me into the realm of music, and the blues in particular, was a desire to communicate. Having always done better with the written word rather than a great speaker, it just seems easier to get your feelings and thoughts across with music. As a young boy, I spent months in bed sick where I did nothing but listen to music and make charts of the top songs of the day.  That was the beginning of the love of music … that and also the influence of my older brother, Ed who bought all those great 45’s from the fifties of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, John Lee Hooker et al. Early rock and roll was nothing but the blues all dressed up for a night on the town. It was great … 

 

How do you describe Doug Dickens’ sound and progress, what characterize Doug’s music philosophy?

I find that this is difficult to describe … I am an acoustic blues artist in particular but not of a traditional nature. For some reason, folks that like country music and rock also like my songs. As a songwriter, I write what I feel and much of my material seems to be poetry put to music; and I write about what I feel. If the music doesn’t hit me down in the heart and soul of my being, I can’t sing it. The old folk music revival exposed me to so much back then and allowed me the opportunity to travel and play with some great artists of the day.

 

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues music?

Although I have learned from and admired many, I would have to say Reverend Gary Davis, Lighting Hopkins, Lonnie Johnson, and T. Bone Walker.

 

Do you remember anything funny or interesting from Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup?

What I took away from Arthur was his generosity with his time and the bitterness over the way he, and many other blues artists of his day were treated.  Their music was literally stolen from them and they received nothing in return; one of the many reasons that Elvis is not on my most favored artist list. He could have made a difference here and chose not to.

 

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

They were all good, from the gigs in hooker bars to the concerts with Pete Seeger and the like. I particularly enjoyed this gig in Norman, Oklahoma at this tiny bar called The Library Bar. Hooked up with John Lee’s road band who had just come back into town and we did my first set together. It was great and all I played was harmonica and sang the blues.  I played a Beef and Brew commercial gig and no one showed up until 11:00 PM. By that point, I was tired and ashamed to tell you, I had imbibed. I went on, but not for long. First and last time that ever happened.

 

What is the “feel” you miss most nowadays from Lightnin Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, and Jimmy Reed’s era?

Honesty in music played and the integrity of the musicians

 

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

The most interesting period is right now, and this question melds into your next question about how the business has changed since I started. With the advent of the internet and the ease at which we can record our own songs without the aid of a studio; we are able to reach out to people all over the world with our creativity. I felt that my songs would have to stay in my black book forever and not be heard and now they are out there. There were other great periods during the sixties and seventies while I was on the road, but this is the most exciting era; not only because I have rediscovered my own music but am able to reach out to other musicians and artists as well. It is an amazing time for the independent musician and there are so many wonderfully talented people all over our world that I would never come into contact with if not for the internet.

 

How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

Yes, it has changed with the advent of the independent artist. We are no longer trapped with the music that the industry wants us to hear.  Now we can reach out and listen to artists with real talent rather than the ones that are manufactured by the music industry. It is particularly bad here in the states with all the trite television shows that spotlight ‘up and coming’ artists.  Just another ploy by the industry to control what we hear. I say …. Expand your horizons and seek the best of what is here.

 

Are there any memories around the country, working in clubs and coffeehouses, which you’d like to share with us?

This answer will have to come in my book. One particular memory took place while I was working with the Hudson River Sloop in New York back at the beginning during the sixties. I played many concerts but the most intimidating one was down on Croton when I was placed between Jerry Jeff Walker and David Bromberg on the program to be followed by Arlo Guthrie. What a spot to place a newby but it was a wonderful experience to blend with such accomplished artists at that time. Good old Pete Seeger had his ways back then and I firmly appreciate all of his efforts to this day.

 

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

Find your muse, do it for the love of the music and don’t expect to make a lot of money. If you do, great; but just play your music and reach out to whoever will listen…. Music is infectious. It gets under your skin and you can’t let it go. Push your limits, but don’t allow others to define who you are.

 

Why did you think that country blues continues to generate such a devoted following?

Country blues, which encompasses many different types of music, is honest. My own songs tell the story of my life at so many different stages. Some of my best were written years ago and what I am writing now shows the growth into a new life phase.

 

What the difference and similarity between the FOLK COUNTRY BLUES and MODERN ELECTRIC BLUES feeling?

Difference is the intimate connection between the artist and the audience that the country blues affords. Modern electric blues has a lot of wonderfully talented artists who have technique but lack a certain down and dirty feeling.  I still like it though.

 

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

I used to run jam sessions in New York back in the eighties and every nite was a great jam, bar none.  There were so many great performances that I have had back in the day; but I think that some of the finest were when I was working with the Hudson River Sloop in the eighties as well when the likes of Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Don Mclean, Jerry Jeff Walker and David Bromberg were regulars at these festival concerts.  It was just a great experience for a fledgling blues player to be on stage with these folks.

 

Tell me a few things about the early eighties managing other bands and clubs in New York, which memory makes you smile?

In booking bands and managing the music, it was very difficult to get bands to play their own original music. Majority of the bands want to play cover very loudly. After leaving a large commercial club called Skyway, I found my niche at a small club called Justin’s where all the musicians played original jazz, folk, blues just like the good old days. Sunday night was songwriter’s night and the acoustic acts such as John Saxe, Bob Warren, Erin Frandsen, and Rory Block to name just a few.

 

What is the best advice a bluesman ever gave you?

Nobody ever gave me any advice, but people gave me a lot of breaks and support. One of the dumbest moves I ever made was a had a prior booking and then was invited to play with Jimmy Collier’s Blues Band at Carnegie Hall but felt I should keep the prior commitment because I had booked it. Looking back, I cannot believe I gave up a chance to play At Carnegie Hall!

 

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? 

The blues is honest, sincere music. People relate to that ….

 

Is it easier to write and play the blues as you get older?

I have always found it easy to sing the blues because I feel it and relate to it. I grew up with the blues in my house and it just kept on giving as the years passed. 

 

Which things do you prefer to do in your free time? What is your “secret” DREAM? Happiness is……

In my spare time these days, I host the Reverbnation Showcase of Independent artists on Facebook every Saturday evening from six to eight PM eastern time. I take this two hour slot and post music of independent artists that I meet on line for the people on my artist page and timeline. Seven months and still running, it has become quite the event. Takes up a lot of my free time these days.

My dream is to give up my day job (LOL) and does my music full time. I have raised a family, put my wife through college, put my daughter thru college and would love at age 67 to begin playing coffee houses and festivals again here in North Carolina from the beaches to the mountains. I would love to have a CD, and have selected and recorded the songs for it.

At 67, my energy comes from the music, and I would love to be able to live out my years playing and in the company of my fellow independent musicians and go where the music takes me…

(Promo Color Photos by Courtney Loyer)

 

Doug Dickens / singer songwriter / website

 

 

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Tags: Crudup, Dickens, Doug, Douglas, Interview, Limnios, Seeger, acoustic, folk

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