Q&A with multiple Blues Music Award winner Doug MacLeod - superb songwriting, guitar wizardry, warm soulful vocals

"Take your time - Taste and Space - When in doubt leave it out- less is more- only write and sing about what you know about and never play a note you don’t believe."

Doug MacLeod: Real Life Blues

Doug MacLeod is known for his superb songwriting, guitar wizardry, warm soulful vocals, wit and unforgettable live performances. At the heart of a Doug MacLeod performance is his knack for storytelling, bringing characters-from the faceless to the legendary-to strikingly real life. Doug is a multiple Blues Music Award winner, most recently the 2018 Blues Music Award for Acoustic Album Of The Year ‘Break The Chain’ and the 2017 Blues Music Award for Acoustic Artist Of The Year. He is nominated for the 2020 Blues Music Award for Acoustic Artist Of The Year. He is currently working on his new album with producer Jim Gaines. Doug is an international touring artist who writes and sings original songs that are based on his own life and experiences. He learned from the old masters and carries forward a valuable tradition. As a youth Doug overcame abuse and a crippling stutter by turning to music. After picking up a guitar, and singing - he found his voice. MacLeod's playing landed him sideman gigs with George 'Harmonica' Smith, Big Joe Turner, Pee Wee Crayton, Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson, Lowell Fulson and Big Mama Thornton.                                                       Doug MacLeod / Photo © by Jeff Fasano 

Over 30 years, 21 studio albums, several live records, compilations, a blues guitar instructional DVD and a live performance DVD, MacLeod has consistently earned raves. His songs have been covered by many artists including Albert King, Albert Collins, Joe Louis Walker and Eva Cassidy. MacLeod's songs have been featured in many TV movies and the hit show In the Heat of the Night. August Wilson requested his soulful slide guitar playing in the Los Angeles opening of "Gem of the Ocean”. From 1999 to 2004 Doug hosted Nothin' But The Blues, a very popular weekend blues show on Los Angeles' KLON-KKJZ. He has also been the voice for The Blues Showcase on Continental Airlines. For ten years he penned "Doug's Back Porch," a regular feature column in Blues Revue Magazine in which he shared his humorous and insightful stories with thousands of readers. He is one of the four featured artists in the movie “Resonate: A Guitar Story”, the feature documentary on the making of National Guitars. Like the old masters who taught him, MacLeod's music expresses life and times through an intangible, elusive quality that may simply be a keen sense of what matters most. Doug’s music, stories, and philosophy provide a healing that has helped others overcome the hardships of their lives.

Interview by Michael Limnios                             Doug MacLeod - Interview 2011

How has the Blues and Roots Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Well, the blues has taught me so much about life and how to live it. Like I say this is a music that is about overcoming adversity not giving in to it. I saw this with my time with the old bluesmen I worked with and traveled with.  So, like in the tough times like we got now, I remember this old saying, “If ain’t alright now, it’s gonna’ be alright.”. Their way of saying ‘This too shall pass’.

And about living it - enjoy each day. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not promised to you. At best tomorrow is a promissory note. So, all you got for sure is now. So, live it, enjoy it and don’t waste it.

How do you describe your music philosophy and songbook? What touched (emotionally) you from acoustic, resophonic and slide guitar?

That goes back to my first mentor -Ernest Banks of Toano VA. He instilled in me the honesty. He told me “Never write or sing about what you don’t know about and never play a note you don’t believe.” Honesty. Realness. What touched me about acoustic, reso-phonic guitars, and slide? The emotion and the realness. When you play acoustic guitar- there’s no effects. Just you. Slide to me is like a voice. Singing. Sometimes sweet and gentle and sometimes like a locomotive burning down the track.

"Well, the blues has taught me so much about life and how to live it. Like I say this is a music that is about overcoming adversity not giving in to it. I saw this with my time with the old bluesmen I worked with and traveled with.  So, like in the tough times like we got now, I remember this old saying, “If ain’t alright now, it’s gonna’ be alright.”. Their way of saying ‘This too shall pass’." (Doug MacLeod, 2019 / Photo © by Brent Snyder)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

My meeting with Ernest Banks back in 1966 or so in Toano VA. Meeting with George Harmonica Smith in 1978 at Shakey Jake’s Safara Club at 54th and Vermont in South Central Los Angeles. Playing with my son’s godfather Pee Wee Crayton. With Ernest - like I said in previous question.

George "Harmonica" Smith - Taught me about entertaining and playing. He encouraged me to be me. One time he said to me “Dubb (that’s what he called me) you sure sound like BB King.” I said, ‘Thanks George!”. Then he replied, “Dubb, that’s not a compliment.”  He said,,” Let’s put Dubb out there and see what happens with Dubb.” He was like a father to me. I loved him. Still do.

Pee Wee? Like a favorite uncle. Someone you could talk to and laugh and joke and also get the advice you might need. He told when I played to take my time. Use space.  Don’t be afraid to be play less. A lot of times in blues less is more. So proud he was our son Jesse’s godfather. I was very proud to do his induction speech for the Blues Hall Of Fame and I tell you I will doing the Hall Of Fame induction speech for George Harmonica next year. It was supposed to be this year, but because of COVID virus it has been postponed.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I opened for BB King in Seattle. They told me to do 35 minutes. I did 34 minutes and 32 seconds. I was well received and so happy that I was. But what made it so special was the BB asked to meet me on his bus. The thrill of my life, I think. Second only to the birth of our son.

"I’d like to go to Kansas City in 1937 to a Negro League game with Satchel Paige pitching. Then at night go and get me some fine Kansas City BBQ and a beer and ponder over the history I just saw." (Photo: Doug with her son Jesse, The Lake Theatre in Lake Oswego OR)

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the guys. I miss the laughter, the stories, hangin out. I miss that culture. I feel so fortunate that I was able to learn and be with those musicians.

I hope that the young musicians will visit the history of this music. Learn from what has gone before. Put that in their music and then add themselves to it and carry the music on to the new generation of listeners.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

The way we get paid for streaming! Make fair for the songwriters and the artists!!

What is the impact of Blues and Roots music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Wow that’s a heavy question. This may not be a heavy answer but it’s what comes to mind. I’d like the music to reach people. Help them think, laugh, cry, feel.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?

Take your time - Taste and Space - When in doubt leave it out- less is more- only write and sing about what you know about and never play a note you don’t believe.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I’d like to go to Kansas City in 1937 to a Negro League game with Satchel Paige pitching. Then at night go and get me some fine Kansas City BBQ and a beer and ponder over the history I just saw.

Doug MacLeod - Home

Doug MacLeod / Photo © by Jeff Fasano 

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