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Arlington, VA native Doug Jay is one of the best (and most underrated) blues harmonica players in the Mid-Atlantic. Doug was part of the music scene that produced contemporary blues masters such as The Nighthawks, Tom Principato, and Jimmy Thackery. He has traveled both the United States and abroad, and his first album, Until We Meet Again, has received critical acclaim nationwide.
Doug, who is also a fine singer, songwriter, and band leader, recently returned to the D.C. Area after relocating to California. He now plays with his band, The Blue Jays, and teaches harmonica during the day. He is also working on a second album.
Like many modern blues harp players, Doug's first interest in the harmonica came from hearing the blues.
"I heard harmonica on this record ... it was The Best of the Chicago Blues, that collection on Vanguard. It was "Love me or Leave me," by James Cotton. That was the first time I ever heard amplified Chicago blues harp, and that's a hell of a solo. And I just went crazy when I heard that sound. But, I didn't know anything about blues, you know. So I went out to a record store and I bought some blues records. I bought a couple of Sonny Boy Williamson and The Yardbirds, a couple of other things, and then I went out to find some more not too long after that."
Doug names Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson (two of the greatest Chicago blues harp players of all time) as major influences in his playing. Another major influence was harmonica guru Pierre Beauregard.
He recalls: "I went to this record store, and lo and behold, working at the record store was Pierre Beauregard. I told him I had an interest in the harmonica. It was like fate, you know, that I went there. And he goes 'Oh, I could tell you about harp.' And he turned me on to Little Walter, he shoved a bunch of records into my arms, and that was it. Pierre was a big influence on me when I first started because I couldn't play. I mean, he basically introduced me to the harp players and really the basics of the instrument."
It was also Beauregard who convinced Doug to move to Boston and start his first bands. Doug says, "I moved to Boston not too long after I started playing the harmonica, when I was about nineteen or twenty. Pierre [also] had moved up to Boston....He had a band originally with Jimmy Thackery called 'Beauregard's Blues Dusters,' I think. They fired Thackery and hired Tom Principato. So Thackery went on and formed The Nighthawks because he didn't have a band. And Principato and Pierre moved up to Boston, because Tom had some stuff going on up there. They based the band in Boston, and they had this big house up there, and Pierre kept saying 'You ought to come on up, man.' And I wasn't doing anything so I went. So my first bands were in Boston, and they were really awful. The Lincoln street Raiders I think was my very first band." Doug moved from Boston to Florida, and spent several years moving between Boston, Florida, and D.C. In Florida he played with a southern rock band called Fresh Squeezed, which, according to him, was successful, but they weren't playing the kind of music he wanted to play.
He says, "Orange Squeezed, Fresh Squeezed-whatever the hell they were called-they were a viable band. I mean, I made my living doing that down there, but it was really awful."
Doug returned to the D.C. area when he joined The All Stars, who were based in Charlottesville.
"I joined The All Stars. I moved back, I kept going back and forth from Boston, to DC, to Florida .I was living in Boston and I heard that Bruce Ewan, who was playing harmonica with The All Stars at that time, was quitting the band. I heard through The Nighthawks that they were auditioning harmonica players. I auditioned for the gig and got it. And uh, the rest is degenerate history. That was the bad that I had a lot of fun with, drank a lot of alcohol, and made one record for Adelphi."
Doug's next band was with ex-Muddy Waters guitarist Bob Margolin. Playing with Margolin was a very valuable experience for him.
"After I left the All-stars in Charlottesville, about a year after that, Muddy's band broke up. Bob moved to the DC area and started his own group, which I was the harmonica player in for about two and a half years...My harmonica playing grew by leaps and bounds when I played with Bob. Because there is no finer Chicago blues guitar player, you know, traditional Chicago blues guitar player, out there than Bob. There's nobody I've ever played with that can back up a harp as good as him. He is the best...he really whipped me into shape as a Chicago blues harmonica player, which I don't consider myself to be...that's not all I do, but when I played with Bob that is what I did." Doug's latest move from the D.C. area was to California, where there is a very hot blues scene, and where some of the best living blues harp players are located. ""I moved out to California in September of 1990. At the time I had a band called The Choir Boys...we were only playing on the weekends and we weren't really doing the kind of stuff I wanted to do, and I was ready for a change. So I moved to California, I just left--lock, stock and barrel, I didn't know anybody there I decided I was gonna try to do my own thing under my own name. And it was tough. It was very tough going the whole time, but especially the first six months. I mean, I couldn't find a job-a regular job. The economy's really bad there. I finally started getting some gigs and meeting some players, among them the guys that play on my album, and self-confidence about doing it. You know, with myself up front. It was a big step for me."
His first solo album, Until We Meet Again, was made in California.
"I made the album in San Francisco...I decided I needed to make a record. I ended up financing it myself and putting it out myself. But I needed to do it, you know, I needed to try and get some notice... I'm recording an album right now, hopefully-I got my fingers crossed-somebody good will pick it up, and then I've got distribution. I don't have distribution on this album. I go to places and people haven't heard it."
Doug returned to the D.C. area in 1994, where he has been gigging, teaching, and recording. His band, The Blue Jays, is made up of some of the finest local blues players.
"The current band is guitarist Rick Oliveras, who is an alumnus of Mark Hummel and the Blues Survivors. [Oliveras] played with Jumping Johnny Sansone down in New Orleans, and is good friends with Jumping Johnny , but he wasn't working that much and I convinced him to move here. The bass player has been Steve Riggs, although the bass player slot is right now up for grabs. The drummer is Clark Matthews."
The Blue Jays do not have any major plans to tour in the future. Doug's main concern right now is to finish his second CD and get it picked up by a good label.
"Well, right now I have tunnel vision on this CD and getting it on a label. You know, I just played Toronto last week. Nobody knows me in Toronto. That's because I have no distribution for my album. And without some record label telling people that I ought to be the person they should listen to, then I can't get a draw in places I've never played. I need some company to beat people over the head [laughs]. I don't know if that will ever happen, I hope so!"
Copyright 1995 Music Monthly
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