Tom Doughty | 2009 | Artist Interview
TT – Thanks for taking the time for this interview Tom. I first met you at Hargate Hall here you played an incredible set- I was wondering how you come to play lap slide?
TD – It started out of necessity being the only way I could play, but once tried, I was completely hooked by this musically versatile and beautiful instrument with the availability of infinite pitch, unique voicing and challenges beyond those of a regular guitar.
TT – Who were your biggest influences Tom?
TD – Strange things influences; a standard question with potentially deep answers; people often seem to answer this sort of question by highlighting those music and who should have influenced them, or those musicians who were popular. As a blues rooted slide player I could say ‘Blind Willy Mctell’ but the answer to this question is soooo wide because I’m still finding big influences.
I have been influenced in stages throughout my life, as a child when I was soaking up new things, I vividly remember my fathers record collection which was so varied, from Jim Reeves to Beethoven; Joan Baez to South Pacific, to Larry Adler and Woody Guthrie. My brother who is nine years older than me was into the Folk/Blues revival and the 60s Pop music.
So at the very ‘influencial’ ages of 7 – 12, I was listening to all my Dads stuff, I had no choice: If I was in the house at the weekend, it could be ‘Carmen’, ‘I was born under a wandering star’ , ‘Bimbo’ or ‘Farewell Angelina’ ; my brothers music from outside his bedroom door, Bert Jansch, Renborn, Woody Guthrie, Martin Carthy, Big Bill Broonzy, Donovon, Beatles, Stones, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Dylan….It has all influenced me, not all of it in a good way.
Of my own choice over the years, I’ve hunted out 70s Rock and Pop (Wishbone Ash, Led Zep, Atomic Rooster, Canned Heat, Little Feat, Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Jethro Tull, Early Eagles, Trad and Contemporary Folk, most acoustic and some electric blues and country blues (original artists and modern takes on them, Electric Folk, Indian Music, Some classical, Americana, American standards. Does anyone remember ‘Rockin Jimmy Byfield and the Brothers of the Night’? Fantastic Album…..
As far as guitar players of the moment, I listen to Kottke, Martin Taylor, Mann, Brozman, Dowling, Manx, Phelps, Bhattacharyra, Diabete, Krauss, Mitchell, Newman, anyone and anything that grabs me…The list is endless and I’m still looking and discovering. I like songwriters, I like quirky music and rhythms, I like one chord songs. Bugger me lad, threes not much I don’t like on some level. For me there’s no such thing as a Major influence, because each may be important in a different way. Its a gumbo of sound.
TT – I noticed you played a lot of originals during Hargate Hall, I was wondering if you might let us in on your creative process?
TD – I like to think that I’m a ‘freestyle’ player and my music always has improvisation, in every tune, on almost every occasion. If there’s one thing I think I can do well, its improvising and playing music spontaneously, with other musicians. I love the enjoyment of being on and around the creative process as its happening. Sometimes the sounds themselves seem to command the direction and feeling of the tunes.
In terms of originals, because of all those influential things above, my style of playing and my approach to the guitar, tunes can evolve from scratch, starting with a hook or a short riff; or a basis around a particular tuning. I don’t use traditional techniques for lap slide and I tend not to use bar slants, so I discover new sounds, voicing and chords by using the slide on inner strings, or in pairs, threes, fours, fives, sixes; whatever I’m hearing.
My use of unusual tunings helps here and in themselves, the tunings sometimes ‘offer’ me a shape, voice, sound or texture to work with. My recent instrumental, Maggie’s Pies (you can hear it on the album or at my space site) developed out of a (I think) Celtic tuning (from the bass: C G D G A D) and I liked the sounds created from the first 3 strings (from the bass) at the third, fourth and fifth frets. The tune developed from there.
Similarly I use an almost standard tuning for some Jazz pieces and improvising, such as the way I play Black Orpheus (Manna de carnival) or Eleanor Rigby; It doesn’t matter whether they are viewed as lap slide pieces, because I play whatever I can: they appeal to me. (from the bass again: EAEGBE) This tuning lends itself to playing out of E Minor, A minor, A major and some lovely Jazz voicing with the slide around the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th frets, covering either 5 strings (leave the top E open) 4 or 3 strings. Tweak the B string to a C and there’s another lovely opening…..I usually tune the whole thing down a tone here to a Gm7 chord. DGDFBbD.. Out of this tuning I play ‘Grandmas Hands’ ‘Your Picture has faded’ and ‘Nobody’s Fault’, which is in the key of D.
In terms of lyrics; I need a subject and an idea. I find lyrics much harder. On lucky occasions the hook line comes to me: Like ‘Running Free in that Promised Land’ or ‘Zimbabwe, dirty regime’…but those are rare. Mostly its hard work and a few years ago Michael Dunnigan told me how he used several sheets of paper on top of each other and slightly altered words or phrases before feeling satisfied with the result.
It was a great tip (thanks Michael) and I use this. I find it helps with the process of trying to form the best understanding with the right phrasing, time signature, syllable counts and so on. I find lyrics hard to do, but they do get easier with practice. Most of the songs on the new album are my own and there are a few songs that I feel proud of the lyrics, others less so, but I’m happy that they convey the meaning and purpose of the song with clarity and hopefully make as little sense as possible!
TT – Thanks for that Tom. I guess now is the time to ask about your gear and setup…
TD – I like guitars……Women like shoes, right? Guitars like guitars, you can never have too many. I like old guitars and here’s a picture of most of my collection. They are all Hawaiian instruments and nearly all lap guitars: The old ones: Weissenborn, Sheirson bros, Kona, HiLo, Supertone, Regal, National (1930’s Squareneck Tri Cones and Triolian), George La Foley 1920, Paul Summers, Hawaiian, Martin 0-18KH, Oahu Jumbo, Gibson L2H, The more modern, 1930s/40s Lap Guitars, National Silvo, Selmer New Yorker, National Wakiki, Oah Tonemaster, Gibson EH152 and matching Amp, Supertone with Rikenbacher pickup. Recent guitars include my gigging instruments which are my 2006 Erich Solomon Long Scale Hawaiian made of Black Walnut and Spruce and my 2003 Bear Creek Weissenborn.
I also use one of my Nationals as a regular gigging instrument. For recording I use all sorts because I find recorded sound is more difficult to decipher. These instruments have so many overtones and odd frequencies ringing out that recording can be difficult because they are so ‘hot’ and lively. Most of my recordings use one of the Tri Cones, mic’d close using Oktavia and Audio Technica Mics and occasionally Ribbon Mics…and my bear creek because the sound is so even. My three main gigging guitars also have pickups installed. Not idea and a compromise but I knock stage mics with my right hand and also move around sometimes getting out of position. I’m what is technically known as a clumsy bugger.
My bear creek uses a Baggs M1 through a Baggs para acoustic DI; it works well. The Solomon has a tiny elliptical sound hole and the only thing I could get in there is a Shadow pickup which again works well, but can tend to be a bit clackky, but less so than any under saddle job. My National runs through a Highlander Magnaphonic. They are excellent and by far the best system for A tri cone giving quite accurate reproduction of the metallic, thin, mid ranging sound that only old Nationals can produce!
I nearly forgot to mention my slide. I have found that glass gives me a cleaner tone than anything else, having tried steel, stainless steel, brass, copper, nylon and artificial derivatives. Glass is the material that I best like the sound of, but its disadvantage is in weight: It isn’t very heavy for its size. Weight tends to give the slide a better sustain and tone. Interestingly, it isn’t just about pressure or surface area. Even more of a fascination is how the tone and timbre of the notes can be affected by the angle of the slide on the string and the relationship between the two hands.
Thinking about it, unlike a fretted guitar, there is a direct relationship between the slide on the finger and the picking hand. On an ordinary guitar the direct relationship is between the fret and the playing hand. Anyway, I have designed (its now marketed worldwide) the Evolution slide http://www.diamondbottlenecks.com/DB08/index.asp?n=16 which is made of half glass (lead crystal) and half stainless tube. Not only does it give a choice of playing surfaces in one slide but it is relatively small in size for a good balanced weight. Players use them for bottleneck and they are in my opinion, the best around for weight, compact size and quality workmanship.My picking hands relies on a Dunlop thumb pick and finger picks. Given the choice I would do away with finger picks but for me they are a necessary evil.
TT – Just staying on instruments for a little bit, Tom, how do you think the various models differ? I’ve always thought of the weissenborns as more mellow and more sad than the nationals…
TD – As every GAS sufferer knows, you can never have too many. Resonator guitars are generally louder, brasher and more in your face than wood. Resonators come in at least three varieties: Single cone, spider bridge which is used on Dobro and bluegrass guitars (generally); Single cone biscuit bridge (National triolian, Duolin etc) and National Tri Cone, which is a three cone model. Apart from models and design, the spider bridge was a way around the Beauchamp patent for resonators when National was sold off.
The Dopyera brothers then patented the spider bridge resonator and Dobro was born. The spider bridge has a bright, perhaps ‘clakky’ sound with good sustain, and can be thin but still loud; the biscuit bridge is the loudest, very percussive and deep sounding but lacks sustain, the tri cone has the most sustain (if its a good one), has resonance, less percussive than the biscuit bridge and not quite as loud, but more mellow and less clack!
All resonators of quality have wide overtones and harmonic qualities. Like any other instrument though, they are all different and despite being made of metal, can have wide varieties in tone and harmonic qualities. Weissenborn were designed to have sustain, tone and the same volume irrespective of pitch i.e.: to be as loud when played toward the bridge as at the nut, Ideal qualities for Hawaiian playing which was their original design. Like CF Martin, Hermann Weissenborn crafted fantastic designs which are still the benchmark standard and his formula has remained the most popular amongst modern builders who basically copy and modify his original design ideas. Wood is much mellower than metal as you rightly say, and most manufacturers adapted regular instruments to supply the popular Hawaiian guitar craze that started in the 1920s. during 1925 – 30; Hawaiian instruments were more popular than regular guitars. they are going through a bit of a resurgence now too, but its easy to adapt an ordinary guitar for lap playing with a simple nut extender.
TT – Thanks for that Tom. If someone wanted to start lap slide, where would you recommend to begin?
TD – unless you are very rich, a guitar collector or really sure about playing this sty;e, start with a regular acoustic guitar; flat fretboard is preferable for sighting… Well first of all, I would recommend getting familiar with the two major open tunings (DADF#AD and DGDGBD) and become aware of their sounds and possibilities for blocking single strings, pairs, threes, fours, fives and sixes. at this stage fret the guitar using a finger, like a bar chord.
When the sounds become familiar, buy two things, a bar (stevens, shubb or dunlop or whatever your personal preference) and a nut raiser, really inexpensive from a shop or through the web, (they are on eBay all the time) and start exploring. first work on pitch, initially octaves, then fifths, thirds and so on. develop your ear. listen to the differences in timbre through the bar, tone, try different pressures and use the minimum pressure possible which stops any string buzz or rattle. explore the harmonic possibilities using open strings, listen, experiment and start the process for the fantastic method of playing.
Finding information nowadays is so easy, if you learn through watching a screen, reading a book, using DVDs; there are plenty of types to choose from and also lots of styles of lap playing and instruments, from Bluegrass to Raga and all points of the globe, slide guitar is being played somewhere.
TT – Thanks, Tom! Before we go, can you let us in on your latest projects?
TD – The thing about me and music is there’s as much going on as I generate: sometimes I easily distract myself into a really useful diversion; you know, something might need making or mending in the shed, a dog walk, long bike ride, reading books, or just sitting there playing some sweet music or listening to music.
There’s on going: Having just completed my third CD, there’s marketing and air play to try and arrange, there’s the (I dislike it immensely) ongoing trawl to get gigs and suitable places to play; some teaching, occasional session work, meeting up with other musicians when I can arrange it and playing music and there’s on going projects that I am addressing, some faster than others.
My main gig getting activities right now are my trip to California in August: I’m demonstrating for the New Hampshire builder, Erich Solomon http://www.solomonguitars.com/ at the Healdsburg Guitar Festival http://www.lmii.com/GuitarFestival/Default.asp ands I’m looking for gigs too. So far, I’ve a definite gig at the Folk Music Center in Claremont on Saturday August 8th and I’m looking at McCabes too; and anywhere else your readers might point me! My other main project is my instructional/workshop lap slide DVD which I just need to sort out and complete with Terry McKnight in London, which could be together in a month if I get myself moving and the first 1,000 Tom Doughty Evolution bottlenecks which are being made right now. I’m no businessman, but I have my bottleneck invention, people love them, so I’m getting a thousand made so distribute. Each one will come with a velvet bag, in a blister pack along with an instrumental CD. I mention it above and by July they will be ready for sale. What can I say? Life is as busy as I make it, but its all at a fairly relaxed pace nowadays for a bloke without a real ‘day job’!
©2008 Terence Tan.
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