UTG INTERVIEW: Doug Prescott

In relation to a lifetime, fifty years is an incredibly long time to dedicated yourself to any one thing. Having the drive, devotion, and even opportunities to put your heart and soul into what you love is a blessing, and Doug Prescott knows this firsthand. He’s a genuine musician with a true adoration of the art, found evident in his talent and endless dedication.

We’re pleased to bring you this exclusive interview with the man himself where we discuss his musical and personal history, his newest album, and what life would be like had he never picked up an instrument. Read through the break and get familiar with Doug Prescott, a true artist with a lot to give.

You’ve been making music for roughly five decades now. This is obviously an incredible feat, but what you would you say has kept you creating for all this time?
Well, it’s obviously a part of who I am. I really have to do it. There have been periods when it wasn’t coming, and I was miserable. I wasn’t listening to my muse. When I listen and let it flow, I’m a much happier person. It’s how I express myself best.

Blues in the Key of Sea is only your third album from yourself, so how long have you been working on this solo project and what made you want to break away from the band scene to focus on yourself?
Bands are a royal pain. I’ve been involved in many bands where there are major egos involved and everyone has a different agenda. So I wanted to be the creator of the agenda. I’m a benevolent dictator though and welcome input from the band. They are such good musicians and I respect their opinions. I am very lucky to have these guys, because they rock! We work together well as a unit. I guess somewhere along the line I either read, or someone said to me that you really have to believe in yourself and promote yourself. I’ve always believed in my music but now I’m putting my energy completely where it counts. I think we spent about 8 or 9 months on the CD. I like to take my time and do it right. It’s nice not having the pressure of having to have it done by a certain date or time.

You started this all in one of the most iconic eras of rock and blues music. How has your upbringing and musical inception influenced your works down the line? This one included.
All my influences come out in my music. It’s funny, I don’t consciously think about it, like “I want to do a Van Morrison sounding tune.” But he comes out occasionally in various places. I love a lot of different types of music and they are all part of me and pop out occasionally. You can hear them in my songs. I’d like to think that what I’m doing is fairly original sounding, but my major influences are still there peeking out.

I enjoy the play-on with the album title. Do you have a love for the ocean that’s influenced your work as well?
Oh absolutely! The ocean is a great healer for me. I love the sound of the waves, the mystery of the depths. The healing energy and healing salts of the water. The stunning beauty. But I have to give credit to the artist Ray Troll for the title. He lives in Alaska and does truly amazing work. I actually found the piece we used for the cover before I wrote the title track. I became friends with him on Facebook (have a mutual friend in Alaska). I asked him if I could use the piece for the cover. We came to terms and I wrote the song. It just fit perfectly.

How would you say Blues in the Key of Sea differs from your various other works? Anything you put into it specifically that you felt was a departure from how you’ve written or recorded in the past?
Well I started out wanting to simplify the production a little, but that really didn’t happen so much – maybe on a few tunes. I’d like to think that I’m getting better at doing this as time goes on. I always enjoy bringing in friends to play who add a nice dimension to what we’re doing. The biggest example of this is Billy Payne on the title track. We have been friends for many years, and Little Feat is one of my favorite bands of all time. He added so much to that song that he really transformed it and made it work so well. We used real steel drums on “Don’t Let Our Love Go.” If I’m going to do a reggae tune (which I always like to do if I have written one), then I want it to be as true to the genre and the sound as I can make it. Tracy Thornton did an amazing job on that song, which, once again, transformed it and took it to another level.

You have many, many people involved on this album for instrumentation. How do you choose who to work with?
Well there is a core band of four guys – Tommy Hartley, my main man who has been with me for about 17 years – a truly great guitarist who knows my music well and has become so integral to the “sound.” Ken Johnson, another fine guitarist and a very good bass player who takes over for me on bass when I’m playing acoustic guitar or electric guitar. And Andy Cheek on drums. These guys are a dream to work with in a band. Not only are they exceptional musicians, they are really nice guys. We have a good time hanging out together. My thing at this point is, if you aren’t having fun doing it, don’t do it. That’s why I don’t get involved in other bands with big egos and agendas. This is a fun band having fun doing what we are doing. As far as what other players to get involved – it’s all friends of mine who I respect as musicians and want them to come put their stamp on the tunes. Mike Wesolowski played killer blues harp on “99% Won’t Do,” and he hangs with us a lot at gigs and rehearsals. Don McCray hasn’t been on a CD with us yet, but he is our main keys guy playing live. The horns have become a part of the band live as well – got to have ’em. Eric Kulz works with me to write the horn charts. He does a great job and he plays trumpet with us live. Mark Gloden plays tenor sax. I like to have special guests as well on the CDs who add to the sound, like Billy Payne from Little Feat – no one plays like him. Craig Fuller (Pure Prairie League and Little Feat) joined us on the last CD (The Journey & The Deep Blue Sea). It’s either friends or networking that brings them in and they become part of the musical family of the CDs.

Any specific songs on the album that have a heavier personal attachment to you than others?
“Summer of 1968.” It’s completely autobiographical, and pretty much tells my story – growing up within an hour’s drive from Canada in upstate NY, moving to western MD. That was the heaviest, most profound year of my life really. The country was in total turmoil and so was my life. It was a very hard time. Then off to college and the specter of the draft and that number that none of us will ever forget. My roommate’s number was a lot lower, and he was convinced that he was going to Vietnam. It pretty much freaked him out and he was a changed man from that point on. I have never written songs about my life in this way – kind of summarizing major periods of time in a verse. It felt like something I needed to say and get out of my system, so it was cathartic for me. I also had the extreme pleasure of having my good friend Johnny Gallagher from northwest Ireland play killer guitars on that one. He’s a virtuoso that hangs out with the big names when he’s playing across Europe, but nobody here knows who he is. They will eventually, because he has great respect in the business. When I was playing in a band called Rain Dance, we did two tours of Ireland with his help and he and his brothers and I became close friends.

Do you feel at all that in this day and age it’s harder to grab a listener’s attention or respect with blues music as opposed to decades past?
No actually, I think it’s easier. There are many more outlets/avenues to get your music out there to blues fans than there were in the past. Blues magazines, XM/Sirius satellite radio, college radio, Reverb Nation, social media, and all the internet radio stations around the world. YouTube is a game changer. It has become one of the main places where people go to find new music. I have a videographer I work with who does a great job with music videos. Like Tony Bowman and I work well together in the music studio, Davis Stillson and I work well together putting the music videos together. I have these little movies going on in my head all the time with the songs, and he helps me realize them in video. I’m really excited about what we’re doing and going to be doing in that regard. “It’s About Oil” was the first real production we did, and “Blues in the Key of Sea” is the most recent. I loved the animation of the cover – really made the video pop. We’re working on one right now for “If You Talk The Talk,” and it’s going to have some very cool stuff in it. I won’t give it away right now, because it will be out soon. It’s not animation, but it will be very interesting. Very excited about it.

What can you tell us about Prescott Environmental Associates?
It’s a company I founded about 19 years ago doing environmental consulting on a wide variety of projects, from Brownfields (abandoned industrial) sites to military bases, commercial buildings, college campuses, and even some residential projects. We do mostly testing, some remediation and deal with a lot of the nasty environmental contaminants, like asbestos, lead paint, mold, fuel tanks, PCBs, etc. It’s my day job and how I earn a living for the most part. My degree is actually in Environmental Science, so I’ve used that in my career. I like to feel that I’m doing my small part to clean up the environment and keep people from being harmed by environmental contaminants.

You also kind of have an alter ego between your music and your day job. Can you shed some light on that as well?
Well I use my middle name for my music. My last name is Guild, which is pronounced with the long i, so it gets mispronounced all the time. So people I work with during the day know me as Doug Guild, and musicians or people I play with or who come see us play know me as Doug Prescott. But my friends know… But it’s all just me – the same old dude with the grey hair, mustache and ball cap.

If you hadn’t started making music all those years ago, where do you think you’d be today?
Unhappy. I learned a long time ago that I have to have music in my life to be happy. The times when I’ve gotten away from music have been hard, miserable times. Music helps keep me sane. I really have to thank my parents for making sure that I had music in my life. My dad wrote music and wrote a march in high school that was published and played by his high school marching band. Late in his career in college administration he got back to writing and wrote a couple jazz pieces that were played by the jazz ensemble at the college where he worked. He really got me going. My mother was a huge music lover. I started playing trumpet in elementary school and then guitar before high school. I started writing songs when I was quite young (they were terrible!). But I really enjoyed it and have kept it up since. Again, it’s my main form of expression and how I do it best. I truly can’t imagine not making music. Life would not be worth living for me without it.

Written and conducted by: Brian LionFollow him on Twitter

Brian Leak
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