Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones feature Doug on lead guitar and vocals, Andrew Gohman on bass, Sam Farmer on drums and Madison Slim on harp. The band works more than most blues bands on Florida’s Gulf Coast and Doug frequently plays 17 to 20 club dates a month in addition to regional and national blues festivals. Next month, Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones will return to the Swordfish Grill and Cortez Kitchen in Cortez as well as the Motorworks Brewery and Mattison’s Riverwalk in Bradenton.
Florida plays a unique role in the nation’s blues community as it is home to eight blues societies affiliated with The Blues Foundation. I had the privilege of talking to Doug as he was returning from a gig in Tampa. When we talked, he readily acknowledged that the Sunshine State is home to a very robust and thriving blues community that features major festivals in Daytona, Boca Raton, Tampa Bay and Bonita Springs as well as notable clubs such as the Bradfordville Blues Club and Pineapple Willy’s.
Doug is celebrating 20+ years as a touring bluesman. Doug’s strong and abiding love for traditional blues – think T-Bone Walker, Robert Jr. Lockwood and Albert King – sets this relatively young bluesman apart from his peers. Doug also has worked with Dennis Gruenling and Steve Guyger, Kim Wilson, Terry Hank and Lazy Lester and each of his four CDs, plus Doug’s live shows, include a mixture of inventive original songs and well-chosen blues covers. Doug also had the pleasure of working with one of the great blueswomen in his native Detroit, Alberta Adams, and his early on-the-job blues education included mentor-ship from esteemed Motor City blues elders Johnnie Bassett and Joe Weaver.
At age 16 in 1986 with a newly-minted driver’s license in his wallet, Doug drove downtown across the traditional cultural, racial and psychological dividing line of Eight Mile Road from the suburbs in East Detroit to the recently-renovated Fox Theatre on Woodlawn Avenue downtown to see a blues revue that featured Denise LaSalle, Bobby “Blue” Bland, B.B. King and Albert King. This show was the “live blues gateway experience” that propelled Doug toward a more traditional, jump blues approach and away from Stevie Ray Vaughn’s raucous reinvention of contemporary blues. Earlier that year, Doug picked up his first guitar and was immediately attracted to blues classics.
“That show was an exceptional night of great blues from some of the masters,” said Deming. “Seeing Albert King live, watching Wayne Bennett on guitar with Bobby “Blue” Bland and experiencing Denise LaSalle when she was in her prime were formative moments for me. I couldn’t believe the power and emotion that BB King could deliver to a live audience, especially for a young guitar player like me. It was mesmerizing. I went to the show primarily to see Albert, but left a big fan of B.B. King.”
Doug fondly recalled his musical apprenticeship in Detroit in the 1990s.
“I came up in the 80s and started to make my way in the clubs in the 90s. There was a pretty big blues boom at the time, but Detroit’s scene had one foot still rooted in traditional blues while the country was gravitating toward Stevie Ray Vaughn, and later, the embracing blues power trios.
“Detroit had a handful of classic musicians who played for a record label that pre-dated Motown, Fortune Records. For me, the environment was very welcoming and nurturing as a young blues player.
Fortune Records released a lot of jump blues, doo-wop and swing-oriented music, and blues elders like Johnnie Bassett and Joe Weaver of Joe Weaver and the Blue Notes. Weaver’s band was the label’s house band and I learned a lot from this group of caring blues elders.”
Doug recalled the race riots in Detroit in the 1960s and acknowledged the city’s racially-charged past. However, he also recognized from his experience that night at the Fox Theatre, and his early years in Detroit clubs, that music brought people together regardless of race.
Ten years ago, the economic downturn disproportionately impacted Detroit and this directly impacted Doug and his family. For generations, his wife’s family owned and operated a machine shop that served Motor City’s primary industry. At the time, the city’s economy was on the ropes just prior to the nationwide bailout of US automakers facilitated by the Federal government.
“It was very, very difficult for me to make a living,” continued Doug. “I went from four or five gigs a week down to struggling to get just a couple of gigs a week. Every sector of the economy was hurt. The town was stressed. Even driving down the street the impact of what felt like the Depression was palpable. There was no traffic during rush hour as people weren’t working.
After the machine shop relocated it’s operation overseas, Doug and his wife considered other options, including warmer weather as an antidote to Detroit’s severe winters. The move to Florida was also influenced by Burger King’s expansion adjacent to their home.
“They were going to build a Burger King literally right in my back yard,” said Doug. “That was the last straw. We fought City Hall and lost. The drive-thru window was going to be 75 feet from my bedroom window. For me, though, Detroit will always be home. My family is there; my friends are there. I learned to play the blues in Detroit.”
Doug and his wife Claudia relocated to the West Coast of Florida near Tampa Bay for its slower pace than the Orlando area and relative affordability for a full-time blues musician.
Doug attributes his ability to work consistently along Florida’s Gulf Cost to the primary demographic of the region: Many people retire to Florida, and blues audiences tend to be older.
We talked about his 2012 Vizztone CD, What’s It Gonna Take, which landed in the top 10 Living Blues Charts and earned Doug a 2013 Blues Blast Magazine Sean Costello Rising Star Award. The CD’s classic and warm sound was reminiscent of early Chess records from 2120 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. What was particularly impressive was the way he worked with Dennis Gruenling (who recently joined the Nick Moss Band on its Alligator Records debut).
Doug and Dennis worked on the road together for eight or nine years.
“People often thought of us as a pair,” said Doug. “We always thought of it as a ‘road partnership,’ because we were on the road only three or four months out of the year. For the remainder of the year, we worked apart in our own bands as Dennis lived in New Jersey and I lived in Michigan. It was – and is – great working with him and he couldn’t have done any better than landing with Nick and Alligator Records.”
When asked about his gear that he uses to get his old school Blues sound Doug is happy to reveal his favorite amp and guitar setup.
“The gear I choose really reflects my overall dedication for the traditional sound and my attempts to capture the tone and spirit of the recordings that turned me on. I’ve always been a sucker for arch top guitars with P90 pickups, and have played vintage Gibson and Kay guitars most of my career.
“Recently I’ve been endorsed by the D’Angelico company and have been playing their Excel 59 and have really enjoyed it. When I play solid body (which I generally do for about 1/3 of my set) I prefer a Fender Strat or a Tele.
“It’s a nice contrast to the arch top and forces me to play a little different. I’ve never been pedal guy, too many knobs confuse me! I generally plug straight into a Fender style tube amp – I’ve been playing Vero Amps for 5 or 6 years now and love complexity of the tone. I can get a consistently great sound in any room or setting and I’ve never worked with a company that has offered so much support. ”
Doug’s putting the finishing touches on his fourth CD slated for release later this year, It’s a Complicated Mess. He’s got some pretty special guests joining him on the CD, including long-time Nightcat Charlie Baty on guitar, Sax Gordon on horns and Kim Wilson on harmonica.
Next week, Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones will play the 23rd anniversary of the Western Maryland Blues Festival in Hagerstown on June 1st followed by the High Cotton Music Hall Street Fest in historic Hartwell, Georgia the next day.
Each time one listens to What’s It Gonna Take, you are reminded why traditional blues from bluesmen like Doug Deming is so appealing.
The Blues world looks forward to It’s a Complicated Mess and hopes that the new CD will keep Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones on the road.
Visit Doug’s website at: www.dougdeming.com
Interviewer Eric Steiner is the Editor of the Washington Blues Society Bluesletter. He’s been a blues columnist for Midwest Beat and Cosmik Debris and enjoys traditional Chicago blues. Eric received several Best of the Blues (“BB Awards”) from the Washington Blues Society, including Best Blues Writer in 2007, Best Blues Image (Poster for the Mary McPage Band’s “Drink with the Band”) and Keeping the Blues Alive Award in 2016. Eric served on the Board of Directors of The Blues Foundation from 2010 to 2013.