Most of my earliest memories involve an obsession with music.
I remember standing in front of the TV while PBS would show concerts of orchestras, waving my arms around, wanting to be the conductor. I thought it was so cool-- all these musicians were looking to one guy for their guidance to make everything come together. I had a plastic toy guitar with green plastic strings that looked like green fishing line; which by the time I was cognitive only had one left on it. There's a photo in a family album of my sister helping me learn how to play a toy violin, I must have been 3 or 4 because my only memory of that event is seeing the photo.
I was obsessed with music. I constantly had earworms. The worst one of my childhood was "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets, which was on repeat in my head for a good two weeks. To this day, I still cringe when it comes on. A more recent one was "I Can't Go for That" by Hall & Oates, which also lasted about two weeks. Upon learning how to play guitar, the typical cure for an earworm was to learn how to play the song. No such luck with that catchy little number by Daryl Hall.
It was a bit of a challenge to convince my family to let me actually learn the guitar, though. Both of my older sisters took piano lessons, but never practiced. We were thus deemed an "unmusical" family as a result, despite my father's extensive collection of Chet Atkins and Segovia records, his grandfather's love of playing the saxophone, and my cousin rising to first or second chair violin in the Miami Youth Symphony. For better or worse, the reverse psychology of being told I wasn't going to be able to do something made me want to do it even more. I've been told that stubbornness is a Douglass trait. I don't believe it.
Les Claypool, a favorite from my teenage years, said something along the lines of the bass being "just the crayon" he pulled out of the box. Mine was most certainly the guitar. Hearing great blues/ rock players like Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, and David Gilmour made me wonder how such beautiful sounds could come from such a small instrument; and then it was ultimately Nirvana that made me obsess over figuring out just how the power of so many emotions could be expressed in this way.
My first guitar teacher hated Nirvana. He refused to teach me any of their songs. As an adult, I discovered a huge resource of Ted Greene guitar lessons posted on YouTube. In one of those lessons, Ted says that Nirvana was the most interesting rock band to come out, harmonically, since the Beatles. But as a kid I was forced to figure out those songs from songbooks, friends, and by ear. There was no internet back then!
Nonetheless, that first teacher saw that I liked Hendrix and Zeppelin et al., and suggested that I start listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan. From there he said, "You like that? Well, listen to the blues. Stevie is the blues. That's what Hendrix and Jimmy Page were listening to for their inspiration, too."
And it was there that my obsession with improvised music began. I'd buy tapes of Muddy Waters, Albert King, Robert Johnson and hear different versions of the same song. When Pink Floyd would play "Comfortably Numb" live, it was exactly as it sounded on the recording. But, I had 4 different versions, on 4 different albums, of Muddy Waters playing "Mean Red Spider". Not only were they different tempos, they were in different keys, and had different lyrics to boot.
From there I wanted to learn as much as possible about how to improvise. I was turned on to Phish and the Grateful Dead by friends, and would play along to their extended jams, trying to absorb as much as possible. I was introduced to Miles Davis and John Coltrane as well. I'd play along to "All Blues" and "Mr. P.C.", but was in for a harsh awakening when I attempted that with "Giant Steps". It was too fast, and there were too many chord changes involving too many "giant steps" from one key to another. That's where the lifelong study of jazz improvisation began. I was 17, maybe?
My professional music career began, I guess, when I was 16. My high school physics teacher played in a cover band, and invited me to sit in at one of their gigs. Possibly fearing the potential of a train wreck and/or humiliation of us both, I remember him calling my home that day; which was weird. How did he get my home phone number? "So, Adam, I know your friends have said you're good at guitar, but really, are you, like, good?". I was amused and endeared that he took the time to cover his ass. I said something along the lines of "Oh yeah, man, it's cool.". I think my demeanor assuaged his concerns as much as my choice of words did. Apparently I was speaking like a seasoned pro at age 16.
That teacher signed my high school year book addressing me as "Strat-master", and he was at the first performance of a band I toured with for 4 years called Unkle Funkle. Another musical obsession of my late teens and early 20s was New Orleans Funk. I devoured the catalog of a band called the Meters. Like Nirvana, in my early teens, I learned most of their entire catalog largely by ear. Unkle Funkle tried to blend that New Orleans groove with the improvisational music we all loved. Or you could call us just another jam band. It was an amazing experience. We played, and had a following in, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, and New Orleans. As a side job, I worked refurbishing microchips. Nothing fancy, just straightening the leads and shining them up to make them look new. I also began to start teaching lessons on a regular basis.
That band began its decline and I found myself in Boston, intensively studying jazz. I transcribed everything from Grant Green and Jim Hall to Bill Evans and John Coltrane. I finally got to where I could play along to "Giant Steps". I even learned the entire 6-page long saxophone solo. I know it's six pages because I transcribed every note myself.
I was there for 10 years and played with every sort of band imaginable, all across New England: Brazilian pop music, a 10 piece Radiohead tribute, classic rock covers, funk, soul, disco, you name it. I wound up playing in a Grateful Dead tribute band and got to play with Tom Constanten, one of their keyboard players, at least a dozen times.
I also started booking a band doing my original music and called it the Adam Douglass Trio, and we recorded an album. By this point, teaching was a huge source of both income and inspiration. I came to understand the way music works in my own way. But, your students might have their own way of getting from point A to point B; and you need to take yourself out of what you're comfortable with to help them arrive at their own conclusions.
Next thing I knew I was living in Brooklyn, New York. Focusing on playing in bands that did original music, I wound up touring the west coast of the US with one of my New Orleans heroes, Charles Neville. I also drove up and down the east coast in an RV playing shows the whole way with a band called The Highway. Ted and Dan were the drummer and the bassist, and became the drummer and bassist for the Adam Douglass Trio. Then we added a keyboard player and called it the Adam Douglass Triage. Because the keyboards make it fancy, and Triage sounds fancier than Trio.
As I teach more and more students of all levels, I try to come up with things to encourage them to continue their studies with the love that I have for mine. I've written an etude book for beginners to get them practicing musical pieces from day one; as well as a method for jazz improvisation. A compendium of diatonic 7th chords and voice leading are in the works as well.