Doug Baker was 8 years old when the Beatles first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show”.
And from that moment he knew what he would do with his life.
“That really settled it for me,” he said. “I actually read a biography of Paul McCartney lately, and it reminds me of how things were back then and how much it’s changed everything, in terms of how musicians approach their craft. .”
Baker has been performing for about half a century, has written a lot of music in recent years, and also works as an instructor. Last year he collaborated with his son Zach on the album “Navigating Life”.
In a recent interview, he talked about immersing himself in different types of music as a student, his son’s drumming, and trying to please an audience member who wanted to sing Johnny Cash.
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How did you get your start in music?
I started playing guitar a few years later (watching the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show”). I had my first combo in high school. I went to UNCG for the music. My degree is in theory because it seemed to offer the most flexibility. But I just wanted to soak up as much music from different genres as possible – avant-garde, classic jazz, whatever.
I wasn’t very work-oriented, which caused problems later on. But about a year after UNCG, I joined my first semi-professional group. I played with this band for a few years but left because I didn’t feel like driving four or five hours to play Greenville for two hours, get paid $75 and give half of it to a manager. I didn’t want to do that.
My last band did pretty well for about nine years. And after that, I became more acoustic again. And I’ve always written songs, even though I’ve never been the featured songwriter. I like to say I was like George Harrison. I played guitar solo and inserted a song from time to time.
Then six or seven years ago, I kind of realized that I wanted to write more songs, and I wanted to play them. So I started pushing myself as a singer-songwriter.
What are some of your influences?
Once again, the Beatles loom large.
Also, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Just the way he orchestrated the vocals, orchestrated the instruments, the depth of these songs. It’s hard to believe that there are still people who only think of the Beach Boys as that surf band, when there’s so much more to them.
More contemporary people, there is Jason Isbell. There is also the late John Prine.
How would you describe your music?
Americana’s kind of broad thing works for me because it encompasses so much. It encompasses rock, folk, country. And there are bits of all that in what I do. I think of the album I released a year ago. There are downright rock ‘n’ roll songs, soft acoustic ballads and a killer ballad.
How would you describe your creative process?
Whenever I have an idea, whether it’s a musical idea, like a guitar hit or something lyrical, I go straight to my phone and record it. I have a guitar by the bed. If I get chord progressions in my head in my sleep and I wake up, I pick up a guitar and figure out what it is. There are tons of 30 second clips of me playing something on my phone.
And if I don’t have anything in progress, and it’s a good day to write, then I look at what I recorded. I could take this chord progression that I found this morning, expand it and see how it goes and go through all the little lyrical ideas, song topic ideas that I have.
There are times when I get an earworm, and to get rid of the earworm, I just write new words to the song, and then after I write it, I have a nice song. So there are all kinds of ways, and I always try different things.
How did you come to teaching?
Originally, it was a bit out of necessity. I used to work in music stores, but my work time in music stores came to a screeching halt and I had to figure out what to do. The church I attended had a music program going, and I was offered the chance to teach there. And that struck me a bit. I see teaching as part of being a musician. If you’re a musician, if you’re an artist, if you create, you have to give back, you have to teach.
But I went back to UNCG to get my teaching credentials and taught elementary music. And I kind of realized that I was doing better on an individual basis, one at a time.
I took a big hit with COVID-19, in terms of student numbers, but it’s slowly coming back up.
How did the collaboration with your son come about?
My son started a band and started playing percussion, was on drums at Grimsley, and now teaches at Grimsley and oversees that drumming. He also went to UNCG for music education.
I play most of the percussion on the album. But there was one song, the title track, and I wanted something a little more stable, a little more solid. So I asked him if he wanted to do it, and he was up for it. He was playing the cajon on it, which is a kind of drum that you see people sitting on and playing with their hands.
And then when I did my CD release show in March at The Crown at the Carolina Theater, he played on seven songs.
He is a wonderful musician and a wonderful teacher. And it’s a good thing that we were able to do that.
If you could open an exhibition for any artist, who would it be and why?
Probably John Hiatt. I should have mentioned him as an influence, because he’s right up there. I saw him with the Goners a few months ago in Durham.
In the Americana thing, he’s one of my favorite artists. And I think it would be an opportunity to learn something. I don’t see something like, “Hey, this could be my big break.” I would consider it a chance to learn something.
Have you ever sung karaoke or sung in the shower, and if so, what do you sing?
I’ve never done karaoke, don’t hang out with people who go to karaoke places. I’m not saying I’m against it. It’s just not something that’s on my radar.
Don’t take too much shower, but I sing in the car.
Do you have a favorite song that you enjoy performing?
Right now I have a little demo recording, a new song called “Around Her”. It’s the last of three or four love songs I wrote for my girlfriend, Rosser. She likes it when I sing it. It’s a fun little song. People told me it was very catchy.
What’s the funniest or weirdest thing that’s ever happened at one of your gigs?
My very first band was when I was 17, we were playing in a pizzeria after a football game. And there’s a guy there, an adult, nobody knew who he was. He said, “I wanna sing Johnny Cash, I wanna sing Johnny Cash.” So we’re like, “OK, sure.” And so he gets up and wants to do “Folsom Prison Blues”. Then he starts shouting: “I have my group behind me. I have my group behind me. And we’re like, “OK, we’re done with that.” And, I’m sure he was shown the door soon after.
I joined a songwriters challenge club, where we have to write one song a week, record it and publish it. And sometimes we are told to use a word or a theme. And it was a good challenge. Some of the songs weren’t that good. I’ll probably start working on another album in the next year, but it probably won’t be a physical album. I will probably post it online.
And I’m thinking of forming a band. There are only a limited number of places where you can play like an old man with a guitar. If I had a small group or a small trio, it could probably open up other places for me to play. I’m talking to some people about it right now.
– As said to Robert C. Lopez,