Gary James' Interview With
Steve Douglas

Steve Douglas plays one Hot Sax. And "Hot Sax" just happens to be the title of Steve's debut album on Fantasy Records. Over the years, Steve has earned the reputation as being one of the top studio musicians. The list of artists Steve has recorded with reads like a Who's Who In Rock 'n' Roll. Steve has recorded with everybody from Elvis, to Frank Sinatra, to Bob Dylan, to The Four Tops, to The Tubes, and the list goes on and on. We're proud to present an interview with one of the most respected musicians in the business today - Steve Douglas.

Q - After years of being a studio musician and playing sideman to the stars, how does it feel to release your own album and get a little bit of the spotlight yourself?

A - It feels real good, 'cause I've sort of taken these 25 years of working the studio, it's like a real education, applying 'em to this kind of thing. I'm real excited about it. I feel like I'm starting something fresh and new, 'cause I've never really had a band together.

Q - You recorded the album in something like twelve hours, didn't you?

A - Well, two days is all. I guess it's gotta be a little more than twelve hours. Some of the cuts, a couple of 'em, we did in one take. Of course I'd been rehearsing the band for six months and playing around, so we were ready to do it. It just flowed so smooth. There was no reason to do any overdubs or do any more takes than we did. We weren't over rehearsed or anything, it just turned out real right.

Q - A two part question for you Steve, when I think of sax players I think of King Curtis or Boots Randolph. Is the sax such a difficult instrument to play that that's the reason we don't see more players? And is the sax being used more on records today than it was in the past?

A - I don't think the sax is more difficult. There are other instruments that are a lot harder. I think it acknowledges that oboe, harp and French horn are about the most difficult instruments. I don't know why there aren't more players, I think it runs in cycles. I remember when The Beatles hit, my sax work fell to zero for awhile there, back in the sixties, 'cause everybody got guitar nuts. Today I would probably think there's less sax on records because there's so much synthesizer happening. But I'm a fairly highly stylized player, so I haven't heard a synthesizer do what I can do yet.

Q - There was an article in Rolling Stone about a year ago that quoted a studio musician as saying the best studio musicians will be dead in five years, the reason being, they're overworked and have to take drugs to keep going. What's your reaction to that?

A - I've found the studio musicians to be relatively drug free, for the most part. I mean you just can't go in for some of the music calls at 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning, and be loaded. At least, I never could. I always thought the guys were pretty straight players, I mean pretty much straight ahead guys and not involved in drugs.

Q - How difficult is it to be a studio musician today?

A - It's very difficult, especially today when there's very little work going on. It's always been difficult. I've had guys ask me that all my life, how do you get in the studios? I use to do a lot of contracting and I would never hire anyone that I didn't know exactly how they played. And they may come with an extremely high recommendation but I always had to hear somebody first, 'cause I mean one guy can screw up a session if he wasn't the right player.

Q - And where would you get to hear the guy?

A - Oh, I would get to hear him at somebody else's session. I just wouldn't use anybody cold. I wouldn't take the chance.

Q - Did you ever become friends with some of the performers you recorded with?

A - Yeah, I was pretty friendly with Bobby Darin.

Q - What kind of guy was he?

A - I thought he was extremely talented and had tremendous energy, drug-free energy, I might add. I think he was a great talent who has never been given his proper due as a talent. We happened to have separated from our wives the same day. It was also the day I went to work for him running his publishing company back in '64, I guess it was. So we kind of hung out and became buddies that way. He was a good guy.

Q - Are we ever going to see instrumental groups like the Ventures become popular again?

A - I don't know. Of course anybody can have a hit. Of course there's Jazz artists, but you're not referring to them. Vangelis had a couple of big soundtrack things. I still like to think that my music might get out there and get a little popular, I hope.

Q - You worked with Elvis in both the studio and in the movie Girls, Girls, Girls. How was he to work with?

A - I thought he was great. He was such an electrifying, dynamic person. He just glowed, honest to God, he really did.

Q - Give me your impression of some of the other people you've worked with. Keith Moon.

A - He was pretty crazy, a hyper kind of guy. I remember when we were doing the album, I think it was for MCA, we hung out with a bunch of people and went to dinner. It was always a big tumult everywhere we went. He would be Keith Moon, not that he was trashing things, but just very hyper.

Q - Bob Dylan.

A - He was great. He always treated me very well. I think Bob is the most talented person I've ever known or worked with, as a musician, as a songwriter and as a singer. Although he doesn't always show it, it's there.

Q - You were an A and R man at one time for Capitol Records and had thirteen singles on the charts, yet you were on straight salary, no royalties. Has an A and R man got a better deal these days?

A - Yeah, I think so. Of course the business changes so much. When I was with Capitol there were fifteen or sixteen staff producers, and now, there's only a couple. I had the power to sign an act if I wanted to, or drop an act. I didn't have to check with anybody. Now it's all different. I mean, now you have to go through committees, but I think they do pay the producers royalty at least.

Q - How much do working relationships with big-name managers influence the signing of an unknown artist they'll bring to you? In other words, does a name manager with an unknown act have an advantage over an unknown manager with an unknown act?

A - I wouldn't particularly agree with that. I think if you're professional, the act has to stand on its own merits. Although, if you knew the manager and knew that the guy had some good solid financing and the business was really being taken care of, that would certainly influence the decision.

Q - What does the future of the music business look like to you?

A - It'll probably shrink down, well, it's already shrinking down in size. I think it's gonna get a little smaller. It's certainly a time of great change, with cable springing up, and the sales of records being way down. I don't know what's gonna happen. I think there's always going to be a music business. I just don't think its going to be as important and dynamic a sociological influence as it was in the sixties and early seventies.

Note: Steve Douglas died of heart failure on April 19, 1993 at the age of 54.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.