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 DOUG LYNN CAULKINS

The Untold Story

By Shannon D. Love and Julie Powers

He strolls toward the back of the club to the bar, shifting his weight slowly from one side to the other as he walks. He scans the crowd -- smiling, nodding -- until he reaches his target, an empty bar stool. "Mind if I join you?" he says to the unshaven, gray-haired man.

"Nope."

"I'll have a whisky and a beer back."

Winking at the bartender while taking a swig of whiskey, he turns to the man next to him. They talk for a bit, about life...and the old days.

"What's your name?"

"Tom. Tom Ferguson." Says the tired-looking soul. "What's yours?"

"Doug Caulkins...Doug Lynn, actually. I changed it from Caulkins to Lynn because no one could get it right. They would call me Hawkins...or Awkins. I don't know...Lynn was just easier to pronounce. And it is my middle name." he says with a humble smile.

Tom nods in response. "Well, after the war... 'Nam, you know, I decided to take off for Alaska... do some fishing, make some money, you know. But, I'm retired now -- just kind of enjoying life, taking it easy. What type of work do you do to make a living?"

"Well, I've been fortunate. For the last several years, I've been able to do what I love... and it seems to pay most of the bills." Doug glances at his watch. "As a matter of fact, I have to go to work now. It was good talking to you, Tom."

As Doug tips his hat to say good-bye, he pulls a silver harmonica out of his coat pocket. "Hey, the band will get mad if you start playing that thing now..." Tom says with a furrowed brow and concerned tone.

"It's O.K. Just listen. I think you'll like it."

Through the noisy crowd, Doug lifts the harmonica to his lips, winks warmly at the tattered man, and blows a long, low sound into his instrument. All heads turn as Doug saunters through the crowd, playing his harp amplified over the loud P.A. system. With looks of awe and amazement, he catches each person's eye, endearing himself to their hearts.

Doug, now center stage, stands tall. With his right shoulder cocked up just a little, and his black-brimmed hat skewed a bit to the left, he coyly grins to his audience. Glancing over to Tom, he tips his hat in acknowledgment, and the band breaks in to a heart-felt performance of their newly written original, Breakdown and Testify.

Doug Lynn Caulkins was born in Lincoln, Nebraska on April 29, 1957. One might be fooled by his six foot frame, light sandy brown hair and pale-colored skin. But his sexy, laid-back vocals and powerful, yet passionate harmonica playing tell all. He is truly a Blues man.

Doug remembers his first band, The Surfers. "Yeah, we were pretty bad. Well, I was only nine...or ten at the time. I played the drums in the band -- songs like 'Mary, Mary.' My brother Dan taught me how to play the drums. I also took piano lessons. But I enjoyed playing the drums. I remember one day we put on a concert for the neighborhood. We charged admission and everything. It was pretty funny. We really couldn't play at all. I think we made more money on Koolaid sales. But we had fun."

Doug's older brother, Dan, decided that his little brother was going to be in a band just like he was. Dan used to set Doug down in a chair and demand that Doug play a certain song that the two of them had been working on. After a while Doug progressed to playing the guitar and the harmonica. Doug had one of those harmonica holders -- the kind that wraps around the neck and rests on the shoulders -- that used to allow him to play the harp and the guitar at the same time.

Doug recalls, "Dan would say, 'Play the song, Doug. Yeah, that was good. Now do it again.' I knew it was bad, but we would keep at it for hours, just doing the one song until I got it right."

Doug graduated from high school in 1976. His brother finally asked Doug to join one of his bands -- The LMC Band (The Lower Middle Class Blues Band). Dan played the drums, and Doug played guitar and shared the vocals. Doug recalls a new guitar player that joined the group. "A guy named Jay Kramer had just moved from the Bay Area. He started playing all this wild stuff, and we all thought it sounded real cool. We asked Jay, 'where did you learn how to play like that?' Jay said, 'Back home there was this little club down the street from where I used to play. I would go in and watch this guy play, and I learned all I could from him.' Jay had this big ol' hollow-body guitar and was using finger picking and slide. Jay pulled out an old record that he had picked up at one of the gigs and said, 'Here, check it out.' The name of the guy was George Thorogood, and he played just like him. His playing really inspired us."

The LMC Band had its own harmonica player that would solely play the harp. They put a couple of songs in for Doug and they would pull off this dueling harp duo. This proved to be the highlight for Doug, playing harmonica.

After LMC broke up, a member of the group joined another band called Nielson And The Ratings. They contacted Doug and asked if he would be their harmonica player. Doug, a little hesitant at the time, finally agreed. Doug remembers, "One time, we were hired to play this really big club...it was a battle of the bands type of thing. I remember, we were so bad that we got booed off the stage. I never went back to that band."

In the late 1970's, Doug and his brother started the band, the Blue Notes. "This was my first real band. We were playing in clubs like the Zoo Bar -- a real popular, famous club in the area. The Zoo had been doing Blues for years and years before I was legally able to get in. It was an establishment...it won the W.C. Handy awards, Best Blues Club two years ago."

The Blue Notes disband after Doug's brother broke his hand. Dan didn't play the drums for quite a while. After Dan's hand healed, he joined the Sean Benjamin Band. "Sean Benjamin was one of the best Blues guitar players around -- he was a real professional. He was in the same league as Charlie Musselwhite.

This was a turning point in Doug's life. Doug traveled with the Sean Benjamin band as their roadie. Eventually he worked into the band as their harmonica player, at which time the name was changed to Spare Parts. But the band only lasted for a year. "The chemistry just wasn't there. Several members left and started their own bands. I basically thought my career was over at that point. That was it. I thought I would never play music again. I remember I was an Art Major in college in Nebraska at the time; and one day I get a phone call from a guitar player named Jon Lawton. He was forming a new band and asked me if I wanted to join as their harp player and co-front person. It was a difficult decision because they were a traveling band -- which meant I would have to drop out of college with only 6 hours left to graduate. But my parents and brothers said 'go for it'. And I did. It was the best decision of my life. Omaha had some of the finest musicians I had ever heard. There were after-hour parties. I was recording music in the studio. It was great."

Doug continued to play in the Jon Lawton Band for several years. After a while their bass player left and Dave Wagner joined the band. They then changed the name to the Headhunters, which Doug recalls being one of his all time favorite "road-worthy" bands. From 1982 to 1987 the Headhunters traveled and performed throughout the United States. However, in 1987 the band broke up, and each band member went their separate ways.

In 1987 Doug teamed up with a guitar player named Guitar George. They formed a popular band called the Blue Crew. George, one of the best guitar players Doug had played with, unfortunately left the band with only 5 days notice (with a scheduled gig just days away). But the band had a turn of good luck when guitarist Gene Holmes joined the band (who later came out to join the Led Jaxson Band in Seattle), and after only three practices, they were playing with much success the largest Blues Club in Omaha, the Howard Street Tavern. They opened for such acts as Little Charlie and the Night Cats and James Harmon.

Doug remembers one time, "Harmon comes into town, he's using our gear...we play this festival. We're all making very good money. Harmon goes, 'Room Full of Blues is playing in Kansas City. I've rented a Cadillac. Gregory Jay is driving. You and I in the back seat with a bottle of whiskey, and we're heading for Kansas City. We're going to party and play with Room Full of Blues. I guarantee you'll play with them.' Well, that night we got stiffed on the money -- at the festival. Immediately the car goes back. None of us have any money to hang out in Kansas City. So that became kind of a spot with Harmon and I...of playing this gig and getting stiffed together. That's when Harmon and I became really good friends. We always kept in touch, wrote letters, you know."

Over the years, Doug made several good friends in the Blues circuit: Carey Bell, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Gregg Allman, Rod Piazza, Charlie Musselwhite. Doug recalls a story about Charlie Musselwhite. "I remember one time, a few years back, this kid comes up to Charlie. 'Charlie, Charlie, here's $20. Show me how to play something.' And Charlie takes the $20, folds it once...folds it twice, and then three times, and four times -- just slow as can be. And I'm sitting there next to him and he takes it, and puts it in his pocket. Looks over at the kid, and goes, 'keep practicing'. And turns back to me and smiles.

"Charlie and I became good friends in the following years. We crossed paths several times -- I would open for him, you know. We had a lot of respect for each other. After a gig early one morning, Charlie said, 'Hey, we're going out to breakfast. Why don't you come with us?' And we were sitting there, eating, you know. And he said, 'so you want to know the secret? You want to know the secret of how I play?' Because he plays in like, eleven different positions -- eleven different keys on one harmonica. People say that's impossible, but he said it's possible. Well, at breakfast that day, he told me what that secret was. But, you know, I can't share that secret. That was a real special moment in my life -- that he would share his philosophy. It was so special that someday, when the time comes, I want to pass that secret down to someone that I feel is ready to hear it...and also will appreciate it as much as I did."

In 1989, the Blues Crew broke up and the music scene dried up in Nebraska. Doug, now married, to his long time sweetheart Diane figured it was time to move on. Diane worked for a large company and had a solid (day) job. She told them they wanted to relocate and was given the option to transfer to Denver or Seattle. They both had mutual friends in Seattle who told them Seattle had a real vibrant Blues scene. So Seattle it was.

Doug moved to Seattle with the intention of joining an already established band. But for the first couple of months in Seattle, Doug sat around the house. One day his wife said to Doug, "Get out of the house! Go down to one of the Blues jams." So Gene Holmes, who had also moved out to Seattle, took Doug down to the Owl Cafe where they met Patrick Lynch, owner of the Owl. Doug mentioned to Patrick that he lived in Omaha and played and ran the jams at the Howard Street Tavern. Patrick said to Doug, "You used to run the jams?" And Doug said, "Yeah, for about eight years." Patrick said, "Gee that's funny, me and my brother, Mike Lynch, and I stopped in on vacation one time on a Monday and the band wouldn't let him [Mike] play." Well, of course this wasn't the best introduction Doug could have hoped for, but after talking with Mike, they found out it wasn't Doug's band that was hosting that night -- they happened to be out of town. They had a good laugh, and Patrick got Gene and Doug up on the first set.

At this point, Doug was finding that none of the working bands needed a harp player. All the established bands had harp players, so Doug was induced to start his own band, The Led Jaxson Band. So with the help of members of the Isaac Scott rhythm section (Michael Grondin and Leon Campbell), Gene and Doug started booking themselves into clubs around the area. Doug ran into Todd Smith who was a session drummer back in Omaha. Shortly after they hooked up the band started doing Wednesday's at a club called the Far Side. Things were starting to fall into place, first Weekends at Poor Richard's and a few Mondays at the Owl Cafe. Gene ran into a B-3 player named Roger Filgo and asked Roger if he wanted to join the band. Roger said, "Yeah!" Eventually Michael Grondin was replaced with Dave Wagner, which made an almost all Omaha band.

Doug's first Pioneer Square gig was at the Old Timer's Cafe. And next they played the Central. Doug finally broke into the Pioneer Square circuit. Well, not too long after, two of Doug's members left the band. Doug thought his career was over once again. Then, a miracle happened. Phenomenal guitarist and good friend, Tom Boyle (T-Boy), and solid drummer, Kirk "K.T." Tuttle joined the Led Jaxson band. Doug couldn't have asked for a more smooth transition, and fortunately, the band sounded better than ever.

In 1994 members of the Alley Cats (Clint "Seattle Slim" Nonemaker and Eric Bryson) joined Led Jaxson, taking the band to a complete level of professionalism Doug had not experienced in his entire career. Finally, Doug's dream came true -- band members that were excellent musicians, creative writers and arrangers, and more importantly, they all had mutual respect for one another.

Doug's first C.D. was just released, "Cruisin '4 A Bluesin", and in March, the Led Jaxson band will tour the Mid-West, stopping in several towns, playing over 20 clubs. This tour is one Doug has been working on for quite some time. "The chemistry is there with these guys. It's just there and it feels right. This tour is just the beginning for the Led Jaxson Band." Doug claims.

Since the day Doug came to Seattle and formed the Led Jaxson Band, the band has known many players. But the name has always remained the same. Doug states that it has been difficult getting the right chemistry, music styles, and musicians that are capable and willing to set goals. With the addition of Tom Boyle as producer, songwriter and guitarist, Tom has become the catalyst of the band. It's Tom's wizardry on guitar and his arrangements that has set an anchor for the Led Jaxson sound. Along with the youth of the young Alley Cat boys, Seattle Slim's showman ship and raw energy that comes across on stage, there came a new beginning -- a sunrise of sorts. It was discussed with all the new members -- should the name be changed? But all the members felt so strongly that Doug essentially was Led Jaxson -- and had earned the right to continue with the name. A unanimous vote confirmed their decision: Keep the name Led Jaxson.

Doug Lynn Caulkins and the Led Jaxson band are true entertainers. Doug, and many other members of the band, have won numerous Seattle Blues awards; this proves once again that Doug and his band are the people's choice band. Doug does indeed stand tall. He proudly accepts his roll as front-person, as well as allowing the other members to shine right along with him. Doug is a showman in every regard, and a pure gentleman through and through.

 


ęCopyright 1996 -- 200 Jet City Blues Review
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