Garrison Doles was a broken shard of sea glass that washed up on the beach. Shattered and jagged and tossing in the ocean, tumbling against the sandpaper bottom until it rolled out smooth and hard and not quite transparent.
It took a lot of hard work and determination to develop a world class drinking problem. Afternoons hustling nine-ball at pool tables in the corners of 7th Avenue strip joints. Nights picking out home-made songs on his battered Martin D-28 in saloons from Key West to St. Augustine. “I wasn’t gettin’ a lot of vegetables back then. Unless you count Marlboros and Jack Daniels.”
Coconut Grove wasn’t a bad place to start out. Coffeehouses where Joni met David Crosby and began her long run. Where Jimmy Buffet worked the kinks out and legends like Michael Smith and Gamble Rogers and Steve Goodman traded forty-minute sets in rooms with audiences of fifty or sixty or maybe a hundred on a big Saturday night. “I’d see Fred Neil and Vince Martin on a tiny stage in a tight spotlight and think that was just where I wanted to spend my whole life. I didn’t know anything. I thought there were places like that all over the world. I barely got to play any of those joints at all and then they were gone and I found myself working dark, smoky bars, playing for people who showed up to drink and get lucky and to definitely not listen to original, acoustic soul songs. I did that for about fifteen years before I figured out it wasn’t what I’d signed up for and that it was killing me. So I quit.”
He quit playing in bars, quit drinking, quit smoking. Moved to Orlando and got a real job. Got married, had a son and got divorced. Got himself involved in some local drama—he was co-founder of Theatre Downtown, a way-off-off-Broadway style theatre where he produced, acted, directed, designed and wrote for the theatrical stage. He couldn’t seem to stay out of creative trouble. And he just kept on writing songs and somehow the audiences found him.
Garrison won major songwriting competitions in North Carolina, Texas, Florida and Massachusetts and spent a lot of time on the move, touring nationally and performing at all the best festivals, coffeehouses and house concerts. He made his home in Central Florida with his wife and creative partner, the author and artist Jan Richardson, until his unexpected death in 2013.
Garrison was a true singer/songwriter—a songmaker and a storymaker. Listening to these songs is like running the pad of your thumb around the edge of that smooth, green sea glass. You can sense the raggedness beneath the surface. You can feel the textures of life’s abrasion, the swirling imprints of the forces that polish us down to our essential selves and there is a comfort in that and a complex sort of pleasure.