What I can tell you about Garrison Doles
I first met Garrison Doles in Miami. I’d just gone through a pretty intense period,engineering a Kenny Loggins record and I was mostly just hanging around in the lobby at Criteria Studios a lot and hoping nobody would come along too soon and offer me another gig. Tom Dowd wandered down from his office looking for coffee and mentioned that if I wasn’t doing anything I might want to step into Studio C, cause there was some kid in there trading songs with Bobby Caldwell and it sounded like he was holding his own. Bobby had just had his big hit go to number one and he was under contract for two more records but not moving too fast, like maybe his muse was taking some time off. I thought it was probably a good thing that he had somebody putting him through his paces.
Looked like most of Criteria was hanging around in C, with Garrison in a folding chair in the middle of the studio, hunched over that beat up old D28. One of his simple, haunting ballads was in the air and nobody moved or even seemed to be breathing. When he came to the end of the song he looked up and was kind of surprised to see all these people standing around. He reached over and grabbed that lit Marlboro that was always stuck in the head strings of his guitar and took a hit and blew it out, saying “let’s go get a beer.” So we did.
I found out he was scratching out some kind of a living hustling nineball in the afternoons at the pool tables in strip joints on 7th Avenue, and playing bars in Coconut Grove and Islamorada and Hallandale at night. He wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t eating, smoked too much, drank too much. He was writing a lot though, he was always working on honing these powerful songs till they were sharp enough to shave with and then taking them into some smoky bar and trying to win over a crowd that really just came in to drink and get laid. I hated to see his stuff getting wasted like that cause he’s always been such a great player and such a great songwriter but back then it just seemed like there was nowhere for him to go and no way to get there. I was able to bring him in, from time to time, to fix somebody’s lyrics or tighten up the structure but he never got any credit for any of that and he hardly ever even got paid.
I got called out to L.A. to produce a Crosby, Stills and Nash album and ended up moving here permanently. But any time I get back to the east coast or really anywhere in the country where Garrison’s playing, I always gather up a few folks and take them out to see him do that thing he does. He plays a lot of private house concerts and some of the cooler listening rooms and every now and then he breaks out on to a bigger stage. His show is always a rare and wonderful event, just him and his guitar and harmonica. People just know something special’s going on - a lot of laughing and crying and being real still in the moment. It’s like in these years of traveling and writing and playing he’s settled deeper into the mastery of performance, the mystery of songmaking. The turn of phrase, the pulling tempo beneath the dragging beat, the telling of that small important moment of your life. Each song, each story, is its own time and place and then you find they’ve worked together to describe a larger time and place, like DNA or quantum mechanics. But I think I’ve gone too far now, for sure.
reprinted by permission