It’s inevitable. Turn on your local classic rock radio and within a short period of time you are going to hear it, that unmistakable guitar riff into to Jerry Doucette’s `Mama Let Him Play’. Even though it was recorded in 1977, the song still rates as a bona fide Canadian classic rock track.
Yet until very recently, that song `Mama Let Him Play’ and the self-titled album it came from along with his second album “The Douce Is Loose” had not been available to the general public.
Finally, Geoff Kulawick’s Burlington, Ontario based Linus Records, which in the past has earned a reputation of acquiring other Classic Canadian labels such as True North and Solid Gold, convinced Mushroom catalogue owner Wink Vogel to release the titles to him, meaning that for the first time ever, Doucette’s first two records are now available on compact disc.
“Those nice people in Burlington sent me a box load of CD’s to my house and just looking at them brought a smile to my face,” enthused Doucette, on the phone from his Vancouver residence. “It’s still the same artwork for the two CD’s and my first reaction from looking at the pictures was, `My God! I was young then.”
Yes Doucette hears that song himself while he’s out for a drive and agrees it does stand up to what else is being played on classic radio. “That song still carries its weight for something that was written in one hour.”
That famous song title evolved from an incident in Hamilton where Doucette grew up (he was born in Montreal). A guitar prodigy as a young boy, Doucette was always hounded by his strict Catholic mother to pay more attention to his school work than his guitar practices.
“So one day, I decide to challenge my mother by playing my guitar and we get into a yelling and shouting match,” reflects Doucette. “My dad, who did shift work at Stelco Steel Mill, was fast asleep when he heard the ruckus. My dad blows open the door and yells `Mama let him play’ before going back to bed. My Mom and I just looked at each other, but after that she relented and let me play my guitar.”
“Years later, I am in my basement in Vancouver working on my first record when I remembered that incident and I wrote down the title “Mama Let Him Play” continued Doucette. “Two weeks later, I came back with that guitar lick and knocked off the song in an hour. It took me about three more months to finish off the album but that first song was done in an hour.”
Doucette is hoping that the release of “Mama Let Him Play” will allow old and new fans to realize that there was more content on that album than that one hit single. “Yes that was the big hit, but other songs like `Down The Road and `All I Wanna Do’ were tasty blues tracks that a lot of people like, it was far from being a one-hit album.
At first things looked promising for Doucette. Signed to Vancouver-based Mushroom Records, ran by Shelly Siegel with financial backing from Wink Vogel, the label successfully launched Heart’s “Dreamboat Annie” debut and Doucette’s debut was motoring along nicely, achieving platinum sales status and winning the 1978 Juno Award as Most Promising Male artist.
Yet just as Doucette’s second release, “The Douce Is Loose” was being released, Shelly Siegel tragically died of a brain aneurism. “And that was the end of Mushroom Records,” sighed Doucette. “Wink Vogel took over the label and asked me to carry on. I said fine and even recorded a third album; “Coming Up Roses” but then Vogel sold the label to a guy called Gary Salter and things quickly went downhill. “Cheques started to bounce, phone calls went unanswered and next thing I know he’s gone AWOL,” bemoaned Doucette who flew down to Salter’s Los Angeles’ based 4th Street East head office only to discover the place had been cleaned out. Doucette received little comfort in the fact that Interpol tracked Salter’s family to the Philippines and arrested him for piracy and conspiracy.
“Gary Salter destroyed me,” said Doucette bluntly. “I still carry the scars of my experience with him. Yes you can say its water under the bridge and you live, you learn but he destroyed my will to be creative. It hurt so badly! All I was doing was writing songs about being a miserable shit and I thought, I can’t put this stuff out!”
“Then I started drinking, doing drugs, the whole nine yards, feeling sorry for myself,” continued Doucette. “With the help and belief of my wife Maggie and my family, who rallied around me and helped me through my depression, I got rid of the drugs and started to lay off the booze. But the stress of what happened at Mushroom meant we lost our home, we lost everything.”
Doucette also lost a third album, “Coming Up Roses” which he feels he’ll never retrieve but he does have a fourth record; the sarcastically titled “The Price Of An Education” which he recorded in 1995, has held in reserve and feels now is the time to release it and mount is recording comeback.
Fuelled by the constant presence of `Mama Let Him Play’, Doucette and his band have been a popular draw on the Western Canadian casino circuit. “We just did four casino dates in Alberta and at every gig, we drew a full house and received standing ovations,” noted Doucette. “The way I have conducted myself, I have earned the respect of my peers in the industry and I think my fans respect me as well. My confidence is back, I say to myself `yes I can still play this thing (his guitar) and yes I’m as good as the rest of them.”
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Doucette knows that classic rock is back in vogue and with a renewed marketing push by Linus on his two CD’s and with a new record pending, Doucette is biting at the bit to get back in the spotlight, with a major desire to return to Hamilton Ontario for a homecoming gig.
“We’re still gigging, we’re still having fun with it,” concludes Doucette. “If ever I get to the point when I think, `hey I’ve had enough’, then I’ll pack it in and go fishing. But I’m not there yet.”