If you wander through a record store’s “genre” bins, you’ll eventually find guitarist Doug Wamble’s unique blend of acoustic jazz, gospel, and R&B in “Jazz”, but only because they had to put it somewhere. On Country Libations [Rounder], Wamble’s (pronounced “womble”) first solo album, he is joined by Roy Dunlop on piano, Jeff Hanley on bass, Peter Miles on drums, and Charles Burnham on violin. The group began developing a coherent sound through improvised gigs at Tonic in downtown Manhattan, and they now move seamlessly from gospel to Ornette Coleman. I caught up with Wamble to find out how he cooks up the Tennessee grits of his youth with the New York bagels of his current scene.
Branford Marsalis, who produced Country Libations, says you’re a “musician who has done his homework.”
All of the musicians I like to listen to share one common thread—they’ve listened seriously to music prior to bebop. People pay a lot of lip service to Louis Armstrong, but they haven’t listened to his music with the same fervor that they’ve listened to John Coltrane. We used to sing a song in church that went: “The wise man built his house up on the rock and the foolish man built his house on the sand.” I have limited respect for people who set lofty goals without wanting to do the work to learn what came before them. It’s important to approach music as a student.
Marsalis joins you on a gorgeous version of the Police’s “Walking on the Moon.” How has pop music influenced you?
Peter and I are huge Police fans. I put “Walking on the Moon” over a bass groove I’d been working on. Jazz is full of good musicianship, but I’m really interested in pop musicians who play at a higher level, such as Peter Gabriel and Bruce Hornsby. If a song grabs me, it grabs me.
You play a Gretsch 1955 Constellation—and, occasionally, a 1929 National Triolian—and your sound is basically straight from the soundhole into a microphone. Why the acoustic purity?
On the Duke Ellington Trio’s Piano Reflections, he plays some stuff solo, and it’s astonishing the way he can get five or six colors out of one chord. The range of timbres available on an acoustic instrument is much greater than those on an electric one. That’s why I play acoustic, and that’s why I play slide—to get at the full scope of timbre. I try, within one chord, to attack the strings at different points, staying conscious of the warm, nutty sound up near the fingerboard and the punchy sound when you pick near the bridge.
Your sound is reminiscent of a horn player’s sensitivity to tone and color.
Two people that I’ve listened to a lot are Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman. I love guitar, but I’ve never been excited by the continuum of jazz guitarists. Instead, I’ve followed a lot of melodic improvisers, and Ornette and Sonny are constantly creating melodies. I was never really good at math, so I’ve never been one to focus on playing lines over changes. I never play to impress. I just play melodies whenever I can.