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Published: Friday, 4/17/2009

Dooley Wilson: Modern take on classic blues

BY ROD LOCKWOOD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Dooley Wilson Dooley Wilson
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Call it a Toledo urban legend.

It goes like this: did you hear? Dooley Wilson taught Jack White to play slide guitar. Seriously, man.

Except it s not true, at least according to someone who should know. Wilson, a Maumee native who lives in Toledo, said that only through a six degrees of separation kind of a way is there any relationship between him and Jack White of the White Stripes, and he most definitely did not teach the latter how to play guitar.

But the fact that anyone thinks that Wilson is a serious influence on White is a powerful testament to the Toledo blues guitarist s prowess. His style is steeped in early country blues circa 1920s and 30s, only amplified and with a true believer s intensity. It s authentic without being mimicry, and for guitar aficionados, it s impossible to turn away when Wilson plays.

He ll be on stage tomorrow night at Woodchuck s bar, 224 South Erie St., as the opener on a three-act bill.

Wilson, 35, has been playing for 20 years. When he first picked up the instrument he played obsessively, trying to ape the riffs of bands like Guns N Roses before discovering the slide-heavy Delta blues a few years later. Artists like Son House, Robert Johnson, and Skip James seeped into his musical DNA.

I just fell so in love with that. I remember going down to the Mad Hatter [record store] and selling all my rock and roll and getting hard core.

Son House is the guy who made me say I wanted to sound like that. It seemed more emotionally gripping to me than rock and roll and pop. Now I ve been doing it so long that it s almost a part of my identity. I m probably too romantic for my own good.

He went through the usual militancy about believing that only through the blues could you find musical purity, but was confronted with the fact that he was playing a style of music that was a long way from northwest Ohio, both geographically and demographically.

When I was young I was trying to sound as authentic as possible and my whiteness seemed to get in the way, but I m over that now, Wilson said. If there s a bluesy mindset I m probably just living it. I don t have to talk myself into it.

He s been in a handful of other Toledo-area bands, including Henry and June, which toured regionally and had a song that is covered by the White Stripes; the Young Lords (a high-energy thing that usually almost invariably ended with me being damn near naked and rolling on the floor covered in rum ), and Boogaloosa Prayer, who still play occasionally when drummer Todd Swalla is in Toledo.

Wilson forged his blues musical identity with endless of hours of practice and a year living in New Orleans, where he developed the confidence to go along with his technique. Although his name is C.J. Forgy, he takes his stage name from a early 20th century piano player named Dooley Wilson, best remembered as Sam (as in, Play it again, Sam ) in Casablanca.

That early, pre-Depression blues holds an endless fascination for Wilson because of the strong identities of the various players and their ability to absorb different styles slide, finger-picking, different tunings and adapt rapidly.

From an ethno-musicological standpoint, that country blues started up and evolved so rapidly between the turn of the century and the Depression that I don t think there s anything else like that, he said.

The folk musical forms like that don t evolve very rapidly. They stay very homogenized, but there was so much individual conceit with those guys and there were so many of them putting their own self into the sound instead of sublimating themselves to a folk, cultural form.

At the same time, he s also wrapped up in the pure, visceral act of playing, something that he said provides its own powerful satisfaction.

There s no discipline involved in what I do. I just like to play, he said.

Wilson will play Saturday at Woodchuck s across the street from the Erie Street Market. Show time is 10 p.m.

Contact Rod Lockwood at rlockwood@theblade.com.



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