Double Door stories
-I first went to the Double Door in 1994, to one of the Sunday night open mic shows. I seem to recall that I was there as part of a local video group’s night out. I hadn’t been to too many bars at that point, so the whole experience was quite something. To this day, I think it’s the only time that I sat down and watched a show, apart from when I was sitting on the floor taking pictures of the musicians.
I finally started going to the bar on a regular basis in 1996, as I started writing and taking photos for the now-defunct Tangents Magazine. The more I went, the more I got to know the doormen, the bar people, and all of the various regulars. Sooner or later, whether you recognize it or not, you become a regular there. Just another piece of the funky fabric that makes up the place on any given night.
-I was only threatened to be thrown out once, but I’ll leave that for another book.
-It’s really when you start traveling elsewhere that you realize how rare a place like the Double Door is. Long-standing just don’t exist in every town anymore, let alone provide music under the same ownership for 35 years. More often than that, these places are spots that people reminise about, telling tired stories of the place that used to be, before the lot was bought up and turned into a shopping mall. The Double Door is the real thing, and it’s still here.
-Gregg McGraw’s Americana series was just fantastic. I saw so many people that I still listen to through that Tuesday night showcase, many of whom I would not have seen otherwise. Alejandro Escovedo’s performance in April of 1998 is still one of the best shows I have ever seen in my life. Two guitars, a cello and a violin sounding like an orchestra, playing the soundtrack to my life at the time. As a photographer, you know that you’re on to something when you only intend to shoot one roll of film, and proceed to shoot all the film in your bag. Al’s show was definitely one of those shows.
Six String Drag, Freakwater, Steve Wynn with the Continental Drifters, Drive-By Truckers, Deke Dickerson (a photo of which later became the cover of his best-of CD), Mercury Dime, Dave Alvin, Rank Outsiders, David Childers, band after great band, week after week. Their photos still fill up a box or three in my office today.
-One of the best times I ever had at the Double was when Hubert Sumlin came to play in 2006. Hubert was the guitarist for Howlin’ Wolf for 24 years, and re-defined what a guitar player could do with both blues and rock music. Hubert is also one of the oldest children I have ever met in my life, in that he lives life with this child-like wonder. I wish more people in this world had that sense of excitement.
Hubert’s band for the evening included Bob Margolin, and Willie Smith. Both had played with Muddy Waters at different times, as had Sumlin. As the show began, former Muddy Waters harmonica player Carey Bell walked in and sat down next to the stage. Carey was living at that time with local musician extraordinare Mookie Brill, who accompanied Carey to the gig.
From the start, everyone wanted to get Carey up on stage to join the band. Everyone except Carey, who sat there and shook his head anytime somebody asked. Mookie got up on stage and played, and Carey didn’t move. Hubert even introduced Carey onstage at one point, and Carey just waved Hubert off.
This went on to two sets, albeit two killer sets of music. Somewhere around 1:30am, as the band got ready to play their final numbers, Bob Margolin looks down at Carey and says,”Are you playing, man?” Carey shook his head no. Bob said, “Okay,” and starts to turn away, at which point Carey held up his index finger, indicating that he would do one song. Carey had ben waiting all night to kep people guessing, and waiting to become the focus of attention. As Bob Margolin began to introduce Carey, Hubert stood onstage and began yelling, “Yeah! Yeah!” like an excited Little Leaguer. Carey proceeded to play three Muddy Waters songs with the band, four Muddy vets onstage together tearing it up. I still cherish those photos.
-Levon Helm and the Barn Burners played in early 2000. At the time, Levon was battling throat cancer, and could not sing. (His daughter Amy did much of the singing that night.) I came late to the show from another gig, and feeling stunned to think that I was sitting alongside the stage, next to the drummer and vocalist of the Band. He turned and smiled at me when I took my first picture of him. I just froze in place.
-Pinetop Perkins is another legend that I put up there with Hubert Sumlin. I remember arriving early for his show in 2004, only to find him sitting up against the wall, chatting occasionally with fans. Pinetop is so used to fans coming up and wanting to have their photos taken with him, that he couldn’t figure out why I was just taking photos of him, and not of Pinetop with other folks around the bar.
The Pinetop show was also the first time that I saw the legendary Nappy Brown. He came onstage during the middle of the show, and proceeded to roll all over the stage, begin to undress while sitting on a woman’s lap, and generally took over the building for his 20-minute slot.
-Leon Russell, I can’t say too much about. His stage set-up drawfed both the stage, and himself. I was given the industry standard first three songs to photograph him, and quickly realized that this was nearly impossible, due to the huge amount of hair that he used to hide himself from the audience.
-Link Wray was such a cool guy, and really nice to his fans. Link came to the Double Door twice over five months in 1998. When he came back the second time, I made my way upstairs and gave him my photos from his first Double Door show. Link profusely thanked me for the photos, and told me how great a photographer I was. It really shook my system to have him be so complimentary.
-Buddy Miles was a very nice man, and I consider myself very lucky to have met him. Peter Tork really doesn’t like to talk about the Monkees, but he knows the histories of blues musicians up and down, which impressed me. Brian Auger put on a great show in 2005. His son was as good a drummer and his dad was a keyboard player, and that is high praise. Brian was very nice, and told me the whole story about playing on the Yardbirds classic “For Your Love.” Ronnie Dawson played a killer show at the Double Door in 1998, and I came ever so close to getting one of those pics in his next album. I still get bummed out when thinking about that near miss.
-Don Dixon puts on a great show, whether you saw him thirty years ago, or last week.
-In 2002, David Childers asked a band he had just met, the Avett Brothers to open for him at the Double Door. It was the first time that many people in Charlotte had seen or heard of them. Even then, their shows had a lot of energy, and you could just tell that they had something different. A lot of people came to see David that night, but they left talking about the Avetts.
-I know that some of the older regulars don’t always like it when the younger, non-blues based bands come to play, but I think that there’s room for all in the Double Door.
It has contstantly been the new kids that push the Double Door into the next generation, where they find hopefully find their Spongetones, their Belmont Playboys and Lou Ford. The Double Door has meant so much to so many people, over such a long period of time. It means something different to every group, but eventually it leads them all back through those front door.
-Lou Ford was, for me, Rock Band 101 for my photography. They were equal parts Gram Parsons and Big Star, and were the buzz band in Charlotte in the mid to late ‘90s. They were also one of the first bands that hired me to take photos. Their shows were always packed, and generally inspired a lot of drinking, both onstage and off. Their drummer, Shawn Lynch, told me a great story about having to run home in-between soundcheck and showtime, and having to park numerous blocks away from the Double Door, because parking space for the show was virtually non-existent.
-A Belmont Playboys show was a full-on event for a lot of people. Their crowd was predominently filled with rockabilly fans, who would drink at the front of the stage, and dance behind the soundboard. To this day, some of the best photos I have ever taken of dancers were at Belmont Playboys shows.
-The Spongetones were, and, to a lot of people, still are massively huge. They were one of the first local bands that made their Double Door shows an event. And 28 years and 11 albums on, their shows are still something to see. They, along with Hope Nicholls, Antiseen and others, really changed the landscape for local music in the early 1980s, and redefined what Charlotte musicians could do on a national (or international) scale.