Douglas and Damon “Tuba Gooding
Jr.” Bryson catch a vibe during the
University of Vermont’s Springfest
2011. Photo by Jennifer Murtha
I’ve watched some YouTube videos of
you playing 10-minute solos where
you accompany yourself vocally. Is that
something you do more on your own
or with the Roots?
It’s a cool effect—like an organic way
of playing through a talk box. I’ve done
that with the Roots mostly, but last
week I did my first gig in five years at
Brooklyn Bowl, and it was just me and
my band. I wound up having to do two
sets, because Questlove was supposed to
DJ later that night but he got sick. So we
had original music planned for the first
set, but when I realized we had to do
two sets I could either say, “Sorry, we’re
not prepared to do that,” or I could rise
to the occasion. That required us to do
some covers and a lot more jamming and
fleshing-out of things.
Captain Kirk takes
a moment to savor
the tone coming
from his Trussart
SteelTop. Photo by
I never thought I would be doing
all of that scatting stuff that I learned
from watching George Benson, but as
far as stretching out and seeing where
you can take the music, I found myself
doing that and it felt really comfortable.
But that’s something that I learned by
playing with the Roots. “Here’s your
guitar spot—do what you want with it.”
I tried it one night just for the hell of it.
A while later, Questlove said, “You know,
you stopped doing that scatting thing.
You should do that.” And I was like, “Oh,
okay.” Sometimes just a little positive reinforcement
can go a long way.
The Roots’ jazzy, improv vibe gives guitarist
Captain Kirk Douglas the space to solo and
scat in the vein of one of his influences,
George Benson. Photo by Jennifer Murtha
George Benson is featured in this issue
He sat in with us, too, and I told him,
“Y’know, I feel like I owe you a lot of money
for that scatting-and-playing thing I do—I
totally ripped that off from you.” And he’s
like, “Well, son, you better pay up then!”
Let’s go back to your guitars for a second.
Is the Gibson CS-356 your primary guitar?
I use that mostly with Fallon. I got that
guitar when I got that gig. My primary
guitar is a Les Paul that got burned during
a Heineken commercial. I use that one a lot
with the Roots when we go on tour.
And you had it signed by Les Paul, right?
Yep, it’s signed by Les Paul on the back.
But my main guitar is a white ’61
Epiphone Crestwood—that’s probably
what you saw on that Hendrix stuff. For
Hundred Watt Heart, that’s my favorite. It
just feels so good, and it’s got mini humbuckers
so the sound isn’t as thick. It’s not
like thick magic marker—it’s more like
crayon. When you’re using a distorted amp,
the Crestwood offers more string-to-string
clarity on complex chords.
Guitarists can typically be pretty closed minded
about hip-hop—they tend to
lump it all together in a very narrow niche
and stereotype it as dominated by crappysounding
drum machines or repetitiveness
and inane rhyming. What do you have
to say to players who might not have an
open mind to your style of music?
Captain Kirk playing
his Trussart SteelTop
at Mesa Amphitheatre,
Mesa, Arizona in 2008.
Photo by Sol Allen
Well, I feel like the name of our band,
the Roots, is very fitting. Yes, samples are
used to create the music in a lot of hiphop,
but I feel like that’s also the doorway
to discovering a lot of other kinds of
music—music that you otherwise would
not be exposed to. Hip-hop also places a
lot of emphasis on rhythm and the word.
I’ve gotten better as a guitar player from
being in the Roots, and rhythm is a huge
part of it—discovering that, wow, maybe I
have issues with speeding up and it could
do me a lot of good to concentrate on a
rhythmic beat. Concentrating on a repetitive
rhythmic beat is way more soulful
and interesting than concentrating on a
When you’re looking at the roots of
hip-hop, you’re looking back at James
Brown—that’s like the original hip-hop.
The dude was generally rapping a lot
of the time. You could say the same for
Dylan and a lot of his stuff. He’s storytelling—
he’s rapping. Listen to, “It’s Alright,
Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” Listen to “The
Big Payback.” That’s like rap before rap
existed. So if you’re dismissive about hiphop,
then you’re being just as dismissive
to forefathers like James Brown, Johnny
Cash, and Bob Dylan.
There’s a lot to learn from hip-hop, too,
and I’m really grateful that the Roots saw a
relevance in what I was doing and found a
place for me in the band. Before I joined,
I had cassette tapes with Stevie Wonder,
James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone,
and the Roots all on one tape. I saw a continuum
from what all those people were
doing to what the Roots were doing. The
fact that we’re doing what we’re doing now
and seeing this steady progression of exposure
and success makes me feel I was right
in seeing that.