‘The world needed to meet Hoof Dog’: Album sheds light on unsung Amarillo artist

Jefferson Douglas might not be a household name, but this album’s producer recruited Texas musicians from a variety of backgrounds to perform his songs.

By Leah Scarpelli & Raul AlonzoMay 31, 2024 3:35 pm, , ,

For a long time when he was younger, Craig Bagby felt like he stood out in Amarillo – like he didn’t fit in.

Then he met artist and musician Jefferson Douglas, who Bagby says “spoke my language.”

“Jefferson Douglas might be the first true artist that I ever met who wasn’t just a musician, but a creator of art, both painting and writing and songwriting,” Bagby said.

Craig Bagby, courtesy photo

Now, Bagby has just released an album that he produced, full of covers of Douglas’ songs. “Hoof Dog: The Songs of Jefferson Douglas” features musicians like Charlie Faye and Ray Prim taking on Douglas’ songs, and in some cases reworking them.

But the goal nonetheless remained celebrating the music of an artist Bagby says was a huge influence on his life and work.

Bagby joined one of Douglas’ bands in 1992 before, he says, it “[ran] its course.” But Bagby kept working with Douglas, switching from rhythm guitar to drums – a move that paved the way for Bagby to become a professional drummer.

But it wasn’t just a change in instruments that Bagby saw as a career-defining move brought on by Douglas.

“I didn’t think so at the time, but Jefferson was the first person I ran across where before I met him, I thought I wrote pretty good songs,” Bagby said. “And then I thought, okay, now I’ve met an actual songwriter, and he absolutely changed the way I hear music, I perform music, the way I take it in and all of that. It was monumental to me. It really was.”

He says Douglas’ songs had a “maturity” to them, akin to R.E.M. or Elvis Costello.

And to put together “Hoof Dog,” Bagby found himself once again inspired by Douglas to push his skills into new territories.

“I probably spent two weeks staring at my computer trying to figure out how, because I had never produced a record before,” Bagby said. “I’ve been on a ton as a player, but I’ve never been on the other side of it.”

Then an idea hit Bagby – he had always known Douglas’ songs could be a hit, but the exposure just wasn’t there. But he had met many artists throughout his career who had followings, so he began approaching some to see if they’d be willing to take part in the album.

The result is a 10-track album featuring Texas artists of a variety of backgrounds. And, Bagby says, many of the covers are phenomenal – such as Americana and country artist Kelly Willis’ rendition of “My Big Blue Heart.”

“She performed her vocals so it’s just so personal and good that we barely had to play behind it,” Bagby said. “Like, that was one of the only ones on the album that there’s no harmony. It’s just beautiful. And she nailed it.”

The songs on the album run the gamut of genres – from country to R&B, synth pop to soul.

“I intentionally tried to get Texas artists of different genres on here so that I could point out the strength of his songs,” Bagby said.

While Douglas does appear on the last track of the album, “Like Diamonds,” Bagby says the different artists would hopefully help get more of the word out there about his music.

“I wanted to get his songs heard,” Bagby said. “Jefferson is 60 and in poor health and has … I don’t know how to describe it. He’s got some setbacks. But I wanted to make sure that his music was heard.”

Self-portrait by Jefferson Douglas

And upon hearing it, Douglas was moved.

“He was blown away by it, is what he told me. And he’s real happy about it,” Bagby said. “I tried to tamper expectations, to go, ‘I don’t know if this is going to be exactly life-changing, but I wanted to show you what it could be.’ But he was moved to tears by most of it and reached out to everybody individually when it was done to thank them personally.”

It was an outcome that moved Bagby, as well, who set out on the project as a tribute to not just a friend, but a mentor.

“He was a mentor. And he also taught me that I wasn’t wrong to want to be myself,” Bagby said. “Before that I thought, ‘okay, you listen to weird music. Nobody seems to get it. You don’t seem to fit in here and there.’ And he taught me that it was okay not to fit.”

It’s that off-kilter eccentricity that long endeared Bagby to Douglas, and a side he hoped to share with the world – right down to the title of the album itself.

It comes from a drawing Douglas had done that Bagby saw sitting on his coffee table while visiting him years ago. It was a simple line drawing of a dog, but one that Bagby says Douglas had accidentally given hooves in a haste.

“We both found that hysterical and still kind of do,” Bagby said. “And for the past 30 years, I’ve just seen that as Jefferson. Jefferson’s Hoof Dog, Hoof Dog’s Jefferson. It’s this oddly lovable, unexplainable, funny genius thing. And I knew that the world needed to meet Hoof Dog.”

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