“Grab a handful of Dog.”
I was slightly stunned.
“Cats, it’s Sears, in three, on the five, two, three…”
That was Doug Mazique’s way of explaining the basics of the song we were about to play and my introduction to Doug-speak, a hybrid form of communication that described the key, the rhythm, and the intro to a song quickly and efficiently, leaving you wondering through the first minute of the song exactly how he talked like that, and marveling at the beautiful simplicity of it all. It was 1981 and I was the new guy in the band. I’d left another group, and I saw the opportunity to work with this new bunch in a rather utilitarian way; these people had a house gig four nights a week near Irving and Kimball, exactly three blocks from my apartment. After years of hauling a Hammond B-3 and a spinet piano around the greater midwest, the thought of walking to work was awfully enticing. First night on the stand and there’s Dougie, his bass guitar impossibly high on his skinny frame, announcing to the band that the next song would be a corny country waltz in the key of D, starting on the A chord (a translation of the above); amazingly (or maybe not) I understood what he meant–not because I’m so smart but because he said it so perfectly.
On it went.
“This here’s that reggae thing, in Elephant minor, watch the four”; and pointing to drummer Dave Thornton’s timbal,”Don’t be afraid to hit this thing.”
He’d signal chord changes with his fingers and rhythm changes with the neck of his bass. I suppose it was more like an orchestra with Doug at the helm as he led the band through three sets of songs, most of which I had never played. I never had any trouble following Doug’s gestures, and, by the end of the week, I had played probably a hundred new songs with no rehearsal, only this strange language that Doug used and we all instinctively understood.
“Not bad, cat.”
“‘Spensive.” Something would cost too much, whether it was a round of drinks or an insult I had let slip, and Doug would arch his eyebrows and widen his eyes, physically reminding me that I was going to pay, and pay big, while remarking with a touch of pity, “‘Spensive.”
He had a habit of referring to everyone with the word “the,” as in: phone rings, pick it up, you hear “Hey cat, it’s Dougie. I was just on the blaster with the O’Brien, and he can’t make the set, so I got the Illig.” There was a cadence to his speech, a rising and falling, that had the feel of a boat ride on a gently rocking river, a kind of languidness that kept you hanging but didn’t make you nervous; he could take a while to say something, but no one minded the ride.
Dave Thornton, a drummer I’ve worked with a lot, called me some time ago. We hadn’t played together for a while, and he had a proposition. “Sue Miller’s got Tuesdays open at the West End, and she asked me to put something together. How ’bout you, me, Junt (Long “u”, a name guitarist Tommy O’Brien had picked up because of his relative youth; it was a combination of “Junior” and singer Farrah Coleman’s tendency to add a “t” to the end of every proper name), and Dougie?” Two conditions, Dave: no big keyboard rack, and I get to name it. I had been given the name “Jerk Johnny” by Dave’s friend Wylie, so we went with the Jerks! (Sue Miller adding the exclamation point for a touch of alternative excitement), and I hung a toylike Casio CZ-101 around my neck. Never had I had so much fun in a band. We developed a small cadre of onlookers who came every Tuesday to Racine and Armitage to see what would happen next. Any song was fair play. One night Doug called “Talk Talk,” a prototypical 60s punker, and proceeded to pull out music charts for the song. Fucking charts. We all stood motionless, reading an arrangement of a five-chord jackhammer, complete with short, prehistoric riffs, while Doug sang the whole thing, conducting with his bass. We tried anything: “Eve of Destruction,” “I Ain’t Got You.” Doug even called “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” which we nixed, but we assuaged him with a tearful reading of “Colour My World”. We performed a spoken-word version of “In the Court of the Crimson King,” which Doug bisected with the middle instrumental from “20th Century Schizoid Man”–he knew it note for note. Once while we were thrashing about some cops pulled up; as they approached the door, evidently answering some complaints about our noise level, I yelled out,in unmistakable Dougie style,”Bossa in F”. When the police opened the door, we hit “Girl From Ipanema” perfectly. I had learned my Doug-speak well.
As chaotic as it got, Doug was right in the middle, holding everything together.
I was recruited out of the Jerks to join Dick Holliday and the Bamboo Gang, and I couldn’t keep up the schedule. The Jerks ended and we all went on to other endeavors. Doug, among several other gigs, was playing regularly at the Pastime Lounge on Belmont, and every so often we’d all show up and have a reunion of sorts, We’d hit “Gloria” or “I’m a Believer” or whatever came to mind. As time passed, I’d think it was getting to be a good time for an official reunion, to actually play a full night somewhere. I’d see Tommy or Dave or Doug and, inevitably, the subject of a Jerks show would come up. “Let’s do it, cat.”
On September 2 someone shot and killed Doug Mazique, just to rob him and steal his sister’s car. In the four days that followed, up to the moment we buried him out near Evergreen Park, I learned more about my feelings for all these people I’ve been lucky enough to play with than I ever might have known had this tragedy not happened. I doubt that Doug knew how much he meant to so many people, so many different types of musicians–jazz, blues, country, reggae, rock, and R & B. We all stood around his grave, stunned that such a man could be taken from us, stunned that we wouldn’t be getting the call anymore. “Hey cat, it’s Dougie.”