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Drummer Gerald Dowd Trades Sticks and Songs

Photo Credit: Michael Jackson

It’s hard to reconcile talented Chicago-based musician Gerald Dowd - a witty, friendly, happily married father of two – with the jackasses that frequently inhabit his songs. This isn’t to say those songs aren’t great. They are. They just aren’t written about very likable people.

“It’s really easy for me to write about jerks. It comes easy. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” Dowd laughed.

“It’s fun for me to take a notion, or even something where the kernel of it is based in reality, to its most ridiculous extremes, as in the case of some of these characters,” he said of several of the songs on his most recent CD, 2014’s Home Now. “That stuff has never happened to me personally, nor, to my knowledge have I ever done that personally, but you know, it’s fun to get into a character and see how good or how bad you can make them.”

Drunks, players, and heartbreakers run amok on a number of Dowd’s hook-heavy, cleverly crafted tunes. Their bad deeds are celebrated with humor and catchy melodies, influenced by everything from country to rock to R&B, all tied together with a great pop sensibility.

Dowd, who regularly drums with alt-country/bluegrass genius Robbie Fulks, as well as award-winning children’s music powerhouse Justin Roberts, occasionally feels the need to do some explaining at his own shows.

“I find myself apologizing a lot at my gigs,” he said. “I do two or three songs like that in a row and I go, ‘you guys probably all feel really sorry for my wife right now. Trust me, I’m not like that. Here, let me play a song about how much I love my wife,’ and then I’ll do that and just try to balance it out a little bit.”

There are some beautiful songs about love and loss on the album, too, showcasing Dowd’s skills as a songwriter and making it hard to believe he only picked up the habit fairly recently. A full-time musician who’s an in-demand session player when he’s not on the road with Fulks and Roberts or playing friends’ gigs around Chicago, Dowd didn't start taking the songwriting thing seriously until well into his career. Family life with young kids and his regular drumming work kept him busy.

“I’d just had a kid and just didn’t have time to really focus on it, but then over the years as my son got older and I had a little more freedom to get into it, which was something I’d always wanted to do, I found the time and found the inspiration, I guess,” he said. “I think that was probably what was lacking. I didn’t feel like I really had much to say either from myself or from a character’s perspective. I feel like I got older; I got a little bit smarter, and I think I started to figure out how to put a song together. Then I just started doing it.”

Home Now features many of Dowd’s musical friends, including Chicago-dwellers Fulks, Steve Frisbie, Casey McDonough, and Nora O’Connor. It was produced by Dowd’s Justin Robert’s Band bandmate Liam Davis.

“Some of my best friends in the world were on that record, and I’m really, really thrilled with how it came out, and it came out that way because of them,” Dowd commented. “It really meant a lot to me, and I had a blast.”

Currently, Dowd is working on material for another album that he plans to record sometime this spring. While he doesn’t think he’ll ever retire his drumsticks, he’s definitely going to continue to pursue his songwriting.

“I wouldn’t want to give up playing drums all together and give up playing with all these great people that I play with, but it’s kind of nice. I feel like I have found a nice middle ground where I can do both and it’s really fun, too,” he said.

In the meantime, Dowd has started taking his own show on the road more often, opening with his own material for other bands and even booking some his own out of town gigs.

“My goal is to get out and see what a total stranger thinks of me and my songs,” he explained. “Of course my mom’s going to say she loves my record, but you know, I want to see what a stranger’s mom thinks of my record.” 

Given the people he's playing with, he'd have to be a pretty great drummer...I can see how a guy who's playing with Robbie Fulks might not start writing songs till he figured he had something worth saying, and I doubt he'd put anything out there that didn't pass muster, given the high standards set by his contemporaries.  I'll give this one a shot Julie...thanks for the enlightening piece on a relatively unknown artist.

Hi, Jim - Thank you so much for taking the time to read the post. I think Gerald is a great talent, and I hope you like his music!