In a scene that played out in homes across North America and beyond in the 1960s, a child with a guitar who wanted to go far was discouraged from doing so. In the case of young Jerry Doucette, it happened in Hamilton, where his mother, a strict Catholic, preferred that he devote his energies to his schoolwork rather than his guitar. The boy’s father intervened.
“Mom, you let him play,” he said.
These words struck a chord with teenager Mr. Doucette. “I thought ‘wow, what a great song title’, and I wrote it,” he would later say. A full song quickly materialized. “It just sank,” he told the Victoria Times-Colonist in 2017.
The blues and the tumultuous Mama let him play by the guitarist and singer-songwriter would not be recorded until 1977, but it quickly took off after hitting the airwaves. Released on Canadian independent label Mushroom Records under Mr. Doucette’s last name only, the single charted in Canada and significantly boosted Mr. Doucette’s profile and touring opportunities.
The first album by M. Doucette, also called Mama let him play, achieved Platinum status (100,000 sales) in its home country. Both the LP and the single charted in the United States. The song is a staple of Canadian classic rock radio playlists to this day.
Mr. Doucette died of cancer on April 18 at a hospice in Delta, British Columbia, surrounded by his family. He was 70 years old. He was an incendiary guitarist, a lithe, powerful-voiced singer, and an astute songwriter. His success spread to the United States, where his eponymous band, Doucette, opened shows for Bob Welch, Eddie Money, Meat Loaf, the Doobie Brothers and Atlanta Rhythm Section.
Although Mr. Doucette released four studio albums, he made it into the Top 20 in Canada with 1979 Nobody and regularly performed on stage until his retirement in 2018, he will forever be associated with Mama let him playa galvanizing rocker who spoke of the liberation of the rock and roll of his day and served as an anthem for upstart rockers who would attempt to follow in Mr. Doucette’s footsteps.
Give that boy some freedom
let it move
Don’t get in his way
You’ll only knock it down
Mama won’t you let him,
Let him rock ‘n’ roll…
The signature song emerged at a time when the Canadian music industry was just beginning to find its footing and rock music was widely seen as allied with sex and drugs. Parents, like Mr. Doucette’s mother, discouraged aspirations to the electric guitar.
Dave Bidini, author and co-founder of Toronto rock band The Rheostatics, practiced Mama let him play in front of a mirror as a teenager. “There was a thread of challenge that really stood out in Canada,” Bidini told The Globe and Mail. “It was as important to me as the Sex Pistols Anarchy in the UK or the Ramones Blitzkrieg Bop.”
At the turn of the 1970s, a wave of new laws across North America lowered the minimum legal drinking age. Progressive legislation spawned a culture of tipsy camaraderie that helped spawn a robust and uplifting style of Canadian bar rock in the latter half of the seventies that particularly appealed to young men.
Crowd-pleasing soldier’s punch Raise a little hell embraced a spirit of party-starting insurrection, while April Wine I like to rockby Burton Cummings My own way to rock and that of Mr. Doucette Mama let him play were compelling arguments for the transformative power of rock and roll and the freewheeling lifestyle the music promised.
Robust, simple and steeped in lager, the genre finally lost its grip with radio. Keyboards and synthesizers, not guitars, became the instruments of choice for many new wave bands in the 1980s. Mr. Doucette responded to the changing landscape with La Douce is cowardly in 1979. If the elegant hit single from the album Nobody was not yacht rock, it was floating at least in the marina.
Elsewhere on La Douce is cowardlyMr. Doucette adjusted his intensity and tempo upwards, perhaps to rival the sophisticated music of progressive rock bands such as Rush and the hard-rock trio Triumph, which played fast, flashy and metallic.
“Young men drank beer at clubs like the Gasworks in Toronto where you had to buy it by the pint,” said Al Mair, who co-founded Canadian independent label Attic Records in 1974. Louder and heavier they wanted the music. The groups saw this and reacted accordingly.
After the release of La Douce is cowardly, Vancouver-based Mushroom Records, went bankrupt, causing Mr. Doucette’s career to stall. Because his band composition was constantly changing, he toured less. Without new songs on the radio, his royalties plummeted. Soon he was “penniless”, in his own words, and deeply discouraged.
In 1981, Mr. Doucette was finally able to release his third album with the title optimistic Upcoming Roses. A return to the relevance of radio did not materialize, however.
Yet in his review of a gig at Toronto’s El Mocambo that year, Globe music critic Alan Niester noted that the guitarist’s passion for rock and roll was intact and that Mr. Doucette’s performance was carefree.
“In short, Mr. Doucette is back, and hotter than ever,” the review read, “He may not scale the heights of Mount Juno again, but if they gave one to be a excellent group to get drunk in a bar, Doucette would win hands down.
His career at a standstill, Mr. Doucette will not release an album for 14 years. The Juno mention referred to the Juno award for the most promising group of the year in 1979, won by Mr. Doucette and his group. Although the promise had not been fully realized, he had already achieved more than most.
Jerry Victor Doucette was born on September 9, 1951 in Montreal. When he was four years old, his family moved to Hamilton, where his father, Louis Doucette, worked for the steel company Stelco. His mother, Georgette Doucette (née Lepage) was a housewife.
In a musical household where his dad took a hairpin out of an old acoustic guitar and his mom played the squeezebox, the kid got his own guitar at age six. At the age of 11, he was part of a group called the Reefers.
In M. Bidini’s 1998 book On a Cold Road: Adventure Tales in Canadian RockDoucette recalled playing with the Reefers at an outdoor stadium in Hamilton in front of some 6,000 high school students in the mid-1960s.
“That was when the Beatles were doing their thing, when the girls were going crazy,” he recalls. “That day, after our set, we were mobbed. I could not believe it. We were chased and, like in the movies, I had to run or risk being caught.
For all intents and purposes, Doucette raced all the way to Toronto, where he played with several bands, including, in 1967, Tribe.
They were a good group, but they had issues with the woman leading them, Doucette said in On a cold road. “She was really domineering.” Suspecting the manager of withholding his salary, the young guitarist lodged a complaint with the musicians’ union. “I got my money back,” he recalls.
In the early 1970s, he moved to Vancouver, where he joined Seeds of Time, a garage rock band that had had modest local success in 1970 with My hometown. With a name and lineup change, the band continued to work in clubs as the Rocket Norton Band. Musicians from these two bands went on to form Prism, which went on to record international hits with Superstar Spaceship and Don’t let her know.
Mr. Doucette’s solo success with Mushroom Records and the band that was formed under his name was also substantial. Driven by the notoriety acquired Mama let him play“The Douce”, as it was called, toured both sides of the border.
One New Year’s Eve, Mr. Doucette and Chilliwack, another Mushroom Records signee, simultaneously shared the headliners in Calgary and Edmonton. While one band played in Calgary, the other performed in Edmonton. At the end of their respective sets, the two artists jumped on planes and changed cities to end the evening.
The highlights didn’t last. By the mid-1980s, plagued by record contract troubles, Mr. Doucette was bitter and depressed.
“It was a nightmare for me,” he told the Ottawa Citizen. “A lot of people don’t know about all the problems I went through. But you learn. These things happen when you’re green behind your ears.
Within a few years, he restarted his career with a touring schedule of small clubs and festivals mostly in Western Canada that lasted most of the rest of his life. Alluding to his expensive lessons, he named his 1995 blues-rock album Price of a training. The only What strength plotted, but the middle-aged Mr. Doucette was not inclined to work hard on the touring route in another bid for stardom.
“It’s pretty hard to jump into the little vans after being in the big tour buses,” said BC blues guitarist David Gogo.
In the 2000s, health problems afflicted Mr. Doucette. Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spaces inside the spine, made it impossible for him to play the guitar or do anything.
“It’s like an electric shock going up the back of my legs,” Doucette said in 2005. “I get about 40 of these zingers a day, and they stop me dead in my tracks.”
He kept spinning. His bandmates helped him on and off stage. He eventually recovered enough to resume golf, one of his passions. But, playing in 2007 in Tsawwassen, British Columbia, Mr. Doucette “dropped dead,” he said, on the golf course.
“Turns out my heart was beating less than 60 beats per minute, slow motion,” the guitarist told the Surrey Now-Leader newspaper. “But they put in a pacemaker and it’s just perfect now.”
true to his Mama let him play ethos, Mr. Doucette has supported budding musicians at every turn. In 2015, at the Grizfest Music Festival in Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia, he invited a young guitarist from the audience onto the stage, put a red Fender Telecaster in his hands, and told him to play.
“I was shaking in my boots the whole time,” said Leo Gilmore, guitarist for Vancouver rock band Chase the Bear. “I had performed on stage earlier in the festival, but I hadn’t played a legend’s guitar right in front of him.”
Mr Gilmore then bumped into the 63-year-old guitarist backstage. “He told me I would hear ‘no’ a million times, but keep fighting for that ‘yes’ because it would make all the effort and all the pain worth it.”
Mr. Doucette is survived by his wife of 43 years, Maggie Doucette; brother, Donald Doucette; children, Mark Doucette, Gerry Doucette Jr.; stepchildren, Shirley Burdon, Lesley Dethridge, Karen Burdon; and 10 grandchildren.