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Fred Douglas

Legendary Pacer says he will play as long as he can

By Caroline Zilk

This article was published July 31, 2011 at 3:01 a.m.

— Fred Douglas’ honors include a place in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame with his world-famous band Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers. Next to Douglas’ plaques in his home office is his bird, Gonzo. It’s hard to tell which he enjoys more.

Nothing fazes or impresses the Heber Springs resident much anymore.

He’s been playing music since he was about 8 years old, living in east Arkansas.

“I finished school in 1957 and stayed around Walnut Ridge until about 1965,” Douglas said.

He was a longtime friend of Sonny Burgess and remembers teaching Burgess’ band’s first guitar player how to play.

“When their original bass man wanted to take a year off, I played with them in 1965,” Douglas said. “Then, awhile after that, they called me back to play full time.”

Douglas moved to Heber Springs with his wife in 1974 and worked odd jobs when he wasn’t touring and recording music.

He managed the Thunderbird Country Club in Heber Springs for five years and worked a lot at the Red Apple Inn as well.

“I always played music on the side,” he said.

Douglas said he enjoys Heber Springs because of the quiet.

“It’s just laid back,” he said. “It’s nothing compared to Little Rock.”

Douglas lived in Little Rock for several years in the late ’60s and said he doesn’t care to go back or move at all.

He said he doesn’t do much of anything when he’s not working. He is currently replacing the green shag carpet in his Heber Springs home. He used to play golf, but not anymore; he still loves playing music.

“I don’t know how to explain it, really,” he said. “I just love it. It can be a little hard work out on the road since we travel a lot, but, you know.”

At Pacers’ shows, Douglas usually plays a left-handed bass that was given to him by the Gibson Guitar Corp.

“I didn’t even know they made a left-paw bass until they gave me that one,” Douglas said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll take it.’”

Douglas, a left-hander, learned to play guitar on an old instrument that belonged to his grandmother.

“I learned to play upside down,” he said. “I wasn’t allowed to turn the strings around because I’ve got acouple brothers who also play.”

The Pacers have played in Tokyo, Australia, Holland, England and more, but Douglas doesn’t call it “playing”; he calls it “working.”

“I have to go work in Sweden in November again,” he said.

He and the band will travel thousands of miles to play for about 45 minutes aboard a cruise ship.

“That happens a lot,” Douglas said.

The Pacers usually share a bill with several other bands and are only asked to play four to five songs per show. But that’s fine with Douglas, who also said the band doesn’t practice much anymore.

“We’ve done it so long, we can usually just sit down and play,” he said.

Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers have been around for more than 50 years. They are still recording music. Their newest album, All Nite Long, features the songs “Cause You Don’t Know Me,” “Dark Town Strutters Ball,” “Knocking on the Backside” and more.

Douglas said the band plays all kinds of music and attracts fans of all ages. The Pacers have worked with artists such as Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline.

Douglas’ niece, Melisa Gardner, executive director of the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, remembers hearing stories of her uncle’s days recording singles for Sun Records in Memphis.

She still has some of the old records and said she thinks they hold a fuller, richer sound than digital recordings today.

“They are redoing some of those old Sun records,” Douglas said. “They are putting them out for us, and we’re selling them for $15 or $20 apiece.”

He said the originals are worth much more, though he doesn’t own any.

“I used to have a lot of ours. I had all of Elvis’ Sun records, and I still have a few of Carl Perkins’. There issome money in those now.”

The money Douglas makes from playing with the Pacers now is nice, he said, but he mostly keeps playing because he’s having fun. Douglas hopes to keep going for as long as he can.

“We are probably the oldest rock ’n’ roll group in the world that’s still playing,” he said. “We are a little bit older than the Rolling Stones. We keep going for the money and for the fun of it, both. It’s nice to have fun with what you’re doing and make money, too.”

Staff writer Caroline Zilk can be reached at (501) 244-4326 or czilk@arkansasonline.com.

up

closegetting to know Fred DouglasMy family is: My wife, Marie; our two boys;

and three grandchildren My favorite book is: I don’t have one. Sure don’t.

My favorite movie is: Science fiction movies. I watch Star Trek just about every night.

My wife hates it.

My worst habit is: It used to be smoking, but now I don’t have one.

My long-term goal is: Nothing. I’ve done it all.

I don’t have a lot to look forward to anymore.

Three Rivers, Pages 125 on 07/31/2011

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