Doug Locke is a gay black musician from East Texas, and if you’re wondering, he’s a “Man’s Man.” Coming into his music as of late, I found that he was yet another black musician, like his idols, that breaking the mold. Doug Locke does not care to fit into any genre of sound, but just to play what he “feels” to reach others. His recent dance tune “Black Travolta” is a collage of Quentin Tarantino films, a tribute to John Travolta, and the “Old West” that could only be done by a queer black man. We covered race, movies, our favorite music, and the current social changes. Be entertained, and touched, this is a fun ride through his world. Giddy-up!
Jeremy Hinks: Good evening Doug. Thanks for taking the time to talk. I wanted to say, just starting off, I LOVED “Black Travolta”, it was so over the top. Then I got into the rest of your catalog, and it was just a great mix of styles and sounds. There is a lot to take in and enjoy, but it was just so ODD, and so OFF, just weird, and so cool.
Doug Locke: Thank you!!! Yeah, when we were writing it we thought a lot about genre-bending, and genre-blending because I am so many different things, I am a Black Southern Boy from Huston Texas, so I grew up liking country, I like rock, I love hip-hop, I like soul, and pop. With “Black Travolta”, we had this idea to not take ourselves too seriously, and embody that spirit, there is a little bit of disco in there, a little bit of country, and a bit of pop, and I think it was an experiment gone right.
JH: Oh yeah, you nailed it, that is one of the best new clashes of styles that was just so good, like when KISS recorded with Sarah Brightman the opera singer, that was a great clash too. Have you heard the band “Alabama 3”?
DL: No I don’t know them.
JH: Ok, they did the theme for “The Sopranos”, they are this “Country, Acid House, Gospel, Dance, Reggae, Soul” outfit. They will have deep soul vocals, on top of country guitar on some acid house dance music. You can’t put them in any one genre, and they are fantastic with every song. I heard “Black Travolta” and was thrown right back into that world, and that is where you won right there.
DL: Ok, just describing them, I have to have some of these guys in my life.
JH: So I started exploring your stuff on Soundcloud and went straight to “LIVE AT MOSKOW”, that was a bootleg wasn’t it.
DL: YES IT WAS!!! It was so raw, it was an amazing moment.
JH: I got to “Trojans” and I was feeling a purely live experience, that only could have been created by you, and that specific crowd, that is what is so cool about bootlegs, no plan for the production, just push record.
DL: I grew up loving performers, my personal favorites, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Lenny Kravitz. I love that strong performance energy, and I really “come alive” on stage. So with new music, I need to get it into the live element, you recorded it, but once you get that in front of an audience it takes on a life of its own. The interplay between the two of you, it creates a magic of its own, and it’s different every time. I had my three-piece band, and it was such a great memory for me, and I am glad that you got to hear it that way because some of my favorite albums were live recordings.
JH: I hear ya, that recording was you “making a bond ” with your audience, I felt that. I know this cause I have bootlegged so many shows, you probably put one audience feed mic into a mixer from a feed off the soundboard.
DL: Yes, it was that simple, it was right for that moment, and impromptu decision, and I had two filmmaker friends record it, film and audio. I thought that these in days we have to produce and perfect recordings, even live recordings, so I want this to be just an honest capture of what that moment was. I want to play shows in the future when restrictions life, but I’m pivoting it all to the internet when I heard the news of George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, when all these cases became public, it all weighed heavy on my heart. I decided to record covers of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Going To Come” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”, just me and my buddy on guitar, we set up a camera, and BAM!!! I look forward to sharing those with people. It doesn’t need to be perfect, just keeping it honest.
JH: It’s “punk” you know, “This is all you get”, the simplicity of it, cause punk was so minimalist. Then you let out “Purple Haze” and I was saying “DAMN!!!”. Robin Gibb in the Bee Gees said that when they were in the studio, regardless of a take, a jam, or just playing an idea out, he pushed record. He would have an entire day of studio-recorded, then go back, and they would take it how they “Feel” the music, and build off that. But that’s it, you are trying to record the feeling of the moment, not necessarily the sound itself.
DL: I love that you were able to hear that, because there is this other side of my work, Hendrix is one of my all-time favorites. So for me, my first role I booked as an actor was a young Jimi Hendrix in a short film. And what I learned from my research of the character was that Jimi was not trying to fit into any specific mold, Jimi was just doing “Jimi”. He wasn’t playing soul, that was expected of him as a black musician, but was this rock icon. And that speaks to me that I don’t have to fit a preset mold, I want to make waves expressing what I want to sound like.
JH: Well, I’m an old school punk, and “New Waver”, and aside from some European bands like Big Country and Culture Club, English Beat, there weren’t a lot of black musicians in the genre. I mean, Punk is supposed to be all-inclusive, and there wasn’t anyone in any metal bands either, I mean, we welcomed it whenever we saw it, but we WANTED more contributions to the punk and metal worlds, BECAUSE of people like Jimi.
DL: EXACTLY, there was a group “A Band Called Death” and they predated “The Sex Pistols”, but they refused to fit the molds that the labels wanted to put them in, but they were Punk. They finally rose to prominence recently because someone found their demos and they made a documentary about them. I wonder how the punk world would have looked.
JH: Sure, if black musicians had exploited punk, I mean we had Bad Brains, and FISHBONE, the Dead Kennedys drummer claims to be born in like Senegal or somewhere like that. Anyway, I hear a lot of that in your music, and “Purple Haze”, you nailed that.
DL: Thank you for that.
JH: I wanted to touch on this, cause it is directly related to the song. I knew a “Cowboy Historian” when I was a kid, a Hispanic cowboy who never set foot in Mexico. He told me that in the old west, there were large numbers of black cowboys. Freed slaves or runaway slaves would go out west, and take up working as cowboys. Even in Mexico that welcomed them as free men. You never see anything about it, maybe one episode of “Gunsmoke” Or “Wild Wild West”. You never saw any real aspect of that ’til “Django Unchained”.
DL: Interestingly, you say that I’m from Huston Texas, and my dad is an attorney, but he wears his cowboy boots, and cowboy hats. He retired and built a farmhouse on our ranch-land in rural east Texas, this property that has been in the family since the end of slavery. Our family was one of the first black families to have property in east Texas post-slavery, and one day along comes this … cavalry of black cowboys riding by. It’s this group of black cowboys, and I had never seen anything like it. Then my dad told me exactly that, that black folks were just as much of the western cowboy trade as white people.
JH: Yeah, he told me that half of the cowboys were white, then the rest were black and Hispanic and you just didn’t fuck with those guys, they were a tight-knit well-respected community that looked out for each other, and they had posse that was well-armed, well trained, almost an army. He said they were tough, and anyone wanting to stir it up just got taken down, you just didn’t mess with a freed slave or an army of them. So, you have all of this in the video for “Black Travolta” you snag the Bee Gees line, the TWO scenes with black cowboys, then write the story with as many elements of a Tarantino film as you can fit in there, I saw some from The Bastards, A Kill Bill, lots from Django Unchained, and then Pulp Fiction with John Travolta dancing in that, and right on top of his Saturday Night Fever dancing. Where the hell did this masterpiece from?
DL: Well, in this Internet culture, you can pull from so many different references, I thought “Ok, we can have a conversation here.” I started thinking what would this look like, I put together this mood board, I pulled all these scenes of the black cowboys, and “Saturday Night Fever”. Then I asked myself what would all of these look like if they were all in one world? Even a little “Westworld” kind of a vibe and I knew there was this whole culture of African Americans in West Texas. We didn’t want to make a documentary but we still wanted to have fun with this. So my editor did a great job putting it together. As a songwriter, I love classic films, and with internet culture, we can tap into scenes from all over the world. I have an appreciation for the arts and movies from the seventies, we created a space where music, and movies, so we can exist between time and space.
JH: I listened to your song “Why” there was a line from an “Alabama 3” song where she said “Because you know, dead girls don’t cry, before sucking on the end of your colt 45.” and you know who they are calling out with that line. And that came to my mind when I was listening to your song. “Why do you hate me so much” and “Say their names”, just talk about them, you had me in tears.
DL: I started the song about a year ago with my buddy Eric McNeelly, we had planned on doing a fun pop song, but then waking up to one of those news stories about the murder of another black person. I was so devastated, I broke down in tears, and we just kept asking each other, “Why is this still happening?”, “WHY does it keep happening, and nothing changes?” My dad was a Civil Rights Activist, why are we still fighting the same things fifty years ago today? It came to the question, “Why is my existence of a Black Person such a threat to you?” So we ran with that, but I also believe in the power of love, and I thought if we could reach peoples hearts, so that’s why I thought, let’s have a gospel choir singing “LOVE LOVE LOVE.”
JH: YES, there it was, very powerful, the church choir. Then you mentioned, “Having the Talk”, for me “The Talk” was you know, you get that tingling in your shorts, and you will want to do things with your gear.
DL: Well, a vivid memory, my dad was the city attorney for the city of Huston Texas, THE CITY ATTORNEY. He was racially profiled by this police officer driving my brother and me home from the park. He was able to navigate the situation, but he had to teach me there and then, age seven, not an “IF” but “WHEN” you get pulled over for being black, this is how you have to behave to ensure your safety.
JH: There is so much momentum now, that things are finally happening. When listening to “#SayTheirNames”, we had Trayvon Martin, and Eric Brown, and nothing happened for them, but NOW, it’s happening, not just them tearing down statues of Confederate Generals, but the University of Cincinnati renamed their stadium from the racist donor “Marge Schott” who it was named after. We never saw anything change before, then suddenly it’s moving, and fast. So, how did you feel watching “Django Unchained”, aside from it was just really funny?
DL: Well, it’s obvious I am a HUGE Quentin Tarantino fan, and along with what you just said, he is very polarizing, like “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, “The Bastards” and “Django”, it’s taking a history we know, but sort of flipping it. We can all say “Fuck the Nazis, FUCK Charles Manson, FUCK The Klan” and we can see these historically evil people get what they deserve.
JH: I agree, but the difference is the Germans are owning their history, not trying to brush it off, or deny it, I mean, denying the holocaust will land your ass in prison. Free speech exists there, with that one exception. The South is not owning their history.
DL: Right, you are not going around Germany seeing statues of Hitler or Rudolph Hess and they say “Oh, it’s a part of our history.” No, tear that shit down.
JH: I think that would make all the difference in the world if people actually owned it. So, when you said the “forty-nine”, and then it stopped and went silent, that hurt, the silence was like the blade cutting.
DL: For that one, many of those stories happened in my lifetime, but others predated obviously, so I made a list, and read about every individual, just to create a picture of who that person was. When I spoke the name of each one, they became more than just a name, or a footnote in history, they were a person, with a story, who is gone. I recorded myself saying their names. When it was over, I was drained, we remember the ones that happened recently, and how we felt over them, but they were just a few that I could find, we didn’t have the names of all the lynchings and murders. I did this to honor them, and to get people to actually say their names so their memories live on.
JH: Mission accomplished, I mean, it was a 180 from “Black Travolta”, but I think after that one, Tarantino would be honored for what you did with that, and all of his work.
DL: I would be honored if he would hear it, I am such a fan of his and John Travolta, it’s a love letter to them and their contributions.
JH: Another point, you mention “love” a lot, love for mankind or people, not just the person. “The Hands of love”, “Love will always win”. Frankie Goes To Hollywood had a mock speech by Ronald Reagan in their song “War” where he said, “Then there is love, not the love of a people but of people, for people like Che Guevara, or George Jackson, or Malcolm X, love was the prime point of their struggle, and love cost them their lives.” You nailed it as they did thirty-plus years later, you say the same thing. I look at our world, and I think, love will bring an end to this, it will have to be what brings us all together.
DL: I think that because I have “double minority identities” as a Gay Black Man, it makes me see humanity more clearly. When I was younger, I would see gay people who were racist, or black people who were homophobic. I was able to recognize this in me, they are not opposed to each other, no one is born with hate, it is taught. I think that if my music can inspire people to think, really think, in “Black Travolta” for instance, has done SO WELL on Spotify, it is in so many country playlists. And the genre of country is not very open to black or queer artists. I mean, I say “If your wondering, I’m a man’s man” and I call myself “Black Travolta” no way to mistake what the point is. The college I went to was predominantly white, and I had friends and get along with someone, but people wouldn’t date me, because of family or image or whatever. Or they would say “I’m not into black guys, but you’re hot” that is not a compliment. It’s a microaggression thing, people in a marginalized culture will say, “Well, at least I’m white” and it gives them something to place someone below them in the social hierarchy. I’m not condemning people for it, most people aren’t even aware of it, but now that we are having these conversations, we can address it. BUT love is going to win this thing, never has there been so many white people, straight people, whoever, standing with us, and being as pissed off as they are. Love is going to win this.
DL: It gets better, you are perfect just as you are, and the world deserves to have your voice in it.
And an encore performance. We didn’t have time to cover it all, but, enjoy!