Sometimes a lot of it just boils down to attitude. And it would appear that Don Duprie, aka Doop — the soft-spoken singer-songwriter-guitarist who fronts a band at the forefront of Detroit's thriving Americana music scene — has a great one.
To wit, this writer first saw Doop & the Inside Outlaws — with a ton of "special guests" and friends onstage (including best friend and frequent songwriting collaborator Ty Stone, who was signed to Atlantic Records via the sponsorship of Kid Rock three years ago) — closing out what had been three-and-a-half hours of occasional misery at the 2008 Detroit Music Awards. It wasn't exactly impressive at the time, and my MT review said as much. A few weeks later, an e-mail arrived from Doop: "Fair enough," it read. "But would you listen to my CD?" Thus was born a relationship of mutual respect. If he'd written something like, "Didn't like the performance? Well, fuck you!" — many outraged musicians have over the years — chances are I might've neglected Blood River and Everett Belcher, two of the finest examples of songwriting committed to tape to come out of Detroit in 2007 and 2009, respectively.
"I had no problem with that review at all," says the 32-year-old Duprie. "I've been in situations just like that — 'I've got to get out of here!' — so I totally understood how you felt."
Duprie's been kind enough to drive into downtown Detroit to talk to Metro Times during a February blizzard; he mentions that "Pedal Steel" Pete [Ballard], the one constant in the revolving players who make up the Inside Outlaws, lost control of his car on the freeway earlier in the day on his way to work at American Axle, and was struck by a semi that totaled his vehicle but, fortunately, walked away without a scratch.
Duprie is also taking time off from his fireman day job in his native River Rouge, a gig from which he's being laid off in early March after 11 years due to city cutbacks and lousy politics. He's philosophical about it, though, in an "it is what it is" sort of way.
His easygoing, laid-back approach inhabits a lot of the alt-country scene in Detroit at the moment; at least there appears to be more of a camaraderie and even kinship, and less jealousy, than in the other local music scenes. "Well, that's probably true," he hesitantly agrees. "But part of that is we're a minority so you gotta stick together. There's only so many of us so you need to be cool with each other. I've always said I try to treat people the way I want to be treated. And I just always try to stay positive. Because you never know who you're going to be working with tomorrow. You can talk shit about somebody you don't really know — but then you meet the person and they might be one of the best people on the planet. Just as there are different fingerprints, there are different situations. You can't judge people blindly. Maybe they've just had a bad day."
Duprie's attitude was surely influenced as a child by his working-class parents, as well as his transplanted Kentucky grandparents. Everett Belcher, in fact, is named after his grandfather, who got to hear a rough version of the title track shortly before his 2009 death. Duprie was acting as the old man's daily caretaker at the time. Every song on the album somehow relates to his grandparents' relationship.
His love of music took root while going to church, "right next to the steel mill in River Rouge," as a tyke with his grandmother and mom. "There was an old preacher. He played an acoustic guitar and I just loved that." He begged his father for a guitar, and, when he was 11, his dad, "a city worker who loved to play cards with his friends on Friday nights — well, he came home one Saturday morning, woke me up and asked, 'Do you still want that guitar?' He'd won a lot of money playing poker the night before. I still remember that guitar — a black acoustic Epiphone, man."
A self-taught player, following two guitar lessons that he "just didn't like," he remembers his dad sitting him down and making him watch a PBS documentary about the tragic plight of the American farmer during the Reagan era around that same time. Shortly thereafter, he heard John Mellencamp's "Rain on the Scarecrow" — and it changed his life.
"Even to this day, when I hear it, I realize that one song really planted something deep inside me. I saw that you can use music for good instead of just writing about a girl or how crappy your life is. You can write stuff people might really feel and maybe something that'll help them get through. I mean, you can actually see all the images in that song in your mind!
"Then when I got older, I got into people like Steve Earle" — he uses that artist's "Hillbilly Highway" as an analogy for the current Motor City country scene, fueled by the progeny of transplanted Southerners who came to the city years ago to work in the car factories — "and Bruce Springsteen, who, as far as I'm concerned, is the very best. Nobody can touch him. He's got it all figured out!"
Duprie even features a countrified cover of the Boss' "Prove It All Night," which he and Pedal Steel Pete came up with totally as a fluke during a show at Cliff Bell's, on Everett Belcher: "Sure, I was nervous about it," he says of covering a song by a rock icon. "What are people going to think? But I've found, especially around here, that people have strange preconceived notions about Springsteen, not realizing what a phenomenal all-around talent he is. I thought maybe people don't even know that song, have no idea and will learn something. And people do come up to me all the time and say, 'Wow! That's a great song!' And I always tell them to go buy Darkness on the Edge of Town. That's the record."
It's all part of his musical DNA, as are the Charlie Pride, Hank Williams Sr. and Conway Twitty songs — that kind of stuff — he heard in his grandfather's pickup truck as a youngster. As are the Bob Seger tunes his hot-rodder dad had blaring in the garage while building cars. As is the Motown music his mother adored. And Duprie — who also plays on Learning Love, local pop singer-songwriter Bobby Emmett's wonderful bubblegum pastiche released late last year — strongly believes that all those distinct elements, even the soul part ... no, especially the soul part, have a place in Americana's unique musical blend.
In addition to Pedal Steel Pete, the Inside Outlaws currently include guitarist Jim Diamond (yes, that Jim Diamond; he produced both of Doop's albums before officially joining the band), bassist Katie Grace (Shotgun Wedding) and drummer Dave Shettler (of SSM). The band — which has been taking weekend mini-tours to Kentucky, Nashville (where Duprie lived two weeks of every month for a year when signed to a publishing company that eventually went belly-up) and other Midwest locations — plan to begin recording a follow-up to Everett Belcher this summer. The next project is being financed by Jerry Belanger, co-owner of downtown Detroit's Park Bar. "And all you have to do is play there when the album's done," Doop marvels. "Jerry makes his money back — and you're out of debt. He's such an accommodating guy to so many artists in Detroit, not just musicians. He really wants to help them. He's a little bit of a wild man," Duprie laughs, "but with a big heart."
You could argue that Duprie — who says his experience as a fireman, both here and for a year in Savannah, Ga., has surely inspired songs because "you walk into these houses and you see firsthand how bad some people have it right now" — learned his songwriting craft from some of the very best. And like those influences, he takes that craft very, very seriously.
"When you put records out and write songs, those are your legacy," he reckons. "So that's what I focus on. I just want to make good songs — songs that people can relate to and songs that'll maybe even help them out. Music is a very powerful thing. It can help you not blow your brains out at certain points. When your soul is being torn apart, you can sit down and write something about it that'll make you feel better." He laughs that he came up with some "great songs" following a disastrous short-term marriage. "Some people don't have that to fall back on — and I think that's why so many people have problems with addiction and things.
"When I die, I just want to be known as someone who wrote good songs. That's all."
Bill Holdship is music editor of Metro Times. Send comments to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Doop & the Inside Outlaws play Wednesday, March 3, at 10:45 p.m. at the Magic Stick as part of the Blowout Pre-Party. With Chapstik, the Displays, Punk Fitness Interludes and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
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