Multi-instrumentalist Doug Marshall is a versatile musician who can add tasteful strings to almost any setting. Lately, his main ax has been guitar, and he is getting ready to launch his latest group that he calls the FredNecks Project, along with Gary Lee Gimble on pedal steel guitar, Mike Breitenbach on electric guitar, and Tina Buchannan on upright bass.
They will play classic country songs by artists like Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Hank Williams, and George Jones. Buchannan will sing songs by Kitty Wells and Connie Smith, among others.
The band started as a friendly jam with Gimble, Breitenbach and Marshall.
“It came down to me and Mike and Gary getting together one time,” said Marshall. “That was really fun. That guy is such a steel player. Mike hadn’t had the opportunity to play an electric guitar for a long time—since college. We got together once and I played bass. Tina came in and played bass, and I can go back to guitar.”
Marshall, who also plays and teaches mandolin and banjo, is a Stafford County native who started learning music in the public school band.
“A neighbor bought me a drum at a yard sale,” said Marshall. “So I started on drums until a cute young lady let me play a ‘toot toot’ on her clarinet. I thought that was a whole lot better than playing drums. I went ahead and played clarinet through my high school career and played saxophone in a dance band. That led me to be allowed to play an electric guitar I had borrowed from somebody. John Easley was a great band instructor in Stafford County at that time.”
Around that same time, Marshall’s brother Don taught him some guitar licks. The Marshall brothers started a folk trio with Kathy Douberly, playing popular acoustic music of that time inspired by artists like Peter, Paul and Mary, Gordon Lightfoot and Joan Baez. Doug also started listening to bluegrass music after attending some concerts and festivals where he got to hear Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley and Doc Watson.
A career in the metal industry took Marshall to the West Coast, where he lived in the Los Angeles area for thirteen years. He expanded his musical horizons thanks to a college radio station that played bluegrass.
“They had a radio station—KVCR, valley college radio from San Bernardino—that had a radio show every Saturday afternoon on through the evening,” said Marshall. “Man, you could get a good education on who’s who and hear good bluegrass on the radio every week, and that was hard to do.”
Marshall connected with other acoustic musicians around the L.A. area and helped start the Southwest Bluegrass Association, a group which is still active. He also honed his skills on guitar and mandolin, and played with several bands.
“I met folks that were a little more serious, and we had band rehearsals and such then a couple times a week we would rehearse and that was a bunch,” said Marshall. “We were making the festival circuit—that was a big deal back in California in those days. … Bill Monroe came out on that circuit and Jim & Jesse, Jimmy Martin, those mainstream bluegrass guys. To play on a bill with Bill Monroe was an honor. The name of my band was on the same flyer as Bill Monroe & The Bluegrass Boys.”
Eventually, work took Marshall to Phoenix, Ariz., then he retired from the metal industry and came back to Stafford to pursue music full time. In addition to the FredNecks Project, he leads a Civil War-era group with Buchannan, fiddle player Lauren Smith and penny whistle player Rannie Winn that plays square dances and events. The group often has to play requests on the fly.
“They’ll call a dance and we won’t know what song they want to play but I have a couple volumes of ‘Barnes Book of English Country Dance Tunes,’” said Marshall. “There must be 400 songs in each one of those volumes. So the caller has to teach the dance anyway. While he’s teaching the dance, he’s told us what tune he wants us to play and we look it up and make sure we’ve got it.”
Through his music groups and teaching lessons, Marshall feels fortunate to be able to make a living doing what he loves.
“I’ve been able not to have to do a day job,” said Marshall. “That’s a lucky thing. Bluegrass music? I don’t know anybody without touring in a band who can say they make a living on bluegrass music, but I’ve been able to pull it off. I learned from some friends along the way to live within your means.”