There are very few who have gotten so close to the limelight that they’re able to recount the stories as if they’re just your standard bar-playing — albeit talented — musician. Don Shough (pronounced Shaw), who plays the Mad Batter in Cape May 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22, is one of those people.
“Doug said that it’s easy to get to the top,” Shough says of Doug Stone, the successful country singer for whom Shough played guitar, adding, “It’s the staying there that’s hard.”
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Shough knows all about this, but it’s not quite what you think. While he certainly had rock star ambitions, he also learned that life on the road isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
“Being on the tour bus all the time is rough,” Shough says, adding, “It’s nice to come home to your own bed each night.”
Shough, who was born and raised in Wildwood, spent years in Los Angeles and Nashville, always working, always learning and often performing alongside musicians at the height of their game.
“It was a pretty special moment, coming from this small town of Wildwood to playing at the Grand Ole Opry,” Shough says of one particular performance at the legendary venue, where he played twice. “My grandmother had just died and I remember watching (the old TV show) with her and my mom. I thought about her the whole time.”
Shough’s grandmother was influential to his musical career.
“She bought me my first guitar — a cheap acoustic that played terribly — from Sears & Roebuck when I was 9 years old,” Shough says. “She came home from work one day and I had learned half of a Johnny Cash record.”
Shough credits his musical ear for that, as well as his continued ability to play just about anything.
“I’ll read the crowd and try to move in some old ‘20s sounds … ‘Sweet Georgia Brown,’ ‘How High the Moon’ … and I’ll mix in some Eagles, Johnny Cash, Doobie Brothers, Steve Miller — classic stuff. People like to hear these tunes.”
And while people like to hear them, and Shough doesn’t mind playing them, his own musical tastes are eclectic.
“I’ve been playing so long that I’m always looking at the artistic end,” Shough says. “I can’t get into all this new stuff. It rubs me the wrong way.”
Shough’s influences, instead, have stood the test of time: guitarists like Danny Gatton, Robin Ford, Jack Pearson, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Reed and Steve Gaines.
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And while Shough is busily performing on his own, with the trio Tribe or with his project “The Villas People,” he also writes his own music.
“I have a lot of CDs,” Shough says of his original work. “I’ve got a whole acoustic CD that’s all instrumental, one that’s blues, one country, one rock — I even have an all-acoustic Christmas CD.”
Shough can be contacted via his Facebook page for CDs.