“Captain” Kirk Douglas on the link between technique and songwriting, and what made Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen different

Kirk Douglas
(Image credit: Courtesy of Kirk Douglas)

Kirk Douglas – or “Captain Kirk” as most will know him – will be a familiar face to fans of The Tonight Show, where he performs as part of the Roots every weeknight. Most weekends he heads out with the band to play shows across the country.

Utilizing the time spent traveling, Douglas managed to compile enough ideas to put together his second solo album, Hundred Watt Heart, which is also the name under which he’s been performing sporadic solo shows. “I thought it seemed a poetic way of describing what this music is,” he says. “I’m plugging my heart into a loud facility.”

The album, with its broad range of styles, may wrongfoot fans of the Roots. There’s more than a hint of psychedelia, with elements of Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd.

“I’m in love with music that takes you on a journey, which is what those guys did, where they take you on a trip to their world. I gravitate toward mind expansion – musically, recreationally and meditatively,” he says.

“The common thread is beauty, compassion and energy. Channeling all of your thoughts, feelings and emotions definitely helps you to deal with the world and the everyday problems we all face.”

As with so many artists, lockdown was the key to enabling Douglas to get down to actually recording his ideas.

“On the half-hour commute on the train every day for The Tonight Show, I found time to explore my inner worlds and creativity,” he reveals.

“As far as execution goes, actually making the album, I had to learn to use a DAW and Ableton and develop an aptitude pretty quickly, because we had to send in our parts from home for the show during lockdown. Once I’d completed the work for that each day, I’d have a lot of time on my hands to fully exploit the new knowledge I’d gained and start to create my own music.”

There are distinctive electric guitar tones all over the album, with some particularly sweet, clean sounds.

“They were actually recorded on a 100-watt Marshall JMP – definitely not the sound you’d associate with those amps,” says Douglas. “I used a Mesa/Boogie Stiletto Ace as well, and for guitars, a Rich Robinson 335 and a Carmine Street, Esquire-style model, made from hundred-year-old reclaimed pine.”

Douglas has avoided the temptation to fill the album with shredding.

“With the players I gravitate toward, if there’s no song there, it’s not as moving of an experience,” he reflects. “Look at the amazing things that can happen when you get someone like Hendrix or Van Halen whose technique and strengths inform the song and vice-versa.

“For me, the guitar is mainly a songwriting tool, so I like to keep any notion of shredding to where it is important. I guess I’m aiming at music fans rather than just guitar fans.”

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Mark McStea

Mark is a freelance writer with particular expertise in the fields of ‘70s glam, punk, rockabilly and classic ‘50s rock and roll. He sings and plays guitar in his own musical project, Star Studded Sham, which has been described as sounding like the hits of T. Rex and Slade as played by Johnny Thunders. He had several indie hits with his band, Private Sector and has worked with a host of UK punk luminaries. Mark also presents themed radio shows for Generating Steam Heat. He has just completed his first novel, The Bulletproof Truth, and is currently working on the sequel.