Relix 44: The Roots’ “Captain” Kirk Douglas

Dean Budnick on October 22, 2018
Relix 44: The Roots’ “Captain” Kirk Douglas

photo by Jay Blakesberg


Welcome to the Relix 44. To commemorate the past 44 years of our existence, we’ve created a list of people, places and things that inspire us today, appearing in our September 2018 issue and rolling out on throughout this fall. See all the articles posted so far here.


Versatile Roots: “Captain” Kirk Douglas

When asked to contemplate his memorable live performances as well as the indelible moments he’s experienced as a concertgoer, The Roots’ guitar player “Captain” Kirk Douglas points to March 1, 2012 as a day that satisfied both requirements.

“I was playing a benefit with The Roots for Barack Obama at ABC Carpet at all places. Aziz Ansari was performing as well and we played with Ben Folds. Then, after we were finished, there was a woman handing out champagne backstage and I asked her where she was from. Now, all day I had been trying to see Van Halen at the Garden, where they were playing but I was not able to get tickets on whatever app I was trying. So I asked this woman where she was from, expecting to hear what part of America or maybe her heritage. She told me that she normally works at Madison Square Garden but tonight she was working this function for Barack Obama. And I said, ‘That’s funny, I was really trying to go see Van Halen at the Garden tonight.’ And she said, ‘Well, let me see if I can help out with that.’ So 20 minutes later, I found myself at the Garden in the front row at Van Halen. I can’t think of anything that would top that. Just my shock of seeing them and how I was right in the front row and they did all my favorite songs. And yeah, I just outed myself as a Van Halen fan.”

Of course as befits the guitarist of The Roots, who finds himself backing a wide array of musicians on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Douglas recalls that during his formative years, “there was a stew of influences going on in my mind: Prince, Living Colour, P-Funk, The Cure, The Stones, Zappa, Fishbone, and Marvin Gaye.” While living in Manhattan during his early 20s, Douglas immersed himself in the live music scene and he fondly recalls, “There were just so many venues that I didn’t entirely know what I was going to see. I was just going on a little expedition in the night and I sort of expected the unexpected.”

He still brings that perspective to bear even if in many instances, he’s the one on stage. Douglas admits, “There are moments that if I sit down and think about it, I feel a little bit like Forrest Gump,” he admits. “On The Tonight Show, I got to play guitar on ‘All Day Sucker’ with Stevie Wonder. I got to play ‘Late in the Evening’ with Paul Simon. I got to play with Elvis Costello multiple times. I remember getting to meet Johnny Marr from the Smiths and he invited me to play ‘How Soon Is Now’ with him. I went to the soundcheck and we practiced it, and then later my friends came down, and I didn’t tell them I was gonna do it. So we’re all watching Johnny Marr, and I told them, ‘I have to go to the bathroom,’ and then, he called me out to play it. There have been so many experiences like that that I just can’t believe I’ve actually had. Like the moment where Prince was playing my guitar and then, he threw it and destroyed it. So Prince sent my guitar to the hospital to get it fixed and then, after he died, I was on BET playing the solo to ‘Purple Rain’ in a tribute to him on the same guitar that he broke. Stuff like that you couldn’t write. It wouldn’t seem believable. It’s just been a blessed, blessed experience.”


This article originally appears in the September 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here