The Ohio-born Douglas began playing Dobro at the age of eight, after his father—a steelworker who played bluegrass in his spare time—brought him to a Flatt and Scruggs concert, where he was entranced by the sound of Dobro player Josh Graves. After playing with his dad's group the West Virginia Travelers for several years, a 17-year-old Douglas joined the pioneering progressive-bluegrass band the Country Gentlemen in 1973. Two years later, he became a member of the seminal J.D. Crowe and the New South, which also included future solo stars Ricky Skaggs and Tony Rice. In 1976, Douglas and Skaggs co-founded the now-legendary bluegrass combo Boone Creek.
In 1979, Douglas launched his solo career with his LP Fluxology, and also became a full-time member of the beloved family country group the Whites. By the time he left the Whites in 1985, Douglas was Nashville's most in-demand session Dobro player, while continuing to develop his blossoming solo career with a series of acclaimed and influential albums. In the late '80s, he formed the acoustic supergroup Strength in Numbers with Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Mark O'Connor. He also continued to collaborate on such forward-looking recording projects, e.g. 1994's Grammy-winning all-star The Great Dobro Sessions and 1996's genre-bending experiment Bourbon and Rosewater, with bassist Edgar Meyer and Indian musician Vishwa Mohan Bhatt.
In the late 1990s, Douglas chose to abandon his lucrative Nashville session career, in order to concentrate on more creatively satisfying musical pursuits. At around the same time, Alison Krauss asked him to fill in on a Union Station tour. Those shows went so well that the association became a permanent one. Since then, Douglas has balanced his work with Union Station with his ongoing solo career, while continuing to find time for a variety of collaborative projects, including the tribute album Southern Filibuster: The Songs of Tut Taylor and his ongoing work as co-Music Director of the popular BBC TV series Transatlantic Sessions, which teams American roots musicians and singers with their Celtic counterparts.
Douglas also scored the film “Get Low” (starring Robert Duvall, Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek) with Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, and wrote additional music for the film.
In 2011, Douglas received the Annual Americana Honors and Awards coveted Lifetime Achievement Award for Instrumentalist, a top honor shared in previous years by such luminaries such as Ry Coder, Sam Bush, Larry Campbell, Greg Leisz.
Now, at a point in his life where most other musicians have settled into a routine or are resting on their laurels, Jerry Douglas remains eager to embrace new creative challenges.
"Making Traveler has really been an eye-opening experience," Douglas asserts. "After doing this, I'm not interested in going back to making records the way I was, going into the studio with 12 songs and recording them with the same group of people. This one taught me about what options are out there, what other ways there are to do things, and what other kinds of music I can play. That's important when you've been doing this as long as I have. Now I've got all kinds of records that I want to make."