Doug Wahlberg: Local musician reflects on star studded history

Doug Wahlberg’s band once had an outdoor concert in Danbury opening for Eddie Money in the afternoon and a Foxwoods casino club performance at night.

Let’s just say someone had to drive pretty fast for the band to be on time for the evening show in eastern Connecticut.

“That was a tall order but also a lot of fun,” said Wahlberg, remembering the intense 100-mile drive between gigs.

Doug Wahlberg at Hamden Arts Festival. Photo/ Alex von Kleydorff

Going on stage and performing made it all worthwhile.

Wahlberg, 61, has been making music in Fairfield County and beyond for more than four decades. He’s worked on projects with music heavyweights including Rick Derringer, Elton John’s lyricist Bernie Taupin and David Bowie’s guitarist and producer Mick Ronson.

For about 20 years he’s been fronting the Doug Wahlberg Band, which has opened for Paul Simon, Foreigner, Jefferson Starship, Grand Funk Railroad and Blue Oyster Cult.

He’s built a strong reputation and fan base in southwestern Connecticut, and has no intention of slowing down.

“When it stops being fun and becomes a job, we’re done. But with this band, it’s fun,” said Wahlberg, who primarily sings and plays lead guitar but is a multi-instrumentalist.

The Doug Wahlberg Band has opened for national acts at the Ridgefield Playhouse in recent years. He recalls being in the audience at a show with his wife about a dozen years ago and turning to her and saying, “I’d like to play here.”

Doug Wahlberg – Brad Durrell photo

Now he does. Allison Stockel, the Ridgefield Playhouse executive director, said Wahlberg’s band symbolizes the great local talent in the region.

“Our audiences love his interpretations of classic rock hits,” said Stockel, noting his band will open for Southside Johnny & the Jukes on May 8.

Wahlberg, a Newtown resident, said his band offers “a modern approach to a retro sound.” Their shows combine cover songs, often done with a twist, and original tunes.

Wahlberg decided to become a musician when he first heard the Beatles as a youngster. “I want to do that” was his reaction at seeing the Fab Four perform on television, he said.

He sang in church choirs and school choral groups growing up. At age 9, he and a brother put on concerts for neighbors, rolling up the garage door and charging a dime for admission.

By age 15, he was playing at a jazz club in Stamford. He had to bring along his mother due to his age. She’d help haul around band equipment and became a mainstay at his shows.

Wahlberg’s custom made guitar. Brad Durrell photo

“She was a big-time supporter,” he said, letting the Wahlberg brothers play loud music in the house while growing up.

Wahlberg’s family moved around a lot before settling in Fairfield, where he attended high school.

He was in various local bands, including The Roll-Ons, Darkstar and RPM. After high school, he lived in a rented house with other band members and lived the youthful rock life. They spent their time rehearsing and performing. “It’s was crazy but not out of control,” he said.

The bands played at well-known clubs and venues around Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York, including Toad’s Place, CBGB and the Bitter End. They toured Florida. They opened for Edgar Winter, The Ramones, and David Johansen of The New York Dolls.

Some of his bandmates from that era lived too hard and didn’t make it. Wahlberg was more focused.

The bands had managers and even a small record label contract once, which helped with bookings, but never quite made it to that next level.

Wahlberg got married, had a son and focused on growing his painting contracting business. His music interest was revived when he began playing at the Georgetown Saloon, where he met Jose Feliciano, a Weston resident, who asked Wahlberg to join him on stage.

He’s also become friends with Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople fame. Hunter has offered insight into the business and had Wahlberg sing “All the Young Dudes” with him at a few shows.

The Doug Wahlberg Band is rounded out by Jeff Claypool, Rich Genovese and George Miller, all of whom live in Fairfield County. Wahlberg traditionally has written the band’s songs but now is collaborating more with Claypool, the newest member.

The band played in front of 15,000 people when opening for Eric Burdon and the Animals at an outdoor show in Hamden. It has performed at Ives Park in Danbury, Levitt Pavilion in Westport, the Mohegan Sun’s Wolf Den, a Montreal blues festival and regularly at Foxwoods.

Last year, the band released a music video of their song “Love — The Revolution,” which received positive feedback from music fans around the world.

He’s always had the support of his spouse, Cindy. They met at one of his shows. “She’s put up with a lot but also had a lot of fun,” he said. Their son Julian is a musician.

Wahlberg’s creative talents aren’t restricted to music. He’s an abstract painter. He designed his own guitar, called a Skeletone, which is a Fender with two carved-out holes in the base. “I get compliments from other musicians about the sound,” he said.

He also keeps busy overseeing his painting contractor business, which does high-end residential work in lower Fairfield County.

While making it big in music today may be more challenging than ever due to changes to the industry, Wahlberg thinks his band may have an advantage with their ability to relate to fellow baby boomers.

“It’s unique to see older guys out there,” he said. “This band has a lot of energy and support from our loyal fan base. And I’m very persistent.”

For more information about the band and upcoming shows, visit DougWahlbergBand.com.