I haven’t listened to the radio regularly in years and I don’t mean just Top 40 either. All the adult contemporary and “favorites” FM stations seemed hell bent on playing the same handful of earworms until they could get to the next hour-long ad break. Love it or hate it though, it’s the combination of radio airplay, spinning DJs, shopping muzak and soundtrack needle drops that weave our collective music tapestry. Unlike film, Canadian music has managed to form a distinct identity whilst co-existing with the American one. A distinct thread in this tapestry are the upbeat sounds of Doug Bennett and his fellow Slugs, lovingly chronicled here in Tersa Alfeld’s Doug and the Slugs and Me.
Doug Bennet wasn’t exactly classically good looking or even a great singer. But when teamed with guitarists John Burton and Richard Baker, Steve Bosley on bass, Simon Kendall on keyboard and John Watson on drums, some manic magic was laid down on vinyl and a Canadian phenomenon was born. With eternal hits including “Too Bad”, “Who Knows How” and (my personal favorite) “Day by Day”, Doug and his Slugs enraptured captive live audiences and enthused radio listeners with their infectious, upbeat, and often goofy melodies.
Like any band’s story, it’s not all hits and audience love as the band was never quite able to crossover to the US, nor able to overcome the inevitable creative clashes between commerce, art, and ultimately themselves. As seems to be the case between any band named “Guy and the _____”, the lead inevitably decided to go solo, before promptly deciding to reform the band with replacement members, a decision which left a bitter taste with the original lineup. While the band did eventually reform with the original members, Doug’s alcoholism had taken its toll and he died prematurely at age 52 in 2004. The band continues to perform with new lead singer Ted Okos. None has changed their name to Doug.
Coming off her confident documentary feature debut The Rankin File, Alfeld capably chronicles the story of Doug and the Slugs whose journey included as many downs as ups. What elevates the venture is the personal connection between Alfeld and Doug’s family. This isn’t just a band biography, it’s the conclusion of a frayed personal thread.
It turns out that Alfeld grew up next door to Doug, his wife Nancy and regularly played with their daughters Shea, Devon, and Della. While she was aware Doug played in a band, she was equally unaware of his legendary status in the Canadian music scene. To her, she was just her friend’s dad. In addition to relaying Doug’s story, aided immensely by a plethora of personal journals left behind, Alfeld takes the opportunity to reconnect with her childhood friends who bond over old times and bridge the gap years have left behind through their mutual loss of a father (Alfeld’s having recently passed from COVID).
Doug and the Slugs and Me succeeds as both a band biography and a personal reflection. A performer’s legacy is more than just the work behind, but also encompasses the lives they touched, even those that didn’t necessarily intersect with their celebrity. With this latest feather in her directing cap, Alfeld cements her rep as a documentarian to watch.
Doug and the Slugs and Me screens as part of DOXA at the SFU Djavad Mowafaghian on May 14th, 7pm