Soca to Soul – Who Let the Dogs Out? – Anslem Douglas
Submitted by Michael E. Williams
To say rock n roll is a vicious game is under statement when it comes to Anslem Douglas, composer of the biggest selling single of the last decade,” Who let the dogs out”. On the eve of his latest release, “Project A.D.”, we talk about his life in music and where it began.
MW: When did the music hit you, in Trinidad?
A.D.: Yes in Trinidad. I was in kindergarten and I was asked to sing a duet with a girl, “Under the blue bridge, under the sea”. When it was my turn I ran off stage.
MW: What was it about music that captured you?
AD: I remember from a little boy growing up I was exposed to local artists like Sparrow, Kitchner and Mighty Duke. So being exposed to so much different music I would always try to mimic them. I would tell my mom, “Look! I can sing just like the Mighty Sparrow” and I would slide across the varnished floor like James Brown. Those things stuck with me! My mother ran a school where she had a drama program. They put on concerts every summer. Most of my teenage life I spent singing, in church and on stage.
MW: When did you start to record?
AD: My first recording, “The Neighbor”, was with a band called Firefly. I wrote the song. Shortly after that Kenny Phillip, a local producer, heard it and wanted me to voice a medley of Carnival hits of the day and that was really the beginning. From there I got a contact with the band Atlantik, the biggest band in Trinidad at the time.
MW: Trinidad is such a wealth of music. How did it influence you?
AD: I look at Calypso as a tree and Soca is one of the many the branches.
MW: What made you come to Canada?
AD: A woman!
MW: Did you come to Canada before touring?
AD: Yes. We travelled the world performing our hits (Palm on the Ground, Bassline, Stickfight, Saltfish Cassava and Memories). Good music to dance to.We toured a lot. I think when I came to live in Toronto and did “Who Let the Dogs Out” that took me to the top.
MW: Rundown the process that you went through, from 1996-2001, with that song and on to winning a Grammy.
AD: I wrote that song two-and-a- half or three years before I recorded it in 1997! My brother-in-law would come by the house and with this big heavy voice he would always shout “Who Let the Dogs Out”. He said “you should do a song like that”! I said no. It seemed like a real North American thing and I am a Soca artist. So I knocked around with the idea for a few months. I just stuck at it and then I said “ok let me write the song”.
There were different takes and three versions of the songs. I was not sure where to go with it and then the last version was it! So I took that song back to Trinidad to record. The year before I barely had any music out.
My producer in Trinidad said it was a good song but we should record “Stickfight” first because it had nostalgic properties to it and we were just coming off a bad year. It was good call because “Stickfight” became an instant hit!! No matter where you go in the Caribbean in a Soca Calypso environment you are guaranteed to hear “Stickfight” before the night is over!
The following year, 1998, I released, “Who Let the Dogs Out”. It went on to be a massive hit; wherever there were pockets of Caribbean people it became a hit. After that, some publishers heard the song, performed by the Baha Men, on a Caribbean cruise ship. They wanted to cover the song. I put them on to my manager at the time and it went on to do multi-platinum, won the Grammy and took the Anslem Douglas brand to a new high.
MW: What were the lows?
AD: More producers from the US were looking for publishing. We gave them an opportunity to license the song but they never got the rights from the licensing organization in Trinidad and Tobago. They took a rapper by the name of Chuck Smooth, he lifted my voice for his record, and sold 100,000 copies .My lawyers got involved and everybody lost time and money.
MW: How many movies was the song in?
AD: Snow Dogs, Good Boy, Shaggy Dog, Open Season, Ruggrats in Paris, Men in Black, seven so far!
MW: What did you learn about publishing through all this?
AD: Not so much publishing but I have learned a lesson in greed! My lawyer told me to be prepared for this. Whenever you have a hit there will be a writ.
MW: Some people thought you stopped recording.
AD: I did have my emotional low and started a store but I am right back in it. I feel I was put here to make music.
MW: You formed quite a musical bond with Eddie Bullen.
AD: We worked together even before “Who Let the Dogs Out”. He is just one of the best musicians and friends anyone could have in this business. He is the producer of the new album, ”Project A.D.”, featuring 10 new songs that are more funk, soul, and dance.
MW: Some of the material harkens back to old school, a la Rick James and the Stone City Band.
AD: We wanted to do something with the old school funky feeling like the Commodores, Rick James and the Gap Band. I think we did a pretty good job on it “Slap it”.
MW: There may be controversy on some tracks like “Suck Me”.
AD: When people get a chance to listen the record they will understand it is about the leeches who take what they can get from you. It is really like a protest song.
MW: Sounds like the music industry.
AD: Pretty much so yes! (Laughter…)
MW: People will be surprised that your signature calypso sound is missing from this record.
AD: Sometimes you got do something the unexpected. One of the people I have always patterned myself after is the Mighty Sparrow. If you hear Sparrow do some ballads from back in the day you would not know it was him and think it was Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby. If you have the ability to do different things you should do it. It is all music and why not do it?
MW: What is the first single off the record?
AD: “Forever”, a straight dance track.
MW: What’s next?
AD: I am getting ready for the next Soca season and promoting the “Project A.D.” I need to use my Soca base to push this new project forward. As always I am doing my Soca music too and get them into the new music as well.
MW: It’s different world in the music business - more of live business similar to what you grew up with in Trinidad.
AD: That’s where it’s going back to now. Entertainers have got get their asses back up on stage to perform. You become a moving mall selling your product worldwide online as a result of the live success. You got to get back to being on stage. Gone are the days when you can sit home and make money off the sales. Even if you are in a park performing for free, people got to see you. You got to pound the pavement. It’s work even though records don’t sell anymore. The only way people know what you are doing as an artist is to record and perform.
As I get older I realize it is not a hobby. It is what I have been doing all my adult life and I love it. But it’s how I pay my bills, and I love it!
MW: Needless to say “Who Let the Dogs Out” paid the bills and still does as one of the world’s greatest sports anthems ever!
( Special thanks to Jill, Eddie Bullen and the great A.D.)