In high school, he was known as Doughty. In adulthood, he went by Hollywood. And from now until eternity, he will be known as an underappreciated architect of the Minneapolis Sound and one of the members of the legendary Grand Central band, who ruled the North Side of Minneapolis in the mid-1970s with members that included Prince, André Cymone, and Morris Day.
William Astaire “Hollywood” Doughty passed away on Sunday, February 3. As soon as news of his passing began to ripple through the purple universe, his peers from the ‘70s and ‘80s R&B scene began paying their respects.
“Will was the baddest percussionist I have ever heard. No theory, self taught, and purely an amazing player.”
—Jesse Johnson, solo artist and member of The Time
A lifelong musician, Doughty could play several instruments and sing, and he earned a reputation at an early age for being a show-stopping, technically advanced percussionist. André Cymone (who was known then by his birth name, André Anderson) recalls first seeing Doughty jam in the North High football field after school in the early 1970s, when both young musicians were students at Lincoln Junior High. “We had a lot of neighborhood people who were really, really good percussionists,” Cymone says. “I was walking through, because you have to pass the field to get to my house, and I heard this guy, I mean, he was unbelievable. He blew me away. And I just had to stop and sit and watch him.”
Cymone remembers trying to recruit Doughty to join his band on the spot, though it would take a few years to bring him into the fold. Even back in the 7th grade, Doughty was already in demand and playing with other North Side bands.
Terry Jackson, who played percussion in Grand Central alongside Doughty, has memories of meeting his bandmate at an even earlier age. “I’ve known William since kindergarten, more or less,” Jackson says. He remembers attending John Hay Elementary with Doughty, Prince Nelson, and Prince’s cousin, Charles “Chazz” Smith, all of whom would go on to play in Grand Central together — and all of whom were deeply rooted in the rich musical traditions passed down to them from the elder African-American jazz and R&B musicians in North Minneapolis.
“Everybody knew about William Doughty,” says Chazz Smith, who was Grand Central’s original drummer. “I’ve known him since he was in the first grade. His uncle had a barbecue place, and that was our first gig that we did, me, André and Prince — Skip’s Bar-B-Q. That’s how Hollywood said that he’d seen us. We were just some kids, 12, 11, something like that.”
Even when they were still in junior high, Grand Central — who initially called themselves the very junior high-sounding names Phoenix, Young Blood, and, ever so briefly, Sex Machine — began to turn the heads of the older musicians in the neighborhood.
“We would be walking down the street, and anytime we’d hear a band, we were so bold we would just walk up and knock on the door, ‘Can we come in and listen to you guys?'” remembers Smith. “And they’d say, ‘Who are these little smurfs?’ Spike Moss [director at community center The Way] used to say our band should be called ‘Electric Kool-Aid.’ Because we were little, young, and we played rock groups — we would play Jimi Hendrix and Grand Funk Railroad. And they were looking at us like, ‘Who are you, what kind of kids are you? Are you white, what are you?'”
As they gained notoriety in the neighborhood and began scoring points at area battle-of-the-bands showcases, the band began snowballing additional members and influences. The group started with Chazz, André, and Prince, then picked up André’s sister, Linda Anderson, on keys, and the Andersons’ next-door neighbor, Terry Jackson, on percussion. With the addition of both Jackson and Doughty, they were able to master some of the more complex, Latin- and jazz fusion-inspired songs that were making their way to the top of the Billboard charts in the early 1970s.
“We really wanted to be like Earth, Wind & Fire, they had a double percussion set up with kalimba and timbales, and of course it was Santana’s influence,” remembers Jackson. “So that’s kind of where we took off at with William when he got in the band.”
“Will had a unique instinct for making percussion the perfect accompaniment to a song.”
— Linda Anderson, Grand Central
For how successful its members went on to become, it’s surprising how little is actually known about Grand Central, and how many misunderstandings persist about their history. For starters, the band was active for a few years in the early 1970s before Smith was unceremoniously excused and replaced with Morris Day, who is pictured in the iconic (and only publicly known) photograph of the band. And although one might assume that the young Mr. Nelson was leading the band on vocals and guitar, as he did throughout the rest of his career, Prince actually started out on keys before moving to guitar and would share the front of the stage with Cymone, Jackson, and Doughty, who would trade off on vocal duties and perform synchronized dance moves à la the Jackson 5.
“William sang a lot of the songs back then. He was kind of our lead singer,” Cymone says. “A lot of people don’t know that. He sang a lot of good songs — songs that I wouldn’t want to sing or Prince wouldn’t want to sing. KC and the Sunshine Band, he loved that kind of stuff. He rounded out the band with his persona.”
In addition to singing lead on songs like KC and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s the Way (I Like It),” the Commodores’ “Slippery When Wet,” and Tower of Power’s “Don’t Change Horses (In the Middle of the Stream),” members recall Doughty playing rhythm guitar on the Isley Brothers’ “Who’s That Lady?” and contributing powerhouse percussion on what became the band’s signature tune, Deodato’s “Super Strut.”
He also contributed a strong fashion sense, inspiring the rest of the band to step up their game. “Will just had this thing for being flamboyant — his parents named him [his middle name] after Fred Astaire, so his whole thing was about being a little showboat and flashy,” remembers Jackson. “Matter of fact, I don’t think the man ever had a pair of blue jeans. Ok? He was a very fashion-conscious person.”
And Doughty was known, by all accounts, to be something of a character. In fact, “character” is the word most people used to describe his personality — the kind of guy “you always found in the middle of a scrap,” as Cymone put it, who could be seen driving his musical equipment around Near North Minneapolis in a green vintage hearse, or strutting down the street in a fur coat and fedora.
“He and Prince had that confidence, that you didn’t ever think you could measure up to them,” Smith recalls. “It was hard sometimes, like dang man, you guys won’t back down. I can tell you so many different scenarios that I’ve seen him in, and no matter what you hear, whatever you see, he was always him. He was always him. So down to earth. Man. I miss him terribly.”
“William was a very close friend of mine throughout our early years as young musicians growing up 2gether in Minneapolis. He was a super talented percussionist and a super cool dude who had my back with whatever the situation was. So many great memories to reflect on! He will be missed!! RIP Brotha Will.”
—Morris Day, Grand Central and The Time
After performing in Grand Central, Doughty remained in the group as it morphed into Champagne, and then Shampayne, with Cymone, Linda Anderson, and Morris Day. He sang in a band called Power, who would perform regularly at the Riverview Supper Club in the early ’80s, and contributed percussion to Jesse Johnson’s first solo albums, Jesse Johnson Revue and Shockadelica — even appearing in the video for Johnson’s duet with funk legend Sly Stone, “Crazay.”
In recent years, Doughty made a cameo playing percussion on Cymone’s 2016 album 1969, appearing on the track “Black Man in America,” played congas at a pair of Cymone’s hometown gigs in 2017 along with Terry Jackson, and had very recently finished recording a new 16-song album of solo material that he planned to release. Cymone says he last spoke on the phone to Doughty just days before he passed, and the two were planning to work together to release his new album.
“I have to say, William passing — more so even than Prince passing, because obviously Prince is such a known figure — but with both of those guys gone, that’s like a big chunk of Grand Central,” Cymone says. He, Jackson, and Smith all say that they feel more passionate than ever about preserving Grand Central’s history, while there’s still time to have their stories heard.
“It’s a responsibility, and one that obviously I really have to think about and take really seriously,” Cymone reflects. “And it’s a great story. It’s a beautiful story. It’s not just Prince — it’s about a group of people, a group of guys, that had dreams, hopes. That process of getting from that, from nothing, to where Prince got — from nothing, to where I got — you know, I saw it up close and personal. I just really want to make sure it gets its respect.”
For more on William Doughty’s musical legacy, tune to our Prince-centric music stream, Purple Current, today at 12 p.m. CST for an hour-long play list that honors Grand Central’s roots, and listen to The Local Show on Sunday night from 6-8 p.m. as we play more of his music in this week’s History Spotlight.
And for even more about Grand Central’s musical influences, listen to this Spotify playlist of songs that the members recall covering together in the early- to mid-1970s.
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