The Significance of Sturgill Simpson’s ‘Dood & Juanita’ Album Title

Sturgill Simpson recently announced that his fifth and (potentially) final original album called The Ballad of Dood & Juanita will be released on August 20th via Thirty Tigers. A conceptualized work, Sturgill says of the album “I Just wanted to write a story— not a collection of songs that tell a story, but an actual story, front to back. [This album is] a rollercoaster ride through all the styles of traditional country and bluegrass and mountain music that I love, including gospel and a capella. It is a simple tale of either redemption or revenge.”

Though we don’t have any songs from the album at the moment—and don’t have any further information on it beyond the track list and album art—we can actually glean quite a bit from the title, including that this album will be a very personal work for Sturgill.

Dood and Juanita happen to be Sturgill Simpson’s grandparents.

Long-time Sturgill fans will already be somewhat familiar with Sturgill’s ‘Pawpaw’ Lawrence “Dood” Fraley. He appears at the beginning of Sturgill’s album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, giving a somewhat poorly enunciated introduction to the album at the beginning of the song “Turtles All The Way Down.”

Sturgill also mentions Dood in multiple songs in one capacity or another, including the song “Life Ain’t Fair and the World Is Mean” where Sturgill professes, “Pawpaw never stayed up raising hell with the Haggard Jones. But he raised a proud coal miner’s daughter and I’m proud to be her son.” (Note: the lyrics have varied in different versions of the song.)

And of course, Sturgill’s song “Hero” is about Pawpaw Dood directly.

Decided to write a song for my hero
Considering he’s done so much for me
He’s the one that pulled me up when I fell down so low
He’s the one that led me through the darkness when I could not see
Never met a man more gentle or any humbler
Never once heard him raise his voice or saw him mad
But I watched him break his back on coal and lumber
To give her everything she never had

Lawrence “Dood” Fraley was born on June 1, 1929 in the town of Hazard in Perry County KY, served in the Air Force, and like many individuals born in his time in Kentucky, spent time working in coal mines, including for the Falcon Coal Company. Lawrence had eight sisters and three brothers, and went on later to marry Juanita (Smith) Fraley. As Sturgill says in the song “Hero”:

Born on a summer day in some dark holler
Way back in the hills of Perry County
Well he grew up poor and he never saw a dollar
But a dollar ain’t no good in a coal camp anyway

Lawrence “Dood” Fraley died on March 15th, 2017. In eulogizing him, Sturgill said, “He was without a single doubt the greatest man and finest human being I will ever know in my time here on this Earth, and there will never, ever be another like him … My Papaw taught me to play country music and more importantly, he taught me to love country music. Above all else that has happened in my life and career … nothing comes close to knowing that he lived long enough to see it.”

Though Sturgill has filled in a few more of the blanks here and there in interviews and such, we really don’t know much more about Ol’ Dood or Juanita. But it appears we’re about to find out a lot.

What we do know is that many of Sturgill Simpson’s relatives are buried in a cemetery near the town of Jackson, Kentucky where Sturgill was born, and where Dood and Juanita spent many of their days. The name of the cemetery is “High Top Mountain,” which also is the name of Sturgill Simpson’s debut album. So as you can see, The Ballad of Dood & Juanita will bring the Sturgill Simpson saga full circle.

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