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Matchbox 20 drummer had beginnings in North Huntingdon

| Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, 10:15 p.m.
From left are the members of Matchbox Twenty: Brian Yale, Rob Thomas, Paul Doucette and Kyle Cook. Douchette is a 1990 Norwin High School graduate.
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From left are the members of Matchbox Twenty: Brian Yale, Rob Thomas, Paul Doucette and Kyle Cook. Douchette is a 1990 Norwin High School graduate.

Paul Doucette performs with his band, Matchbox Twenty, in arenas around the world before crowds of enthusiastic fans.

But his musical career had a humble start — in earshot of his North Huntingdon neighbors.

Matchbox Twenty released their fourth album, “North,” on Sept. 4, and are preparing for a world tour.

Doucette, 40, said music always played an important role in his life.

“The first 45 (record) I ever had was ‘Let it Be' (by The Beatles), and I played it over and over again,” he said. “It's where I started doing the whole air-guitar thing, and since then, it was all I was ever interested in.”

Doucette first began playing music — the drums — when he attended Immaculate Conception Catholic School, now part of Queen of Angels Catholic School.

He was inspired by his music teacher, David Hill, who played several instruments.

“He taught everyone how to play their instruments, and it was always so interesting to me to see one person who can play a bunch of different instruments,” Doucette said. “It was great.”

Doucette went on to Norwin High School and graduated in 1990. The family moved to Orlando, where Doucette met Matchbox Twenty bandmates Rob Thomas and Brian Yale.

Five years later, the group delivered its debut album, “Yourself, or Someone Like You.”

That album is the band's most successful and has sold more than 12 million albums.

Once they got started, the band never expected their first album to take off the way it did, Doucette said.

“We started by playing shows for two people – a bartender and someone from our record label – but were thrust right into playing arenas in support of our first album,” Doucette said. “Now, we look back at that time to laugh at how we were obviously not ready for it.”

The band went on to release two more albums, “Mad Season” in 2000, and “More Than You Think You Are” in 2002, before going on a five-year hiatus.

In 2007, the band released “Exile on Mainstream,” a greatest-hits compilation, which included four new songs.

Doucette penned the album's radio single, “How Far We've Come.”

“The songs I've written were usually album tracks, but this one was a single, which was a great feeling,” he said. “There is nothing better than hearing something that came out of your brain on the radio, or to see kids playing it on their acoustic guitars on YouTube.”

The band went back on hiatus after “Exile on Mainstream,” which gave Doucette time to work on his other band, the Break and Repair Method, which released its first album, “Milk the Bee,” in 2008. It gave Doucette a chance to use some of the more quirky songs he has written, he said.

“I'd been writing and just accumulated so many songs that Matchbox Twenty would never do,” he said. “It was gratifying.”

It's been a long time since Doucette visited the Norwin area, but some residents still remember him well.

North Huntingdon resident Jennifer McManus Dudek grew up in the township's Country Hills neighborhood, where Doucette's family lived.

She didn't know him personally, but McManus Dudek said she remembers music always coming from the Doucette home.

“I always remember walking past his house and always hearing him drumming,” she said.

“Every day in the summer, he had the windows open and was constantly drumming.”

Former North Huntingdon resident Jason Clark grew up with Doucette, in Country Hills.

Clark, who now lives in Robinson, said he remembers spending time with Doucette.

“I was into sports, and he was into music, so in high school, we went our own ways,” Clark said. “But I remember sitting in Paul's room, where he played the opening to Mötley Crüe's ‘Home Sweet Home,' and he said we should start a band with our brothers.

“I just laughed at him, and told him he was out of his mind.”

After Doucette graduated, Clark said they lost touch. He only realized Doucette was in Matchbox Twenty after reading a story about the band.

“In the article, his name was highlighted in bold, and I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh,'” Clark said.

Clark said he reconnected with Doucette through Facebook, and they remain in contact.

To Clark, Doucette will always be “just Paul.”

“Paul is just the same old guy from Country Hills, as far as I'm concerned,” Clark said. “He's always been an upbeat, nice guy, and I'm so incredibly proud of him.”

Doucette said he expects the band to tour the U.S. in January, which should include a stop in Pittsburgh.

It's been several years since Matchbox Twenty made a stop in the region. But the band's last shows at the Civic Arena and First Niagara Pavilion, were career highlights, he said.

“We've played all the big venues, like Madison Square Garden in New York City, but Pittsburgh is always meaningful,” Doucette said. “The Civic Arena was the place to play. Even though it was a little rundown, it was great.

“Also, the show at Star Lake (First Niagara Pavilion) was the first big crowd we played to on our own – there were 22,000 people there.”

When Matchbox Twenty comes to Pittsburgh, Doucette said he plans to visit the Norwin region.

“I keep meaning to come back,” he said. “I'd love to make a pilgrimage to where I grew up.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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