FREQUENTLY ASKEDQ QUESTIONS:
UNFINISHED BUSINESS: THE LIFE & TIMES OF DANNY GATTON
THE WASHINGTON POST ONCE CALLED DANNY "THE GREATEST GUITAR PLAYER YOU NEVER HEARD." WHY IS THAT?
Start with the phenomenal chops honed on the '50s and '60s teen club scene, when he didn't hunker down at home with other people's records. Then look at the musicality and melody that sets Danny apart from the copycats. Depending on his mood, Danny could confine himself to a 30-second solo on a vocal track ("Ugly Man": REDNECK JAZZ), or vamp for 16 minutes into the stratrosphere ("Blues Newberg": IN CONCERT 9/9/94). He knew what any situation required, an important skill for any guitar player.
WHAT MAKES DANNY GREAT?
His absorption of styles (blues, country, jazz, and rockabilly), and willingness to mix them -- often in the same song, as he did on "Comin' Home" (REDNECK JAZZ). The track opens as a fast blues, restated as a funkier shuffle, and capped by a countrified solo. Such magic defines Danny's compositional chops.
WHAT STYLES DID DANNY DO BEST, AND HOW DID HIS BACKGROUND INFLUENCE IT?
Country and jazz remained the keystone of Danny's style throughout his career (because you must follow the melody when soloing). But Danny made it his business to absorb all types of music. He felt equally at home reeling off rockabilly nuggets like "Ubangi Stomp," or Charlie Christian's "7 Come 11."
The influence of Danny's birthplace (Washington, D.C) cannot be overemphasized enough. The Southerners who moved there after World War II brought country music with them, while their children dove headfirst into rock 'n' roll. Combine the genres, and you see how D.C.'s roots music scene started. For further reference, read Chapter 2: "Danny And Roy At The Crossroads", and Chapter 5: "American Music (And It's Mine)."
WHAT MADE YOU WRITE A BOOK ABOUT DANNY?
My April 1999 VINTAGE GUITAR cover story really got things rolling, and provided my book's title. However, I wanted more time to explore the issues that my article raised. I'd read Danny's ROLLING STONE obituary after his death in 1994, and wondered aloud: "How'd such a major player get so overlooked?" I figured that Danny would offer a perfect example for VINTAGE GUITAR readers about how music is made, but didn't foresee anything more.
My feelings changed after I began logging untold hours on the phone with Danny's longtime friend Jay Monterose; his pickup guru, Joe Barden; bassist John Previti; and drummer Dave Elliott. Once I talked with them, I realized a deeper story lay behind my article. Sounds cut-and-dried?
Not so. The biggest problem lay in documenting the lesser-known moments in Danny's career, because people's memories tend fade after 20 or 30 years. Rummaging those bygone UNICORN TIMES stories helped immensely: so did nontraditional avenues like Tom Principato's '84 calendar, which proved handy for fleshing out the finer points of the BLAZING TELECASTERS era.
SOUNDS GREAT! HOW CAN I GET A COPY?
For a personalized one-of-a-kind, autographed copy, see my eBay page: biggreenfrog2002. Copies are also available from all the other usual online suspects, such as amazon.com...but if you a keepsake from the man who wrote it, my page is the place to go. If you don't see a copy for sale, contact me here.
DOES YOUR BOOK'S TITLE ("UNFINISHED BUSINESS") REFLECT YOUR FEELING THAT DANNY DIDN'T GET THE RESPECT THAT HE DESERVED?
Yes, but I wanted to underscore another important point: Danny's legacy remains a reference point for today's players, too. His name crops up in surprising places. As Gin Blossoms guitarist Jesse Valenzuela mentioned during our VINTAGE GUITAR interview (7/15/03), he used to watch Danny's video, STRICTLY RHYTHM GUITAR (Hot Licks)..."just for entertainment." Elsewhere, Johnny Hiland is the most overtly Gatton-influenced guitarist working among today's players. For other relevant snapshots, see Chapter 15 ("The Legacy").
WHO WERE DANNY'S PEERS, AND HOW DOES HIS STYLE COMPARE TO OTHER PLAYERS?
First, Danny listened to saxophonists or organists as often as he did to guitarists. Why? He wanted to emulate their tones and give his sound another dimension. Danny's late friend, Dick Heintze, played a crucial part in that quest.
Heintze played Hammond B-3 organ and piano with Danny (and his late rival, Roy Buchanan) from the mid- to late '60s, which they mostly spent in supper club jazz bands. Danny rated Dick the only musician who could ever beat him in a jam session. (Heintze died of Lou Gehrig's Disease in 1981.)
For other influences, start with Les Paul (creator of the guitar bearing his name). Danny devoted his preteen life working out Les's guitar style and recording approach, which surely came in handy for his legendary studio marathons (Chapter 1, "From Anacostia To Uptown").
Washington, D.C. rival Roy Buchanan inspired Danny to explore different guitar amps and tones. Roy's use of the Telecaster also persuaded Danny to make that guitar his weapon of choice (as I explain in Chapter 4, "The '53 Tele And The Fender Pickup Man").
On the jazz front, the late Charlie Christian (Benny Goodman's guitarist in the 1940s) and Lenny Breau (who worked from the '50s to the '80s) gave Danny insights on harmonic theory, as well as how to set up a solo.
WHAT ARE DANNY'S ESSENTIAL ALBUMS?
Start with REDNECK JAZZ (1978), where Danny came of age as a guitar stylist and bandleader. Then check out REDNECK JAZZ EXPLOSION: RECORDED LIVE DECEMBER 31, 1978, for a juicy snapshot of Danny's abilities in that arena.
Of the later-period stuff, check out UNFINISHED BUSINESS (1987), and 88 ELMIRA ST. (1991, his Grammy-nominated major label debut; both show a mature player in command of his powers. Jazz buffs will likely prefer RELENTLESS (1994), the last album Danny completed during his lifetime.
Not sure where to start? PORTRAITS (1998) -- the live and studio compilation assembled by Ed Eastridge -- makes a terrific introduction. The live medley of "7 Come 11," "Linus & Lucy" (the "Peanuts" theme) and "Orange Blossom Special" show Danny at the top of his game, and should not be missed!. Ed has reactivated his Big Mo label to reissue Danny's music: for more info, visit www.bigmo.com.
WHY DO ARTISTS LIKE DANNY HAVE TROUBLE GETTING RECOGNIZED?
Rock 'n' roll has been never been kind to instrumentalists since the '60s surf era (except one-offs like "Dueling Banjos," "Classical Gas" or the discofied "Beethoven's Fifth"). If you want airplay, you need a three-minute vocal track.
Even today's jam bands accept that reality to widen their audience (as Blues Traveler did, with "Runaround"). Danny was acutely aware of the problem, as shown by his sardonic self-description to his friends as "a short, fat guy who don't sing."
That said, Danny's well-documented aversion to touring -- and even the most basic shownmanship gestures -- narrowed his chances of reaching mass audiences. Like any artist of his caliber, he wouldn't have minded a major hit, but he wanted one on his own terms. Did he have all the ingredients he needed? See Chapters 12 ("88 Elmira Street") and 13 ("Cruisin' Deuces") for my discussion of this point.
WHAT DO PEOPLE WANT TO KNOW ABOUT DANNY'S LIFE?
"Why did Danny kill himself?" I always get this question at interviews and signings; needless to say, the answer is a complicated one. Relevant factors include the loss of his close friend Billy Windsor to a heart attack on January 5, 1994; a long-term propensity for depression; and a persistent numbness in his left arm that he feared would permanently impair his ability. Chapter 14 ("October 14 And The Aftermath") explores what happened on that terrible day at Danny's farm in southern rural Maryland.
WHAT DO PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW?
He was a loving husband and father who spent his life straddling the gap between hopes for success and the realities of pursuing it. But he doggedly hung onto his artistry, which is no small achievement in today's market-driven, consensus-dominated music business.
He remains a compelling figure: as many of my sources told me, few people felt they could approach his virtuosity, but everyone knew where to reach. For that alone, he deserves our vote. his formidable talent and legacy is the icing on the cake.
Danny Gatton Corner
A WORD FROM THE MANAGEMENT: Now posted, from the previous incarnation of this website: "54 Hours In D.C." (below). To view older entries, just hit the "Archive" button, followed by the relevant headline link on each entry.
DANNY GATTON FAQS