DUELING LEGACIES: DANNY GATTON VS. ROY BUCHANAN
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): What did Roy give Danny, and vice versa, from your perspective, since you've seen them both often enough to comment?
TP: My favorite quote on this is, “I think that Roy wrote the book, and Danny added his own chapter.” I mean, to me – the style that Roy invented, I call it, “Telecaster on Mars,” or “James Burton on acid.” James Burton was never that wild. He was always that good, but he was never that phrase-y, and introverted. To me, Roy really, really invented that “Telecaster on Mars” style, and I really do feel like in the beginning, that's what Danny based his style on.
But then, Roy continued to just be sort of a blues guy – and Danny had that incredible jazz phase, with REDNECK JAZZ, and just became a lot more versatile, and a lot more accomplished than Roy. I mean, Roy had chops, but Danny was the amazing technician. I don't hear any of Danny Gatton in Roy Buchanan, myself. I hear tons of Roy in Danny.
CR: Of course, Roy did stick more with the blues and R&B kind of stuff, too, didn't he?
TP: Yeah. Danny had his banjo background, which had a lot to do with his right hand technique, the rolling fingers stuff – Danny was just all over the place, man. If the two played together, Danny would just play circles around Roy, but each had his own thing. To me, Roy was much more soulful, and more deeply emotional than Danny, in a general way. I mean, Danny had his “Harlem Nocturne,” but Roy had a whole bunch of stuff like that, where it was pretty deep, emotionally.
CR: In many ways, considering what happened to them, career-wise – they both suffered from that same syndrome of “guitar hero that couldn't quite find their niche.”
TP: Yeah, but you know what? It was cool, because once Danny got his [major label] opportunity [with Elektra Records], it spurred him on to make one of the best records of his career. 88 ELMIRA ST has got so much great stuff on it. To me, that and UNFINISHED BUSINESS are the two pinnacles of the Danny Gatton that we know. And the other Danny Gatton is the Lenny Breau, [and] REDNECK JAZZ guy. That album is a wonderful statement, too, but UNFINISHED BUSINESS and 88 ELMIRA, to me, are the two definitive Danny statements.
CR: Yeah, that's true. That album has a lot of great stuff on it...
TP: And I'm so pleased that I was not only able to re-release that album, but remaster it. I'm so pleased about the way we improved the sound on the UNFINISHED BUSINESS reissue. It [the original LP release] was really, really flat-sounding and low output – you had to crank the stereo up, and it just didn't pop.
And when it went from LP to CD the first time, I disagreed with the song choice. Norma [Gatton] added a couple of additional tracks, so I decided to leave one of those off [“Georgia On My Mind”]. And that bonus cut I culled from those Danny home demos, I think it's a really great cut, too. Actually, THE HUMBLER STAKES HIS CLAIM has not really sold that well – hasn't sold nearly as good as Unfinished Business.
CR: It would represent a prime period of his live career, I think, that people would be interested in.
TP: The only thing I can guess is that maybe some people are turned off by the lower sonic quality, but, to me – I think it's killer.
CR: One thing record companies always argue against, when they talk about releasing famous bootleg tapes is: “Well, they already have it, so what's the point of doing it?”
TP: Oh, no, honestly – this stuff has not been circulating in bootleg circles at all. That was one of the main impetuses for me, if that's the word (laughs), to go ahead with it: “Yeah! I knew the collectors didn't have this shit.” Maybe word just hasn't gotten out enough yet, I don't know.
CR: Well, maybe – like a lot of things associated with Danny, it's gonna take awhile to seep through to the popular culture, perhaps.
TP: Yes, and no – because UNFINISHED BUSINESS is selling well. I'm gonna go to the distributor website and check some numbers... OK, let's see: LIVE IN '77 has sold better than I thought: 3,900. That's pretty good. The first Roy [CD: AMERICAN AXE] sold over 10,000 now. The AMAZING GRACE one has sold 2,648 [copies]. That's in two years.
CR: In two years – and how about UNFINISHED BUSINESS?
TP: It is 4,450 [copies], and that's a reissue.
CR: That's not bad – maybe you should go into the reissue business, I guess.
TP: Well, they're great to do. I mean, the way I've been doing 'em, the overhead is generally low, and it's fun. I enjoy doing it. Let's ses: OH, NO! MORE BLAZING TELECASTERS has sold decently, not as well as I thought it would. It's sold about 2,200. Of course, the first BLAZING TELECASTERS, since it started out on LP, it's probably well over 15,000 by now.
CR: Yeah, I know. That's kind of, one of the more obscure points of Danny's career, for the non-initiate. I imagine that was part of its appeal all along, wasn't it?
TP: Yeah, I guess so. And I think, from the guitar crowd, it would raise an eyebrow to hear, “Oh, Tom Principato and Danny Gatton [worked] together,” even though I never considered myself in the same league – nor do I think a lot of other people did, either. But I think I was known as a really good guitarist....and I actually got Danny to rehearse (laughs)!
CR: Which was something he was well-known for never doing...
TP: Yes, and I'll tell you – I have at least one of the rehearsals taped, and he's definitely bitching on it (more laughter on this point).
CR: Well, there you go – you could always release a snippet of that, I guess. Are we actually in danger of seeing Danny's and Roy's [musical] footprint disappearing?
TP: Well, that's the way to perpetuate legacies. I mean, Jimi Hendrix has been really lucky that way.
RH: Well, we'll see – maybe if you get that other Roy stuff out, that'll kick-start something. Of course, there's Danny's stuff on video, too, right? Although the quality is maybe not that great... in the case of the Redneck Jazz [Explosion] stuff [from the 1978 Cellar Door run in Washington, D.C.], it's very grainy, and it looks like it was shot underwater.
TP: Actually, I'll tell you, I have been in touch with the guy that filmed that [gig] – That's actually very good quality filming, and it's in color. The grainy black and white [version] you're thinking about is the reference [film] from Bob Dawson, the engineer. He stuck a black and white camera in the balcony of the Cellar Door, so he could see what was going on during the remote recording. But there was another guy,that filmed Danny, that whole night. I've been in touch with him – a couple of the clips are color, and they're on Youtube. They're all wearing those...
RH: Those horrible matching T-shirts, with their beer bellies sticking out – but people would want to see that.
TP: Exactly. I've been on him, I've been on him, I've been on him, and he keeps saying: “Oh, it's taking me so long to convert these over to digital.” For some reason, he's hemming and hawing, and he's not coming through – I would love to release that stuff, but I can't get him to give it up.
CR: Once again, that goes back to the politics of what it takes to get something like that done. It's not an easy business, is it?
TP: No, it isn't. I mean, if something drops into my lap, I probably might try to jump on it. But I'm definitely not gonna do all this archive searching that I used to do, and believe me, I've done a lot of it.
CR: And it's very time-consuming, isn't it?
TP: Yeah, and it's expensive, too! When you go to someone like a “Musikladen,” in Germany – or a WNET, in New York – you don't just say, “Oh, hey, go look for a Roy Buchanan film for me, and let me know what you come up with.” You have to pay for an archive search – it's like $700 or $800, just to know if they've got something!
CR: Wow! That might be an education for people – it doesn't sound like much, but, of course, you do this enough...
TP: Hey, you know what? I could license the Roy Buchanan PBS Bill Graham special, but you know why I don't? Because PBS charges for video licensing by the second.
CR: By the second?
TP: And that's the reality of bigtime video music licensing. Most of those places license snippets for documentaries, but just think of that – every time on VH1, when they're doing [a documentary] like, “Whatever Happened to the Blind Lemon Squeezers?” – if there's footage of them, it probably cost about $2.50 a second.
CR: Well, I guess we'll just have to stay tuned.
TP: We'll see what happens.
Danny Gatton Corner
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