Guitarist Danny Gatton has been winning praise the world over for his newly released CD, "88 Elmira Street" (Electra Records). Guitar Player magazine wrote Danny's got "mind-boggling chops, impeccable taste, a thorough grasp of theory, and an advanced harmonic sense." Guitar World magazine called him "The world's greatest unknown guitarist." How did Danny Gatton get from Washington, D.C. to Elektra Records? Read on!
Q - Danny, is this the first tour you've ever done?
A - Last night was the first gig we've done since the record came out, as a band. We actually did two little rehearsal gigs in D.C, that didn't really count. We're on tour with the Radiators for a couple of weeks.
Q - Well, how do you like the road?
A - Well, it's not the first time I ever left home. (Laughs) I've been out over the years for extended periods of time. I don't really like it that much. But, I wasn't doing it under my own name, so I've got more of a reason to do it now than I did before. I worked for Roger Miller and Robert Gordon, and just playing in some road bands in general. Nothing that would matter.
Q - So where did Howard Thompson (Electra's A&R rep.) enter the picture?
A - I guess he entered the picture because our manager, Ellis Duncan, contacted him, and possibly had him come down to the Cat Club in New York City. He saw us a couple of times. It took him awhile to make his mind up to sign me. We had offers from a number of major labels ready to go in the talking stages. Not offers per se, but they all had the same problem. What do we do with him? What do we call it? What record bin do we put this in? What is it that this guy does? I picked Elektra because of the freedom I have with them, the control of the music, getting to produce it, just do whatever I want.
Q - That's pretty unusual for a new artist isn't it?
A - Yeah, especially when it's the first time out. But then, I have been doing this for a long time.
Q - You struggled for years to get recognition and a deal. What would go through your mind when you'd see someone with lesser talent than yourself go to the top of the charts and make a lot of money?
A - Depends on what day it was. If you see someone who's really awful make it, make a lot of money, and they can't play, and they've paid no dues whatsoever, sure it makes veteran performers jealous. But by the same token, the music business is so competitive. God Bless anybody who can be successful in this. I don't begrudge anybody who can make a dollar out of it. You earn every dollar you get whether you've practiced your instrument a lot to get to the level where I'm at. You've still got to get out there and work real hard to do it. What's the public want to hear? I can't blame the performer, if there are performers that aren't so good, musicians that are awful, because there are obviously people out there that can't tell the difference. There's something for everyone. That's why they make chocolate and vanilla. I'm not bitter about it. Plus, I didn't really try all that hard to get a record deal, ever. This is the first time I tried really hard to get one, and I got one. I was just for years more pre-occupied with building cars, building street rods and customs, restoring my house, and just doing mechanical things. I played music for a living, but I still never practiced. I never played unless I had a gig.
Q - Where did you meet Roger Miller and Robert Gordon?
A - A fella named Randy Hart, a keyboard player from Washington, D.C. used to play in a band there called Tractor. Now, I knew two of the guys in Tractor, but I never knew Randy. This would've been around '77 or so and I was living in Santa Cruz, CA for awhile and I had migrated down to LA. I was doing an album with Commander Cody and Randy Hart knocked at the door. Somehow he found out I was in LA., through someone else, and he lived out there. But, he was Roger Miller's keyboard player. Somehow or another he had gotten into that thing. And he asked me if I was looking for a gig, and at the time I was. He took me down to meet Roger Miller. I passed the audition. I worked on and off with him for about five years. I met Robert playing in a club in Georgetown, in Washington. He knew the guy that was singing in the band. He came down to see us and asked me if I wanted to play on a record he was doing, so I said sure. So, I played on the record "Are You Gonna Be The One?". Marshall Crenshaw wrote a lot of tunes on that. Marshall was actually in the band when I joined, playin' bass. Duke Robillard was in that band for awhile too. So, I was working with Roger and Robert for a few years, juggling the schedule, and somehow it always worked out.
Q - Your first band was in 1957?
A - That's the first band I ever played in that was working and I was getting paid for it. I was 12. The other guys were a lot older than me.
Q - Do you remember the material you were playing back then?
A - Sure. Buddy Holly stuff. Chuck Berry. Whatever kids would be doing in those days. Top 40 Rock 'n' Roll right off the radio. Most all of the good stuff I learned when it was new, all current.
Q - Most kids today would probably be impressed with how fast a guitarist can play, right?
A - How fast he appears to be playing. It wasn't like that when I was a kid. I always liked playing real fast and being flashy, but it didn't matter to anybody at all.
Q - Danny, you were around at the wrong time.
A - Yeah I was. I was either born way too early or way too late. Now that playing fast got to be the vogue thing to do, I stopped doing it.