Gary James' Interview With
Danny O'Keefe

His songs have been recorded by everybody from Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson, to Jimmy Buffett, to Andy Williams. We are talking about singer / songwriter Danny O'Keefe.

Q - Danny, are you recording a CD for your own label or do you have a record deal? When it's completed, how then do you promote it? Do you go out on the road? Do you sell it on your site?

A - I'm not recording for my own label this time. I'm a songwriter and as such not much of a businessman. I've tried to wear too many hats in the past and it doesn't work. My lawyer and publisher will pursue placing it with an interested company, ideally one with a strong vision and interest in the new music business. How the album will be sold is still to be determined. If it's sold from my site it will probably be with a link to the record company's site. I am very interested in touring, but it depends on the situation and whether it makes sense financially. Driving long distances for small audiences and little money is too difficult, although I love performing.

Q - Where is the audience for your songs?

A - I have no idea. I think there is an audience out there, especially with a younger audience that's never heard my music, but I honestly don't know. I don't know that I ever did. I don't easily fit into a category, which seems to be so important to marketers. I have so little control over that, that I've largely ceased to worry about it. I make the music along with my friends and fellow musicians. It's up to others to find a home for it. I think good music finds willing listeners if the pathway to their attention can be found, an increasingly more difficult thing in the world of so many options vying for our eyes and ears.

Q - Do you remember the first song you wrote?

A - I think the first real or complete song I wrote was called "That Old Sweet Song". There were a bunch written around the same time, so it's hard to remember if it was the first. I recorded it for a small label in Seattle and it got a little airplay and a position on a couple of the local stations' charts. Not exactly sure, but it was probably around 1968 or so. It wasn't a success, but it got me into the business.

Q - How did you make the transition from singing someone else's material to writing your own songs?

A - I never really sang anyone else's material with the exception of a few songs that I thought were classics and that fit into what I was doing thematically at the time. There was a lot of study of Folk songs as well as Jazz and the Pop market on the radio. But while I was influenced deeply by much of it, I didn't really learn those styles as much as be influenced by them. The whole spectrum of American music and now world music has always been a strong influence without aping any particular style. Influence comes from many sources.

Q - Do you get up one day and say "I can write a song that's just as good or better than something else I've heard"?

A - I don't think songwriting is essentially competitive and if you pay very much attention to your peers and what they're writing, you're doomed. You have to find the threads of emotion and feeling within you and the corresponding tunes and rhythms in order to fashion a song that will continue to inspire you. If you are aiming at a marketplace with your work, you tend to become facile and even though you may make a living with it, I'm not sure how meaningful it is. To me, success is the satisfaction you get from playing and singing songs that still hold their meaning to you. The ones that don't tend to be left in the box.

Q - Does it follow that if you have written a song that becomes popular or a hit, that you can write another?

A - It may follow if you were writing to a formula, but I really don't know how that works. I write what moves me and try to put it into a context that will move others. To try to repeat something original doesn't work. You may have musical or lyrical themes that you visit in your writing, but those are resonant areas that are giving you subconscious meaning that you realize when the song begins to move you. I can't imagine writing a song on a formula or one that didn't move me in its creation. A hit is what someone else makes of your song.

Q - What has to happen to be able to write one popular song after another?

A - I have no idea other than you have to understand your audience and they have to love your approach to music as well is your style, which tends to mirror theirs in some way. You may start out with the intention of writing something that has commercial potential, but a good song leads you in its own direction and when it's finished it's up to others to decide if they are interested in it. Probably the most important aspect of writing well and successfully is to maintain a currency with your imagined or intended audience. If you understand what they are going through because you are going through it too, you will have a stronger connection. You have to write what you know.

Q - You co-wrote a song with Bob Dylan. Were you at any time in awe of this man's accomplishments?

A - Bob Dylan is a very bright man and has dedicated himself to his craft. I'm proud of him for his accomplishments and grateful that he thought I was an interesting enough writer to sign me to his publishing company many years ago, but I'm not in awe of him or any other songwriter. We all follow the path that leads us and success is measured in many ways.

Q - What does it mean to you when someone like Elvis records a song you have written?

A - I'm very proud that Elvis and many others, Willie (Nelson), Waylon (Jennings), Charlie Rich, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dwight Yoakam, Cab Calloway, have recorded "Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues". That Elvis and the others found something in it that reflected their own feelings is the true reward of writing a song.

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