Danny Click & the Hell Yeahs! to play Sonoma
Danny Click and the Hell Yeahs to play in Sonoma
“This is a song I wrote for (the 1970s band) America,” says country-rock guitarist Danny Click with his trademark wry wit at a Terrapin Crossroads show in mid-February. “I was 13 — it could have happened.”
Then Click and his band, the Hell Yeahs, roll into a cover of America’s soft-rock anthem “Sister Golden Hair,” as Click’s long blonde hair sways back and forth.
It’s the first time they’ve played the song, and it’s flawless, with bandmate Jon Mitguard’s pedal-steel guitar evoking the classic ’70s sound.
“I feel comfortable with my band,” Click said “because I say, ‘Here’s a song, here’s the key we’re going to do it in,’ and we know each other so well we can talk about it for 30 seconds and pretty much know it’s going to go right.”
Click, 56, made a name for himself as a guitarist and songwriter in Austin for a couple of decades before moving to Marin County in 2004.
He combines Texas songcraft and muscular guitar work with the hillbilly music he absorbed growing up with parents who came from Appalachia.
Click will toss the occasional cover into his set, but it’s his heartrending original songs and upbeat dance tunes that keep his fans coming back. Some in the audience at Terrapin last month were regulars who have seen Danny Click and the Hell Yeahs again and again.
“We have people who have seen us over 150 times now,” Click said in a phone interview from his home in San Rafael.
“The fans call themselves the Hell Yeah Family. We’ve had people meet at our shows and fall in love, get married, then we play at their wedding. It’s really cool.”
On some of his songs, like “Baptize Me Over Elvis Presley’s Grave,” written by Timothy Paruszkiewicz, Click sounds a bit like John Mellencamp but with more nuanced lyrics.
Click plays Saturday at Reel Fish (formerly Rossi’s) in Sonoma, Rancho Nicasio on March 18, Terrapin in San Rafael on April 15 and returns to Petaluma’s Mystic Theatre on May 13.
His 2015 album “Holding Up the Sun” and earlier songs have received critical praise and topped country charts, yet Click remains somewhat under the radar.
“I made a conscious choice to do what I want to do, and if it means that I play for mostly California audiences, I am completely OK with that,” he said.
Click’s shows feel more like a party than a concert. His girlfriend, Melanie Haiken, will introduce strangers to one another, and by the end of the night the audience and band become a community.
“After the show, it’s usually half an hour of talking with people, and I love that,” Click said.
Fellow musicians also appreciate Click’s music. Terrapin owner Phil Lesh, the Grateful Dead bassist, has joined Click on stage and has asked Click to play guitar with his own band. Carlos Santana has sat in with Click, too.
Click, whose songs have drawn comparisons to the work of Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and Merle Haggard, can get fiery with his guitar.
“Someone once described my sound as Jimi Hendrix beating up Buck Owens, but I’m not so sure about that,” Click has said.
The youngest of nine children, Click grew up in a rural area about 40 miles north of Indianapolis.
“My parents were both from the Appalachian area, Virginia and Tennessee, the hills and the hollers,” Click said. He’s at least a decade younger than all his siblings, and his father died when he was 10.
“My mom would put a flattop guitar on her lap and play with a slide. She didn’t really have a slide because we were all poor growing up — so she used a butter knife.”
His favorite record growing up was The Beatles’ “Help” which cost $10 in 1970 in Frankfort, Indiana, a small fortune at the time. When Click pleaded with his mother to buy it, she said: “Are you crazy?”
But he earned some money at odd jobs and finally got his mom to get him the record. “I loved it — it’s still my favorite Beatles record probably because it was the first one I ever owned.”
Click was inspired by his “hillbilly cousin in the hills of Virginia,” who could play mandolin and guitar “like a fiend.” He wanted to play like his cousin and took up guitar when he was 13.
His sister and her husband were in a country band, and when a guitarist in that outfit needed to take a few months off, Click stepped in. He was 16.
“I worked out pretty well, I guess, because I stayed in the band for a couple of years,” he said.
Click earned a scholarship to study music at Indiana University, but the school didn’t have a guitar class so after attending briefly he left college to play and teach guitar.
He landed in Austin and earned a reputation in a town that knows music, playing for a few years with singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave.
Click met Haiken, a San Rafael resident who wrote for guitar magazines, at the Kate Wolf Festival in Laytonville in 2002. A romance blossomed, but the distance wasn’t easy as Haiken had two school-age daughters.
“She said, ‘I don’t want to move to Austin. So I said, ‘OK, I’ll move to California.’ I didn’t know anybody,” Click said. “I just moved out here and started over.”
That was in late 2004 — Click soon got a job at a San Rafael guitar shop and made a studio record in 2008, but the label he’d signed with went out of business before it could release the record.
“It was kind of a dark period,” Click said. But he persevered, returning to what he loves best: performing live.
In January, 2011, he began playing on Wednesday nights at the Sleeping Lady in Fairfax (now closed), but only about 20 people showed up for his first gig.
“It was humbling,” he said, but the next week a few more people came to hear him. Soon the club was full whenever Click played.
Since 2011, Danny Click and the Hell Yeahs have now played 440 shows, typically at North Bay venues such as the HopMonk pubs in Sebastopol and Novato.
Performing live is his main source of income — he also offers guitar lessons and repairs instruments and amps. Sometimes he finds old guitars at thrift shops, fixes them up and sells them online.
“When I feel like life is crowding in, I lock myself inside a room and play guitar. Or I work on my guitar and tinker with it. I have Frankenstein-ed a lot of things,” he said.
“I love guitars — I’m surrounded by 40 of ’em right now,” he said during our phone interview. “I need a lot of therapists to get me through this.”
People keep coming back to Click’s shows because of the songcraft.
“Writing about what you know is the best way to be a good songwriter,” Click said. “All those heartaches, all those times you get knocked down, live them all.”
Click has written some protest songs — a couple are overtly political, but he believes they can be personal as well.
“Every song is sort of a protest song,” he said, “because you’re protesting against life holding you down.”
Many of his songs “start out sad,” Click said, “but if you listen to the lyrics, they end up with: I am going to get back up every time and keep going because I don’t give up. That’s what it’s about.”
Who: Danny Click and the Hell Yeahs
When: 8:30 p.m., Saturday, March 4
Where: The Reel Fish Shop & Grill (formerly Rossi’s)
Address: 401 Grove St., Sonoma
Information: 707-343-0044, thereelfishshop.com
— Danny Click: “Baptize Me Over Elvis Presley’s Grave”
— Danny Click with Carlos Santana in Mill Valley
— Danny Click: “Wait My Turn”