Lib at Large: With a new band and a new album, Danny Click is taking his turn
Posted: 10/21/2011 08:20:00 AM PDT
Danny Click, guitarist, singer, songwriter, is at the center of a hot Marin music scene. (Photo by Stuart Sharpe)
ONCE OR TWICE in a decade, if we’re lucky, the stars align and a scene develops around a musician or a band whose time, for whatever reason, has come.
Thinking back over the years for examples of this phenomenon, I remember Huey Lewis and the News, the Tazmanian Devils, Vinyl, David Bromberg, Van Morrison, musicians who lit up clubs like the Lion’s Share, Uncle Charlie’s, Sweetwater, River City, you can probably think of some others.
In recent weeks, that kind of spontaneous musical combustion has been ignited by transplanted Texas blues singer-songwriter-guitarist Danny Click, whose Thursday night gigs at the Sleeping Lady in Fairfax have fans lining up out the door an hour before show time.
The zipper-thin blues-rocker has attracted some high-profile musicians to play with him, most impressively San Anselmo keyboardist Bonnie Hayes, who wrote “Have a Heart” and “Love Letter,” smash hits for Bonnie Raitt. Hayes’ brother, Kevin, formerly of the Robert Cray Band, has joined the group on drums, forming a tight rhythm section with bassist Don Bassey. Singer Tracy Blackman rounds out the vocal sound.
The other night, Carlos Santana and his new wife, jazz-rock drummer Cindy Blackman, caught a set, came out of the audience and sat in. There’s a video of that blistering jam on YouTube.
This is all happening just as Click’s nationally distributed new CD, “Life Is A Good Place,” is getting radio airplay on Americana stations and garnering enthusiastic reviews from critics.
Guitar Player magazine says “lots of artists try to do the same thing, but Click gets into the heart of the matter with honesty and passion.” And this from the Austin Chronicle: “Whatever Americana turns out to be, Click will definitely fall within its boundaries, and may even help to expand them outward a little bit.”
When his band, billed as the Americana Orchestra, performs in a CD release show Oct. 28 at Mill Valley’s 142 Throckmorton Theatre, the sound will be sweetened by violinist Adrienne Biggs and cellist Rebecca Roudman.
Contemplating his sudden ascent, the blond, pony-tailed, 50-year-old journeyman refers to Malcolm Gladwell’s theory, in his book, “Outliers,” that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve true mastery and the possibility of breakout success. Gladwell cites the example of the Beatles playing from dusk to dawn in Hamburg early in their career.
“I think we’ve all done our 10,000 hours and we’ve all arrived at this place together,” Click told me the other day. “I’ve played in a lot of bands with a lot of musicians, but there’s something about this group of people, about this band, that’s special.”
Born and raised in a small town in Indiana, the youngest of nine children in a working-class family, Click grew up listening to his mother play slide guitar with a butter knife. When he was 10, his father and one of his brothers died, a tragedy that inspired “Ten Years,” one of several autobiographical songs on his album.
“I used to watch my mother cry, and I didn’t understand,” he said. “But I think I’ve grown up enough now that I can put across on this record what life means to me. I’m starting to understand it more.”
When he was just 6, he began playing one of his brother’s guitars, and was good enough as a teenager to join his sister’s country band. At the same time, he discovered blues greats Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters.
After high school, trying to figure out what to do with his life, he quit college to play in rock bands full time, delivering pizzas and auto parts to get by. While driving around one night, Tracy Chapman’s song “Fast Car” came on the radio. The last verse goes: “Anyplace is better/You got a fast car/But is it fast enough so you can fly away/You gotta make a decision/You leave tonight or live and die this way.”
“Those lines changed me,” Click recalled. “I said to myself, ‘I’ve to get out of here.'”
With his car, guitar and not much else, he packed up and moved to Austin, Texas, at a time when Stevie Ray Vaughan was the gold standard for aspiring guitar heroes. Click acquitted himself pretty well in that fast company, forming a trio called Danny and the Hurricanes and touring for four years with folksinger Jimmy LaFave. He also recorded a couple of solo albums that were released in Europe.
“I was a good guitar player before I left Indiana, but when I got to Austin, I said, ‘Uh, oh, I’ve got to step it up a notch,’ because in the ’80s, Austin was burgeoning with the Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray and Eric Johnson and all those guys,” he recalled. “It made me get an ‘A’ game. I got better really fast.”
After two decades in Austin, Click followed a girlfriend to Marin and settled in San Rafael. He made himself known to me right away, and I’ve been watching him as he’s paid his dues on the local scene over the past several years.
At one point, he backed away from performing long enough to finish the 11 songs on “Life Is a Good Place,” recording most of the album in Ojai backed by members of Jackson Browne’s band.
The first single is a tune called “Wait My Turn,” but Click is done waiting. With his new album and his new band and all he’s got behind him, he’s taking his turn now.