Versatile songwriter/guitarist Chris Daniels talks about the specificity of blues and his course in music

"That is the great thing about blues...we ALL have awful stuff that happens to us...rich man - poor man - black man - white man - bad times and hard time come to us ALL - and to be a good songwriter for the blues..."

Chris Daniels: The Better Days of Americana

Chris Daniels & the Kings have toured over two continents and have been asked to appear in such diverse places as South America, Japan, and all over Europe. Chris has appeared with the B.B. King, Uncle Cracker, Blues Traveler, The Neville Brothers, Delbert McClinton, Sister Hazel, Sheryl Crow, Robert Cray, Taj Mahal, Al Kooper, Bonnie Raitt, Ziggy Marley, The Fixx, to name only a few.

They are headliners on international festivals, like Ribs & Blues Festival with their buddies THE B-MASTERS, at Marktrock, Berchem Blues, and the Lokeren festivals in Belgium, and the Kings have toured as the back up band for Sonny Landreth, David Bromberg, Al Kooper, Bo Diddly, Francine Reed and Dutch guitarist Jan Rijbroek inplaces like Paris and Amsterdam, and for Bonnie Raitt, members of Little Feat, and Was Not Was at the Roxey in LA to name only a few they have worked with in the States.

Better Days is a brand new solo album from Chris Daniels. The album is an Americana feeling journey that includes some of the best acoustic and roots musicians on the planet at this time including, Richie Furay (Buffalo Springfield/Poco), Kenny Passarelli (Elton John, Joe Walsh), and more. Chris Daniels’ first solo project in 30 years! A testimony and celebration of his life and his music.

 

Interview by Michael Limnios

 

What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the blues mean to you?

Blues is the music that African Americans taught the world ... and that music taught us all that there is a difference between 'having the blues' and "singing/playing the blues' ... blues is a release ... it is that way of saying "...something bad has happened -- and if I tell you about it ...if I sing about it .. then somehow it makes it better for both me and you...we can deal with the bad things happening....by letting them out .... it's not unlike the Greek tradition of dancing,,, even in bad times ...if I understand your tradition.

 

What experiences in life make a GOOD BLUESMAN and SONGWRITER?

That is the great thing about blues...we ALL have awful stuff that happens to us...rich man - poor man - black man - white man -- bad times and hard time come to us ALL -- and to be a good songwriter for the blues -- or any style -- you have to write about what happened to you -- and then you hope that other people can find THEIR story in your song.

 

 

How do you describe Chris Daniels sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

Well I have two things I do -- one is old time Americana music which is blues and country music together played on acoustic guitar and mandolin and banjo --- and then I have my BIG BAND BLUES band called Chris Daniels & the Kings and it is big-band blues like Bobby Blue Bland or B.B. King or Albert King...lots of horns with guitars ... we did a lot of shows with Gatemouth Brown...we are a lot like that.

 

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues music and songwriting?

I learned the most about performing from David Bromberg who used to tour with the Rev. Gary Davis. David and I did a lot of shows together. I learned the most about songwriting from the music of Tin Pan Alley -- the great songwriters like Carol King and Al Kooper and the guys in the band Little Feat.

 

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

I'm still looking for the best moment in my career. I'm still hungry for more. I mean there have been some great moments, playing with Bonnie Raitt, Bo Diddley, and doing 18 tours in Europe...but I'm still hungry for the best moment...last week I had an amazing show in Nashville with some great players...that was a great moment.

As for the worst...that is when I and my band cannot rise above a bad night. See, most of the time if the crowd is small or the PA is bad, we can rise above it and have a great time playing music ourselves ... but if it is so bad that WE can't get above it and enjoy the fact that we are playing music, that sucks. There was a gig in the desert with no shade and about 107 degrees -- we could not get above that one...it just beat us down.

 

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

Boy that is a book. Even though I have had amazing times...I'm not one of those musicians who see the 'old days' as the best. I was diagnosed with Leukemia 2 years ago...I was not expected to live...and yet I'm here and I am playing better than ever ... so I would say TODAY is the best day of playing music...

 

How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

It is totally different. I teach music business at the University of Colorado in Denver. I'm a professor there. And what I teach is that in the old days -- there was always somebody LOOKING for new talent… new great players ... now, there are so many great players ... that you ... the artist ... HAVE to be good at the business too ...it is up to the artist to TAKE CARE OF THEIR CAREER...and if you don't...well there is Jimi and Janis and Amy and Whitney...

 

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

Fame does not make you a better player or a better songwriter....if you want to have a career ... practice -- get good and KEEP LEARNING ... keep pushing yourself to try new things...

 

Why did you think that the blues lyrics (poetry) continues to generate such a devoted following?

Because they are universal...love gone wrong...being mistreated... rising above it...making fun of your troubles...oh and sex...sex makes for great songs...

 

Do you remember anything funny or interesting from teaching time at College of Arts & Media, and University of Colorado Denver?

Yes, when I was sick in the hospital, I was teaching using the internet and Skype and they put me up on the big screen at the college in the classroom. When I got back from the hospital one of my students made me laugh when she said "Hey Professor Daniels, you are much smaller in person."

 

Do you think the younger generations are interested in the blues?

Well I don't know about the younger generation...but I have a lot of students who are...what I do not like about the blues FANS...is that they can tell you that blues has to be one thing....a guitar player doing a solo and singing the blues...like Buddy Guy or Muddy Waters...but what I see in my students...is that they challenge that...they think the blues can me much more...it can be an acoustic guitar and a violin ... they get me excited about how blues can develop...it is not just the pure African American music we all LOVE...it is new and exciting

 

 

Are there any memories from Little Feat, Bo Diddley, and Gatemouth Brown which you'd like to share with us?

All great and fun...one of my favorite was a night I did with Gatemouth Brown...I finished the show and he came up to me and said 'Boy, you need a lesson in dynamics!"...and he was right...we were playing everything balls to the wall...loud screaming kids...he put on a show that night that took my breath away...and the dynamics were amazing...he would take the band down to so quiet you could hear the sweat running down his face...and then blow the doors off the place...it taught me a lot.

 

Tell me a few things about your meet with Bonnie Raitt, which memory makes you smile?

Bonnie - she can swear like a sailor and play and song like an angel. We played together in LA and she just cam in and sang...and at the end of the night she said, "Well I'm heading out" and I offered to walk her to her car...it was Hollywood...crazy town...and I walked her there and we talked...and she thanked me and it was just...I don't know... nice...a guy walking a girl to a car to make sure she was safe...I don't know...just kind of the right thing to do.

 

What are some of the most memorable tales with Al Kooper?

Al, wow, he is the man with the stories...he has seen it all. His stories about making Blonde on Blonde with Bob Dylan are pretty amazing. He used to sit with Bob in his room and work on the songs in the evening and then go into the studio the next day and teach them to the amazing cats in the Nashville band until Bob came in...and the sessions we did with him were amazing...he taught me to sing doing take after take for the record 'That's What I Like About The South' -- he taught me a lot.

 

What is the best advice a bluesman ever gave you?

Take your time!!...guitar players tend to want to play all their fast shit right away...listen to Louis Armstrong...he was a genius...he made a single note into a statement

 

What the difference and similarity between the BLUES, JAZZ, SOUL, and ROCK feeling?

Oh man that is a book -- actually a bunch of books --- blues is the source --- jazz is the conversation --- soul is the moan of sex -- and rock is the energy of youth --- and they are all using the same notes --- it's just HOW you use those notes.

 

What's the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

I started the After House Jam at the Telluride Bluegrass festival because most of the bluegrass pickers I know are secret rock/blues players...we did it for 10 years and had Lyle Lovett, Vince Gill, Al Kooper, David Bromberg, Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, man you name it ...amazing nights

 

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES

My one wish for blues is that the FANS allow it to grow and change...Jazz has figured out a way to let the music change by giving it titles Dixieland - Swing - Bop -- fusion --- but blues has not done that --- and if you look at the music --- it is much more diverse than just Stevie Ray Vaughan or Jimi Hendrix --- it is Alberta Hunter and Bessie Smith and Django and Bobby Blue Bland...so my wish for fans is that they stop worshiping at the alter of the lone blues guitar player and look to see the music develop --- I love the Randolph family -- blues on pedal steel --- not that is wonderful and new.

 

How do you describe your contact to people when you are on stage and what compliment do you appreciate the most after a gig?

We never use a set list --- it is ALL about the people --- if they are up and dancing and having a great time -- then I did my job right

 

Which things do you prefer to do in your free time? What is your “secret” DREAM? Happiness is……

Being alive....man after what I went through...every day is a gift. I know if sounds funny -- but you only get about 650,000 hours on this amazing planet...so make the most of every single day...every hour you get. Go to the beautiful ocean that is right there in your beautiful country of Greece and feel the breeze and smell the salt air...that is the blues...that relief you feel standing there on a beautiful day looking out at the sea...that is the blues...letting go of all the shit...no job, baby left you, country struggling...and then you go to the sea and it all washes away...that's what the blues is...it washes away all the pain...it sets you free

 

Chris Daniels - Home website

 

 

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Tags: Brown, Chris, Daniels, Gatemouth, Kooper, Raitt

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