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 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: Play That Funky Music

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 (2012) was a 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. Next year, Chris was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame with Judy Collins in 2013. He and the Kings have toured Europe 20 times and played in the States from South Carolina to Seattle, New York City to LA. In 2012 Freddi Gowdy of the classic funk band "Freddi Henchi & The Soulsetters" joined the Kings. Their latest, FUNKY TO THE BONE (2015) featuring Freddi Gowdy has been compared to Sly & The Family Stone meet Chicago 67. It's winning praise all across America and Europe including reviews in Amsterdam, Denmark and Australia “. They have been compared to "Little Feat with horns" and "John Hiatt meets Tower of Power" and “Keb Mo meets The Subdudes with horns.”

Interview by Michael Limnios

Photos by Chris Daniels archive / All rights reserved

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 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 letting them'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 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 just beat us down.

Has your music changed greatly over the years or you embarked on new directions recently?

Chris Daniels & The Kings is a cross between Sly & The Family Stone and Blood Sweat & Tears. We’re a little like Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk but with an old school big-horn-band blues feel.

Fun. That sounds lightweight. It’s not. We work really hard at making our show one of the most fun experiences you will have and our records have fun surprises in the tracks, cool horn lines, fun lyric and vocal interchange with me and Freddi. Who was it that said something like ‘acting is easy, comedy is hard.’ Bands that are pissed off and heavy lyrics – that is easy – being fun – that takes real work.

What were the reasons that made your generation to start the Soul-Blues & Rock n’ Funk researches and experiments?

BB King, Eric Clapton – and that led to finding Son House and Robert Johnson and that led to finding Muddy Waters and Rev Gary Davis and on and on – we heard it first from the stars and then we wanted to know where they heard it and we followed the path – my favorite find was Professor Longhair!

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

BB King and Gatemouth Brown. BB taught me what it means to be gracious and humble and professional and Gatemouth taught me about dynamics in the music and the show.

What is the best advice has given you?

When we opened for Gatemouth years ago he looked at me and said, “Son, watch my show, I’ll give you a lesson in dynamics.” And he did.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

A million of them...the one that comes to mind was about 3 weeks ago. I was asked to be the MC for the big Telluride Festival and I got to introduce the Fairfield Four. They started that group in the 1920s and they were featured in the movie O Brother. And they are hot as ever…just fantastic.

The other was from our tour of Europe last month. We played an amazing festival in Belgium and as we were playing the title track of the new album … everybody was singing along “Funky Funky Funky to the Bone!” it was great.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past?

Well, I teach at a University and I see new young artists all the time who really love the music of the past and honor it but who also are making really exciting new music. I am very very excited about the music of new young artists. So unlike a lot of blues ‘purists’  -- I love the new music coming up and I don’t feel like I am missing the past in our new young artists – they are bringing it with them.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Hope – that somehow music fans will be shown a way to support artists AND have complete access to the music that is offered by the internet. Right now, and artist who puts out a record … especially an independent artist like myself, has little or no way to get a return on that investment in straight terms of money. Everybody in the world can here my music for ½ a cent…and that is great for fans … but not so great for independent artists. My hope is that somehow we start to value the love, time and energy that artists put into recording a record.

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 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 gone wrong...being mistreated... rising above it...making fun of your troubles... oh and makes for great songs...

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I guess I would set a price for fans to get music that did not hurt their excitement for discovering new music but that also paid the artists for recording. It’s not much, if an artist got $1 from a fan for complete access to everything that the artist recorded – it would be much more than we currently get…but at the same time – I want fans to hear my music – so if it has to be free – OK, I’m not going to make a big deal out of it.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of ‘Old School’ music from Blues and Soul to Funk, Gospel and R&B?

Blues and spirituals are the reservoirs that feeds all the others. Without the Robert Johnson there would be no Cream recording of Crossroads. Without Cream there would be no Stevie Ray Vaughn. Without Stevie or Jimmi there would be no Keb Mo…and on and on. Keb Mo brings all those things he learned from Robert Johnson to Hendrix together. Chris Daniels & The Kings bring all that we learned from Sam & Dave and Tower of Power to what we do.

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

The blues is where you go to find your ‘light’ to get your through the darkness. “I’m gonna lay my head on some lonesome railroad track. And when that train comes on, I’m gonna snatch my damn head back.” You find your sorrow and then you express it. And when you express it you own it, you are more than liberated from it – you own it, it’s yours – and when you own your own feelings (and you are not pissed at the way somebody done you wrong) then you can get “good with it.” You can get “funky” with it.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits?

I laugh every day that I get on stage. It is a miracle. I was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2010. I only had a 5% chance of surviving. Every day since then, I think the good lord for letting me have one more day to sing and to play guitar…it’s that simple.

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 that they can tell you that blues has to be one thing....a guitar player doing a solo and singing the Buddy Guy or Muddy Waters...but what I see in my that they challenge that...they think the blues can me much can be an acoustic guitar and a violin ... they get me excited about how blues can is not just the pure African American music we all 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 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 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 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.

What is the impact of Soul & Blues music and culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications?

Blues and Soul are the voice of freedom. They are the voice of the black Americans who were able to take the horrors of slavery and find a way to sing … to take the oppression of Jim Crow and celebrate life … to take the abuse of cops and racists and turn that sorrow into music. I do it everyday – I might die from Leukemia tomorrow – but today I’m gonna sing….today I’m gonna “snatch my damn head back!”

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I would go to Chicago in the 1920s to the club where Louie Armstrong was taking the blues and transforming them into something that the world would celebrate. Louis Armstrong is the definer of the blues and soul. (Forgive me all of you who think it was Ma Rainy or W.C. Handy or Bessie Smith). Armstrong taught the world what a solo could be – not just a collection of notes… but a story. He taught everybody how to sing the blues from Lady Day to Keb Mo … every modern artist owes a debt to Armstrong who changed the way we sing…Amy Winehouse’s style is a straight line to Louie Armstrong. So I would go back and hear the source…the genius of Satch.

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

Being 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 washes away all the pain... it sets you free


Chris Daniels - Home website



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