The West Coast Blues Guitarist Dan Hayes Talks About the 60's Blues Explosion & His Memories From the "Hippie" San Francisco

Blues mean freedom to express what and how you feel.

Dan Hayes was born and raised in Marin County, California during the 50s and 60’s. He became a professional Musician in the mid 60s and soon formed the Dan Hayes Group, and the Dan Hayes Blues Band, which opened for such acts as Charlie Mussellwhite, the Ford Brothers, and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. He became a well-respected figure in the Bay Area music scene, and could even be found on recordings with Huey Lewis in the 70s.

The mid 70s found Dan moving to Nashville to become a songwriter. Here he was exposed to a wide array of country music, which inspired him greatly. Upon moving back to Marin later in the year, he began playing country music, eventually joining the Band Bravo in 1984, a country band that opened for such acts as Jerry Lee Lewis, Ricky Skaggs, Johnny Lee, and Dottie West.

In the recent years Dan has returned to his blues roots, but at the same time not forgotten his country influences. His style is best described as “Blues/Country,” and sounds like a hybrid of Lightnin’ Hopkins and Merle Haggard. Outside of seeking song placements in Nashville and in the media, he can be heard on his most recent album “California,” and is expected to release another album later in 2006.Dan Hayes met guitarist Mike Simon in grade school. Together they formed rock bands, played parties and outdoor gatherings as teens and learned guitar together. In 1969 they formed the Dan Hayes Blues Band. Dan Hayes went to playing harp and fronting the band. The band played high school dances, teen clubs and Brown’s Hall, where they shared bills with Clover, The Flying Circus and the Muskadine Blues Band.

In the summer of 1970 the drummer moved and Mark, Mike and Dan reformed the band, calling it Group instead of Blues Band. Toby Byron was the band's manager. The Dan Hayes Group never went to a studio, but recorded two separate appearances at The Lion’s Share in San Anselmo. They opened for Charlie Musselwhite on one gig, The Ford Brothers on the other gig. That weren't their only gigs though, they also opened shows for Home Cookin' - sharing the bill with the Flying Circus - and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. 


Interview by Michael Limnios

Dan, When was your first desire to become involved in music & what are your first musical memories?

When I was very little I used to sit on the sofa and rock back and forth, so much so that it cause a big hole on the top of the sofa and ruined it. My brother and sister were older than me and were into rock 'n roll of the 50s. I remember their records and I'm old enough to remember the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly.


Who were your first idols & what have been some of your musical influences?

It was my brother who got me into music and for some reason he thought I was musical and talk my parents into buying me a snare drum with a cymbal. He put on Fats Domino record " Blue Monday" and I just started playing music! I also got my first harmonica around the same time and without a doubt the album that influenced me the most at that time was a Ray Charles release called " modern sounds in country and Western"


What was the first gig you ever went to & what were the first songs you learned?

I think really the first gig I went to was one I played at with the little band I was in during junior high. One of the first songs I learned and still will play is " Greensleeve's". It was at the request of my mom.


What first attracted you to the Blues?

Again it was my brother who introduced me and got me into the blues. By the mid-60s I was playing drums in a rock band and he was concerned about how commercial my music tastes were and so one day out of the blue he brought up to the house a nylon string guitar and some Dylan and Jimmy Reed records.


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

I have to say my best moment of my career was when I was in Doug Adams band called " Bravo" and we were opening for Jerry Lee Lewis back in 1986 and I met my wife that night! Probably the worst was five years later, again with Bravo and we were playing a smoky little bar on a night where I turned 40 with a baby born just six days earlier and a wife and a three-year-old at home. I truly thought I would have " made it" before I turned 40. My music teachers warn me of this fate though!


Is there any similarity between the music today and the music of the sixties?

In a word, " no". I will say though I recently went to a occupy/99% protest and there were some young kids playing marching band instruments and some old hippies in tie-dye shirts that were dancing and I thought this is some of the best, real music I’ve heard in a long time.


What do you think were the reasons for the blues boom at the sixties?

It was real, raw and powerful and contrasted with the popular music of the day. There was a real clear distinction back then, between the likes of Doris Day and Perry Como and Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry.


Who impressed you musically in the early 60s, both in American blues and across the water?

First and foremost my guitar hero, Lightnin' Hopkins and any artist on Chess records. I was also into folk music, early Dylan and Peter Paul and Mary etc.


How was your relationship with the other bands of ‘60s?

Overall, okay. One must keep in mind though it was a crazy and turbulent time. Almost everyone used drugs and being an alcoholic and addict affected my reputation.


I wonder if you could tell me a few things about the story of Dan Hayes Group, how that came about?

I grew up in central Marin County and my old guitar buddy Mike Simon and I started a little rock band in junior high. We both got hooked on blues and formed a blues band in 1969. During that time Mike Bloomfield played at Tam High so we went and sitting in was a student named Mark Adams and playing blues harp way beyond his young years. So I introduced myself to Mark on a break and it turned out he had his own blues band called Muskadine. Both of our bands would play some gigs together, mostly at Brown's Hall, opening for Clover. In 1970 both bands broke up and reformed as the Dan Hayes group as by then I had written a number of songs. Muskadine reformed a few years later and that incarnation would later become Sound Hole which eventually would merge into Huey Lewis and the news.


Why do you play the BLUES & what does music offered you?

There's something simple, real and honest about the blues. What grabbed me from the beginning was musically speaking one can be very self-sufficient and the other aspect where the lyrics, lines and rhymes you don't hear in more mainstream popular music. Example, when lightnin' Hopkins sang " give me back that wig I bought you woman, let your doggone head go bald"


What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician?

To become a good musician I have always believed you need to have a balance and by that I mean one needs to practice and learn music but one also has to live and love, win and lose, in other words live life in order to reflect that musically.

When did you first meet  & how was your recording hours with Mark Adams?

In a previous question I described meeting Mark when he was sitting in with Mike Bloomfield at a high school concert and as far as our first recording efforts, the first was the Dan Hayes group at the lion share nightclub and then after that we recorded some tracts at the church which also featured Ben Perkoff on sax. Both of those efforts can be bought at the


What is the “think” you miss most of the ‘60s

I miss the excitement that surrounded music during that era. For instance the first album to be released by Quicksilver messenger service had a lot of buzz and as it turned out a masterpiece of an album. It was that way for all of the San Francisco bands. I also dug the health food movement and the back to the land effort of which I took part in.


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

Getting sober in 1984, getting married and starting a family. I came to a cross roads and by the grace of God chose the right road.


Is there anything that you miss from Dan Hayes Blues Band?

Oh yeah, my music buddies!


Do you have any amusing tales to tell of your gigs with Musselwhite, Sonny & Terry, and Ford Bros?

No, afraid I don't. Looking back I was very nervous but I remember checking out Sonny and Terry from the side of the stage.


What kind of a guy was Ben “King” Perkoff?

That he is a nice guy and a hard worker. He's also a professional plumber and on any gig always gives 100%.


Difficult question, but who of the people you have worked with do you considers the best?

Yeah, I don't want to name names here as I have valued all of my collaborations with wonderful musical people and talent.


Of all the people you ’ve meet, who do you admire the most?

Too many people to list by name but I can say I am most appreciative of the talented musicians who have played my songs with me and the bandleaders who have hired me. Three I will name, Mark Adams, Tom McNally and Doug Adams.


Looking back over many years of music is there anything you wish you’d done that you hadn’t.

I would like to claim that I'm above looking back or entertain regrets but I do have two, the first being I wish me and Mark had performed as a duo back 40 years ago and second I wish I had developed a second career. I put all of my eggs into the proverbial music basket and that made me desperate and therefore played many a gig that I shouldn't have.


Were there any places where you did especially well from ‘60?

Brown's Hall in Mill Valley and all the school campuses that we played at.


In which tune can someone hear the best of your work?

I would have to say with the Dan Hayes group CD a song called " a woman for every man". On a CD found at blue skunk music online call " California" a song called " here's to you" and also available at blue skunk on a CD called " Doug and Dan blues duo" a song called " O, Lightin’”.

Three words to describe your sound & your progress

in my teens and 20s I played young and fast, in my 30s and 40s I played at my peak, in other words slow but fast when I needed to and now that I'm pushing 60 I'm basically just playing old and slow ;-)


Tell me about the beginning of your “group” at 70s. How did you get together and where did it start?

As I mentioned previously the group came about as a merger of two band's, my blues band and Mark Adams blues band. After Mark and I met we were instant blues Brothers and wanted to join forces. A week after we formed a band and the five of us took a camping trip up into the Trinity Alps in Northern California. It was during the summer and was very hot and we camped along the Trinity River. We imitated a Native American practice and created a sauna using hot rocks while huddling under a tent and then after getting good and sweaty we all ran out and jumped into the cold River, a very cool natural high!


What music would you have played at your home alone?

I have more or less always viewed music as work and therefore I'm either writing or recording.


Happiness is...

Peace of mind and the love of my life and family.


What does the BLUES mean to you?

Freedom to express what and how you feel.


What does GUITAR mean to you?

An interesting question but I will answer in context of the blues. Most people believe the blues is about great guitar playing but I view it differently, it's about the singing and lyrics, the songwriting.


Who are your favorite bands from ‘60s?

All of the famous San Francisco bands and their first album releases were just absolutely magical and growing up in Marin County I remember the anticipation of those album releases. The two bands that influenced me the most however was the Sons of Champlin and Butterfield Blues Band.


Of all the many albums of the ‘60s “white blues” made, what was your favourite?

" East West" by the Butterfield blues band and " stand back" by Charlie Musselwhite.


Why did he think that Dan Hayes continued to generate such a devoted following?

In all honesty I have no idea if I have any kind of following at all? If I do I'm extremely flattered!


What are some of the memorable gigs you've had?

Hands-down the one where I met my wife, opening up for Jerry Lee Lewis with Doug Adams band back in 1986.


Let’s go back even further. What do you like about your very first sessions?

What I wish is that we had gotten the Dan Hayes group into the recording studio, as it is just lucky to have a live recording. Otherwise when you're 40 years and more removed from the first recordings they just sound like kids playing because that's what we were ;-)

Do you remember any funny from  the recording hours ?

Recording can be fun or can't be anything but though by and large I enjoyed all my recording sessions.


Are there any memories of 60s Bay area which you’d like to share with us?

Yes, me and my other blues brother back then, guitarist Mike Simon (who taught me a lot of guitar) wanted to see BB King live at the Fillmore and opening up for him was country Joe and the Fish. Looking back I'm sure that band was on acid because for one they couldn't get in tune and secondly country Joe just stood on the stage looking off to the distance for what seemed like an eternity. Don't get me wrong though love that band, they were the Berkeley hippies! But then BB came on and he was all that I thought his show would be. The band was tight but could follow him when he wanted to pause for dramatic value. And when he came on when women pushed to the front of the stage and he could swoon them, like a blues Frank Sinatra!

just a word in closing in regards to the 60s. I was a teenager and so I was. Really three or four years behind the people who were in the SF music scene of the 60s. The ballroom scene ended by 1972 due to the high cost of running and producing those shows. Only Bill Graham productions remained in an order to keep running   those shows all the acts had to be big names, so you no longer had a show which featured one big name and then local bands. In order for bands to play and get paid they had to find gigs in bars and that's what really put an end to the great San Francisco sound.


Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is?

Even though it's simple when it's done right it's an art form and who among us hasn't ever been blue!


Blues is the background to so much modern music. Why do you think that is?

Ray Charles for one! He really was the first to inject blues into popular music. However these days when I hear a howling Wolf song for a commercial that makes me cringe.


Which of your work would you consider to be the best?

I like the Doug and Dan duo CD and also " California". I like the Dan Hayes group as well it for its innocence and its place in time.


What do you think of PSYCHEDELIC music & how close are to BLUES?

Well a lot of the San Francisco bands were really a bunch of folk players before they ever pluged-in. As I mentioned I think country Joe and the Fish did a great job of combining psychedelic music with the blues.


Who are your favorite blues artists, both old and new & what was the last record you bought?

The last record I bought was a cassette tape of none other than Sam lightnin, Hopkins. I loved all of them on chess records.


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

Well it's recently come to my understanding that the record industry as we used to know it really doesn't exist anymore. The 12 inch long-playing vinyl record is no longer an art form, which is a shame. The biggest difference between the 60s and now is that back then music was in the foreground and now music is in the background. It is also just use to the launch a career and a brand.


How did you first meet with Nick Gravenites?

I don't know Nick that well though I have sit in with him and Mark a few times. Almost every weekend I sent one of his songs, a fun little blues called " Boom, Boom". He is one of the first guys that maybe want to write blues at he's a great singer.

Tell me about the beginning of the ”BLUES DUO” Doug Adamz & Dan Hayes. Do you prefer playing acoustic or electric guitar?

As I mentioned earlier Doug and his late wife Deeann ran a country band called " Bravo" and they hired me as their lead guitar player back in 1985. We were a busy band playing on average 15 to 20 nights a month. By the year 2000 we were just older guys and gravitated the playing gigs in cafés and restaurants where we did need a full band and needed to play quieter as well and so the blues duo CD this came about from the music we were playing in these venues, plus we needed a CD to sell at our gigs. That much being said I prefer playing electric guitar.


How/where do you get inspiration for your songs?

That's a mystery though often a song will start when I'm on my walk or just driving somewhere.


What musicians/songwriters have influenced you most as a songwriter?

Willie Dixon, Little Walter, lightnin' Hopkins, Nick Gravenites, Bill Champlin (The Sons), the Beatles & Bob Dylan


Dan Hayes Story

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