BOB SWINSON (3/10/13 email)
I just read your book about Danny Gatton and loved it. You did a wonderful job in putting this together and interviewing so many people around Danny through his career. The number of interviews was a treat because it is always more effective to get as many opinions as possible from those close to him. Not everyone agrees and this is valuable trying to puzzle out some of the things that happened and how he reacted to them. I would guess that it was not as large a seller as other kinds of books, but to one who was there at many of the places he played from 1970 & 1971 and then after a couple year foreign trip, from 1973 to 1979, this I consider a real labor of love. I talked with him at almost every place he played and friends and I were there above the strip club on early weeknights, Mon.- Wed. and he would sit at our table right up front. He did the beer bottle slide thing and the towel even then. Absolutely astounding. Friends and I played guitar – I had a telecaster at the time. Never had the nerve to ask him for lessons though. We probably should have. The extra cash probably could have helped them as I am astounded how little they were paid for how good they were. There ain’t no justice.
In 1979 my wife and I moved to South Dakota and I met up with a bass player who went often to Minneapolis. On A trip back to the DC area to visit family I got to see Danny and got the address from him for NRG records. It is a handwritten address which I have behind the glass of my copy of the signed poster for “Cruisin’ Deuces” which was posted to promote his appearance at First Avenue a large club venue in central Minneapolis. My friend bought recordings at the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis and a clerk mentioned Danny and he was the most incredible player he had ever heard. I had made a cassette of ‘Redneck Jazz” for him. The store had to get the CD’s they could from a source somewhere in France at very high cost. On a trip to Minneapolis with this friend I gave them the NRG address. He started to get airplay in the area and eventually played a couple concerts at First Avenue and at the Guthrie Performing Arts Center. I am pretty proud – even though most nobody would ever know about it, to have been able to give a slight little something back to someone who had given me so much in entertainment, beautiful and perfect performance. Also, I was definitely part of the blue collar underclass from that area. In my experience there was a dividing line between the locals and those who came to town to work for the govt.. Many of these younger folks coming to town to work for congress and agencies had risen pretty high in terms of education and connections and tended to look down on the guys who painted their house or fixed their toilet or furnace whether rightly or wrongly. I never thought we were so terribly under sophisticated compared to these folks but hell I guess I was a grit too. I noticed this sometimes in stuff that Danny said. You could look at their clothes and the girls they had with them and perceive the class difference I think Danny, like some of the rest of the locals could sense it, though I don’t think it was usually all that obvious or even a problem. Danny was pretty sensitive at times about some of these kinds of things – depending on his mood – and self-worth seemed to be something he struggled with from time to time. He also would talk to me about how some music categories and forms were the upper stuff and then there was rock and roll and country etc..
Anyway, not to ramble on like an old fart, I just have to say thank you. I read half the book yesterday and finished it today. You answered many questions I had had or on some things got me as close to being knowledgeable enough to come to my own conclusions on things where there isn’t a clear cut answer.
You are one of the good guys, Ralph. Thank you.
MIKE CORBETT (Wake Forest, NC: 1/22/11 Email)
Hi Ralph. Thought you might be interested in my review of your book, which I'm reading for the second time! Very nice work! And quite scholarly! I've been playing a long time--I'm a curmudgeon--and am just now working on Danny's forward roll on the guitar. So glad I found your website and more info on Danny.
Take care and keep writing.
Mike Corbett (aka Ultrastick on HCEG)
Wake Forest, NC
MIKE'S REVIEW at http://acapella.harmony-central.com/:
Book Review: Unfinished Business: The Life and Times of Danny Gatton
First off, kudos to the author, Ralph Heibutzki. The book is replete with names, dates, personalities, venues--you name it. The reader can get awash in all this information, but the author steers straight through keeping the spotlight on Danny.
What makes this book particularly enjoyable is that the reader can go to Youtube and see Danny playing or talking to the aspiring guitarist in a guitar lesson. One can also see and hear the people Danny played with and sample the atmosphere of the venues he played.
If there was ever an artist whose theme song was "I Did It My Way", it is Danny Gatton. He at times seemed interested in commercial success, but would seem to turn from that and spend days working on the old cars in his garage. Then he would return to the stage and for a period of time play in that dazzling style we have come to know and love. The book does mention that he had periods of depression, which may have coincided with these episodes.
The book states that he apparently never practiced guitar much at home, but one fellow musician said that on the road Danny would usually have the guitar out in his hotel room.
He eschewed touring, although he did some--preferring to play in his familiar territory around D.C. and Maryland. Some point to this lack of touring as the reason for his limited commercial success. He did have record deals, but they seemed to founder; sometimes partly because of Danny, and sometimes partly because the record company seemed to not know how to market Danny.
Since he played so many genres, in what bin at the record store would the shopper find Danny's music? Jazz? Country? Blues? Rockabilly? He did 'em all, and often all at the same time. There would have had to be a special bin for Danny.
Listening to Danny on Youtube, he has a fine voice, yet reportedly never sang. One has to wonder where Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton would be now if they had not stepped up to the microphone. And if Danny had stepped up, where he would have gone in music. One person in the book stated that if you didn't sing, you were forever a sideman.
The book discusses Danny's relationship with Roy Buchanan and Danny's changing from Les Pauls to Telecasters. In fact, Danny even had a guitar repair shop at one time, and the lowly guitar repairman humbled many a hot shot guitarist who came in for repairs.
Danny and Arlen Roth became friends because of their interest in old cars, and we have Arlen to thank for his instructional videos of Danny. Arlen, by the way, lost his wife and daughter in a car accident which deeply affected him, and no doubt, his friend Danny too.
Regarding Danny's suicide, the book mentions an earlier episode with a 22 rifle and Danny's father coming over to take the rifle home with him. There is also mention of a similar situation with a pistol and that there had been one suicide in Danny's family in an earlier generation.
For some reason, the 22 rifle was returned to Danny and that is the one he put in a vise and shot himself with. His wife Jan went looking for him after dark in his garage where he worked on his guitars and cars, and found him.
He left his wife, Jan, and a daughter Holly, who now runs the Gatton music business. He also left legions of adoring fans who marveled at his mastery of the instrument and so many genres.
I had finished the book and left it on the nightstand. I picked it up again about a week ago and began reading it again. Everything is so familiar now--the people, places, the music. I will visit with Danny and his friends one more time.
One cannot help but be sad at the loss of such a gifted artist as Danny was. In the end it seems to me that his gift overwhelmed his life, as we see with other great artists.
Fortunately, we can still hear his music, and see him talk to us, and wonder where the gift might have taken him, and us.
DAVID LARSON REVIEW: ROCKABILLY MAGAZINE (ISSUE #46)
Unfinished Business: The Life and Times of Danny Gatton
by Ralph Heibutzki
Danny stirred country, jazz, blues, and rockabilly into oneness as few if any could. Benefitting from Ralph's music and journalism backgrounds, his book freights both passion and detail. And while there can be no substitute for the records, themselves, in these pages one locates sterling literary complement.
DAVID LARSON is the CD Review Editor for ROCKABILLY MAGAZINE (http://www.rockabillymagazine.com). His credits include GOLDMINE, BLUE SUEDE NEWS and COUNTERPUNCH.
He also runs a music blog (http://www.damnationdanceparty.blogspot.com), as well as a political one (http://www.trueleftiowa.blogspot.com).
PAUL SEARS (www.paulsears.net, www.myspace.com/muffinspaul: sent 4/06/08, posted 3/13/09)
My ex recently gave me an autographed (2003) copy of your Gatton book.
GREAT WORK. Jimmy Cavanaugh, the bass player, was both a friend and tenant of mine, and Danny rehearsed right across the street from my house in DC in the 80s when he was working with that sorta low rent Elvisy singer guy. Forget his name this minute. I first met Danny in the early 70s when FT RENO parks in DC rented my sound system for LIZ MYER when she had the FAT BOYS backing her.
I also took HENRY KAISER (look him up) to see Danny when he had his club BENEATH IT ALL in Georgetown DC back then.
Danny was an interesting if a bit reticent fellow. I had ten opportunities to play with him and never did. Stupid me. His drummer Dave bought a drum set from me that I lent him. I nearly bought Danny's
ES295 that was brokered by a friend of mine back in the 90s, but I did not want to even touch it!!! Blasphemy! I hope a real git player got it. Anyway, great book. Re-read many times!!!"
SCOTT DETCHON (Boardman, OH: Email, posted 12/10/08 by author)
I purchased 2 copies of UNFINISHED BUSINESS and I just finished it. It was very interesting reading about the early years, Unfortunately I didn't discover Danny until 1991, after reading the 1989 ROLLING STONE article I was so fascinated I looked Norma's number and called her, she was a great lady.
We had built up a relationship over the phone, it seemed like every time I would call to order something from her we would be on the phone for over an hour! She knew that I really wanted to see Danny live but he never seemed to have any gigs near Youngstown, Ohio.
So one day I called her to ask where he was going to be, she said he had an upcoming show at The Birchmere, and it was a real nice place. So I said 'I'm there'. Norma arranged a front row center table for us, Brent (Danny's brother) greeted me at the door and said, 'You're the guy from Ohio, follow me.' He said not to leave after the show, that he would be out to bring us backstage.
It was musically the most fulfilling experience ever for me, and getting to hang out with him afterwards was just the icing on the cake. Danny was very nice to talk with. He said to me, 'You're my mom's phone buddy'. He was so appreciative that I had driven so far to come see him play. He said jokingly, 'I hope I was worth it.'
Danny inspired me to keep playing, and for that I thank him, my band had pretty good little run in the 90s, but I don't think I would have had enough motivation if I hadn't seen Danny play. I cherish that experience.
Anyway Ralph, excellent book, I really enjoyed it and will highly recomend to all my musician friends."
VIC McCULLOUGH (Ireland: 8/27/07 email)
hi Ralph. I've just come across reading about your book about Danny Gatton. It sounds fantastic. I had the greatest privilige playing with Danny for 1 hour one night (around 1982 or so). I was playing guitar with the Johnny Seaton band [managed by Billy Poore], and Danny turned my whole head around. I had first heard him in N C in The Cats Cradle in Chapel Hill. and that was that for me. He really blew my mind forever, and i chatted to him that night for half hour, and would have chatted to him all night, but he was dragged off to a party somewhere. Anyhows, that's about it. I look forward to reading your book. Thanks for bringing it out.
RAPALA VMC CORPORATION: Finland (12/26/06 email)
I just finished your fantastic book of the guitarist of all guitarists. Congratulations. If there was a Rock Pulitzer, you should have won it.
JIM MOODY (From 3/19/06 email)
Reading that book (along with a few other events) brought me back to what I love about music. Between (what seemed to be) his true lack of comprehension of the business, his pure musical mastery, and perhaps some emotional issues that might have brought on his untimely end, there was a man that could have gone a lot farther and could have taken all of us with him.
It was a very healthy reminder that it's not all about money. It's not about connecting with new folk that might be influential. It's not about how marketable this "thing" will be. It's about the music. It's about the vibe that you and the musicians you're working with at that gig, that particular moment, are projecting towards the crowd. It's about the love and respect you operate with on-stage towards your bandmates and towards your crowd.
...Thank you for the hard work you did on the book. It opened my eyes and answered a lot of questions I had. I was nowhere near where I am now, and far from happy when I started it. I've read it twice and preparing to start a third time. I can't thank you enough for the hard work you've done. This one goes right next to the Stevie Ray biography.
MICHAEL WINTERS: (9/05/05 email)
Just finished your Danny Gatton book. Enjoyed it!
I used to see Danny Gatton play all the time back in the 70s and 80s.
There was a bar called "My Friends House" next to Al's Auto Transmission, at the corner of Piney Branch and Univ. Blvd. Saw Danny play with the Fat Boys. They played all these Elvis numbers, Rockabilly stuff. Cover charge was $2 back then!
Another place was "The Pub" at Univ. of Md. They took one of the dining halls and had live bands with cheap beer.
Well, your book brought back great memories of seeing Danny play.
Michael Winters (Silver Spring, MD)
STEVE GLOS (6/1/05 email)
I just finished the book, and was so overwhelmed I had to get in touch with you -- thanks for making this a labor of love and a fitting documentary of a troubled genius.
My introduction to Danny's fabulous guitar playing came in 1981 from the Robert Gordon ARE YOU GONNA BE THE ONE? LP. I've been in the record business for almost 30 years now, and was the National Marketing Director for the Chicago-based distributor of Big Mo -- never physically met Ed and Dixie Eastridge, but had the pleasure of many phone conversations with them.
In 1993 I finally did get a chance to meet and talk for a while with Danny at a music festival in Rockford, Illinois during the CRUISIN' DEUCES tour.
Needless to say I treasure those few moments like you wouldn't believe.
There was a paragraph you wrote on the very last page of text that really made me want to contact you:
"One of the hardest things for any artist to accept -- and for the public to understand -- is how many factors fall outside anyone's control. No matter how talented the artist, a certain amount of luck and timing are crucial in determining if the big time is only a phone call away or eternally out of reach..."
For all of my experience in the industry, Ralph, truer words were never spoken or written. I don't know how many times, when talking about the music business with friends or other musicians, I have elaborated on just that phenomenon. It truly explains why every major city (and small-town America, as well, I'm sure) has its unbelievably talented musicians who slog through their local and regional gigs, have been doing them for years, and will continue to do so without any or little recognition. And it is REALITY -- something that many folks are reluctant to believe.
My advice to young musicians has always been, "Just play -- and keep on playing. You can't set a timeline on how your success is going to happen, IF it's going to happen...".
If I had a nickel for every time a label head, manager or financial backer asked me. "What do we need to do to make everything happen?" (like I had the magic wand), I'd be retired and living in the Bahamas by now.
Congratulations on an extremely well-written book and continued success.
Steve Glos (Wheeling, IL)
CATHI NORTON (5/21/05 email)
Here's what I can say about that book.
I ran across it in the bookstore some time ago. Fact of business -- my husband saw it first. He's a huge Telecaster nut. After years of playing/performing hard, we both just hung it up (for the most part) and scaled back to occasional performingŠmy husband (Stuart) especially. But you probably know enough about guitar players to know that it's not something that "lets" you go. He saw this book on Gatton (who he already much admired) and as soon as his back was turned, I bought it and gave it to him for Christmas.
He read it without a break, and an amazing thing happened. He started building a custom Tele with a wizard guitar tech we know, and broke back into playing. It took nine months to build the guitar, and in that time, he got his hands on just about everything Gatton ever put out. I read the book as well, because I was so inspired by the change in Stuart.
To say we are both big fans of Gatton is to put it more than mildly. I very much appreciate your work on the book, and would be delighted to recommend it (and Gatton's work) to anyone. As an artist, his story is particularly painful and a reminder (or wake up to anyone who didn't previously know) of what a hard road music can be when music is your life and passion...yet what a thing of artistry and beauty. I expect Gatton will be inspiring and re-inspiring people for a long time to come, and not a little of that is due to you.
DICK SHURMAN (JUKE BLUES):(12/11/03 email to author)
I thought it was an excellent read...and it motivated me to pull out a lot of Danny's recordings and listen again, which is one of my main tests of a good music biography...a good book helps people remember for him for what he accomplished and not just how he ended his life.
GENE HAUENSTEIN (9/14/03 email to author)
Hello Mr. Heibutzki,
Thanks for a great read! Received the book yesterday and finished it this morning. I've been a big fan of Danny for years. I only saw him play once as I live in Arizona. I caught his Scottsdale, AZ gig. Before the show I found his tour bus and he was very gracious signing a large poster of himself. My friend Mike is a guitar player but couldn't make it as he had to work. Danny signed his poster, "Mike, Thanks for teaching me all those great licks! Danny Gatton. He was very down to earth and of course the show smoked! Another guitar player (professional -- 35 years playing) went with me and was actually peeved! Why? Because he said Danny was so good that it made him want to quit!
PEDRO SERA-LEYVA (9/10/03 email to author)
Dear Mr. Heibutzki,
I just finished reading your book, "Unfinished Business, The Life and Times Of Danny Gatton", less than 10 minutes ago and felt compelled to write you regarding the book.
First, thank you so much for making the effort to write this book and doing such an exceptional job with what I can only assume was a monumental task. It took me a couple of tries and a month to get through it not because of any flaw with the book but because, emotionally, it was a little tough for me at first. Lot's of memories that I have been avoiding since Danny died.
However, on many levels, your book is a total joy in it's recollections of Danny's gigs, many of which I was fortunate enough to have attended, many of which I was fortunate enough to be on stage with him and learn. Danny was a stand up guy and always had a kind word of encouragement for everyone he met. I cannot emphasize enough how loved and respected he was.
Your portrayal of the DC music scene left me waxing nostalgic for a time I sincerely miss. As well, all the familiar references and people in your book made me feel as if I were sitting down with some buddies after a gig and talking over old times. I miss them all, especially Evan Johns and yes, even Billy Poore. Two of the most interesting guys on the face of the planet. Evan needs a book of his own someday. The Huck Finn of American music.
Without going into great detail, I was present at many of the scenes depicted in your book. Though I was not as close to Danny as many of the people mentioned in your book (but much closer than others), I considered Danny a friend and somewhat of a mentor. And, it wasn't until recently when Jim Cavanaugh, in fine "spirits" called me to give me a piece of his mind for my negligence as a friend, that I was made aware of how much a friend Danny considered me.
In that, I am humbled and privileged.
I struck up a friendship with Danny when I was with Evan Johns & The H-Bombs through The Johnny Seaton Band and when my band, Pink & Black did shows with him. I wish that I had had the opportunity to speak to you as you were writing your book. I feel confident I could have provided you with further insight...
Well, I think I've gone on more than I wanted. Please forgive my melodrama....
Again, thanks for the book and best of luck in all your future endeavors.
Sincerely, Pedro Sera-Leyva Washington, DC
FROM THE TELEMASTER ARCHIVES:
The long-awaited biography, "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times of Danny Gatton" by Ralph Heibutzki (Backbeat Books) has finally been released. 290 pages about Danny, expanded from Ralph's cover story for Vintage Guitar. Covers all phases of his life and legacy. I can't say it included all the details I would have wanted to see, but the author does a good job given the editorial restrictions, and in light of the fact that some sources declined to be interviewed for the book. It is definitely a good read. He is also kind enough to include a review of this little site (which made my year). Thanks, Ralph!
Support your local bookseller and go buy this book.
Danny Gatton Corner
A WORD FROM THE MANAGEMENT: Now posted, from the previous incarnation of this website: "54 Hours In D.C." (below). To view older entries, just hit the "Archive" button, followed by the relevant headline link on each entry.