Rockin' Into The Night
An Interview with Danny Chauncey
by Scott Greene
(Photos by Michael Buffalo Smith)
What do a Norwegian composer, a Czech child prodigy, a legendary folk group, "King of the Mountain Blues", The Beatles, Gregg Allman and .38 Special have in common? Danny Chauncey, that's what! Danny grew up listening to Edvard Grieg, Bedrich Smetana, the Limelighters and Peer Gynt, along with the Beatles. Since 1987, he's been blending his blues background into the rockin' sounds of .38 Special. More recently, Danny has added his considerable talents to the lineup for Gregg Allman and Friends. In this Gritz interview Danny tells us about his varied musical tastes and shares a little about how a California boy made the pilgrimage South to share the stage with some of the hottest talents Florida and Georgia have produced.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in California, moved to the San Francisco Bay by my high school years.
Who were your earliest musical influences?
I grew up listening to classical music. In fact, I would time my getting dressed for school to "The Moldeau" by Smetana. I was in Manhattan with Gregg while we were on the road and we went to Tower Records and I found "Peer Gynt" by Grieg and "Through Children's Eyes" by the Lime Lighters. Those were big records for me as a kid.
There was always music around my house growing up. My father played piano and would gather all four of us around and we would sing Broadway show tunes and stuff like that•. we loved it. One day I heard "Twist and Shout" by the Beatles and I remember dragging my dad all over town to find the record and I knew the minute I saw all the girls chasing them what I wanted to be. I got a guitar at age eight and taught myself three chords and wrote a little song and was hooked.
Did you always want to play guitar or do you play other instruments?
I learned guitar first but most of the writing I do on keyboards. I also learned (the) French horn in high school but did not stick with it.
What was the first song you ever wrote?
The first song I wrote was called "Gary" and it's horrible. At the time I was in a play called "The Music Man" and there was a song named "Gary, Indiana" so I'm sure that's where the title came from.
What was the first band you were in? Who was in it and what was it called?
I had the usual assortment of bands in high school, none of them very good. Then after school I played in a band called Mistress. We did one record for RSO and the bass player was a guy from Jacksonville named David Brown and was known to the guys in .38, and he also knew Gregg Allman so my "southern connection" started way back then. But he had no part in my coming to play with either group. I also played some in a band with Al Kooper during this time. I left Mistress and joined a band named Billy Satellite. I loved that band - great four-piece. Great singer and rhythm section. We signed with Capitol Records in '81 or '82.
While pursuing my career with Billy Satellite, I was also doing other projects.One of these was a band from England called Taxi and they had a Euro-tech sound and loved my guitar work because it balanced the sound so well. I was a studio guy on three of their four records. I loved doing those records because their producer was my best friend and we would just camp out in the studio and never leave, we never knew what time it was or even what day we just worked and had a blast. His name is Phil Kaffel and he helped get the Billy Satellite project going and engineered the Eddie Money recording of "I Wanna Go Back", which I co-wrote.
I had a side band called the Alameda All-Stars with Brad Gillis and Kelly Keagy from Night Ranger. That band was our way of making money on the weekend. We never ever rehearsed - we would just get together and improvise our way through four sets a night. We would use hand signals and after a while we got real good at it.
Tell me when you first met the guys in .38?
I hooked up with .38 in '87 after Kevin Elson recommended me to them. I was doing a record as a hired gun that Kevin was producing. I flew to Atlanta to meet the guys. I, of course, was flattered that I was asked to join and jumped at the chance.
How was that first meeting?
We really hit it off so it felt natural. I was allowed to contribute (to the) songwriting from the beginning as "I Wanna Go Back" was a hit on the charts for Eddie Money around the same time that I joined, so the guys knew I was a capable songwriter.
It's been a blast being a member of 38. We take a lot of pride in our work. A few days ago we did a show with Night Ranger and also one with the All-Stars here in California so it was just great seeing the old gang.
Tell me about your early days in .38?
When I first joined .38, it was a bit of an adjustment. Up till then I hadn't really worked that hard at my career and sort of fell into one band or another. I realized that 38 would be a good opportunity for me so I started taking it seriously and did some growing up, too.
What is your take on the Max Carl years with .38?
Working with Max was great musically. I realize that the sound of the band changed dramatically with his addition but what could we do? Don decided that he needed a change and left the band and no one felt like throwing in the towel. I'm glad Don is back though.
Tell us about your relationship with the guys in the band now. You seem to be so in tune with each other that it must be like family.
Everyone gets along great and we are having a lot more fun now since we started using the in-ear monitor system. It's been a great year so far.
What would be the most favorite show you've played?
My favorite show is probably one we did at a big arena in Tampa. It was right after we finished mixing the "Live at Sturgis" CD. We were feeling pretty good about the way it came out.....the audience at Sturgis was so loud they bled into all the mics and you can really hear 'em on the record.....motorcycles and all, and we were thinking that it would be some time before we heard an audience that loud. Well, our first show after we got out of the studio was Tampa and I've NEVER heard a crowd louder than that. Twice as loud as Sturgis. We were all looking at each other during that show like, "Can you believe this?" We had a great time at that one.
Give me some details about the songwriting in .38.
The songwriting has always been done by different combinations of writers within and outside the band and we are still experimenting and recording new stuff all the time. The Xmas song came out nice and that was written by Donnie, Don and myself.
What is your favorite .38 song to play?
My newest favorite to play is "Homeless Guitar" off the Resolution CD. Very moody.
Tell us a little about life on the road.
Life on the road is pretty grueling, actually. I'm not complaining but most people think it's all glamorous when, in reality, most of it is really hard work.
How did you meet Gregg Allman and get that gig?
The All-Stars would draw larger crowds than our other bands because word got around that at an All-Star gig anything could happen. It was very loose and fun and our audience was willing to put up with a few shenanigans because the high points were pretty cool. Gregg Allman fell in love with that band and that is how, basically, that I came to play with him. I met Gregg ten years ago or so and started touring with him maybe in '93 or '94. I'm not sure.
Tell me about how life on the road with Gregg and Friends.
It's a lot of fun for me because I get to play with old friends from California and play really nice theatres, too. How many guitarists get to tour with two national acts every year? I'm pretty lucky.
The music is totally different, too. My first working bands in San Francisco were blues bands and I really think that, as a guitarist, it's my " favorite". Gregg's audiences really listen and appreciate good improvisational playing so I get a lot of satisfaction out of those gigs. It's also nice to not be one of the bosses for a change. It's Gregg's show and my responsibilities begin and end on stage.
Have you recorded on any of Gregg's solo work?
He and I have a couple songs we are writing together, although, right now, he's got his hands full with the Brothers and I'm on the road with 38 so we haven't finished them yet.
Any plans to record with Gregg on his next release?
Gregg hasn't asked me to play on his next record yet and I don't know if he will but I would, of course, love to if schedules permit. I haven't recorded with him yet. Maybe he'll do a guest shot on the next .38 record. That would be cool.
Any special shows with Gregg coming up?
I should be touring with Gregg again in the fall but no dates have been announced yet.
Tell us about the new studio CD .38 is working on.
The new CD should be similar but more hard-edged than Resolution. We haven't written any real ballads for it yet so it may have a few more rockers on it.
Anything you want to tell the fans?
To the fans I can just say thanks. I really appreciate meeting everyone, too. Whether I'm on tour with Gregg or 38, it's great to know that your work is appreciated by so many. I'm truly blessed.
I would like to thank Danny for all his help with this interview and Julia Mclaughlin for her help in editing.