Chris Daniels On 2017, The Future, and Colorado Music
It’s been quite a year for Colorado music legend Chris Daniels.
In the fall, Blues With Horns, Vol. 1 went to number two in the Roots Music charts, and the single from that album, “Sweet Memphis” hit number one. That followed up to 2015’s Funky To The Bone, recorded with his excellent band, The Kings, just like Blues With Horns.
“I’m just a lucky so-and-so that gets to play music for a living.”
Like most years, Chris toured relentlessly in 2017, and he has one more show to go in Colorado. The long-time Colorado musician is playing at Caffè Sole in Boulder on Friday night. It promises to be an intimate and especially funky affair. He’ll be joined by the esteemed Freddi Gowdy, Kevin Lege, and Clay Kirkland, the harp standout on Blues With Horns.
Soundcheck recently had a chance to catch up with Chris Daniels to talk about his 2017, and to look at what’s ahead in 2018.
We also had a chance to revisit some cherished moments playing in Colorado.
Soundcheck: Many people call you the personification of Colorado music? What does Colorado music embody in your mind?
Chris Daniels: Well, it’s diverse – not one sound, like Seattle or even New York. We have it all – Elephant Revival to The Flobots; Hot Rise to Big Head Todd. So I’m just honored to be part of that.
There was a time when John Denver and “Rocky Mountain High”, Firefall and Poco, were the sound of Colorado. But that was 40 years ago, and where we are now is I think the most exciting time ever.
And even I don’t have one sound. Chris Daniels & The Kings is a 35 year old project, but now we have Freddi Gowdy from the Freddi Henchi Band and that’s helped our sound evolve into Blues With Horns.
I also do jam grass with Magic Music and the Better Days Band. So that’s the beauty of Colorado – evolution. Oh, and that sunshine attitude in a lot of the music — I mean 300 days of sun does have an effect.
You’ve worked with a host of legends in the national and Colorado music scene – what are one or two takeaways you’ve gotten from being partnered with musicians as diverse as you feature on your albums?
Great question. We backed David Bromberg on one of his records and countless Colorado tours. He taught me what it means to put on a show, to connect with an audience, to be an entertainer, not just a singer in a band.
Bill Payne and Sam Bush (Little Feat and the father of Jam Grass) taught me about relationships with fans. You will never see them put themselves above their fans. They don’t put on that “I’m A Star” thing. That to me has always been a lesson, always been my goal, to understand that I’m just a lucky so-and-so that gets to play music for a living – that gets to be singing for his supper.
“The live show is the best it has ever been”
One of your defining sounds is a soul driven, Southern style, particularly on your new album. In general how did you become drawn to that sound – horns, funky, dance-able rhythm sections?
Two things.The Berklee College of Music made you write four-part horn arrangements and I just fell in love with the counter point. (Chis attended Berklee in the 70s.) That, and listening to Louie Jordan records.
And the other part came from my roots. I was born in Minnesota but spent a lot of my youth in South Carolina. I listened to a lot of spirituals, saw first-hand the conditions that made that music so powerful. As a kid from Minnesota I saw the weirdness of Jim Crow and it didn’t make sense.
“I mean it could have been “My Sweet Sweet Jackson” but that just wouldn’t have the same meaning or ring to it.”
So I wanted to know more and I found a way into black culture through black music. It taught me that we are all equal. We are all the same in our hearts and our longings. And that soul, that power of survival spoke to me. I was a fat, dyslexic, asthmatic kid – the prejudice I felt was from classmates. And here was a sound, a rhythm that said, “Screw ’em – we’ve got our own.” That has always spoken to me.
Your 2012 album “Better Days’ is a really powerful comeback album – not in the musical sense, because you’ve been doing great albums for years. More in a personal and overall health sense. (Chris was diagnosed with acute myoloid leukemia in 2010.) Which song should our listeners turn to off of that album that best shows what you were going through at the time of that release?
Probably Sister Delores. She passed away this year, but she’s real. And that moment is real for all of us – when we are at our lowest moments and somebody says “Can I help? And we allow it. We let it be.
What has it been like writing and recorded with Freddi Gowdy? Has he changed anything about your music approach?
It’s simply the best. Freddi is one of the best singers – soulful phrasing and tone – that I have ever worked with and he is a fearless entertainer. He’s always into the audience – taking off his shirt at Swallow Hill and dancing with the audience. It’s changed two of the basic essences of that project.
The live show is the best it has ever been, and his vocals and songs on the records have allowed us to do the two best records we’ve ever done.
“I listened to a lot of spirituals, saw first-hand the conditions that made that music so powerful.”
Our listeners love to hear about Colorado bands past and present? Who are some of your favorite and why?
The Freddi Henchi Band (of course), The Subdudes, Tommy Bolin, Woody & The Too High Band, Dusty Drapes & The Dusters and a really obscure one called Rosewood Canyon from the past. And now, Elephant Revival, One Flew West and Vermillion Road, and I love Megan Burt. She just one of the best. And a new very pop but killer songwriter named Chloe Tang.
Sweet Memphis is such a wonderful song. Is there a Memphis story that helped you write it?
We played there many times, once on the roof of the Peabody Hotel, where the ducks go up and down in the elevator to the fountain in the lobby. But the song is about a spirit in the form of a woman, and that woman laughs, and she’s confident in her power of living. This poor bloke is smitten by her, taken out of the Delta to the light of her spirit, like a kid coming out of the Delta into the lights of a big city like Memphis.
I mean it could have been “My Sweet, Sweet Jackson” but that just wouldn’t have the same meaning or ring to it.
What’s in your CD collection that might surprise some of our listeners?
The new Ron Miles and Diane Reeves records are just the best. And Audible books. I listen to a lot of books. I’m doing the whole Craig Johnson Longmire series of books now (I don’t want to watch the Netflix version. I like the movie in my mind.)
Oh, and I like the new Kendrick Lamar! It took me a while to get into it, but loving it now.
What’s in store for you down the road musically?
Blues With Horns Volume II. know the actor Bill Murray and saw him at the show he did here last week. We talked about a concept for the album that I want to try and pull off. ‘Nuff said for now – more to come.
And I’ve been asked to do a new job. Can’t talk about it much but I’m sure they will announce it soon. It’s gonna be a really fun new adventure. ‘Nuff said on that too!
“That’s the beauty of Colorado – evolution. Oh and that sunshine attitude in a lot of the music — I mean 300 days of sun does have an effect.”
So, what’s your favorite part of living in Colorado?
Walking and hiking – I do 4 miles a day. I started when I was in my hospital room and I could only walk 9 steps and then had to turn around and do it again. Since then I’ve done a 14,275 peak and I want to do Longs!
You have a week off from touring. Where are you going and why?
Brooklyn to see my granddaughters — oh do they have me wrapped around their fingers!
Can you recall a time when you were on stage in Colorado and it just hit you that you might have the greatest job in the world? Where were you?
The Fred Shellman Memorial Stage during The Telluride Bluegrass Festival; Red Rocks with The Kings, Fiddler’s Green backing Garth Brooks, the New West Fest opening for Leon Russell and, and… I could go on for a long time.