Born Daniel Wood Gatton, 4 September 1945, Washington, D.C.
“Danny Gatton was the greatest guitar player ever in all styles of music. Nobody could touch him.” That is not my personal opinion, but a quote from Billy Poore’s 1998 book “RockABilly : a forty-year journey” (page 246). Undoubtedly Gatton was a virtuoso guitarist, certainly in terms of sheer technique. But his very versatility - he could play jazz, blues, rockabilly, country and more contemporary rock - makes it hard for me to fully appreciate him. Usually his albums contain a few stunning rockabilly tracks, but include too many “modern” styles to satisfy the fan of 1950s rock n roll.
At the age of six, Danny was introduced to the music of Les Paul by his uncle. Gatton was always intrigued by the technology of the guitar. Les Paul was his principal influence because of the technological innovation as much as his music. In high school he joined a group called the Offbeats, who played the Top 40 hits of the day. Gatton moved from D.C. to Nashville in 1967, toying with the idea of trying to break into the studio scene, but he found himself without contacts in what was then a closed shop. Back in the Washington, D.C. area he formed his own group, Danny and the Fat Boys, in 1974. They recorded one album, “American Music” (1975), which already showcased Danny’s diverse repertoire (rockabilly, jazz, R&B, reggae). The LP came out on Aladdin, which was the label of Billy Hancock, then the group’s vocalist. After the Fat Boys broke up, Danny played in a group called Redneck Jazz Explosion, with Buddy Emmons on steel guitar. The band was documented on a 1978 release, “Redneck Jazz”, on the NRG label. NRG were the initials of his mother, Norma Rae Gatton, who distributed the record from her home in Georgia. The group dissolved when Gatton cut his hand badly and couldn’t play the guitar for a year. In 1980 he joined the backing group of Roger Miller. For some time he played both with Miller and Robert Gordon, but eventually settled for a year or so of steady work with Gordon. Many of those who saw Gatton with Gordon have fond memories of the music they made together. By that time, he could reproduce the guitar licks of all the rockabilly pickers that influenced him, like Scotty Moore, James Burton and Roy Buchanan, with amazing power and precision.
Gatton garnered much respect among fellow guitarists with his solo album “Unfinished Business” (1987), again on NRG. The problem was knowing where to file him, as Danny played so many different styles on the album.
Then Elektra Records came calling with checkbook in hand. At the age of 46, Gatton made his major-label debut. But he wasn’t the product of major label culture and didn’t belong there. After the release of the first Elektra album, the all-instrumental “88 Elmira Street” (1991), he was sent on a national tour to promote the release, which he hated. Danny would rather play a small club down the road so that he could sleep in his own bed. The title cut of “88 Elmira Street” was a direct homage to his rockabilly influences, with quotations from the work of Scotty Moore, James Burton, Al Casey and others. Another highlight is Gatton's version of the Beach Boys number “In My Room”.
A second Elektra album, “Cruisin’ Deuces” (1993), was largely a 1950s-styled project. The standout track is the five-minute “Sun Medley” (Mystery Train / My Baby Left Me / That’s All Right Mama), with vocals by Delbert McClinton and absolutely amazing guitar work by Gatton.
It was a relief when Elektra dropped him after these two albums. The final release during his lifetime was a jazz-styled co-operation with organist Joey DeFrancesco (“Relentless”) for the Big Mo label, recorded in February 1994.
In October 1994 came the news that he had committed suicide. Those close to him say that Gatton was prone to bouts of depression. He had a domestic argument, then stormed out of the house and over to his garage to work on his car. Later there was a gunshot. He left no explanation.
Several albums with live recordings were released posthumously, most recently (2004) “Funhouse” (Big Mo).
Guitar Player magazine called Gatton “The World’s Greatest Unknown Guitarist” in 1989. An earlier nickname was “The Humbler”. On May 26, 2010, Gibson.com ranked Danny as the 27th best guitarist of all time. His preferred instrument was a 1953 Fender Telecaster.
More info : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danny_Gatton
Official website : http://www.dannygatton.com/main.html
Biography : Ralph Heibutzki, Unfinished Business : the life and times of Danny Gatton. San Francisco : Backbeat Books, 2003. 290 pages (paperback).
Acknowledgements : Colin Escott (chapter on Gatton in “Tattooed On Their Tongues”), Billy Poore, Wikipedia, the official website.
Dik, May 2015
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