51-Danny Marks Interview - September 2006

A.H. Blackwell

Sonia: Danny Marks, I’m turning the tables on you. You’re the one who’s been interviewing me for my last nineteen guest sessions. Now it’s my turn. The worm has turned in effect.

Danny: The worm has turned.

Sonia: Yes, and I’ve got some questions that I’ve been thinking about asking you and never quite got around to it.

Danny: Well, fire away, Sonia. I’m delighted to have this opportunity to have the tables to be reversed and for you to be wearing that hat of the questioner and for me to be talking about myself incessantly.

Sonia: Well, isn’t that the best part, eh? What was your first gig, man?

Danny: My first gig was probably in a church basement somewhere in the north Toronto area. There was a church where the bands used to play. Could have been in a church basement. Could have been in a high school but our first real road gig we took the bus and our gear and our speakers up to Collingwood. We played there because I knew a girl who wanted to book our band up there.

Sonia: Hey, knowing a girl helps!

Danny: Certainly. It certainly has helped knowing you all this time and how you’ve helped in my life as as a person who’s designed my website for me, as someone who’s been there, always giving me really caring and loving advice. Someone I can turn to for questions about the blues. You have totally been my Blues Mama.

Sonia: Ah, God bless. Well, you know I’ve unofficially adopted you. We’ll make it legal some day.

Danny: O.K. That’s fine with me I’ll sign the papers anytime.

Sonia: O.K. Now, when you were playing we’re you doing Rock? Was that Rock that you were playing?

Danny: Well. I guess so. I think that what happened to me was that I grew up and most formative era was in the early 60s when everything was everywhere and being exposed to the best you could imagine in all forms. You didn’t want to settle on just any one but when it came to the band, yes. We were playing songs like “Louis, Louis” – “Secret Agent Man” – Elvis stuff, you know and Jimmy Reed, “You Got Me Peeping, You Got me Hiding” that sort of thing.

Sonia: So, you were doing covers but you were doing GOOD covers.

Danny: Oh Yeah. Only the good stuff but there was just so much good stuff of all kinds. The first agent that every heard me play the lead guitar in a band said, “You know you’ve got kind of a country sound to your music” and I could never really figure out why at that time but it must have been listening to James Burton and all that country stuff that we loved. You know James Burton played on the Ricky Nelson records. He was just the greatest country picker back then.

Sonia: Ricky and his band didn’t get as much credit as they deserved, that’s for sure.

Danny: Well, yeah. Because they were all the best sidemen In Los Angeles.

Sonia: Now,your dad’s was a player too.

Danny: Yes, indeed, and dad, in fact, was another one of those guys that straddled the twin worlds of country and blues, as well as everything else. His big role it was in Guys and Dolls but that was in the Youth Group or the temple choir, you know. They put on a amateur production. Dad loved all that stuff. He listened to Cab Calloway growing up. He played the harmonica and he used to go in front of a crowd by himself, with his harmonica and play Turkey in the Straw and win talent contests all over the city of Toronto when he was a kid.

Sonia: Wow! I never knew that. You come by it honestly.

Danny: I do believe I do.

Sonia: Yeah. Speaking of instruments, and not of harmonicas but guitars in this instance, I understand that you have a few of them.

Danny: Yeah, well, I do. I do have a few guitars and I love the guitar because the guitar is all kinds of things. Among the many things it is it’s very much like a friend and it’s like a person because it’s got everything from a head. It’s got a neck. It’s got a beautiful body, if it’s a really nice guitar, and it sings for you and plays with you and it keeps you company and you can hug it and you can hold it. You can go with it in front of people and make people smile and make people rock. It’s just the greatest it’s the best instrument there is. It’s like the heavenly harp.

Sonia: That reminds me of a story from the 60s where a fellow took his guitar into a washroom stall with him and when asked why said, “We’re in love.”

Danny: Wow. I though you were going to say, because as everyone from Chet Atkins on down knows, that’s where you get the best reverb and you need that reverb on your guitar.

Sonia: How many guitars have you got, Danny?

Danny: Uhm, well, I guess a couple dozen or so.

Sonia: Do you play them in rotation?

Danny: Well, usually I’m standing up or sitting down but I will say this that there are some guitars that I haven’t played for a while and there are some that won’t let me go out of the house without them. There’s one guitar that was made on my birthday that anyone who’s seen me play in the last few years, especially during the summer at the big festivals, that’s the only guitar that I take with me. It’s very special. Imagine you had a guitar born on your birthday. Your not even playing a separate thing. You might as well be playing your arm.

One of the newest guitars that I’ve just got is called a Silvertone Jupiter. It was made by the Harmony Company in 1961. It looks like the top of and old Formica table. Picture it. Black with gold fleck paint on it and multi bound in white ivroid. This guitar is very, very light and it sort of a cheapo guitar but it was made in America when even cheap guitars were really great, had lots of integrity. This guitar is telling me stories. I don’t know where they’re coming from. It needs a little tweaking. It still has a weak spot or two and it’s in mint condition and it won’t let me put it down at home.

Sonia: I can tell that you’re an expert on vintage guitars.

Danny: Yeah! Well, I mean, I noticed about 1964, suddenly, the penny was about half as thick, or maybe 2/3rds. I thought (’65 I think it was) why is the penny, suddenly, still worth a penny but there’s less of it. That can’t be. I noticed stuff was not being made and that was around the time that Fender got sold to a big conglomerate, things got sold and Kennedy was killed and something happened. Planned obsolescence took over from pride in workmanship.

Sonia: That’s a really good point.

Sonia: I understand that you recondition guitars. That you know all the bits and pieces and parts, where they come from and where they should go.

Danny: Well, I don’t know about all of the work that you can do on them, as far as pulling frets and replacing frets goes. I can only do the fine tuning stuff that a guy with some screwdrivers and a little bit of steel wool and some lemon oil. I can do that fine tuning. You see a Fender Stratocaster is almost completely put together with screws. It’s the adjustment, the find adjustment of the screws that hold the springs that work the tremolo, so a guitar that I would get, I can do the the tweaking but I cannot do the refinishing or the re-fretting. I leave that up to the masters but as a guitarist I can do that little fine tuning that makes them work for me. I’ll sit with one, week after week, and then, perhaps, I realize that it needs a different kind of a piece and I know exactly what piece should be on every vintage guitar that I get. If something has been replaced I’ll find an original piece and replace it with that.

The Strats are a special animal and they require a real finely-tuned setup. Even after the Luthier, so called, gets through with them the player gets in there and tunes it and balances it because there are springs in the back that balance this fulcrum tremolo bit that is on a knife edge that pivots. So, how tightly your strings and how tightly your springs are set they offset each other and make the playing action just perfect. You tweak it down and, you know what, now she’s great and you hope it will last for a while because frets do wear out. They have to be filed down and re-crowned.

Sonia: O.K. That’s really great. I found that fascinating.

Danny: I’m glad you did.

Sonia: One more question, and it’s loaded. You pretty much represent yourself. You’ve got gangs of talent so you’ve certainly got a product worth having but how do you get gigs?

Danny: Gigs come to me from various places. You know I have my website http://www.dannym.com. People can phone me about gigs. People can email me. I’m easily found and certainly very searchable on the Internet. People offer me gigs and more and more as the years are going by and as things are going by for me I only accept a gig if people say, “I want you to come and be Danny Marks. I ask what part of Danny Marks do you need. That’s the part I can bring but if they say, “We need a guitarist who can do a little……” I say, “Well, why don’t you call one but when you need Danny Marks, I’m the guy to call.”

Sonia: Wow!

Danny: Yeah!

Sonia: I really like that. This has been a great interview.
Thanks very much!

Included in this interview a song Danny and I recorded together.
A one-take wonder, I might add.

Wavy Line

© Sonia Brock 2006

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