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About The Speaker

Danny Jones

Recounting Danny Jones’ fascinating half century and still creatively flowing musical journey allows us a glimpse into the improbable, as a small town country boy from Northeast Arkansas with passion for music grows up to become one of those whirlwind forces of nature that changes lives groove by groove and chord by chord. His story as one of those ultimate industry hyphenates – producer, engineer, songwriter, drummer and well-respected educator –not only includes work over the decades with a spirited roll call of some of our country’s greatest superstars, but an endless series of colorful professional and personal anecdotes that illuminate the magic along the way. As Danny recounts highlights from a career that’s found him vibing with everyone from Allen Toussaint, The Beach Boys and Stevie Ray Vaughan to Michael McDonald, Rufus Thomas and Pitbull, it’s not uncommon to hear him throw in a whimsical tangent out of sequence from the official timeline. When he’s talking about his annual gig mixing the jazz stage at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, for instance, the ever-evolving musical memory impressionism could roll like this: “I forgot to mention that I worked on and off with Bo Diddley for 20 years, the first time in the 70s when Bobby Vee got me the gig, the last time in the 90’s. And did you know that I was one of the engineers on the soundtrack to the Jerry Lee Lewis film ‘Great Balls of Fire’? Also, I was in 8 th grade with one of the guys from Black Oak Arkansas, which came from the same part of the state. My band Montage opened for them during their 70’s heyday and I drummed with them in the 90s when they were on a festival tour with Foghat, Mountain, Iron Butterfly and Grand Funk.”

Recounting Danny Jones’ fascinating half century and still creatively flowing musical journey allows us a glimpse into the improbable, as a small town country boy from Northeast Arkansas with passion for music grows up to become one of those whirlwind forces of nature that changes lives groove by groove and chord by chord. His story as one of those ultimate industry hyphenates – producer, engineer, songwriter, drummer and well-respected educator –not only includes work over the decades with a spirited roll call of some of our country’s greatest superstars, but an endless series of colorful professional and personal anecdotes that illuminate the magic along the way.

As Danny recounts highlights from a career that’s found him vibing with everyone from Allen Toussaint, The Beach Boys and Stevie Ray Vaughan to Michael McDonald, Rufus Thomas and Pitbull, it’s not uncommon to hear him throw in a whimsical tangent out of sequence from the official timeline. When he’s talking about his annual gig mixing the jazz stage at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, for instance, the ever-evolving musical memory impressionism could roll like this: “I forgot to mention that I worked on and off with Bo Diddley for 20 years, the first time in the 70s when Bobby Vee got me the gig, the last time in the 90’s. And did you know that I was one of the engineers on the soundtrack to the Jerry Lee Lewis film ‘Great Balls of Fire’? Also, I was in 8 th grade with one of the guys from Black Oak Arkansas, which came from the same part of the state. My band Montage opened for them during their 70’s heyday and I drummed with them in the 90s when they were on a festival tour with Foghat, Mountain, Iron Butterfly and Grand Funk.”

Beyond all the super highs and crazy lows of his work in the studio and on tour with legends and indie artists alike, Danny is most proud of the impact he has made on individuals – both as an producer and engineer taking projects to a higher sonic level and during his equally storied career as a musical educator. From 1989-2002, he was an adjunct faculty member at the University of Memphis, teaching songwriting, music production and recording. Over the past two decades, he has built a private practice in his hometown near Houston while also teaching master classes to drum and percussion students on the junior high and high school levels.

“It feels wonderful and surreal to me when an artist comes up after a session and says, ‘You worked me harder than anyone I’ve ever recorded with, but this is the best record I’ve ever made,’” Danny says. “Likewise, I smile when a student of mine has accomplished a meaningful milestone and succeeded in reaching a goal. It is always heartwarming to see their rise in self-confidence because of the musical and life lessons I have helped teach them.” While gigging regularly as drummer early on in his career, Danny never thought about being an engineer or producer. While majoring in music education at Arkansas State, he enjoyed an interesting intersection of playing in the styles that would come to define his life. He played drums in a jazz big band, a Cream/Hendrix/Grand Funk styled hard rock trio and the seven-piece R&B horn ensemble Montage. Securing an artist contract for Montage with a studio in Memphis that had been cutting hit records, he moved the band there (now sans horns) and promptly scored a gig as the house band at The Loser’s Club. They opened for and/or performed dance sets around shows by all the rock legends and groups that passed through – including Fats Domino, Little Richard, Bill Haley, The Coasters, The Drifters, The Platters, The Ink Spots, Lou Rawls, Jackie Wilson and Bobby Vee.

Several of the big names wanted Montage to join them on the road, but Danny turned them all down because “we enjoyed the gig and were learning so much from everyone we played with.” When the club closed, Danny accepted an invitation from Vee and joined him on tour for three years – a stint that included the singer’s performance on “The Midnight Special” TV show. “Working with Bobby was a mental game-changer for me,” he says. “He gets lumped into the teen idol camp but his artistry went deeper than that. Besides the honor of playing for him, he turned me onto progressive rock groups like The Band and we performed their classic ‘Up on Cripple Creek.’ I don’t know how good I was as a player, but I sure was game. This was really a golden era for music.”

When he wasn’t rolling across the country with Vee, Danny worked in Memphis with some of the famed Stax Records musicians (several of whom played on Elvis’ legendary comeback hits of the late 60’s) and turned Montage into a popular regional band, playing throughout the South at colleges, high school proms, fraternities and sororities. During this time, he and a few partners built a small studio for Montage to rehearse and record in, and for several years The Music Factory became a popular commercial facility for upstart artists. Later, just as they were about to pull the plug, one of the artists Danny was engineering and producing, the racially mixed R&B band Grand Slam, signed a promising recording deal with a company in New Orleans and asked Danny to relocate so he could continue working with them.

In addition to helming sessions for Grand Slam, Danny’s plum gig at Marshall Sehorn and Allen Toussaint’s Sea-Saint Studios led to sessions with some of NOLA’s (and popular music’s) biggest names over the next four years – including Etta James, Patti Labelle, Ramsey Lewis, Jean Knight, The Meters, The Neville Brothers, Johnny Adams, Dr. John, The Staples Singers, jazz guitarist Steve Masakowski, saxophonist Dave Liebman and even The Beach Boys who stopped by to do a session when they were passing through town.

“I got to be involved in so many projects while working with Allen,” Danny says. “I think my success there was just about the feel I had for the music, because I didn’t have any formal training as an engineer. Formal schooling for the trade wasn’t as prevalent in those days, but I read everything I could get my hands on, and asked my engineer friends anything I didn’t know, down to every detail like, ‘How do you mic a French horn?’ We used each other as sounding boards. People evidently noticed my natural abilities behind the boards because I started getting a lot of calls. Artists were more excited to work with me as an engineer than as a drummer.”

Danny moved back to Memphis for personal family reasons and for a number of years divided his time between working as an independent engineer at Ardent Studios and Kiva Studios (where he lucked into a session with a then-emerging Stevie Ray Vaughn) and traveling down to NOLA for sessions at Sea-Saint. He also worked on a few projects at the legendary rooms in Muscle Shoals, AL.

Over the years, while also honing his chops as a songwriter and producing countless independent artists, Danny added numerous pop, R&B and jazz artists to his resume, including Al Green, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Joe Sample, Kirk Whalum and Joe Walsh. He also became the go-to recording engineer for prominent regional civic and educational organizations like the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and the Sam Houston State University Jazz Ensemble. As pleased as he is to have worked with so many legends, he is equally excited to have produced successful independent artists like Houston’s Suzanne’s Band, an indie folk-rock group whose videos have racked up over 120,000 views on YouTube.

In recent years, Danny has added even more star power to his ever-growing roster of artists via his annual gig as a multi-track sound mixer for the massive, three weeks long annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, whose concerts draw from 50-75,000 people per night. Doing sound for both rehearsals and in the TV audio department, he has mixed for headliners like Pitbull, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Santana, Kacey Musgraves, Kings of Leon and many others.

In his years as a member of the Recording Academy (the Grammys) he has served as National Trustee, National VP, Memphis Chapter President, and, on the Memphis and Texas Chapter Board of Governors. He served as Committee Chairman and one of the producers and mixer of the Premier Players Awards Show in Memphis (aired on PBS). As part of the Texas chapter, Danny serves on the Education Committee, the Producers & Engineers Wing Committee, has served as a workshop leader for GRAMMY U and represented the Texas Chapter at the Texas Music Educators Association Convention from 2012-2014.

In addition, Danny was the drummer and bandleader for contemporary praise and worship at a prominent Houston area church for 12 years and engineered ten albums for a large non-denominational church camp in Columbus, Texas. These faith-based gigs took him back to his childhood days listening to the radio and watching musical shows on TV with his parents who were die-hard country and gospel music fans. While Christ took hold of his heart, his musical interests lay elsewhere. Danny started playing in his school band at age 12 and was an all-state musician for a few years of high school.

“One of my earliest memories was going to a Christmas parade and watching the marching bands going by,” Danny says. “I wanted to play so badly, I thought my heart would jump out of my chest. Then other music took hold, starting with the pop songs I heard on the jukeboxes. The drums on ‘Da Doo Run Run’ were really something. Then there were the life-changing experiences of those first times I heard The Beatles, Beach Boys and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. What’s incredible is that even after all these years, I still love working with artists, including some that I am starting to livestream with. I am more excited about music now than I have been in ages. When I look back on all these things, all these incredible artists and places, I think, what a blessing. From Memphis to New Orleans to Muscle Shoals and Texas, this in many respects is as good as life can get.”

 

 

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