Guitar god Danny Gatton says Lenny Breau is the biggest humbler of all time

danny gatton


By Steve Newton

Guitar World magazine called him “the world’s greatest unknown guitarist”. Guitar Player ran his photo on the cover with his face behind a mask, while inside they asked: “What famous guitarist could outplay him?” So how come virtuoso guitarman Danny Gatton is so underexposed?

“Well, there’s not a whole lot I can do about that,” says Gatton from his home in Washington, D.C. “I have some TV exposure comin’ up; I’m gonna be on the Tonight Show. And on June the 5th I’m doin’ [the Nashville Network’s] American Music Shop with Vince Gill and James Burton and Albert Lee. So I’m striving to make some headway in that direction.”

Fortunately for Vancouver guitar freaks, the folks at the Music West Festival have heard of Danny Gatton and are bringing him to the Town Pump for a concert May 9. As part of the Music West Conference, he’ll also be leading a master guitar workshop at the Pump that day, which is something he rarely does.

“I did one at Berklee [School of Music] in Boston last year,” he says, “and that’s probably the last time I did one of those. I’m not really into that all that much; I prefer to just play. So I’m bringin’ my whole band out there, and we’ll have a big blow-up on Sunday night.”

Gatton says he expects fellow Music West workshop leaders Seymour Duncan and Joe Walsh to join him on-stage for the May 9 show, but even if they don’t make it, there’ll be more than enough fancy licks coming out of Gatton’s hands to keep riff-hungry hounds at bay. He was nicknamed “The Humbler” by fellow string-bender Amos Garrett, although he shrugs off the title, passing it on to someone he feels really deserves it.

“The biggest humbler to me, of all time, would be Lenny Breau. He was the best I have ever seen—Chet Atkins will corroborate that. But Lenny was a jazz player, and I have many guitar heroes—just virtually anybody that ever played that played good. Even people that played bad, if their attitude and the sound was right, you know.”

Although still a virtual unknown to the common music fan, Gatton increased his limited following with the release of his major-label debut, 88 Elmira St., in 1991. The all-instrumental recording saw his mind-boggling talent well-suited to the realms of country, R&B, bebop, bluegrass, rockabilly (he used to play with Robert Gordon), jazzy numbers, and flat-out rock ’n’ roll. It included a majestic and melancholic rendering of the Beach Boys’ “In My Room”, as well as a startling version of the popular theme from The Simpsons.

“That was sort of a challenge from the record company,” Gatton says of his searing tribute to the antics of Homer and Bart. “My exec over there liked that song, so he said: ‘Here, see if you can make somethin’ outta this.’ So I struggled with it for a coupla days and attempted to make somethin’ out of it. It was just a one-time shot.”

Gatton’s next album, Cruisin’ Deuces, is set for release in mid-May. Named after the hot-rod fan’s favourite car, a ’32 Ford, Cruisin’ Deuces will be a departure from his last in that it includes five vocal tracks, with guest spots by the likes of Delbert McClinton and Rodney Crowell. You won’t be hearing any of Gatton’s own vocals on it, though.

“None,” he emphasizes. “I can’t sing. Noooo. I just like to write, arrange, play, and produce.”

When you play guitar like Danny Gatton, you can get by without having to sing. But what’s the secret to his getting so good, anyway? Does it have anything to do with locking himself in a room with those three dreaded words: practise, practise, practise?

“There was quite a bit of that over the years,” says Gatton, who learned how to play “Mystery Train” at the age of 12 and never looked back. “And just listening to a lot of different kinds of music and playing in quite a variety of bands—just mostly bar bands, groups nobody ever heard of. That’s a great experience.”

To hear the full 1993 interview with Danny Gatton, become a patron of the Newt on Patreon. Hey, it’s only 5 bucks a month! (U.S., mind you).

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