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

danny gatton

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, APRIL 22, 1993

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 audio of my interview with Danny Gatton subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can also eavesdrop on my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joe Satriani, 1990
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, 1998
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Roy Buchanan, 1986
Gary Moore, 1984
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
Susan Tedeschi, 1998
Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
Ronnie James Dio, 1985
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Greg Allman, 1998
Dickey Betts, 2001
…with hundreds more to come

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