With his vocals as impassioned as his guitar playing, hard-working bluesman Danny Bryant has produced an album of rare power. Interview by Michael Heatley
The blues world has seen many examples of older players mentoring young prodigies and passing on the wisdom of their years: Danny Gatton with Joe Bonamassa is one relatively recent relationship. For upand-coming British guitarist Danny Bryant, the man who helped to get his mojo well and truly working was Walter Trout, some three decades his senior.
‘When I was about 14 my mum and dad had one of Walter’s albums – I don’t think they had heard of him beforehand, but they picked it up. I was out shopping with my mum in Cambridge and we saw a poster. I said, “Can we go?” So mum and dad took me, and I wrote him a letter. When he got back from that tour he called me up, and we’ve been friends ever since.’
Danny liked the American’s way of doing things and, with 2500 shows already under his belt, he has based his own career on a similar work ethic. ‘Walter’s a relentless tourer, always out on the road, which I think with blues is the way to do it,’ he says. ‘We don’t get a lot of radio play, certainly not mainstream radio play, and in this country it’s very hard to get on television shows like Jools Holland’s Later. So to spread the word, sell your albums and get a fanbase, it’s a case of relentless touring – that’s how I make my living.’
When it comes to image, the cover of Danny’s new album Hurricane sees him take a step away from the Trout/Gallagher school of workwear towards the besuited Bonamassa look. ‘Walter’s image is that he’s cool and those are his street clothes, but I’m a big fan of old-school blues. My house is full of pictures of all my old blues heroes and they’re all in suits and everything, but I never really had the confidence to do that. Then the whole Bonamassa thing with him dressing up happened, and I didn’t want to look like I was jumping on the bandwagon! So I left it a bit longer, but then my wife kicked me into smartening up.
‘I must admit I feel a lot better dressing up,’ he continues. ‘I don’t go for the full suit thing, but I wear a smart jacket. You do feel a bit more geared up for the show. A year or so ago I would’ve just gone straight on in the clothes I was wearing during the day, but if you’ve got to make the effort to get changed it mentally gets you in stage mode. It’s like “Right, I’m wearing my stage stuff – it’s time to go”.’
Danny recently signed to the German Jazzhaus label, reflecting the fact that the majority of his touring takes place beyond these shores (though UK dates are scheduled for May/June). So are Brits considered exotic in continental Europe?
‘I hadn’t really thought of that. Maybe it’s like when you have an American act come to England. Britain has its own blues history now, with everything that happened in the ’60s and all the great guys we had over here. When we started touring Europe I think blues was on a bit of a decline in the UK, although I don’t think that’s true any more – it’s well on the up. I think that in Europe you either have to be English or American, and their own acts have a slighter harder time. It does take up quite a lot of our touring year; we’re lucky to have a nice following in Germany, Holland and Switzerland.’
The new album was recorded in Cornwall with producer Richard Hammerton, who also contributed keyboards. Our man credits Richard with helping raise the bar vocally, an area that has taken him more time and effort to perfect than the guitar. ‘I’m confident at singing now,’ Danny admits, ‘and it’s something I enjoy almost as much as playing. When it came to the vocals, the producer made me have two, three takes on each song because we wanted to keep that confidence level up and not over-think things; I think it’s come out quite well.’
The album tracks Danny picks out as the key ones are opener Prisoner Of The Blues – ‘It’s my version of White Room… I’m not saying it’s on a par, but it’s me trying to do that’ – and cut three, Can’t Hold On, ‘because it shows that I love to write songs. I’m a big fan of listening to ballads and playing them myself, and the solo in that is an example – it’s not a flashy solo, it’s one that means something within the song, which is important to me, and that’s something I’ve only learnt to do as I’ve matured a little bit. A few years ago I would have probably doubled the length of that solo and put as many notes in as I could… just for the sake of it.’
Danny’s success is very much a family affair: dad Ken plays bass in his three-piece Redeye Band, mum Heather is his manager, and wife Kirby is his guitar tech. ‘I’m on the road a lot, so we wouldn’t have much of a relationship if I left her at home! It’s quite unique – if you were to start doing it you’d never tour with your mum and dad – but it’s been like this since we started, and it’s all I know.’
The next decade will see Danny, who’s 33 in July, lose his ‘young’ tag. What does he hope to gain in its stead?
‘I just hope that I can keep working, keep making a living,’ he offers. ‘It’s never been a dramatic rise; it’s always been very steady, seeing the crowds get a bit bigger and the records selling a little bit more. And the countries I play are expanding – I’ve just signed on with a couple of new agencies that cover new territories. It sounds a bit corny but I feel really grateful that I do it for a living, that I get to tour and that I get to play for a living and release music that people actually buy.
‘That was the aspiration as a kid – I never had any aspirations to be this big, famous musician. It would be nice, but I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do, which is to be a working blues guitarist.’