Danny Caron
" Interview "

Originally from Silver Spring, Maryland, Jazz and Blues guitarist Danny Caron relocated to Austin in 1979 and hooked up with Marcia Ball. Not long afterwards, Caron worked with Clifton Chenier and recorded on the Grammy Award-winning album I'm Here. Caron teamed up with the legendary singer and pianist Charles Brown and from 1986 until Brown's death in 1999 Caron was his guitarist and music director

Additionally, Caron has played on numerous CDs and sessions with Charles Brown, Clifton Chenier, Bonnie Raitt, John Lee Hooker, Van Morrison, Steve Miller, Ruth Brown, Etta Jones, John Clayton, Teddy Edwards, Gerald Wilson, Donald Fagen, Dr. John, Little Milton Campbell, John Hammond Jr., and many others. Caron is also the featured guitarist on the Van Morrison-produced John Lee Hooker album Don't Look Back, which won two Grammys. Caron keeps a busy schedule touring and performing with Plas Johnson, Rhoda Scott, Barbara Morrison, Henry Butler, Steve Miller, Jon Cleary, Maria Muldaur, and others. Caron also teaches courses at The Jazzschool in Berkeley, California.

Caron's second solo recording, How Sweet It Is, is just that and follows on the heels of his outstanding Good Hands album, which is also worth seeking out. Just as How Sweet It Is made its debut is when I had the good fortune to chat with Danny Caron.

Bob Putignano for BluesWax: Mr. Caron, how are you? Did we wake you up this morning?

Danny Caron: I'm doing great. I got up just a little bit before you called here in Oakland, California.

BW: Your new record is great and I love the way you make a definitive and rocking statement on the first track, "Zydeco Boogaloo." How did this new CD come about?

DC: Thank you very much. Well I got to be honest, this one wasn't easy to make, but neither was my first CD Good Hands. This one took a little longer to make, I did a couple of sessions at Fantasy studios here in Berkeley and I recorded with my favorite people. We did two sessions, one a Jazz session and the other an R&B session, so it ended up that the tracks were so different and I thought that it was very unlikely that I could put them on the same disc. I'm one of those musicians who goes into the studio wanting to do what I feel like doing, yet thinking about making the tracks work together on one disc made me kind of depressed. So I didn't do anything for about six month. Finally I went back into the studio with an organ trio with Wayne De La Cruz's B3 and Kent Bryson on drums and did about eight tunes, which is when we did "The Promised Land" and "Need Your Love So Bad" with Barbara Morrison, as well as the instrumentals "Rock Candy" and "Our Miss Brooks." I have to say having Barbara sing on my CD was very energizing. So finally I ended up pulling together the CD that you have in your hands.

BW: Barbara Morrison is great. And for sure you covered a lot of ground on this disc. "The Chicken" is one of my favorites that Jaco Pastorious used to stomp on, and it took me a while to figure out who wrote it, as your credits list Alfred James Ellis as the author. Then I connected the dots that it was Pee Wee Ellis who's most notable with the JB Horns.

DC: Jaco's version is great and I have a really cool version of "The Chicken" that I don't recall where it came from, but it's Jaco and John Scofield covering it; it's terrific. I love Scofield and he takes certain liberties on that one lick that repeats over and over that I kind of stole from him. I just liked Scofield's approach, so that ended up on this record in my own weird way. It's really fun to solo over.

BW: You are one of those rare and gifted guitar players who are fearless in that you have no genre boundaries.

DC: It's a good thing that I never really learned how to play the guitar. [Laughs]

BW: Oh, is that what makes you so tasty?

DC: But really, I never spent a lot of time practicing one style. I love Bebop, but I never thought I was very good playing it. If there is anything I am most comfortable playing it would be Blues. I started playing with Clifton Chenier, which was a stoned Blues band.

BW: What an education that must have been; how old were you at the time?

DC: Twenty-three and I'm fifty-two now. I hate to say how fast time flies, as it seems that those days with Clifton were just yesterday.

BW: You've had an interesting career as you did stuff with John Lee Hooker, which had all kinds of major players on it, like Ike Turner, Jimmie Vaughan, and Booker T. That must have been an experience.

DC: Yeah, but I wasn't in the studio with them. Plus, we had done a record with Van Morrison and John Lee called Don't Look Back. Van produced it and there's some good stuff on there that I really like. That won a couple of Grammys and the label took a couple of tracks from Van's CD that wound up on the John Lee Best of Friends compilation where I ended up on a list with some very esteemed guitar players.

BW: Then there were all those years with Charles Brown.

DC: That was probably the best gig I ever had.

BW: How many years with Charles?

DC: Ten performing years and a few more years on the edges after he got sick when I took care of him. Those were just great years of playing with him.

BW: And the stories, too.

DC: Yes the stories were wonderful. Plus we made about ten recordings as well. There's lots of good stuff on those recording. The great sax player Clifford Solomon got to play on a lot of those studio recordings and that's a great place to hear Solomon play on, the ones on Rounder and Verve.

BW: I always enjoyed Clifford's work with you and Charles, plus some of the playing he did with Mayall, too, amongst many others. You also dug up another Charles Brown track for the new CD.

DC: Yeah, I actually own five tracks that we recorded together. We were going to make a trio record and I paid for us to go into the studio and we just never finished. We just kept having other stuff to do. To me those trio tracks were like how Charles used to play in the Forties with Johnnie Moore with the Three Blazers. So I put a couple of those tracks on Good Hands and one is on this new CD, E.S.P. Blues, where Charles talks about loosing all of his money.

BW: I love the lyrics, which are hilarious.

DC: They're more so hilarious if you had known Charles.

BW: I bet! Plus you recorded Little Willie John's "I Need Your Love So Bad" and your own compositions, too.

DC: Yep, I wrote the lyrics to "The Promised Land" and Charles wrote the bulk of the music and melody for that one. That was originally a track that was used for a movie named Johns that came out in '97 on the Varese Sarabande label where he plays a very cool B3 on, but not too many people have this CD in their collection. So I decided to re-record "The Promised Land" a little differently and had Barbara Morrison come in to do the vocal. I thought it came out really well, Barbara sings it so amazingly.

BW: You cover it all here on How Sweet It Is from the laid-back tracks with Charles and Barbara to the rocking and funky stuff and you also get into that classic Soul-Jazz groove with songs like Brother Jack McDuff's "Rock Candy," and an almost forgotten classic by Harold Vick, "Our Miss Brooks."

DC: I love that "Our Miss Brooks" and people should hear my version, but that live version with McDuff, George Benson, Red Holloway, and Joe Dukes is amazing! It came from a Prestige LP titled Steppin' Out under McDuff's name.

BW: Red Holloway is wonderful and another guy that I liked with Mayall, too, as well as with so many others like Etta James on that live CD with McDuff and Shuggie Otis. Do you get to play with Red often?

DC: Not that often anymore, but we did play from time to time together when Charles Brown was alive. Another sax guy I like to play with is Plas Johnson. Last year I did get to play in Europe with Plas and B3 player Rhoda Scott, which was a fantastic gig.

BW: For a musician like yourself, that must have been a fun gig for you.

DC: Yep, that was another time that I felt that if I died afterwards it would have been OK. [Laughs]

When we spoke on the phone a few days ago from our homes, you were telling me about a special night at the Lonestar Roadhouse here in New York City.

DC: Oh yeah! There was one night that they filmed there with Charles Brown and Ruth Brown, too, who played with her band with Rodney Jones on guitar, Snooks Eaglin, and Johnny Adams. And actually I got to play both with Charles Brown and with Johnny Adams that night, the CD is called A Life In the Blues. But they also recorded Ruth Brown, plus Snooks Eaglin and a great recording of Johnny Adams with George Porter Jr. from the Meters, Jon Cleary, myself on guitar, Kenny Blevins on drums, that has not been released, but I sure wish it would, it was really, really great.

BW: Wow! That must have been special, what a band! Did Ruth, Charles, and Johnny sing together that night?

DC: No, they all did their separate shows and Johnny's performance with that band was very special

Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com