Danny Gatton

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Danny Gatton
Danny Gatton.jpg
Gatton with his "Mother of Toilet Seat" Telecaster
Background information
Birth nameDaniel Wood Gatton Jr.
Born(1945-09-04)September 4, 1945
Washington, D.C., US
DiedOctober 4, 1994(1994-10-04) (aged 49)
Newburg, Maryland
GenresBlues, rockabilly, jazz
Years active1960–1994

Daniel Wood Gatton Jr. (September 4, 1945 – October 4, 1994) known by the nicknames "The Humbler"[1], "The Telemaster"[2], and "the world's greatest unknown guitarist"[2] was an American guitarist who fused blues, rockabilly, jazz, and country to create a musical style called "redneck jazz".[3]


Daniel Wood Gatton Jr. was born in Washington, D.C., in 1945. The son of a rhythm guitarist, Gatton started playing at the age of nine. From 1960–1964 he played jazz guitar with the Offbeats, then worked as a session musician in Nashville.[4][5] When he returned to Washington, he drew attention in the 1970s as a member of Liz Meyer & Friends and other local bands. He recorded his debut album, American Music (1975), followed by Redneck Jazz (1978) with pedal steel guitarist Buddy Emmons appearing as a guest. He founded the band the Redneck Explosion.[4]

Although Gatton could play most genres of music, including jazz, blues, bluegrass, and rock, he was known as a country and rockabilly guitarist.[4]He toured with singers Roger Miller and Robert Gordon.[5] He was sometimes called "The Telemaster" and "the world's greatest unknown guitarist".[4] Guitarist Amos Garrett called him "The Humbler" for his ability to defeat other guitarists in "head-cutting" jam sessions.[6] On this point, however, Gatton declared “The biggest humbler to me, of all time, would be Lenny Breau. He was the best I have ever seen."[7]

Nine years after his last album, he released Unfinished Business (1987), an eclectic collection of pop, rock, and country music that Guitar World magazine named the tenth best album of the 1980s.[8] He got a contract with his first major record label and released another eclectic album, 88 Elmira Street (Elektra, 1991),[5] which contained a cover version of the theme song from the animated TV series The Simpsons.[9]

Gatton turned toward jazz for the albums New York Stories (Blue Note, 1992) and Relentless (1994) with Joey DeFrancesco. For unknown reasons, he committed suicide in 1994.[4][5]


On October 4, 1994, Gatton locked himself in the garage on his farm in Newburg, Maryland, and took his own life by shooting himself.[10] Although he left no note or explanation,[11] family members and close friends believe he suffered from depression for many years.[12] Friend and drummer Dave Elliott said that he thought Gatton had suffered from depression since they met more than twenty years earlier.[10]

Gear and playing style[edit]

Gatton played a 1953 Fender Telecaster customized with Joe Barden pickups and Fender Super 250Ls, or Nickel Plated Steel (.010 to .046 with a .015 for the G) strings. (Fender now makes a replica of his heavily customized instrument.), and a 1956 Gibson ES-350. For a slide, Gatton sometimes used a beer bottle or mug. In the March 1989 issue of Guitar Player magazine, Gatton said he preferred to use an Alka-Seltzer bottle or long 6L6 vacuum tube as a slide, but that audiences seemed to prefer the beer bottle. Unlike many electric guitarists, Gatton played slide overhand only, citing his earlier training in steel guitar [Guitar Player, March 1989]. Among amplifiers, liner notes on his album "88 Elmira Street" cites his use of Fender amplifiers including a 1963 Vibrolux, a 1963 Super Reverb, a 1958 Twin, a 1964 Deluxe, and a 1958 Bassman.[13] Gatton built many of his own electric musical devices, including one he called the Magic Dingus Box, which controlled the speed of the rotating horn in a Leslie speaker cabinet.[14]

Gatton used Fender guitar picks, but switched to a jazz-style teardrop pick on the recommendation of Roy Buchanan. His picking technique was a hybrid combination of flatpick and fingers, primarily the middle and ring fingers on his right hand. The basis of this hybrid picking technique was banjo rolls, since Gatton was an accomplished banjo player in the traditional (Scruggs style). While a Scruggs-style banjo player executes a forward roll using the thumb, index, and middle fingers, Gatton replaced the thumb stroke with a pick downstroke, and the index and middle fingers with his middle and ring fingers respectively. Similarly, his backward roll consisted of middle finger, then a pick upstroke, then a pick downstroke. Gatton's fretting hand followed the traditional classical guitar left hand technique with his thumb behind the neck, fretting with arched fingers.[citation needed]


When Rolling Stone magazine selected the 100 Greatest Guitarists of all Time in 2003, senior editor David Fricke ranked Gatton 63rd on his ballot.[15] On May 26, 2010, Gibson.com ranked Gatton as the 27th best guitarist of all time.[16]

Among his admirers are Buckethead, Joe Bonamassa, Lenny Breau, James Burton, Chris Cheney, Vince Gill, Johnny Hiland, Evan Johns, Bill Kirchen, Albert Lee, Les Paul, Arlen Roth, Richie Sambora, Ricky Skaggs, Slash, and Steve Vai.[11]

Gatton has been described as possessing an extraordinary proficiency on his instrument, "a living treasury of American musical styles."[17] In 2009, John Previti, who played bass guitar with Danny for eighteen years, stated, "You know, when he played country music, it sounded like all he played was country music. When he played jazz, it sounded like that's all he played, rockabilly, old rock and roll, soul music. You know, he called himself a Whitman sampler of music"[12] Guitarist Steve Vai reckons Danny "comes closer than anyone else to being the best guitar player that ever lived."[18]Guitarist Albert Lee said of Gatton, "Here's a guy who's got it all."[19]

On January 10–12, 1995, Tramps nightclub in New York organized a three-night tribute to Gatton featuring dozens of Gatton's musical admirers, the highlight of which was a twenty-minute performance by Les Paul, James Burton, Arlen Roth, and Albert Lee.[20] Those shows (with all musicians performing for free) raised $25,000 for Gatton's wife and daughter.

Blue Skies Calling (2011), an album by Boy Wells, includes nearly an hour of Gatton and Wells playing in his living room. "Danny called me before he died and asked me to put a vocal tape together for his label at the time. He needed a singer after his singer, Billy Windsor, had passed. He remained a friend, a good one all those years. This lesson was in the late '70s; it's me and Danny in the living room of his house on Holly Lane in Indian Head, Maryland. It's killer stuff."[21]

Awards and honors[edit]


  • 1975 – American Music
  • 1978 – Redneck Jazz
  • 1987 – Unfinished Business
  • 1990 – Blazing Telecasters
  • 1991 – 88 Elmira St.
  • 1992 – New York Stories with Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove, Bobby Watson, & Franck Amsallem
  • 1993 – Cruisin' Deuces
  • 1993 – Toolin' Around with Arlen Roth
  • 1994 – Relentless (with Joey DeFrancesco)
  • 1995 – Redneck Jazz Explosion
  • 1996 – The Humbler (with Robert Gordon)
  • 1998 – In Concert 9/9/94
  • 1998 – Untouchable
  • 1998 – Portraits
  • 1999 – Anthology
  • 2004 – Funhouse
  • 2004 – Unfinished Business
  • 2005 – Oh No! More Blazing Telecasters (with Tom Principato)
  • 2006 – Redneck Jazz Explosion, Vol. 2
  • 2007 – Live in 1977: The Humbler Stakes His Claim


  1. ^ Fanelli, Damian (June 8, 2017). "Danny Gatton Solos with a Full Beer Bottle and Towel, Guitar World Magazine". guitarworld.com.
  2. ^ a b "Readers Poll Results: The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". Guitar World. Retrieved 2015-12-22.
  3. ^ Heibutzki, Ralph (2003). Unfinished Business – the Life and Times of Danny Gatton. San Francisco: Backbeat Books. ISBN 0-87930-748-X.
  4. ^ a b c d e Yanow, Scott (2013). The Great Jazz Guitarists. San Francisco: Backbeat. p. 82. ISBN 978-1-61713-023-6.
  5. ^ a b c d Huey, Steve. "Danny Gatton". AllMusic. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  6. ^ "Danny Gatton, The Humbler | RCR | American Roots Music". Rubbercityreview.com. 2010-09-24. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  7. ^ Newton, Steve. "Guitar god Danny Gatton says Lenny Breau is the biggest humbler of all time". Retrieved 15 November 2017.
  8. ^ Schulte, Tom. "Unfinished Business". AllMusic. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  9. ^ Koda, Cub. "88 Elmira St". AllMusic. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  10. ^ a b Harrington, Richard (1994-10-06). "October 4th, 1994 – Danny Gatton". Thehumblermovie.com. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  11. ^ a b Heibutzki, Ralph (2003). Unfinished Business: The Life & Times of Danny Gatton. Backbeat Books, San Francisco. ISBN 0-87930-748-X.
  12. ^ a b "Danny Gatton: 'World's Greatest Unknown Guitarist'". NPR. October 4, 2009. Retrieved 2014-02-24.
  13. ^ Jesse Gress (2007-10-02). "10 Things You Gotta Do to Play Like Danny Gatton". GuitarPlayer.com. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  14. ^ Scott (2008-11-26). "The Audio Museum: Danny Gatton's Original Magic Dingus Box!". The Audio Museum. Retrieved 2017-06-23.
  15. ^ "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2011-10-30.
  16. ^ "Top 50 Guitarists of All Time – 30 to 21". Gibson. Archived from the original on May 27, 2010. Retrieved 2011-10-30.
  17. ^ "Chairman Ralph's Ministry Of Truth". Chairmanralph.com. Retrieved 2015-10-26.
  18. ^ "Playlist: Danny Gatton « Guitar Aficionado". Guitaraficionado.com. November 15, 2011. Retrieved 2014-02-24.
  19. ^ "Albert Lee Interview : Guitar Interviews". Guitarinternational.com. Archived from the original on March 29, 2014. Retrieved 2014-02-24.
  20. ^ Herndon, David (January 9, 1995). "A Tribute to Danny Gatton". Newsday. Retrieved January 4, 2011.
  21. ^ "Bman's Blues Report: Marcel Marsupial Records artist: Boy Wells – Blue Skies Calling – New Release Review". Bmansbluesreport.com. December 1, 2011. Retrieved 2014-02-24.
  22. ^ "The Definitive Danny Gatton Web Site". Dannygatton.com. Archived from the original on June 4, 2014. Retrieved 2014-02-24.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]