Danny Gatton

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Danny Gatton
Danny Gatton.jpg
Danny with his "Mother of Toilet Seat" Telecaster.
Background information
Birth name Daniel Wood Gatton
Born (1945-09-04)September 4, 1945
Washington, D.C.
Died October 4, 1994(1994-10-04) (aged 49)
Newburg, Maryland
Genres Blues, rockabilly, jazz
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Guitar
Years active 1960–1994
Website dannygatton.com
Notable instruments
Fender Telecaster

Danny Gatton (September 4, 1945 – October 4, 1994) was an American guitarist who fused rockabilly, jazz, and country to create his own distinctive style. When Rolling Stone magazine selected the 100 Greatest Guitarists of all Time in 2003, senior editor David Fricke ranked Gatton 63rd on his ballot.[1] On May 26, 2010, Gibson.com ranked Gatton as the 27th best guitarist of all time.[2]

Early life[edit]

Gatton was born in Washington, D.C., on September 4, 1945. His father, Daniel W. Gatton Sr., was a rhythm guitarist known for his unique percussive style, who left his musical career to support his family with a more stable profession. The younger Gatton grew up to share his father's passion for the instrument.


Danny Gatton began his career playing in bands while still a teenager. He began to attract wider interest in the 1970s while playing guitar and banjo for the group Liz Meyer & Friends. He made his name as a performer in the Washington, DC, area during the late 1970s and 1980s, both as a solo performer and with his Redneck Jazz Explosion, in which he traded licks with virtuoso pedal steel player Buddy Emmons over a tight bass-drums rhythm that drew from blues, country, bebop, and rockabilly influences. He also backed rockabilly singer Robert Gordon and country music star Roger Miller. He contributed a cover of Apricot Brandy, a song by Elektra Records-supergroup Rhinoceros, to the 1990 compilation album Rubáiyát.

Playing style[edit]

Gatton's playing combined musical styles such as jazz, blues and rockabilly in an innovative fashion, which earned him the nickname the Telemaster. He was also called the world's greatest unknown guitarist and The Humbler, based on his ability to out-play any guitarist brave enough to compete against him in "head-cutting" jam sessions.[citation needed] Amos Garrett, guitar player for singer Maria Muldaur, gave Gatton his "Humbler" nickname.[3] A photo published in the October 2007 issue of Guitar Player magazine shows Gatton playing in front of a neon sign that says "Victims Wanted."

Gatton did not attain much commercial success in his career. Guitar Player speculated that Gatton might have been “so stylistically diffuse and so relentlessly virtuosic in styles that are usually mutually exclusive, that it may be off-putting to people to have so much coming at them so quickly.” [4] While Gatton's album 88 Elmira Street was nominated for a 1990 Grammy Award for the song Elmira Street Boogie in the category Best Rock Instrumental Performance,, the award ultimately went to guitarist Eric Johnson for Cliffs of Dover.

However, Gatton was appreciated by many of his better-known peers, such as Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Steve Earle, and his childhood idol Les Paul. During his career, Gatton appeared on stage with guitar heroes such as Alvin Lee, Lonnie Mack and Jimmie Vaughan. Gatton had roomed with guitarist Roy Buchanan in Nashville, Tennessee in the mid '60s and they became frequent jamming partners, according to Guitar Player magazine's October 2007 issue. He also performed with his old teenage friends Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen (from Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna) as Jack and the Degenerates. While those recordings were never released, live tapes are in circulation. In 1993, singer Chris Isaak invited Gatton to record tracks for Isaak's San Francisco Days CD. Reports of where Gatton's playing can be heard on this CD vary, with unconfirmed reports placing him on either Can't Do a Thing (To Stop Me), 5:15, or Beautiful Houses.[citation needed]

Gatton typically 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.) 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.[5]

Gatton originally used Fender guitar picks, but he switched to a jazz-style teardrop pick upon the recommendation of Roy Buchanan. He was capable of intricate passages combining Bluegrass, bebop, and garage sounds, executed with amazing clarity and at dizzying speeds. 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]

Among his admirers are Les Paul, James Burton, Lenny Breau, Joe Bonamassa (whom Danny mentored when Joe was eleven years old), Vince Gill, Evan Johns (of Evan Johns and His H-Bombs), Chris Cheney, Bill Kirchen, Albert Lee, Steve Vai, Buckethead, Arlen Roth, Johnny Hiland, Ricky Skaggs, Slash, and Richie Sambora.[6]

Final years, death and legacy[edit]

Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, Gatton worked closely with Fender to create his very own signature model guitar, the Danny Gatton Signature Telecaster which was released in 1990.[7] On October 4, 1994, Gatton locked himself in the garage on his farm in Newburg, Maryland, and committed suicide by shooting himself.[4] While he left no note or explanation,[6] both members of his family and close friends believe Gatton had secretly suffered from depression for many years.[8] Friend and drummer Dave Elliott was quoted as saying that he suspected that Gatton suffered from a depression since he first met him more than 20 years earlier. “Danny had something much deeper to do something like this. It’s not the blues, it’s depression, and there’s nothing you can do when it gets to that point.”[4]

On January 10–12, 1995, the 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.[9] Those shows (with all musicians performing for free) raised $25,000 for Gatton's wife and daughter.

Danny Gatton has been described as possessing an extraordinary proficiency on his instrument, "a living treasury of American musical styles."[10] In 2009, John Previti, who played bass guitar with Danny for 18 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"[8] Legendary guitarist Steve Vai reckons Danny "comes closer than anyone else to being the best guitar player that ever lived."[11] Accomplished guitar veteran Albert Lee said of Gatton: "Here’s a guy who’s got it all.”[12]

Since the advent of YouTube, decades-old bootleg performances of Gatton have garnered millions of views,[13] eliciting high praise from fans worldwide.[14]


  • 1975 – American Music
  • 1978 – Redneck Jazz
  • 1987 – Unfinished Business
  • 1990 – Blazing Telecasters (live April 27, 1984)
  • 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 (live December 30 & 31, 1978)
  • 1996 – The Humbler (with Robert Gordon)
  • 1998 – In Concert 9/9/94
  • 1998 – Untouchable
  • 1998 – Portraits
  • 1999 – Anthology
  • 2004 – Funhouse (live June 10 & 11, 1988)
  • 2005 – Oh No! More Blazing Telecasters (with Tom Principato)
  • 2006 – Redneck Jazz Explosion, Vol. 2 (live December 30 & 31, 1978)
  • 2007 – Live in 1977: The Humbler Stakes His Claim
  • 2011 – Blue Skies Calling, a CD 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."[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2011-10-30. 
  2. ^ "Top 50 Guitarists of All Time – 30 to 21". Gibson. Retrieved 2011-10-30. 
  3. ^ "Danny Gatton, The Humbler | RCR | American Roots Music". Rubbercityreview.com. 2010-09-24. Retrieved 2016-08-10. 
  4. ^ a b c Harrington, Richard (1994-10-06). "October 4th, 1994 - THE HUMBLER - Danny Gatton". Thehumblermovie.com. Retrieved 2016-08-10. 
  5. ^ Jesse Gress (2007-10-02). "10 Things You Gotta Do to Play Like Danny Gatton". GuitarPlayer.com. Retrieved 2016-08-10. 
  6. ^ a b Heibutzki, Ralph (2003). Unfinished Business: The Life & Times of Danny Gatton. Backbeat Books, San Francisco. ISBN 0-87930-748-X. 
  7. ^ "The Definitive Danny Gatton Web Site". Dannygatton.com. Retrieved 2014-02-24. 
  8. ^ a b "Danny Gatton: 'World's Greatest Unknown Guitarist'". NPR. October 4, 2009. Retrieved 2014-02-24. 
  9. ^ Herndon, David (January 9, 1995). "A Tribute to Danny Gatton". Newsday. Retrieved January 4, 2011. 
  10. ^ "Chairman Ralph's Ministry Of Truth". Chairmanralph.com. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  11. ^ "Playlist: Danny Gatton « Guitar Aficionado". Guitaraficionado.com. November 15, 2011. Retrieved 2014-02-24. 
  12. ^ "Albert Lee Interview : Guitar Interviews". Guitarinternational.com. Retrieved 2014-02-24. 
  13. ^ "danny gatton – YouTube". M.youtube.com. April 10, 1989. Retrieved 2014-02-24. 
  14. ^ "Danny Gatton at Gallagher's – YouTube". M.youtube.com. December 23, 2006. Retrieved 2014-02-24. 
  15. ^ "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. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]