Danny D.

by
Matthew Chernus

 

 

I'm on my way to interview local singer-songwriter, Danny D before his show tonight at Ford Duncan Theater (the former Freedom Hill). I just got off my cell phone with him, and between odd grunts and hollers, he told me to meet him backstage.

The grunts and hollers are the effect of Tourette's Syndrome, which Danny has suffered from since childhood.

As I walk across the parking lot toward backstage, the lawn to my right is infiltrated with middle-aged yuppies doing their best to tailgate without breaking any laws.

It is August and the evening air is warm. Danny D and his band are opening for 1980's pop-remnants, Air Supply. I'm about to interview a man with Tourette's Syndrome who is not only a thriving adult contemporary singer from Hamtramck, but also a successful business owner.

But first, I need a drink.

Danny has been writing music for 30 years--only taking a break later in his life to start a family and grow a few businesses. At the age of 46, he looks youthful, though this could be due to the bleached hair and boot cut pants that he's wearing. His face is tanned from the midsummer sun, which lends a leather look to his features that is all the more enduring. Relaxed is a proper way to sum up Danny D's personality.

His repertoire ranges from original love songs to covers. He reveres Rod Stewart to no end, and it shines through in his stage presence and general person.

I find my way into the empty auditorium--seating has yet to commence due to a late sound check. Here I watch Danny's band run through a quick take of one of their songs. His band is made of a brood of talented musicians who, when left alone later in the night to do an impromptu jam, prove to be a very stellar blues band.

Dealing with Tourette's Syndrome

Watching Danny perform, I wonder how anyone can stand in front of a thousand Air Supply fans without swearing uncontrollably, Tourette's or not. Then I see him twitch once or twice from behind his piano, and I understand that this is a man with a constant struggle.

Danny was diagnosed with Tourette's when he was 7 years old. "It went in remission when I was in fifth grade, but then it came back," he says.

Tourette's Syndrome is, by definition, a neurological disorder characterized by multiple facial and other body tics (known as Motor Tics). It begins in the childhood of those who suffer from the disease and may stay with the person for the span of his or her lifetime. The tics are often, and usually not the only noticeable effect--forced grunting and compulsive swearing are other effects brought on by this disease (Vocal Tics).

We can all remember seeing a character on TV or in a movie with Tourette's Syndrome, swearing violently and frighteningly. Often an episode of a daytime TV talk show will exploit teenagers with the disease, prompting an entire hour's worth of censored bleeps, making this disorder seem frightening and wildly unbelievable. Not all see it this way though; in fact, Danny entirely disagrees with that summation.

"I thought those shows were great," he says referring to daytime television talk shows. It was the best thing that could have happened. A lot of people could then relate (their lives) to those shows, which helps out with a lot of kids."

As for how they portray what seems like only the most extreme cases of Tourette's, Danny again disagrees and tells of his own childhood struggle.

"I was pretty extreme when I was younger and, as I got older, it got a little milder," he says. "I used to swear too and be obsessive compulsive."

Though cases of Tourette's Syndrome are often severe, it is possible to overcome the effects Tourette's has on one's life; Danny D is walking proof of this.

The crowd at Ford Duncan wasn't there to see a singer with Tourette's Syndrome. There was no sideshow attraction atmosphere that brought people out in hopes of hearing Danny yell out the word 'motherfucker' in a song.

This never happens, but what does occur is mothers bringing their children, who also suffer from Tourette's, to his shows so that they can see how other people have overcome the disease.

"I'd love to become famous and become a spokesman for Tourette's to say, 'I have Tourette's too and I'm not ashamed of that'", he says. "I have kids and kids today have peer pressure. They turn to drugs, they turn to drinking. You need some mentors out there to say, 'Hey you don't need to resort to that.' Pick up a guitar, go for your dreams. So you make noises, who gives a shit? Go do it, I did it."

Tourette's is not something you can just cure with a pill, although there is medication that can help subdue the effects of the disease. For the most part, people who suffer from Tourette's do what Danny does--use mind-control to push through the tics and focus on what you love. In his case it's music and it truly does show.

The man

Waiting for Danny to take the stage, I settle back into my seat, equipped with a $6 beer. Danny comes out with his band after a brief introduction from a suntanned blonde (whom I later find out is his girlfriend). He walks onstage with nothing more than a big friendly wave to the crowd. Walking to the microphone, Danny is looking down at his feet. I can't tell if he's nervous or if he just doesn't give a damn.

Danny speaks to the crowd like the emcee of a talent show who is hired to make sure everyone has a good time. The venue was only half-full when Danny got onstage, but that's more than respectful for a local opener. The crowd consisted mostly of middle-aged women on a girls-night-out and couples ditching the kids for a night. There was a spirited cheering section in which men with big beer bellies shouted out "D!" in between his songs.

The charisma oozes out slowly from Danny. His charm is such that if you walk away fast you might not get caught up in it, but if you let Danny take you where he wants, all is lost.

Initially, I didn't know what to think of him or his band. I was hoping no one would catch me checking my watch. Then something happened. He moved me. I got sucked into his Average Joe charm, the true affection he seems to have for his music and the fun he seems to have onstage. I've seen mosh pits and yawned, but when Danny throws out a shirt to some soccer mom from Royal Oak--well there's just something special about that.

Danny has self-released two albums. The songs are the kind of soft rock radio hits that don't compel you to remember the title, but once the lyrics and melody are in your head, they stick for a while.

None of his songs are about politics or religion; those topics are taboo when you're dealing with this type of suburban crowd. Almost every song performed tonight is about one thing--his love for a mysterious woman.

But just as mysterious as said woman, is that there is not one moment during the set where I could ever detect his Tourette's Syndrome. It seemed the only thing this guy is suffering from is a broken heart.

His love life must have given him ample material as he is twice divorced and has five children, two of whom he adopted. There is still not a hint of bitterness in his voice about such matters.

"It's a rock and roll story," he says of his marriages. "Nothing bad, me and I my ex's are all still friends. We just grew apart and went our own ways."

Some songs in his collection may even catch you off guard. While sitting in your seat thinking you are listening to a song about some great summer love of Danny's past, you may really be listening to a song written about a day playing a game with one of his kids.

"With 'Didn't See Me' I think about my kids who were in the basement when I was writing that song," he says. "My daughter turns around and says 'Didn't see me, dad! Didn't see me!' Little shit like that happens and it makes (songs) happen."

Artist; business man; family man

Before his soundcheck, I meet Danny at a limo behind the former Freedom Hill. The limo belongs to one of Danny's companies. We hop in with his girlfriend who will introduce him to the crowd later. Nearly a case of beer bottles reside in cup holders and shelves throughout the limo's interior.

Danny owns a lot of shit like this--he runs several companies: one business is a trailer rental company; another is a limousine company (hence the comfortable location of this interview). Another company provides jukeboxes to just about every bar you frequent, complete with Danny D songs that are preprogrammed to play every two hours.

It took Danny ten years of hard work to amass his business brigade, but the pressure of providing for his family and an equally long break from music lit a fire under him, and his entrepreneurial spirit shined bright.

He also owns a bar, Whiskey in the Jar, in gritty Hamtramck. Thus, he is no greenhorn when it comes to promotion. When I leave the show tonight I will notice a Danny D postcard on every car window that I pass.

"With promotion you have to put it in their eye," he tells me. "You have to keep it in their face. You can't put out an ad one time and expect it to stick."

And Danny does what many bands stay away from--buying his own advertising in local mags to promote his shows.

While leaning back in the limo's black leather seats, I realize that I have never met anyone with Tourette's syndrome before, let alone sat down and interviewed one. I'm not exactly sure how I should quote him. If he starts swearing between sentences am I, as a journalist, obligated to quote him verbatim? Oh well, that's my editor's problem.

After talking for a while it becomes easy to discount the interruptions that Tourette's brings on, at least in Danny's case. The outbreaks that consist of indistinguishable hollers (never once does Danny utter a single profanity) come like a bad case of the hiccups. Between sentences, or whenever there is a brief break in his speech, he lets out a "yelp" or "yip" though I now realize that is not a very precise description at all.

So why is that while we sit together in private, the disease is noticeable, but it doesn't seem to affect him onstage? This, I find out, is the million dollar question in the life of Danny D. He doesn't know.

"I don't hold it back when I am on stage," he says. "It just doesn't happen. I'm so focused with my singing that it doesn't happen. It may affect me during a guitar solo or something, but I move around so much on stage that if I'm making a noise it's really not noticeable.

"When I'm singing I don't think about it, I don't think about anything; I just play."

Danny closes his set with a cover of The Monkees' "Day Dream Believer." Don't laugh buddy; every single person in attendance is on their feet and screaming as soon as the first bar is played. The atmosphere is so charged, and Danny is so pumped up, he leaps into the crowd and holds the microphone to one thrilled woman's mouth after another.

Hands were being waved from side-to-side, free shirts and hats thrown into happy hands culminating when the entire crowd gave one woman a standing ovation for catching a Frisbee.

It may have been trite and nostalgic, but the crowd loved it. Doesn't he know how much cash he could make out in Vegas?

The type of bands he fits on a bill with are often those that tour each summer, in other words, nostalgia acts.

"Yeah, (my music) is kind of dated," he admits. "But I feel that a lot of bands are going to have to go back to the old way of music, and now bands are redoing songs. They have nowhere to go because what's the next thing?"

When speaking of the "old way of music" Danny is referring to the days of the singer-songwriter. The days of lounges, big juicy steaks and maybe a hint of Rat Pack. He's thinking less Jay-Z and more Sinatra.

"I'm not Kid Rock," he says. "I'm not going to get that crowd; it's just not me. I'm not going to knock them down, it's all pop, hip-hop, and rock and roll--and that's not me."

Beyond genre-labeling and pigeonholing, Danny sees major problems in today's record industry. Things are far different in 2005 then the days when radio made you a star, and a well-written love song sold millions of records.

"I think that the record companies are freaking out. You can steal music on the internet today, you don't have to buy a record," he says. "Well, older people would rather buy the record.

"If a record company came up to me right now I wouldn't even ask for an advance," he says about his goals in the music business. "I don't want anything. Just give me a shot; I don't want any money."

But he is content doing things himself--a trait seen more in Punk Rock than Adult-Pop.

"I do it (distribution) on my own," he tells me. " I go through FYE, Borders Books; it's easier if you're signed, but I can do it locally."

When Danny stepped off stage he was wearing a crimson red button-up shirt and white pants, ala Rod Stewart.

Everyone loved it but everyone in the crowd was also old enough to have actually seen The Faces in concert. This does not phase Danny, who wonders why grandmothers loved Clay Aiken and would spend heavy money on his concert tickets.

"This is the audience I want," he said in response to the, admittedly, mind-boggling success of Aiken.

"The record companies have got to start signing older artists. You've got a 30 and up crowd. You're missing a whole market."

The future

Danny has built a great life for himself. He started from scratch and created a line of profitable business. He has self-released two records and has opened for such commercially successful acts as Uncle Kracker and David Lee Roth.

But there's one thing missing from his life, and you can tell it's bugging him.

"I'd like to win a Grammy," Danny says. "It's not necessarily that I would (want to) be the guy singing it. I'd like to write a song that maybe somebody else sings and (gets) a Grammy out of it. I'd like to win a Grammy; it's just something I want to do."

As he works to accomplish this goal he will stay busy playing the Detroit circuit and making working class women swoon before they rock out to someone like Bad Company. Still, we should all hope he does win that Grammy someday.

Just imagine how great his acceptance speech would be-- heartfelt, victorious, and totally unpredictable in a vocal tic kind of way.

Visit Danny D. at www.dannydlive.com

Danny would like to tell anyone suffering from Tourette's syndrome that you can contact him via his e-mail found on the website above.


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