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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
"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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
"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.
'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."
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
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."
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.
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
"When I'm singing I don't think about it,
I don't think about anything; I just play."
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
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.
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
"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."
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.
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.
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."
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
"The record companies have got to start signing
older artists. You've got a 30 and up crowd. You're missing a whole market."
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
would like to tell anyone suffering from Tourette's syndrome that you can contact
him via his e-mail found on the website above.