DANNY LISTON interview October 2013
By P. Archambeau and Y. Philippot-Degand
RTJ : Hello DANNY,
Thanks for answering our questions for The Road to Jacksonville, webzine dedicated to the Blues and to the Southern Rock.
Danny : So glad to respond to your questions... Thanks.
RTJ : First, can you tell us where you come from ?
Danny : I'm from St.Louis, Missouri, it's in the heartland of the US.
RTJ : How did you discover the music ?
Danny : I was raised in a musical family. My mom played on the radio back in the 30's and Pat and my grandma was a musician as well, so I was surrounded by it.
RTJ : You are two brothers, how did it work on your way to learn music ? Does a kind of emulation exist ?
Danny : My brother Pat had a band when he was about 14 years old. I would go set up his equipment and watch his drummer. I originally played drums, and played briefely with Pat in a soul revue, but learned to play guitar by watching him give lessons to my friends. He was impatient with me so I would practice when he wasn't home. Pat didn't know I could play guitar until I had been playing about a year. I wouldn't say an emulation of each other but we had a lot of the same influences.
RTJ : What were your first influences ?
Danny : My earliest influences were Little Richard, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, almost all were R&B. The only white guys I listened to later were Johnnie Winter and Gregg Allman.
RTJ : When you were young, you had several bands, can you tell us more about your debuts ?
Danny : My first band (Jokers Wild) was all older guys, from my neighborhood, they played parties, and after a short time decided I was too young. My next band was the Soulful Illusions, they were also quite a bit older, but this was the band Pat and I played in together, he played guitar and I played drums. Next was where I met Max Baker, it was a band called Doc Savage. Max was the leader, and we were great friends, and I was funny so Max thought I should be in the band. I played guitar and sang. What made it tough was I wasn't very good on guitar, and had never sung in public, so my service to the band was limited, but having the leader as your best friend, let's just say it was a stacked deck... The next project was Mama's Pride.
RTJ : Is it true that Ronnie Van Zant wanted to produce you and to see you open for Lynyrd Skynyrd ?
Danny : Yeah we played with them in Springfield Mo. and before the show Ronnie told us that Atlantic approached him about producing our 3rd record, he said we'd talk after the show. When we were done with our set he was waiting back in the dressing room, and said " I'm in " we'll get you guys on the second leg of the Street Survivor tour and go in after and cut us a record... Needless to say we were blown away by his enthusiasm... it felt like our big break...
RTJ : How did you meet Ronnie Van Zant ?
Danny : We hadn't met Ronnie before this but at one time our management company had them , us and the Outlaws. When they left there were a lot of bad feelings between them and the mangement co. some how we got caught in the middle, so there was a weird vibe between the two bands, but by the time we played with them everything had calmed down, and it was all good to go.
RTJ : For our readers, can you tell us how Mama’s Pride formed ? Where comes the name of the band from ?
Danny : Mama's Pride was formed in 72'. My brother Pat came home from calif. for a visit, Pat, Max and I sat around one night singing, and decided that we needed to do something with this. Long story, short, Pat came back for Max and I we recruited a drummer, and a bass player, and moved to California. The name was in honor of Pat and I's mom who gave up her career to raise us, so it was the least we could do...
RTJ : If you have to describe Mama’s Pride's music, is it Soul, Blues, Southern Rock ? Or a bit of everything ?
Danny : I think the music of Mama's Pride takes a little of a lot of influences. We all played in soul bands, blues bands, and some rock. I think when you put all of that together, it's what Southern Rock is for the most part.
RTJ : I consider that Mama’s Pride is the equal of the great Southern bands. I like very much Mama’s Pride for its mid-tempo rock ballades that were your trademarks. Despite the fact that you toured a lot, what was missing to get you a bigger recognition ?
Danny : I believe the key ingredient that was missing was the BIG tours. You figure Skynyrd toured with the WHO, the OUTLAWS toured with the Doobie Brothers, we did Charlie Daniels, Marshall Tucker, great bands, great people, but we were playing 5-7 thousand seats auditoriums, while these other guys were playing 15-30 thousand seats places. There were other factors, but it's all speculation. With the way I abused myself with booze I probably wouldn't be here today had we made it, so in the end, maybe it just wasn't meant to be...
RTJ : Even if the gigs are now rare, do you think that we have still a chance to see you play live in Europe ?
Danny : I never say never, but it would be challenging. I have wanted to play in Europe for a long time but it would take some serious planning...
RTJ : You are from St Louis like Pavlov's Dog, do you know them ? Did you have the opportunity to play with them ?
Danny : We know some of the guys from Pavlov's Dog very well. David Surkamp, Steve Scorfina, we recorded at Doug Rayburn's studio. He recently passed away, but what a kind man he was. Mike Saffron, plays around town, we actually only played with them once, way different music styles. I just played a show with Scorfina, and Soupe from the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. It was a great time...
RTJ : Let's talk about your last record God Used Mississippi. It was made apparently in two places, a part in St Louis and the other in Memphis, can you tell us how you recorded it ?
Danny : We recorded a bunch of tracks in Memphis in 2011. Then we decided to add some newer songs I wrote to the record but couldn't get back to Memphis, so we recorded at a friend's studio here in St.Louis. It was a little trying getting the tracks to come close sonically to each other, but in the end I believe Jim Gaines made it happen. By the way I sent him a copy of my review in Bands of Dixie, and he was surprised that anyone in France had ever heard of him... If you would ever want to get an interview, let me know I can help with that.
RTJ : Can you tell us more about Christian Rock ? How is it perceived in the USA ?
Danny : I apparently missed the question about Christian Music in the USA. It's hard to describe the industry, because I am so far out of the loop on that. My age, my writing, and my style of music aren't something that is even remotely common in mainstream Christian Music. I did a Gospel conference in 09', and none of the American journalist knew or cared about my past, being signed by Ahmet Ertugün, recording at Criteria, and so on, but the European journalists knew it all, and it was such a relief to be able to talk about music, not hype... I consider myself a musician that is absolutely a Christian, my CD No Other Name, was a collection of songs that I wrote for my church, because I couldn't find songs to sing that I was passionate about the lyrics and the music. Much of the CCM is pop music, and it didn't move me, and if I don't feel it, I don't think I can get others to feel it as well. I'm not saying that there isn't some great Christian artist out there, but there's a lot of mindless uninspired bubble gum as well. I would like to be considered just an artist, and let my songs speak for themselves. God Used Mississippi is more of what I'm used to, the stories. Yes my faith will always be somewhere in any project I do, because it saved my life and if I can write a song that positively effects someone's life, well that's the goal of a songwriter...
RTJ : On this album, there is of course your brother Pat on the guitars but also Jack Holder (Black Oak Arkansas amongst other), how did you meet him ? Do you know him for a long time ?
Danny : I met Jack when we were doing No Other Name. He was friends with the engineer Kevin, and hadn't been playing much, but Kevin said that Jack could use the work, so I thought it would be good to use someone that's as hungry as I am, and it was magic, and I also gained a good friend. Now Jack's so busy it's hard to get him for a session, which I'm happy for him! He's a great guy.
RTJ : How did you share the guitar parts ? Did everyone have a exactly definited role ?
Danny : I would love to sound organized enough to assign parts, but truthfully we chose them by their availability...
RTJ : We also have on pedal-steel Don E. Curtis, since deceased, did you often have the opportunity to record and play with him, who was also from St Louis ?
Danny : No I didn't have a chance to work with Don before, but what a absolutely amazing talent he was. Such a loss. I sat and listened to him play for a few hours at the session. I was that captivated. He did seminars all over the world, but would come back home and give lessons at Scotty's Music. Humble guy...
RTJ : The tunes on this album are varied, how do you compose ?
Danny : I write different ways, but mostly I get ideas while driving a lot. I sing the melody into my phone (a feature that I LOVE) and then when I get home I start working the chords and melody, and sing anything to see if a title comes out of nowhere. It usually works, but then there's those songs that take forever... I'm not big on those but it happens.
RTJ : I like very much « Ashamed Of Yourself » that is a true tune of Southern Rock, will you make in the future an album with only Southern tunes ?
Danny : I doubt if I would make a album of southern rock songs only, or at least what I think that would be. I write a lot of songs and I always want to use the best. Unfortunately, for a songwriter, his best song is the last one he has written!
RTJ : Can you tell us more about the first song « God Used Mississippi » which is on a funk/bluesy tempo, and gives its name to thealbum ?
Danny : « God Used Mississippi » is a true story about my mom, brother Pat, and I. When we were kids my mom, who was born in Mississippi, used to take us there, it seemed like twice a year. I always noticed that she laughed a lot when we went there and she seemed happier when we were there. What I didn't know as a kid, was that my dad was an alcoholic and we went there to get away from that craziness. So I have always had a very special place in my heart for Mississippi.
RTJ : A tune like « I'll Keep Standing » reconciles remarkably the dance side and in the same time a quality of composition and arrangement that can satisfy the purists while trying to convey a positive message. It makes me think musically a little to the « Sylvia » of the missing Taz Di Gregorio in his album Shake Rag. Can you tell us more about the creation of this tune ?
Danny : « I'll Keep Standing » was written in the groove of an old Booker T. song. Memphis from start to finish What I try to do in my songs is bring a message of hope. I know when I went through my addiction problems, I thought I was the only person on Earth that felt depressed, suffered from anxiety, and considered taking my life on more than one occasion, so I don't want anyone to ever feel lost and alone, we all have issues and with the right help we can make it. I always joke when I do speaking engagements that I was 52 episodes of Dr. Phil wrapped up in one guy...
RTJ : « I’m So Glad » gives us feelings formerly dispensed by Bill Withers or Marvin Gaye, can you tell us more about this tune ?
Danny : This song is my story. It describes a guy that works hard for success, and when he gets it, it almost kills him. There's a line where I say "I was held captive, by who should I be, when I looked in the mirror, I thought , who's that lookin at me" I remember the night that happened, I literally was so far out there, I wasn't sure if I was really seeing myself or someone else. I know that sounds crazy, but it was my reality. Now you see why I say I'm 52 episodes of Dr.Phil, dont you??? LOL Musically I wanted something sort of Little Feet sounding, it's interesting that you hear it in the vein of Marvin or Bill Withers, that's quite a compliment... The only thing I would have done differently is have James the drummer play 8th notes on the snare, but I think it still works well.
I would like to thank you for the interview, and if the opportunity ever arises, I would really love to come to Europe and play. Thank you.