Michael Witthaus interviewed Danny Klein by telephone from the bass player’s home in Boston on 8 September 2009. Look for Michael’s story in this Thursday’s Hippo Press.
MW: What are you working on tonight?
DK: We’re just doing a Full House rehearsal, we don’t have a ton of gigs coming up and we’re working on some new stuff.
MW: I remember seeing you with Geils in San Francisco at Winterland in the early 70’s. When the house lights came on, we still wouldn’t let you leave.
DK; Bill Graham was always good to us. The first time we played, I think it was Winterland. We were opening for Eric Burdon and War. We walked in off the plane. It was our first time in San Francisco. War started playing Slipping Into Darkness. I wanted to pick up my bass and my bag and go back to the airport and go home – because they were killer.
MW: They were a good band, but I imagine you guys recovered enough to deliver a respectable showing. In those days there were a lot of bands that were on top of the bill over you that wished it was the other way around.
DK: It’s always nice, when somebody would have a little ego thing and stomp and pout and want to end the night, we’d tell them, sure. I’d rather go on before somebody. You go on last, when everybody’s tired.
MW: Who’s in Danny Klein’s Full House?
DK: Besides me, there’s Dave Quintiliani on keyboards and vocals. He’s also the music director, which means he gets all the crap work. Anything I don’t want to do I tell him to do. We have Steve Gouette on guitar and vocals, Artie Eaton lead vocals, Jim Taft on drums and vocals, and Richard “Rosey” Rosenblatt on harp. He use to own Tone Cool Records, and he’s a great harp player.
MW: So it’s a J. Geils type configuration?
DK: Right. Sometimes we use horns, but for the Great Bay show were using a six-piece like the original Geils Band. It’s a celebration of Geils music is what it is – basically all J. Geils music. When I first started this, I was doing some gigs with James Montgomery and Friends, and we did some charity stuff. I knew some people that did it, and I would sit in on a couple of blues songs, and we’d play a Geils tune or two. Then we decided (a couple of guys who were playing there) why don’t we do all Geils things, so that’s what we did. At the time I started this thing, two or three years ago, Geils hadn’t gone out since ’99 on tour, and nobody was playing it. So it seemed like the perfect thing to do. I miss playing the music. Since then, the original Geils band, minus Stephen Jo Bladd, has gotten together for five gigs, and hopefully we’ll get together for some more. We opened the House of Blues in Boston. But before that there wasn’t anybody else doing it, so that’s why I started doing it.
MW: You have another musical project.
DK: There’s a thing called Rockphoria we’ve been doing with a number of other guys, both guitar players are from New Hampshire originally (Mike Smith is one). It’s a mixed media classic rock kind of thing. It’s gonna be like three video screens and we do 60’s 70’s a little bit of the 80’s. It’s less playing all the songs than playing a lot of medleys, parts of songs that morph into other ones. We’ll do some mini-sets by the greats like Dylan and the Stones, then an outro which will involve three or four singers. We’ve been working on that for a while now, for a couple of years. We’re looking for funding now. We played the intro up in Gunstock, Full House also played. That’s where I met Chris Smith of Soak, who’s also doing the Great Bay Festival, that’s how my playing the festival all came about. This Rockphoria thing should be really interesting. It’s interesting for me because the only music I ever really played was blues and R&B, from the 60’s and starting in the 40’s and I know that fairly well. But I never did cover band stuff in high school or anything. I didn’t start playing until I was 21. All this classic rock stuff is great, because everybody else in the world has played this in a band in high school or something, and I never played anything – Stones, Hendrix, or anybody. So I’m learning all this stuff and it’s great for me. I really enjoy it. (the show debuted in Gilford at a benefit for the Ryan Charland Memorial Scholarship Fund at Gunstock last June 27, where it was billed as a “multimedia explosion of the age of classic rock through video and live performance”)
MW: What about Stone Crazy?
DK: We’re no longer playing together. We put an album out that Jay actually produced and played on a little bit, and Seth played a couple of cuts on, and you can still get it at CD Freedom. I left music for about 10 years after Geils stopped. I was a chef, I still am a chef – when I have to be. I started to get back into music, I lived in Fitchburg, and I wanted to play again. I did some local gigs with some local people and one of the guys was Babe Pino on harp. At ensuing gigs his brother Ken who plays guitar would come and play with us. He was Johnny Copeland’s guitar player for 10 years. Kenny got me a gig playing with Debbie Davies, a blues artist, she plays guitar, she’s still around and doing stuff. We went on the road for a couple of years, then we decided we’d start our own band – which was Stonecrazy. We did that for about 10 years and did the album, and we haven’t since I started this other thing we haven’t really done anything. Blues is great, and I love the music, but I can’t do a two hour drive, four hours at the gig, and make a hundred dollars if I don’t eat or drink, and then drive home for two hours. Everybody says it’s great exposure, and I tell them you can die from exposure. It was a lot of fun, but the blues scene is rough, even nationally, but especially here. The pay isn’t there and I ain’t getting any younger.
MW: I talked to James and he talked about the benefit he did and the all-star benefits he did. That must have been fun.
DK: Yeah, I know James from years ago, because he’s a Detroit guy originally, so we know him from when we played out in Detroit and Boston, and crossed paths for I don’t know, it’s gotta be more years than I even want to mention. 30 or so anyway. We see other once in a while and cross paths. Yeah, it’s always fun to be with James, he’s a great guy.
MW: This was the catalyst for Full House?
DK: Yeah, we started doing a few Geils tunes and said why don’t we do a lot of them. I said, OK, I happen to know those!
MW: Give me something I know, not Hendrix which I don’t know.
DK: Right. But it’s funny, because then Geils got back together. We did five gigs, a couple at House of Blues, two in Detroit, and we played Atlantic City and we might do more but I said to myself, well I’m in like Flynn now. I know all the Geils songs. Until we started rehearsing and changing the keys and arrangements. So I have to remember which Geils band I’m in when I’m playing. I was snakebit.
MW: So what are the odds that Geils fans are going to see them on the level of 1999? Is it just a fun thing right now?
DK: Well, for the time being, there are five original members, Stephen doesn’t play drums anymore, and he didn’t play in 1999. We have Marty Richards on drums and Duke Robillard is on guitar, and Mitch Shinoor is doing backup vocals. We decided we’d ease ourselves into it and play a gig here and a gig there. See how we felt and how the people felt and that’s pretty much what we’re doing right now. I wouldn’t count out that we do a tour, but for the time being I think when we go out we’ll probably do two or three or four and then take some time off. Do it that way, ease ourselves in. We’re still great on stage, but we’re older than pepper at this point.
MW: You didn’t lose a step on the 99 tour.
DK: The feedback we’ve gotten from the shows we did is that we haven’t and especially in Detroit which was always our second home and we played everywhere in Michigan. The feedback we got from there was that we were just as good as before and we try to be. So yeah, I think there will be more shows. I don’t know if there’s demand for a whole tour, but right now we’re gonna do a few at a time and keep doing it because there’s no substitute for being with the guys and doing the original stuff.
MW: You’d definitely say that considering the band you’re working with is a Geils tribute band of sorts.
DK: That’s true. But you know what would happen … the great thing about the guys in the band is that they’re all Geils fans, which is great, and they know the music, and we have a lot of fun just playing together and doing it. It’s not like work which is why I’m doing it. If for some reason J. Geils Band got back together and we did tours and we were back in the scene then I think I would probably still do gigs with Full House. But then we would probably branch out and do other material that’s not Geils – blues, R&B, stuff like that. We could still be together as a unit and not have to do all Geils. I don’t see disbanding one in favor of the other.
MW: This unit’s been together 3 years?
DK: Yeah, we’ve done a couple of personnel changes lately, new lead singer, new drummer. Taft drummed with Fools briefly. The rest have been there the whole time. Yeah.
MW: It’s your first time at Great Bay – are you looking forward to it for any other reason than the fun of getting out and playing?
DK: Well that the main reason you do it. A new place and I guess this is the second year and it’s nice to get in on the ground floor and do a local festival kind of thing. I mean, it would be great to do Comcast Center or any of those things, but it’s nice to do the local scene thing. You know when you do grassroots stuff, that’s where national people come from is the local thing. If there’s no local scene, you run out of national acts. It’s good to support local things. Like we played Market Days in Concord a couple of years ago and we did Blues & Jazz in Manchester, we’ve done Heritage Days in Cohasset, that kind of stuff. It’s good to support the local thing because that’s really where it all comes from.
MW: Where are you living these days?
DK: I live in Hyde Park. I like to say I live in Boston – we have the same Mayor.
MW: You’re a partner in a restaurant in Cambridge?
DK: You know, that’s done and gone already.
DK: It was a couple of years, I had a small investment in it and I was the pastry chef there. It was doing well in Harvard Square, then they expanded to Post Office Square and Kenmore Square and overextended a little bit I think. It wasn’t that we weren’t doing a lot of business, it was just the conglomeration of them trying to pay all the bills and the economy. It’s too bad it’s not open, but on the other hand, I am very thankful I’m not getting up at 4:30 in the morning to cook anymore. Now I can get back to my usual go to bed at 4:30. I’ll never get skin cancer, I’ll tell ya, because I don’t see that much sun. The restaurant business is my second love in that when I left Geils I went into cooking school. I did the chef thing on and off for a while. I’m not a great chef, it’s all right, but it’s a rough business.
MW: I saw you once at a baseball stadium in Oakland, California opening for Journey.
DK: I remember that, I have the poster on my wall. Bill Graham actually sent out a picture for everyone that played there of that giant stage with the clown and stuff, and Bill was dressed up as one of the clowns walking around the back.
MW: I was working at a record store in Alameda at the time of that show, and Bill Graham’s people called looking for circus music, which we didn’t have in the store, but I drove all over the East Bay tracking down circus records, and I got to sit behind the stage as a payment.
DK: You were backstage?
MW: No, in the VIP section, not the actual backstage.
DK: OK, so I don’t owe you any drugs or money then? I forget haha.
MW: I think Phil Lynott got everything that day actually.
DK: Ha ha. Another funny thing about that gig, we always did something different on each tour, and for that one Peter rode out on a motorcycle in a sidecar. Of course, the whole picture of the band is there, he’s right in front of me. You can see the tip of my bass and that’s it.
MW: You opened for the Stones in 1981, right?
DK: Yeah, we did their whole European tour, and some west coast shows. At the LA Coliseum, one of the first acts was Prince and he came out with a leopard loincloth and they threw shit at him, and he went like four songs and he was off the stage. It was embarrassing. I love his stuff, I still do. He’s just a musical genius. I don’t know if he’s easy to get along with, I hear he’s not, but he’s not gonna call me anyway so it don’t matter.
MW: He may need a bass player, you never know. Then you’d have to learn Prince songs, after learning Zeppelin, Stones and Hendrix.
DK: They’re easier than Prince songs, that’s for sure.