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Early Blues Interview
Danny Handley

Guitarist/singer/songwriter - Animals and Friends


© Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

I met up with Danny Handley on an Animals & Friends tour with Steve Cropper at The Platform, Morecambe.

Alan:      What are your first musical memories growing up in Burnley, Lancashire?

Danny:   Elvis and the Beatles, that was the first thing I ever did.  In 1980 when John Lennon got shot they showed all the Beatles films on TV and I fell in love with that whole thing, although I was only 4 in 1980.  I fell in love with the whole guitars and things from that, and the Elvis films too, it was a very visual thing but when I started listening to the Beatles albums and I heard Roll Over Beethoven and then I traced it back through Chuck Berry so by the time I was 13 I was listening to the kind of music that Iím still listening to today really.

Alan:      Did you come from a musical family - is there a long musical heritage?

Danny:   My dad taught me to play guitar but he wouldnít ever dream of calling himself a guitar player, but he was very good at singing and he was always singing in the house and he could play a few chords. So when I got a guitar when I was little he was like Eric Clapton to me; he showed me my first chords and got me started, but nobody else.

Alan:      Did you always want to become a musician?

Danny:   Oh yes, from day one, tennis racquets in front of the mirror, every clichť you can possibly imagine, I did it.

Alan:      Am I right in saying you were originally a music teacher at Burnley College?

Danny:   Not originally, no.  I got a job at Nelson & Colne College teaching guitar but that was much later, about 5 or 6 years ago, and I got that through reputation more than musical knowledge because I donít know music structure or why stuff is what it is, I just know how to play it a bit.  But yes, I did teach at Nelson & Colne College for a while.

Alan:      And you taught Lucy Zirins?

Danny:   I did teach Lucy Zirins!  I didnít teach her much, I was already a little bit frightened of her slide playing, she was fantastic.  She was already more or less fully formed, she was great from day one I thought.

© Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.Alan:      How and when did you get started as a musician?

Danny:   I can tell you exactly.  Iíd learnt a couple of chords when I was 5, but I struggled, really struggled, so I gave up but the guitar was always knocking around and Iíd stand with it in front of the mirror but I couldnít play it.  By the time I got to 10/11 years old I got a Les Paul copy, and as soon as I got that and a little Vox amp I went Twang!! "That's it, I donít want to do anything else".  So from the time I was 11 I went to guitar lessons with a guy in Burnley called Dave Duxbury who has taught everybody in Burnley, and then by the time I was 13 I was gigging 4 nights a week.  I was falling asleep in lessons at school because I was working til midnight.

Alan:      What kind of material were you playing in the early days?

Danny:   Pretty much what Iím playing now!  The Shadows, I loved the Shadows, so I learnt a few Hank Marvin ones when I was a kid and did all that, and then a lot of Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee. All Rock and Roll.  Elvis - I wanted to learn to play like Scottie Moore, Elvisís guitar player was an incredible influence on me but I just canít play like he plays.  I just love his playing.

Alan:      What first attracted you to the blues?

Danny:   Chuck Berry.  Wee Wee Hours.  Thatís it.  As soon as I heard Wee Wee Hours at the end of that ďBest OfĒ Chuck Berry LP and Johnny Johnsonís piano playing he just killed me.  That was it.  It was like Rock and Roll but it moved me in a different way.  Rock & Roll did one thing to me but when I heard the blues it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, everything happened, like Bang, a very precise moment when I heard that song.  I even remember saying to my Dad, ďWhatís blues? Why do they call it blues?Ē and he tried to explain it to me, ďBecause what they sing it makes you feel blue, and because my baby left me this morning theyíre all blueĒ but I never understood.  So from Chuck Berry, everything came: Eric Clapton, Peter Green, BB King, Freddie King, Albert King, I just ate it all up.  All through school; everybody else was into Van Halen and I was walking around with BB King's Live at the Regal in my headphones. 

Click here for  Wee Wee Hours, Chuck Berry and His Combo, featuring Johnny Johnson, 1955 78rpm on YouTube

Alan:      What does the blues mean to you?

Danny:   Emotion.  Human spirit.  That kind of feeling where the hair stands up on the bank your neck.  Primal stuff.  I love jazz but it doesnít do what blues does to me.  Yeah, that earthy, primal feeling.

Alan:      Who has influenced you most in your writing and playing?

Danny:   All the guys Iíve mentioned really.  I just spent all my childhood in my bedroom watching videos and trying to see when BB King moved his hand.  All the Chuck Berry stuff because that excited me.  I loved Robert Cray when I was younger.  Stevie Ray Vaughan, George Harrison even though heís not necessarily a blues player, but what a player.  The idea of a guitar solo as a piece of music thatís not just a wriggly noodly thing.  Steve Cropper, that kind of guitar solo is my big influence.  But if I had to line them all up and one stood above the others, itís BB King.

© Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.Alan:      What guitars do you play and which is your favourite?

Danny:   I've got a lot of guitars which are taking up a lot of house room but my favourite has to be the one I use for this tour.  Itís a 1980 Gibson 347, itís like a Gibson 335 but itís a got a coil tap switch attached to it (somebody might know what that means!) .  It does everything that The Animals need from me and I donít have to swap guitars.  I love a Gibson 335 and thatís my favourite ES model.

Alan:      In 2008 you formed the Danny Handley Blues Project.  How did that come about?

Danny:   Frustration really.  Iíd been playing in all kinds of different bands, Iíd been playing bass in touring bands for the best part of 10 years, different theatre, rock and roll shows, one thing and another, and just doing the odd weekend gig here and there with local bands, like the Uptown Band.  Itís like National Service in Burnley, youíve got to play with the Uptown Band.  So I wanted to put something together where I could just play a bit and not have to worry about earning a crust because I was doing that with my other stuff but in my spare time I could slot a few gigs in. 

Alan:      You released an album titled "The Danny Handley Blues Project" with many self-penned numbers and guest artists Zoot Money and Mick Gallagher I believe. How did you get them on board?

Danny:   The truth?  Pete Barton.   Well, Mick came because he was a friend, as Iíd already played with the Animals at that time, so Mick was already a friend.  I hadnít met Zoot but he was passing through going to another gig somewhere else and when I mentioned it to Pete he said, ďZoot Moneyís drivingĒ  and since then me and Zoot have become really good friends, texting dirty jokes to each other all the time.  Heís a funny man!  So, it wasnít necessarily how I got them, but they just came along.

Alan:      Whatís the future of the Danny Handley Blues Project?

Danny:   Everybodyís busy trying to pay for their kids, wives and the houses and the Danny Handley Blues Project ainít gonna pay for a new pair of shoelaces for my kids. So at the moment if I can fit anything in around The Animals I will do it but I canít book anything in because if I do, Pete will undoubtedly get a gig for The Animals and then Iíve got to let the venue down.  Iíve done it three times but now I wonít do it unless I know that Pete or John is on holiday and I know I've got the time and I can carve it in stone.

Alan:      You more recently replaced John Williamson as a full time member of Animals and Friends, how did that come about?

Danny:   It was because he broke his arm and I got the call to do a dep and the first gig was at the Municipal Hall in Colne, at the Rhythm &Blues Festival in 2009, and I did a short two week tour with them; me, Spencer Davies and The Animals and I absolutely loved it and never wanted to go back to do what I was doing.  I did.  I went back to what I was doing and I spent 3 years depressed and then when John Williamson had had enough of the road, and he decided he didnít want to do it anymore, I think I was the easiest option because I knew the set and Iíd been a flea in Peteís ear for 3 years, ďAny gigs yetĒ, you know, always on the radar.  Stay on the radar, kids!

Alan:      You are now on tour with the legendary Steve Cropper; this must be quite an experience for you?

Danny:   Yeah, it was 'overawing'!  At first, completely, I was just, well, for somebody like me whoíd grown up playing those licks which was an everyday part of my life and to then not just meet the person but to play and swap licks with him, which is what weíre doing now.  Heís showing me the Soul Man Licks and IĎm showing him Animalsí licks he wants to know, he's like one of my friends, but that happened very quickly.  Iíd say the first two or three gigs I was like a child on Father Christmasís knee looking at him in awe when he played but then Mickey said, ďStop being so uncool!  Stop staring at himĒ.  So now I look at my monitor and try not to look at him. It's an honour. I feel like these guys have done so much and now they are getting older, not just Steve Cropper but all that lot, and Iím so lucky to be in a position that Iím friends with them now, John, Mickey, Cropper, Spencer.  But thatís all come about because I did an Animals gig.  If I hadnít done that Iíd still be playing bass in a band somewhere.

© Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

© Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

© Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

Alan:      Are there any particular Animals songs that you play that have special meaning to you?

Danny:   Yeah,  We Gotta  Get Out Of This Place is a killer, and I used to listen to that at school.  House of the Rising Sun because it was one of the first songs I ever learned on guitar and I never imagined Iíd be playing that with the Animals.  I enjoy Boom Boom because me and Mickey get to have a bit of a blast at the end.  All of them really, they're all good.

© Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

Alan:      Any Danny Handley compositions in the Animals and Friends set list?

Danny:   Well, not yet, but weíre supposed to be doing an album and Iíve been secretly building a war chest.  Every time I write one I think, ďAhh, I can make that AnimalyĒ, so hopefully if we do a proper Animals album which we hope to do either this year or for the 50th anniversary next year Iíll be ready with a box full of songs for them to dismiss at will!

Alan:      After the Steve Cropper tour in the UK, Animals and Friends have extensive tours planned all over Europe in the coming months, are you getting used to all the travelling now you're a mega-star!?

Danny:   I wish, thatíd be great.   Something that Mickey said and I thought,  yeah, heís right.  We donít get paid for the gigs, we get paid for the travelling.  The gigs are just great, even if itís just two people in a pub in the middle of a frozen wasteland, itís great.  Itís called playing, not working; the work's the travelling  ..... and Pete Barton makes us travel!  But again, I do love it.  The others are so used to it but I still get a kick out of walking into an airport holding a guitar.  I used to go on holiday and see somebody and think, ďWhoa, heís got a guitar, how cool is that to walk into an airport with a guitar and a pair of sunglasses.  That's magic, I want to do thatĒ.  So yes, I still get a bit excited by the travelling, and the more travelling you know youíre getting your stripes.  I havenít been to sleep for three days, Iíve been to Switzerland, France, Germany, da da, da da.... it's great, I love it!

Alan:      Well Danny thanks very much for that.

Danny:   It's a pleasure, thanks Alan.



© Copyright 2010 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.
Danny Handley Blues Project, The Great British R&B Festival,  Colne, 2010


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