From ted–(at)–akhill.sps.mot.com Wed Oct 12 10:12:15 CDT 1994
Article: 29860 of rec.music.makers.guitar
From: ted–(at)–akhill.sps.mot.com (Teddie James-CSIC_Publications)
Subject: Danny Gatton article from Washington Post
Sender: new–(at)–akhill.sps.mot.com (oakhill news)
Organization: Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector
Date: Tue, 11 Oct 1994 21:57:41 GMT
Here’s what a friend of mine in DC sent me. Reprinted without permission.
Washington Post, Style section, front page (Thursday, October 6, 1994)
by Richard Harrington
Gatton Dead of Gunshot Wound: Master Guitarist Believed a Suicide at
danny gatton, once described as “the world’s greatest unknown guitar
player,” apparently committed suicide tuesday evening at his farm
in Newburg, Md.
friends and family were stunned by the sudden daeath of the inter-
nationally renowned musician, who was a longtime fixture on the
Washington music scene.
according to lt. joe montminy of the charles county sheriff’s office,
police received a call from the gatton home at 9:30pm. an emergency
medical services team arrived at 9:41pm and pronounced gatton, 49,
dead of a gunshot wound to the head that “appears to be
self-inflicted,” montminy said yesterday.
the medical examiner’s office would not elaborate on the cause
or manner of gatton’s death and, said montminy, “until they do that,
we are not going to finalize our investigation.”
according to danny gatton’s brother, brent, he and the guitar
vituoso spent much of tuesday restoring one of gatton’s prized vehicles,
an 1934 Ford panel truck. “We were drinking a couple of beers and
talking about things in general, but when i left at around 6, he seemed
fine,” said brent gatton.
booking agent Patrick Day says he talked to gatton “five times
[on Tues] and there was just no clue. we were talking about a
big wedding in arizona he was to play on Oct. 22 for a lucrative sum
and expenses, and danny laughed and called it ‘Christmas plus!”
later in the evening, gatton’s wife, jan, and daughter, holly,
returned from a school function and found gatton somewhat agitated.
sometime after 9pm he left the farmhouse and, according to a source,
said, “i cant take this anymore.” gatton then went to a nerby garage
and apparently shot himself.
as word of gatton’s death spread, musicians, both local and national,
expressed shock about the silencing of a guitarist famous for his
mind-boggling chops and blistering speed, a master of texture and
techniques who transcended such genres as country, blues, bebop, bluegrass,
rockabilly and jazz through witty melds and supple, seamless segues.
at gatton’s performances, other guitarists tended to crowd around the
front of the stage in hopes of getting a closer look at him working on his
customized ’53 Fender Telecaster. to them, he was a master craftsman.
those who stuck around and got to know him found a genial, down-to-earch,
charismatic character whith a great sense of humor.
according to chris gill, an editor for guitar player magazine, gatton
was acclaimed for the diversity of instrumental styles he could excel
in. “unfortunately, from a commercial standpoint, that kept him from
reaching the audience he should have, but it also earned him the admiration
of countless musicians.”
it was guitar player that put gatton on its cover in 1990 and called him
“The World’s Greatest Unknown Guitarist” (and then asked, “What famous
guitarist could outplay him?”). a year earlier, rolling stone named him
that year’s “Hot Guitarist,” with a story headlined: “He’s the fastest
player alive–how come no one knows his name?”
one reason is that gatton was slow to record, reluctant to travel and
declined to move to such major music centers as NY, Nashville, and
L.A., where he would have undoubtedly become a recording session superstar.
his roots were clearly in southern maryland–his family first settled
there before the Revolutionary War–and with his own family: his wife
(to whom he’d been married for 26 yrs) and 13-yr-old daughter.
“his family was his uppermost concern,” said bassist John Previti,
who started working with gatton in ’76. previti had talked with gatton
on tuesday and said he did not sound at all despondent. “he was unhappy
about money problems, and was trying to renovate the house. he was
just trying to lead a good life and have a good life for his family.”
in 1991, gatton signed a seven-album deal with Electra, his first
major label after half-dozen albums on tiny, independent labels
(including one run by his mother, Norma Gatton). he titled the
first Elecktra album “88 Elmira Street” after the first Anacostia
home where he was born and raised, but the album didnt sell particularly
well; neither did its follow-up, “Cruisin’ Deuces.” and the label
gatton admitted once that he had trouble hitting “that commercial nerve,”
but he also looked on his situation with understated wry humor. several
years ago, he noted that “i’ve been built up and let down so many times
i should change my name to Otis.”
but drummer Dave Elliot, a friend of more than two decades and a
former band mate, said he had sensed a low level depression “since
i first knew danny. he knew what the music business to him and
for him… but this cant be blamed on family or the music business–
danny had something much deeper to do something like this. its not
the blues, its depression, and there’s nothing you can do when it gets
to that point.”
brent gatton said there was no particular incident that might have set his brother
along the path he ended up taking. ” a whole lot of little things just piled up on
him and he just snappped.”
there had been some high points in recent years, including Fender’s manufacturing
of the danny gatton sign. guitar, the most expensive guitar in its line. gatton, who
had a lifelong passion for cars as deeps as the one he had for guitars, traded the
original model for a ’34 Frod truck worht $18,000–and insisted he got the best deal.
he was the frequent poll winnder–from 19 local WAMMYs (from the Wash. Area Music
Assoc.) to guitar player’s reader’s poll (he was named best sountry guitarist in 1993
and was runner-up this year).
but ther had been some hard times as well. it would seem that his biggest blwo
came when he was dropped by elektra, but previti says gatton was “relieved–we’re not
pop stars and it was a big load off him.” gatton recently released a critically
acclaimed small-label offering teaming him with jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco and
was orking on a live recording with his current trio.
last year, gatton’s bassist, singer and close firned of more than 20 yrs., billy
Windsor, died of a heart attack.
given gatton’s dislike of traveling, opportunities to to work were somewhat
limited. “there were just too many gigs that beat you up,” said previti, noting that
gatton might be willing to work four-day weekends, or two weeks at most, but that he
did not want to be away from home for long.
“danny was always searching for security for his family,” said gatton’s drummer,
Tim Biery. “more than anything on this earth, he loved jan and holly.”
in recent years, gatton had made moves from being a guitarist’s guitarist to
becoming something of an entertainer, but too many seemed overwhelmed by his skills.
as guitar player had noted, gatton was “so stylistically diffuse and so relentlessly
virtuosic in styles that are usually mutually exclusive, that it may be off-putting
to people to have so much coming at them so quickly.”
“technically, no one could touch him,” fellow musician Jonn Jennings said yesterday
>from Nashville, where he was preparing to perform with Mary Chapin Carpenter. “No
one. he did things that one shoundt be able to do on guitar and he was learning to
emote to meet his technique and thats what so sad, that we wont get a chance to hear
for someone who had received so much acclaim, gatton was burdened with a surprising
sense of insecurity. when partick day told gatton about the arizona gig and the high
fee, “danny couldnt believe they would pay that ‘just for me’. he’d tell me he had a
hard time even facing the audience: ‘they just look at me and i get nervous.'”
“there was no single instrumentalist in any style, on any instrument, that did what
he did,” added previti. “he was in a class by himself–no question, he could do
anything he wanted to. even after all these years, danny continued to come up with
stuff i never heard before, and it was always amazing to me. i never took it for
neither did danny gatton. he’d been musically intensive since the age of 2,
and a virtuoso by 10 (teachers, including fabled Sophocles Pappas, told his parents
lessons were useless because gatton could hear anythin once and play it). instead,
he remained a populist student, listening to the radio and his family’s records,
absorbing blues, rockabilly, jazz and western swing, country and other
blue-collar-roted music and of the ’50s. gatton always paid homage to the great
guitar stylists who originally inspired him and ultimately joined them as inspiration
to others. he started playing in bands at 13, graduated from teen clubs to
nightclubs and even became, briefly, a hired guitarist in the bands of assorted
country and rock-and-roll ministars.
but gatton also retired several times, stopped playing in public and working in a
Waldorf metal shop. rumor had it that shen Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John
Fogerty came out of his long retirement, he offered gatton the guitar slot in his
band. gatton never called back.
“he was so talented you’d think his whole life would revolve around guitar, but it
didnt,” says Dave Elliot. “he was more of a person than a musician. danny’s whole
approach didnt have anything to do with being a star–he played for his soul and his
guitar. i guess being a regular guy and a musician just doesnt work.”