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Spotlight: Chris Daniels

Spotlight: Chris Daniels


To call Chris Daniels and the Kings with Freddi Gowdy a Colorado institution might be a bit of an understatement. Daniels has been a fixture in the local music scene since 1984, fronting the most prolific rhythm and blues horn-driven band in the region without missing a step — even when he battled Leukemia back in 2011. After clearing that tough hurdle, Daniels was back on stage, getting audiences on their feet and securing a place in the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in 2018. We caught up with Chris to talk about his upcoming 40th anniversary with the Kings, what it’s like playing the Colorado scene and some of the lessons he’s learned along the way.

Chris Daniels live on stage.

French Davis: 40 years! What’s your secret? How do you keep it feeling fresh?

Chris Daniels: Every summer touring season is different with new music, so that’s part of it. We also really have fun. I’d say that’s about 99% of it. This is not sit-in-the-dark-and-be-depressed music — there’s nothing wrong with that kind of music — but we play seriously fun horn-band music with some of the best players in the world…and we are having a ball doing it.

FD: What are 2 or 3 gigs that really stand out to you as more special than the rest over the years?

CD: Well Red Rocks. But we did a show backing Garth Brooks, Amy Grant, Vince Gill, and many more; that was a high point too. It was at Fiddler’s Green — a sold-out show in 2017. Then there is Parkpop in Rotterdam where they said there were 450,000 people! I didn’t count ’em. But with all that, some of my favorite shows have been here in Colorado at the Boulder Theater and at Little Bear and City Park Jazz.

FD: Talk a little bit about your Leukemia recovery and how that impacted you as an artist?

CD: Some of what you’d expect. I just have incredible gratitude to the doctors, nurses, family, and friends who saved my life. There are songs that I wrote that came out of that. Most of all becoming aware of how special and lucky I am to do this — I actually will smile on stage about a note I sang or a guitar lick I played, not because it was anything special, but just because I got the chance to do it. That is enough — that’s the miracle. There are complications from the experience too; side-effects that 14 years later are coming to roost. I have a lung condition that is going to kill me. It showed up in 2018. But I walk 4 miles a day trying to keep it a bay. Every day is a gift, and that is real for me. So singing? Damn, that’s great for me!

FD: Do you ever think about “retirement” and what might that look like for you?

CD: Well I’m havin’ a ball, I’m writing, I’m producing, I’m playing and singing on other people’s albums and producing the new one with Kevin Clock at Colorado Sound. I’m still teaching at CU Denver and my granddaughters just came out and we went skiing. And for the past 10 years, I’ve been the MC of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. I’m not sure what retirement would bring into my life? A rocking chair? I like what Clint Eastwood said: “I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and say ‘Don’t let the old man in.’” 

FD: Was there ever a time in your life when you thought about being something besides a musician? If so, what was it and why, if not, why not?

CD: Oh yeah. My undergraduate degree was in music and journalism, and I worked for the Minneapolis Tribune for a short time. I was an Assistant Professor and taught full-time at CU Denver for 20 years; I was the Executive Director of Swallow Hill Music Association for more than 5 years and the ED of Colorado Music Hall of Fame for 2.5 years and I’m still teaching at CU Denver — but it’s all centered around music in one way or another.

FD: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the Colorado music scene over the last 40 years? 

CD: YIKES well it’s huge. The Kings started out when there were no horn bands here. We were playing the music of Jack Mack, Tower of Power, Blood, Sweat and Tears, and Little Feat. Now there are “tribute bands” doing entire nights of the Eagles and Prince and The Grateful Dead and Earth Wind & Fire. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just not original, not experimental. It’s safe. And those bands make more money than anybody out here gigging. We had a different concept: original music. It was a hard sell then and it still is. But it’s worth it. Our songs are on the radio from here to Australia to all over Europe. We got signed in Europe to our first record deal before we got signed in the States, and we toured there over 20 times. But I also see great new artists taking our format and blowing up with it nationally. Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats — I love what they do. It’s original, it’s powerful, and the horns are killing it.

FD: What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out that you know now? What advice would you give Chris Daniels of 40 years ago?

CD: Use dynamics more. We started out slammin’ it; it was Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown who taught me dynamics a few years in. And also, write more and get a home studio to start putting out more music. That is about it. We were pretty blessed to make it 40 years, but there’s more I would have liked to do. 

FD: Like what? What else you got cookin’? 

CD: I’m working on a solo project — very minimal/acoustic. The writing that I do is very personal. And also a trio project. I’m hoping that will really get some play.

FD:  If there was one thing you’d like more people to know about you that maybe they don’t know, what would it be?

CD: We have always been in a bit of a Rodney Dangerfield “I can’t get no respect” position in this market. Not in Europe but in the States and Colorado. It’s easy to write off and downplay happy music. A great Dutch DJ who took our records to #1 on his “Countdown Cafe” show called it “music for the happy few.” But if you listen, and I mean really listen, there is something amazing going on. It’s jazz-based. It’s communication — working without a net with the best players in the world — that’s real. We are not playing the same solo from the album every night note-for-note. This is experimental; every night is different. I think I learned that from Sam Bush and from The Dead. I mean Freddi is an amazing soul singer and he will just go off into a whole thing, and we follow. Bones toured with Albert King, Bob toured with Tom Jones, Steve’s played with everybody from James Taylor to Keb Mo, and JT and Doody are world-class players. Are we singing about global warming? No. That’s for others. Will we get you up off your ass, dancing? Hell yes! People have come to me and said, “The first time my wife and I went on a date was to see you play, and we’ve been married now for 20 years, thank you!” So we are pretty damn good at bringing lovers together too. But people don’t always recognize that as important, especially in this time of stress. And you know what’s funny, in WWII they understood the power of music that gave you a release, that got you dancing, that helped life-long lovers find one another. So, in my personal view, we are in that tradition. And that is damn well worthy of some serious 40-year celebration. 

Chris Daniels and the Kings with Freddi Gowdy play their 40th Anniversary show at Boulder Theater on April 4. Doors open at 7 p.m., tickets are $25+, visit BoulderTheater.com for more information. 


French Davis
Meet Dave Flomberg | Writer, musician, creative director (aka French Davis). There is so much to say about Dave aka French that we think you should read these articles: https://yellowscene.com/2020/02/29/french-davis-a-master-of-many/ ••• https://shoutoutcolorado.com/meet-dave-flomberg-writer-musician-creative-director

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