Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Danny O'Keefe - Snohomish, WA 3/10/2012

 The very best singer-songwriters are mood-shifters, magicians, musicians with the ability to transmute words into feelings, to transport a listener to another time and/or place.

Danny O'Keefe has certainly conjured up some lasting spells over his nearly 50 years of performing; last Saturday night at Snohomish's Tim Noah Thumbnail Theatre, he proved that his sleeves still had plenty of tricks and tales tucked into them.

O'Keefe, best known for the classic American lament, "Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues," took a sold-out audience to New Orleans, to the Mississippi Delta, to Eastern Washington's dusty roads — and to the sleepy front porches of its orchard country.

And that was just in the first song or two.

A product of the 50s who honed his craft in the 60s and began garnering worldwide attention in the 70s, O'Keefe's compositions are truly timeless, the result of being a lifelong student of roots music, of jazz and rhythm 'n' blues, of the music that people once sang to themselves as they plucked apples or picked cotton. 

At O'Keefe's side this night stood fellow student Joel Tepp, a Seattle musician who's served as wingman and session ace for dozens of artists, but seemed destined to be paired with this particular singer often over the last decade or two.  They're a perfect fit; Tepp is one of the best accompanists in the country.  Many multi-instrumentalists are dabbling jacks-of-all-trades; Tepp's a master, especially when it comes to slide guitar.

O'Keefe's still-strong, instantly recognizable voice and well-practiced guitar, along with Mr. Tepp's accents and embellishments (including oboe, mandolin and harmonica), wove their way through a mighty impressive back catalog.

"Magdelena," "So Long Harry Truman," "Steel Guitar," "Last Call," "The Road"... newer material was presented during his two sets, but O'Keefe seemed to visit his early years with Atlantic Records more often.  It didn't matter, for in this stripped-down, intimate setting, "timeless" took on a second meaning as the evening progressed.

While I was sitting in the pews of this apparently converted funeral home, soaking up this typically fantastic Danny O"Keefe show, I thought of the infamous enigma of his career: why his records for Atlantic weren't a springboard for superstardom.  Oh, over subsequent years O'Keefe made some excellent albums, but for all their qualities, the recordings sometimes didn't do his talent justice.  For a long time, he darted in and out of the spotlight, writing many songs that superstars liked enough to cover, but "household name" status somehow eluded him.

There's doubtlessly plenty of reasons for this... one of them being that O'Keefe is almost impossible to classify, in a tag-obsessed world — Folk-rock?  Blues?  Country?   However, as O'Keefe leaned towards the tin can this night to sing classics such as "Outlaw" and "Pieces Of The Rain," another obvious answer came to me, a solution to a dilemma many singer-songwriters face as they try to present themselves to an often-fickle, flavor-of-the-month, record-buying public.

With few exceptions, all O'Keefe needed over the past few decades was a microphone and a recorder.  And, perhaps, an accompanist like Joel Tepp.   Various production styles, top-notch rhythm sections, keyboards, backup singers — all largely unnecessary touches that sometimes obscured the magic. 

The magic that was right in front of me, right in front of a hundred spellbound people who, for a couple of hours on a rainy night, listened to the best damn Danny O'Keefe album they've ever heard.

- Steve Stav

1 comment:

Jhanford said...


It's been many moons since I met you - playing with my high school friends, Dan and Tim Bonow - back in 1968.

My new friend Joel sent me a link to a video of you two performing that was posted.

You still sound terrific, and Joel is indeed a musical blessing.


John Hanford