Danny was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1952 and moved to Marin County, north of San Francisco, in 1961. Early on he seized upon music as his great love, learning guitar at home and cello at school. By his teens, he had also developed a parallel career track as an artist, authoring a 60-week comic strip, “The Generation Gap”, that ran in the Marin Independent Journal, and serving as staff illustrator for The Pacific Sun.
After wandering around Europe toting his guitar in the winter and spring of 1970, Danny started U.C. Irvine that fall as a cello major, quickly decided he preferred folk music to classical, picked up the fiddle and mandolin, and started trying to write his own songs. He graduated with a philosophy degree in 1974. He moved back to Marin, got married to future musical partner Robin Petrie, and worked as a book illustrator, advertising artist, and writer. With still limited fiddle chops but a talent for vocal harmonies, he joined The Little Big Band, a Mill Valley country-swing quintet. The LBB played around for three years, by the end of which time Danny was reasonably competent on the fiddle, was now a regular at the Irish pub sessions, and was hanging out with his heroes in the Bay Area folk and rock community.
Then came 1978, when he totally fell for Celtic music. Danny and Robin toured Ireland and the UK for several months, hitting Dublin at the luckiest possible moment. They befriended a couple of up-and-coming local singer-songwriters, Mick Fitzgerald and Kieran Halpin, with whose guidance they found themselves in clubs, pubs, and livingrooms hearing the likes of Christy Moore, Kevin Burke & Micheál O’Domnaill, Paul Brady, and The Chieftains. Bursting with inspiration, Danny returned to California, partnered up with multi-instrumentalist Chris Caswell, and proceeded to help kick-start the west coast Celtic revival.
Danny and Chris toured and recorded until 1983. Robin had been playing hammered dulcimer in her own band by this time and Danny continued touring and recording with her. In addition to their duo work, they performed with other artists including Henry Kaiser’s Celtic-Delta Blues-Vietnamese combo Full Moon Fair, Tom Constanten, and the Balkan rock band Zhaba. By the time they went their separate ways in 1996, they had sold over 100,000 albums and performed in 5 countries and 30 states.
Between tours Danny continued working as an advertising artist and copywriter for several local ad agencies. He earned a Masters degree in Music Industries in 1993 and began teaching music at several community colleges from Pleasant Hill to Sacramento, finally retiring in 2016.
In 1999, Danny conspired with mandolinist Paul Kotapish and harper Maureen Brennan to form Wake the Dead, the world’s first Celtic Grateful Dead jam band. They enlisted four more stars of the local eclectic acoustic scene, recorded a demo, and were immediately snapped up by Grateful Dead/Arista Records and tossed into concerts with Bob Weir and The Persuasions. Four albums and 23 years later, the band is still together (minus Maureen, who retired in 2016) and performing happily. You can learn lots more about Wake the Dead at their website: wakethedead.org.
When not musically occupied, Danny has written three mystery novels weaving together Irish music, mythic literature, and death. He has also written countless feature articles and reviews for major music magazines, and several travel articles published through Travelers’ Tales. Danny has tossed more than 50 original songs into the world, some of which have been covered by other artists, and enjoying airplay globally. He has recorded nine albums of his own music, four with Wake the Dead, produced 30 more, and worked as a side-man on many others. His recordings have earned two NAIRD “Indie” awards and one Grammie nomination.
For 37 years, Danny has lived in a sweet little house in Albany, California; for the last 24 years with his wife Saundra, and for the last 15 years with their son Teddy.
The Embarrassing Early Years
Starting in 1971, Danny began searching for ways to get on stage and play music. As half of The Asparagus Brothers (with college roommate Bill Nail), he received enough encouragement to play at coffeehouses from Irvine to San Anselmo and to start writing his own songs. To the relief of many, none of these early songs survive in recorded form.
After graduating college and relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1974 and before hooking up with Chris Caswell in 1979, Danny joined a series of bands. Here are three of them. Youthful indescretions? Learning experiences? Feel free to judge.
The Little Big Band
The LBB was already well-established when they hired Danny to fill the vacated fiddle spot. He made up for wretched fiddle licks with his harmonies and exhuberance. Danny stayed with the band from 1975, through several personnel changes, till it broke up in 1977. Other members included Ove Veggerby (banjo), Danny Morrison (guitar), Blake Richardson (bass), Steve Bonuccelli (drums), and Bill Hybert (electric bass/guitar). Everybody sang. Danny Morrison is still out performing with some of the good old crowd. Click here to find out what he’s up to.
Willie & The Hit Men From France
This band lasted about one month but was gangs of fun. Danny, Bill Hybert, and Steve Bonuccelli from the LBB joined up with Alex Call (one of the world’s truly under-appreciated songwriters) and Johnnie Ciambotti from Clover to play ‘50s and ‘60s rock and roll. (The band name was Alex’s idea.)
The Barbary Tars
A shameless piece of period theatre concocted for the Dickens Christmas Fair in 1977. Sea shanties and mugging were specialities du jour. The leader of the band was the legendary and nearly deafening Cody Grundy, who dwarfed his concertina and looked like he’d just stepped out of an 1870s photograph. Simon Spalding and April Stockley filled out the band.