The Huffington Post – Michael Ragogna
Conversations With The Amity Affliction's Ahren Stringer, Danny Griego, Ben Arthur and Jolie Holland.
Huffington Post – Michael Ragogna
Mike Ragogna: So it seems like "The Coast Is Clear" for Cowboys, Outlaws & Border Town Dogs.
Danny Griego: Absolutely. The coast is clear, we're rolling right along with it.
MR: Let's get a little background on the new album, Danny.
DG: Well, it seemed like an appropriate title. I kind of wanted a title that would string through the common thread of the album. There's a song on there called "Three Legged Bordertown Mexican Dog" that I wrote with hall of fame songwriter Red Lane. It's about going where the gringos shouldn't go, down in Mexico. My heroes have always been cowboys, I have a lot of cowboy friends and a lot of horsemen that have been training me over the years to ride cutting horses and what have you. So there's a song on there that Haggard penned called "I Wear My Own Kind Of Hat." I was in there under Waylon Jennings' wing, I had the unique pleasure to run around with him at the climax of his career back around the year 2000 to 2002 and we did some shows in New Mexico. He actually cut a song I wrote called "At The Crossroads" and we're going to put it out on the next album. I've been waiting to release it because I didn't want to ride out there on his name. I got to run around with Waylon and he took me under his wing and introduced me around and just taught me a whole lot, that's kind of where the outlaw thing came from. The outlaw thing is really just doing your music your way and not necessarily falling into that real thin eye of the needle that they try to put you through once they find something that's selling and works.
MR: What do you think about the state of outlaw country these days?
DG: I think there's a real movement going on. A lot of people are just yearning for something real, and I think that happens when we're in our place in the world where we have wars and pestilence going on and people yearn to get back to their roots in the heartland. They want to hear songs about life and about values. In Hollywood everything is all action and adventure and suspense, sometimes you just yearn to get back to where you're from. I think outlaw country has really taken on a big movement.
MR: How much of your music reflects your lifestyle?
DG: Boy, about all of it. I live what I write and write what I live. I'm an artist who rolls down the road on my bus. I'm from the Willie Nelson school, there's a guy that does two hundred and seventy dates a year. He's a hero of mine, he's a real songwriter, I couldn't say enough good things about him. That's kind of where I am. I couldn't really have a girlfriend right now because who would put up with me? I'm just rolling down the road in a 379 Peterbilt rig that's been turned into a tour bus. I'm pretty much on my bus all the time.
MR: What goes on in that bus?
DG: Well her name's Desiree, because she's high maintenance and likes expensive shoes. The racers like her. I'm on tour with the National Hot Rod Association and we're rolling around doing sixteen dates with them this year, which could potentially turn into 44 shows next year. I'll be on tour with them for the next three years, I'm the top sponsor of the Pro Stock Motorcycle Series Shootout.
MR: What about John Force, have you ever run across The Force Family?
DG: Absolutely, he's a class act. What a legend and an icon. He was nice enough to hang out with me for a day out in Pomona last year. They're doing really well, they've been sweeping a lot of the races, he's just a really classy guy.
MR: Yep, and his daughter is almost following in his footsteps. She's already won a couple of races.
DG: Yeah, the girls are the real deal. They live, eat and breathe racing. There's a lot of parallels to what we do, too, because we're rolling down the road with our crew, maintaining our rigs and getting tuned for our shows. It's really a parallel lifestyle.
MR: Are there any times you get inspired and you just have to run off and write?
DG: Mickey Newbury said something about that. He said, "You'll know you're a real songwriter when you'll get up at three in the morning out of a warm bed next to somebody you love and walk barefoot through the snow to go get a tape recorder and a pen out of your pickup truck because you have a song that's knocking on your door." Hank Cochran was telling me, "You've got to write it down." That brings up one of the best pieces of advice I got from any songwriter, my friend Red Lane, "Creativity has no memory," so when it's time to write, you've got to do it then. That's true of any creativity, really.
MR: It's almost like it comes and haunts you if you don't do it. It either goes away because it's like, "okay, this guy's not interested," or if it's really insistent you don't have any choice.
DG: Absolutely, both of those things are really true. You said if it goes away if it's not interested, it's almost like it's its own energy force rolling down this river that you tap into and if you're not ready for it or can't match it or you're not interested in it it'll just keep rolling right on down that river.
MR: Have your goals changed from when you first started out? What would be "success" to you in your genre? Are you already there?
DG: No, not in my mind. If the lord gives you a hammer, drive nails. He gave me a pen, and I'm trying to get my song out to a mass audience. Right now that's a real tough go for a guy like me. I'm an independent artist on a little label, we're very fortunate to have gotten into the top thirty on Billboard and an immediate base. It's kind of unheard of these days, the big machine pushing me down the road. The amount of money that's put into those big artists is the difference between a minor league baseball team and a major league baseball team. The budgets are astronomical. For me, success is all about the song, it's about writing the song that I get and then having it spinning out there on the radio, and that just doesn't happen enough in my world to where I would call where I'm at a big success.
MR: Are these songs your kids?
DG: Absolutely. You believe in every one of them. It's kind of funny you said that, because you'll get one and you're all about that song and it takes on a life of its own, it means different things to different people and then pretty soon that song's just out there doing its own thing and you're watching it. I wrote a thing called "Lady Liberty," a major in the armed forces asked me to write it for him, about his wife. He didn't give me the title or anything, but he said, "Can you please write a song about my wife?" He's getting ready to go out on his fourth tour of duty, special forces, and I told him, "Buddy I don't have bullets whizzing by my head, I'm not walking in your boots, it's going to be really tough for me to write that song." But you're discounting creativity, because the song just rolled in through the door and I'm just the guy with the pen. I grabbed a pen and a pad of paper and wrote down what the man handed me and the next thing you know I'm singing it to the joint chiefs of staff. Next thing you know, Mike Huckabee hears about The Coast Is Clear and he asked me to go be on a show. What an honor. I'm getting ready to go sing "Lady Liberty" and it's just about freedom. It's just about being able to live in a country where we're free and how thankful I am to be able to do that.
MR: All politics aside, what do you think when you look at the United States these days?
DG: You know, I had a guy pick me up at an airport, I called for a cab. I'd just finished a four-day ride, I was up in the hills riding with some hombre friends of mine. We didn't see civilization for four days and then rolled into Los Angeles. Wow, what a huge city. We rolled in after being out in a tent by the campfire for four days--it's almost like rolling in from 1860. The guy that picked me up was a cab driver from the middle east. You hear all these things in the media and you don't know what to think. It really comes down to the person. He and I talked about the United States, how things are today as opposed to how they were in the fifties. I was telling him how I'd probably be better off as an artist in the sixties. He told me where he was from, and he said, "You know, Danny, I lived in a little teeny shack with my children, and now I'm in the greatest country in the world. I live in the United States Of America in a four-bedroom house with a two-car garage, my kids are going to a private school, anybody who says this country isn't great just don't know what they're talking about because they haven't lived here and done it." That guy doesn't sound like our enemy to me, man. He sounds like an American. That's what this country is about. This is a land of opportunity. I don't talk about politics a whole lot. What do I know? I'm just a country music singer, okay? I just roll down the road in a bus, write songs and meet really great people. But I do see a lot of our country, and I think that I'm very fortunate to be able to roll down the road in my bus and be able to cross borders without showing my papers and be free. That's what this land is about.
MR: Beautiful. What advice do you have for new artists?
DG: That's a great question. Waylon gave me some advice when I was coming up. I was on tour with him the last couple of years, and he cut one of my songs, it's called "The Crossroads," we're going to be releasing it here soon. He told me, "Don't go running off to Nashville until they come knocking on your door. I really didn't understand what he was talking about, everyone wants to run off to Nashville or to one of the centers, whether it be LA or New York or wherever the mecca is of their art. I think the best thing you can really do as an entertainer is get out there with the people and play your music for the fans. You'll learn your craft as you work your way through playing out there. When you start making enough noise and playing enough shows and the people respond to you, those people in Nashville and the powers that be will come knocking on your door. Then the doors will be open for you. But if you go out there chasing it and go away from everything you love and your family and go out there and chase it, you're going to find that the doors are probably going to be closed.
MR: Interesting. That's really wild. I have to say, I would love to know a couple of the stories behind these titles, like "I Think She Only Likes Me For My Willie." [laughs]
DG: We're just talking about Willie Nelson on that one, Michael. Paul Overstreet wrote that song, Paul's written some great songs.
MR: Yeah, he's great. Tell me about "Three Legged Bordertown Mexican Dog."
DG: I wrote that with Red Lane. We were headed down into Mexico and I'd been running really hard. I used to have two of my own honky-tonks and I ran a chain of restaurants, I just didn't sleep a lot. The music bug had hit me so hard I was playing in honky tonks six or seven nights a week. I'd taken four days off and picked up Red at the airport and we were rolling south. He said, "Son, you don't look very good, man, are you getting any sleep?" and I said, "Red, I'm feeling like a three-legged bordertown dog." And he laughed and said, "No, a three-legged bordertown Mexican dog." I had a pickup truck stolen from me in Mexico, I jumped over a barbed wire fence -- I was looking at this horse -- I jumped in the back of my truck and was able to get it back, long story short. The guy that stole it, when I was down on the beach at the house in Mexico one of the guys that does work for me came running up the driveway one day with a paper and he said, "Senior Danny, Mira!" Look! Look! And he shows me the paper and it's got a picture of the guy with a gun in front of his face, they shoot you with your crime, and he was put in prison for armed robbery. I thought, "Man, I am the luckiest guy on the face of the Earth" because I'm sure that guy was carrying a gun when he took the truck, I'm lucky I'm not laying on the cold sand in Mexico. Anyway, we wrote that song around the idea of going where the gringo shouldn't go and the kind of trouble you can get in down in Mexico.
MR: Have you had a lot fun in Mexico?
DG: Absolutely, it's a lot of fun to go down there. Of course, you've got to stay where you're supposed to stay, don't go running around doing things you shouldn't be doing.
MR: So you're going to be touring, you've got that Mello Yello thang coming up. What is that again?
DG: We're going to be in Atlanta next, I believe that date is May 17th, but the race is the 16th through the 18th. I'm on tour with the National Hot Rod Association. It's an awesome venue, it's not as big as NASCAR but it's every bit as fun. I think once people get out there and experience the brand of being able to walk right up to a racer's pit and meet a lot of the racers and a lot of the stars out there, NHRA really have their act together. Those guys couldn't have been more receptive for us. We've been rolling around with them doing shows, I guess we're doing all right, we got an encore and a standing ovation at the last show we did, so that's really encouraging for us to come back and keep after it. My goal is to do some shows with the NHRA with some of my heroes, get out there with some other artists, some rock acts like ZZ Top. I'm hoping to do a show out there with Merle Haggard someday soon.
MR: It looks like AmeriMonte is going to be doing a Ray Price album, does Ray Price mean anything to you?
DG: Oh gosh, yeah, he's the father of the country shuffle. He invented it in the Texas honky tonk listening to people speak and he turned back behind him and asked his drummer, "Can you make that sound with your drum?" and that became the country shuffle. Ray was 87 when he passed, we lost an icon. I'm just ecstatic to have anything to do with any part of his career. We found out that he didn't have a label for his last album and we reached out to him and asked him if we could work with him. We worked out a deal with Ray, he's just a class act and he's always a gentleman. We worked out a deal with him and he signed to AmeriMonte records and we're very happy that the rerelease of his album actually came out yesterday and it'll be available in stores. It's called Beauty Is.
MR: That's really terrific. Good for you. What does the future bring for you?
DG: Well I'm a highway man, I'm just a troubadour, I'm out there trucking down the road, doing my shows. The future for me, ideally, will be having some of my children--my songs--become successful.