It was a cold November morning in the basement woodshop at Brighton Middle School school when Mr. Tucker, industrial arts teacher, approached Dan to tell him that he loved the saltshaker that Dan made but was going to give him an F for it. Why? Because he gave the students very clear instructions for how to construct their saltshakers and Dan didn’t pay attention to any of them, making up his design own on the fly. So, the next week, Dan brooded on his F as he passed the hall display window where he noticed, much to his suprise, Mr.Tucker’s proud display for the best saltshakers, including his own.
This is not the first or last time that Dan ignored conventions and instructions to do his own thing.. A couple of years later, he was fired from his first rock band, Prism, for being too creative with his trumpet parts. “You’re too good for our horn section Dan,” said bandleader Phil.
Dan’s ignoring of instructions and conventions has been his life path. For example, when preparing meals, he never follows recipes, preferring to improvise ingredients on the fly. The exception is rice. “Two parts water one part rice. I can remember that,” he says proudly.
Dan took trumpet lessons and sang in the school choir, but that was it for his formal musical education. He self-taught on guitar and his other instruments.”My high school buddy Arthur taught me five guitar chords: C, F, G, E, and E, and that was it. Everything else I taught myself.”
Dan has applied this mentality to all of his songwriting and playing. He hardly ever practices scales and never took a songwriting class. He is however a very careful listener, soaking up influences that inspire his creativity without dictating it. He uses those influences as a launchpad, but then goes his own way. That makes some of his quirkier music hard to describe. For example, how do you describe the music of his ex-jazz fusion jam band, the Wayward Monks? It’s not really jazz, nor rock nor classical nor New Age. “But all of those influences are there,” he says. Maybe that’s why one of those instrumentals, Polyunsaturated, won the Honor Award in the 8th Annual Great American Song Contest and his instrumental Jubilation won semifinalist in the International Songwriting Competition (out of 15,000 entries) . “When I wrote Polyunsaturated,” he says, “my goal was to write the weirdest instrumental I could think of. That meant odd meters, in-your-face guitar solos, a very fast bass groove line and madrigal-like folk bridge that breaks up the mania.
Coming off of a stint with an early jamming band Nervous Freedom in his western New York hometown Rochester, he headed to graduate school at Stanford University in California, only to forgo that musical path for punk rock in Stanford’s band British Wire Gauge. BWG put out an album that bore fruit last year when the song Product City appeared in Season five episode 11 of the popular crime family TV series Animal Kingdom.
Dan has always been one to try to find balance in what he does. He loves music but also loves to figure out how to educate for new thinking. That’s why he’s spent half his life as a musician and half as an educator. And what do they have in common? “Design” he says. “Thinking high level ideas and figuring out how to turn them into real products that inspire.” Sometimes Dan will wake up and decide to apply his love of design to a new song and sometimes to a new educational product. For example, recently he made up a “protocol” for people to become more understanding about how hard it is for law makers to make choices about how much to tax, who to tax, how much to spend, and who to spend it on. The League of Women Voters has used Dan’s protocol for a public education event. He also made a protocol called Active Policy Reflection that helps voters make tough ballot proposition decisions by reflecting on their values and priorities.
When a young adult, Dan had to decide which path to choose as his “professsion” (i.e., the path that he would pursue to make money). Though music was his greatest passion, the life style of constant travel and starvation pay was not something he wanted so he picked education. But, throughout his career, he always kept his music alive. This created some unusual situations, like running into students of his who stumbled across him at Grateful Dead concerts or professors who he saw at his bands’ gigs. Conversely, he’s had to deal with with the puzzled look on his bandmates’ faces when they learn about his “other side.” “I’ve played with all types of people, including janitors and bus drivers, and I respect them all. I’ve tried try to keep my non-musical background to myself but it felt awkward when they found out I have a PhD from Stanford.” This sense of double identity has sparked soul searching. “I too often stereotype my social circles into two boxes, my music people and my education people, thinking that one would not be interested in the other.
Recently, Dan became more amenable to sharing his music with his non music circles, as well as with friends who share his other great love, trail running. “I usually run about 20 miles a week and the trails where I live are mountainous, so a typical run may be about 6 to 8 miles and about a thousand feet of climbing. There’s nothing better for the spirit than a nice trail run, even on a cold day,” he says.
Dan built up enough of a nest egg from his education career to pivot a few years ago to doing much more music, on his own terms. He mastered music and video production and started playing in two bands instead of one, Outer Half and Slide Dogs. He’s released a lot of music since 2005.
- Wayward Monks album (2005)
- Surf Seven album (with Wayward Monks, 2008)
- Outer Half album (2015)
- All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go album (with Outer Half, 2018)
- Edgyometry EP (2018)
- Instrumentals EP (2018)
- Waiting for My Train album (2019)
- Eclectica album (2020)
- Straight Ahead album (2020)
- Resting Place album (2021)
On August 20, 2022, he released his latest album Emotionality, with its16 tracks of rock, folk, funk, and classical. With Doug Marks on drums on some tracks, Dan plays all the other instruments and sings all the vocals. “Every song on Emotionality comes from a different emotional space,” he says. “This album is very right-brained.” A few short promo videos on YouTube overview the album and present track clips.
Growing up in the MTV era, he also decided to start making quirky music videos, which he posts on his YouTube channel. The current count is 41. “The songs I choose for music videos lend themselves to abstract imagery, like what you might see behind behind the band at a live show.” Usually, he shies away from making videos that “act out” stories because they need real actors to look professional, and he doesn’t know any.” Two exceptions are his 2020 Outer Half videos of I’m Not A Doctor But I Play One on TV, and All Dressed Up And Nowhere to Go. During the pandemic, Outer Halfers Jen Gill, Doug Marks, Kevin Kriner, and Richard Huebner videoed themselves playing their parts, then Dan created composite videos showing them playing, and acted out some goofy scenes in his living room that supported the themes.
Dan’s biggest DIY music video solo extravaganza has to be Nut Raisin Blues, a bluesy Resting Place track. “Even though Nut Raisin Blues is a 100% solo project,” he says, “it feels like a live performance, the kind of song you’d imagine a blues band playing in a bar. So, I filmed myself playing all the parts and put all the clips together in front of a stage image. The video features a whole band’s worth of Dan as singer, rhythm guitarist, lead guitarist, slide guitarist, and keyboard player, and there are even two trumpet player Dans in the back doing horn section dance bits. All these guys “miraculously” appear and disapper when their parts come up. “I decided to call the ‘band’ “Dan and the Cloneheads,” he says.” “And what an ego trip it was..” So, here we are in 2022. Dan is doing even more writing, producing, and performing. Modern DIY technology has made it all possible. “It’s a great time to be a creative musician,” he says, “as long as you’re doing it for the love of it. Even if you only have ten people loving your music, that’s still making ten people happy, and that’s something to be proud o