Walter Daniels (Chicago, Illinois, USA, 1966) is a harmonica genius, pioneer in the use of feedback. He introduced this instrument into some music styles where it had never been used before. With over 20 years of experience, he has played with and for numerous musicians and bands around the world.
Here you have the opportunity to know him — and his music — a little better.
B.C. You’ve got a long music background, when and how do you started on this? Is it true that about a Johnny Woods performance you watched “accidentally” on TV?
W.D. I bought a harmonica when I lived in Chicago and it gathered dust for many years. Seeing Johnny Woods made a big impression — there was a show called the Midnight Special and I’m pretty sure I saw John Mayall and Paul Butterfield and that made an impression on me too. I am a big Paul Butterfield fan — he really had some great bands over the years and made some bad ass records.
B.C. You were born in Chicago but you moved out to Austin and you stayed there. What made you go and finally stay there, the music?
W.D. I moved with my family to Texas in 1978 and I went to Austin to go to school in 1981 and I just got swept up with Austin. There is a lot to do here — it’s a University town but it isn’t a huge city. Many people moving here and the city is changing a great deal but it’s a great place to raise my daughters!
B.C. Did you feel closer to the southern Blues than the northern Blues from Chicago?
W.D. I went to Antone’s, a nightclub on Guadalupe Street — a really influential club, and I was able to see a lot of legends from Chicago — like Jimmy Rogers, Huber Sumlin, and James Cotton. But I started working at a club, The Beach, and we had punk bands, singer-songwriters and all kinds of music and I felt the music of punk rock was more vital than the blues scene — though I loved both. One weekend I saw the Minutemen and the next night I went to see Junior Wells & Buddy Guy, I was lucky. Southern blues is where it all came from but a lot of players moved to Chicago for jobs and the club scene.
B.C. Who were your favorites and most influential players? And how about harmonicas players?
W.D. I loved to listen to Magic Dick of The J. Geils Band, Paul Butterfield, Sugar Blue and all the classic blues players — James Cotton, Junior Wells, Little Walter – THE MAN!, Sonny Boy Williamson… In Austin there are so many talented players — Ted Roddy, Greg Izor, Michael Rubin, lots of great players all over the place and it is a community where you can share ideas and learn from each other. That makes it a special place. Paul Oscher — who used to play with Muddy Waters now lives outside of Austin and to see him play — with James Cotton in the audience is mind blowing!
B.C. From the Hickoids until Guadalupe Plata you’ve been playing with many musicians. I know it must be a complicated question, but from all the collaborations you’ve done, is there any in particular that you liked the most or you remember it in a special way for some reason?
W.D. The great thing about the harmonica is the variety of musicians I’ve been able to play with — I recorded with Peelander-Z, great guys and I’ve jammed with them a bunch, and I’ve done a session with James Williamson on The Stooges (The Stooge’s guitarist) on a project I can’t really discuss, yes — it is freaking wild but James asked me to keep it on the down low, once James has done whatever he needs I will likely be able to talk about it. James Williamson heard a song I did with Guadalupe Plata (G.P.) — Ghost Rider, which I believe Toni — G.P.’s manager suggested we do — and James really liked it. Hickoids have always been my friends. Guadalupe Plata is an awesome, tremendous band that I am honoured to have played with, I hope to play with them again, I may at the Deep Blues Festival in 2014 in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
B.C. Great. You are mainly a harmonica guy but you also play saxophone, do you play or have you played any other instruments?
W.D. I started playing tenor saxophone in college and my roommate was a classical sax player — Paul Wehage, a great player. I need to devote more time to the sax, I enjoy playing but I’m not really very good. I play the nose flute! It is really fun — I’ve played it with Guadalupe Plata and with Ralph White — he’s a multi-instrumentalist, guitar, banjo, fiddle, accordion, and used to play with the Bad Livers. Ralph White is a great player and I really enjoy playing with him and his unique take on music. I do play the flute some but I don’t really know what I’m doing on that instrument.
I am the king of harmonica feedback. I have watched other players use it who were influenced by me.
B.C. And you also like to sing…
W.D. I love to sing and I must thank Tim Kerr for suggesting I sing into my Green Bullet microphone; it is a signature sound and style and is really cool. I will keep singing — it’s a lot of fun for me. If I want to make records I have to sing.
B.C. You have introduced harmonica into some music styles where it wasn’t used it before typically, how was that? What was the first “experiment”?
W.D. I did a session once in my garage and I hooked up my harp to a wa-wa pedal and a Big Muff distortion box and just let it rip. I have been fortunate to play with Eugene Chadbourne and really got me interested in improv music — making noise and stretching out on crazy solos and sounds. I’ve recorded with Eugene a bunch — he is amazing, banjo and guitar. We recorded with the bassist and drummer of the Texas Tornadoes — Speedy Sparks and Ernie Durawa, really excellent players. My friends Wade Driver — we used to be a duo, and Ralph White have led me back into improvisation.
B.C. How “normal” it can be watch a harmonicist using feedback?
W.D. I am the king of harmonica feedback. I used it at the end of my solo with James Williamson. I have watched other players use it who were influenced by me.
B.C. Do you like improvisation so much that you never think having your own band?
B.C. What projects you are involved at the moment? Do you have any new project?
W.D. I have done a bunch of songs with Marco Butcher — a talented guitar player from Brazil, Jesus and the Groupies is the band and I’ve sung and played harp and sax over 8 tunes. Maybe I will go to Brazil to tour with them — I hope! I have a single I should finish with Walter Daniels and the Giblets — we did a Tony Joe White song and Jack Oblivian will sing a verse of the tune — should be really cool. I played on John Schooley’s next One Man Band recording and he and I did a bunch of songs acoustic-style, as well. I have some tracks with Lydia Lunch and Cypress Grove quite a long time ago — playing both sax and harp and it sounded really good. I don’t think those songs have been released yet.
B.C. About Guadalupe Plata, you met them by chance, the feedback made the rest?
W.D. Mike Mariconda told me I should play with them and I am so glad I did — playing with G.P. at Deep Blues 2013 was really a blast!
B.C. How was working with them?
W.D. G.P. is a great band, very talented players. I’m a big fan of their music and everything went great; they rock like hell!
B.C. I have to say I love the Suicide‘s cover, you said the idea about the Ghost Rider’s cover came from Toni the Guadalupe Plata’s manager, what about the rest of the covers?
W.D. Yes, Toni suggested the Suicide’s cover and it was a great choice. Other songs were ones I had done with Jack O’Fire or stuff we worked up in the van — like Married Woman Blues, a Frankie Lee Sims song.
B.C. Great, let’s go talk about some other things. How is the current music scene in Texas?
W.D. There is some great stuff going on in Texas — many talented players, in Austin a person could go out and see great music almost any night — we are spoiled. Clubs go with the most popular players — I don’t blame them, blues is hurting right now, there aren’t a lot of places to play. There are many talented players — Eve Monsees, great guitar player. There is still places were real country music is played unlike the garbage fake country music on the radio. John Wesley Coleman is one of my favorites, Scott Biram is kicking serious ass and Black-Eyed Vermillion is a great singer, also.
B.C. The Reverend Horton Heat said in a live performance in Austin something about to be a girl in Texas, smoke marijuana and go straight to hell… Is there a kind of respect from the Government for those of you who practice rock and roll over there bearing in mind that blues & rock and roll music were born over there so they just have to be “nice” with all of you? How is life for a blues/rock/punk, etc. musician in a state like Texas, well-known thanks to his special law & religion?
W.D. The state of Texas does have a governmental office to publicize music but otherwise our state is conservative and does not care about the arts. Texas is a bone-headed state — we want people to love Willie Nelson but won’t invest any money into the arts. The government doesn’t care about musicians. In Texas there is respect — but living conditions are bad. Austin is an expensive city to live in and it will only get more expensive as time moves on. The Rev (Reverend Horton Heat) used to play with my buddy Ted Roddy — who knows ALL roots music — Ted knows country, blues, swamp-pop — all the good stuff, Ted Roddy rules!
B.C. And talking now about Spain, what were your impressions about the Spanish music scene when you had the opportunity for gig there? Did you see any interesting?
W.D. I don’t recall seeing too many other bands- at the festival in Granada — I met a band from Austin! Álvaro (The Milkyway Express Band) is a great harp player and it was fun to jam with him — he’s really talented.
B.C. When will you be visiting Spain again?
W.D. I hope so — I really enjoyed it. I have a big job raising my younger daughter, Emma Lou — but I hope to travel back to Spain one day. I hope we release the six songs I recorded with Guadalupe Plata!
B.C. Have you ever played in the UK? Will be possible to see Walter Daniels in London at anytime?
W.D. I have never been to London or the UK — I would love to go. I’m friends with Rupert Orton, who plays guitar in the Jim Jones Revue and he tried to get me to go to the UK — back when I was playing with Black Joe Lewis. I am also friends with Cypress Grove — who used to play with Jeffrey Lee Pierce and I would love to meet him if I could.