Catching up with singer/songwriter Egon Danielson
By Todd Houston
Exclusive to TRRT
Egon Danielson is a singer/songwriter who cut his teeth here in the Stateline area fronting hard rock bands like Streetlife and others back in the ’70s and ’80s. After a lot of hard work, determination and banging it out in nightclubs across the Midwest, Egon took a much-needed break. Today he’s back at it doing what he loves to do best, this time performing in a scaled down country/folk setting in his new home of Lexington, Kentucky.
Rockford Rocked Interview: Good morning Egon. You’re originally from the Janesville, Wisconsin area. How did you find yourself in Lexington, Kentucky playing country music?
Egon Danielson: Good morning! Thanks for having me, Todd. I took the long way around. Actually, I was born in Stoughton, Wisconsin, moved to San Diego before I was a year old, then to Rockford from ’63 until ’73, Janesville until ’82, back to San Diego until ’91, Las Vegas for six months, Tampa for four years, then Lexington. I married a Kentuckian while living in California and eventually moved to Kentucky because she wanted to be close to her family. I came to the music I do now without really thinking about it. It wasn’t a conscious choice at all. I always loved the country/folk-based tunes the Stones did, as well as Gram Parsons, Flying Burrito Bros, Neil Young, etc. When I started writing again in the ’90s I was listening to alt-country stuff like Steve Earle, Uncle Tupelo, and Son Volt. I don’t ever plan ahead when I write. I just try to open myself up and let it happen naturally.
RRI: I understand that the music scene in the Lexington area has just exploded over the last 10 years or so. Have you also been hitting the Nashville circuit?
ED: There is a great little scene here. Lots of really great musicians who also happen to be really cool people. Miles Nielsen recorded his last record here at Shangri-La Studio with my good friend Duane Lundy. I did do a little investigating in Nashville early on, but I just couldn’t be a part of that Nash-Vegas music machine. “Real” country music was pretty much dead, and the new stuff was being created in songwriting sweat shops. Not my thing at all. It is getting much better now, thanks to the rise of Americana artists like Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson (both Kentucky guys). There’s lots of great stuff coming out of East Nashville now, so I may get back down that way in the near future.
RRI: Let’s back up a bit and talk about how you got into music and songwriting in the first place. How old were you when you realized that you wanted to play music and perform?
ED: Man, I think I was born loving music. I used to hide under the covers at night with my little transistor radio and listen to WLS. I was in my first band in third grade. We called ourselves The Time Cycles and tried really hard to play the songs we heard on the radio. I was making up songs from the start. It seemed easier than figuring out how to play other people’s stuff.
RRI: Did you ever have any formal vocal training or lessons of any kind?
ED: None. I’m sure it probably would have made me a better singer, but I pretty much always had a punk rock/garage band soul. Just get up there and try to make a cool noise. I never was a very good “singer”, really. I’m always a bit surprised that people want to hear me, but I’m always grateful when they do.
RRI: Early on you were in a very popular Rockford area band called Streetlife. It seemed like you guys were playing constantly not only in Rockford but all over the place. You guys had built a huge following in just a short amount of time. Thoughts?
ED: Streetlife was a blast, I have to say. Dysfunctional as hell, like any good rock band in the ’70s, but we put everything we had into our shows and people responded to that. It was loud, fast, and fun. Lee Kelso (who also managed The Names) was managing and booking the band, and he had us touring relentlessly, so we came a long way in a very short time. The risk of that kind of schedule is burn out. Crappy food, long drives, limited sleep, and lots of chemicals take their toll. That was true for me anyway.
RRI: During the height of Streetlife’s popularity disco music seemed to have a stronghold on the music scene everywhere you looked. Were there ever times when club owners would ask you to sneak in a Donna Summer or maybe a Bee Gees song into your set list?
ED: A request like that would have been met with sneers and middle fingers. We were definitely on the frontlines in the war on disco (laughs).
RRI: You eventually decided that it was time for you to get out of music and the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle altogether. What led you to this decision and were there ever any regrets?
ED: Honestly, I was just tired. It’s not an easy lifestyle to maintain. It was tough to quit, though, and there were definitely times when I questioned that decision. I felt like I let people down, the guys in the band as well as the fans, but I was ready for something else. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, but it was the right move for me.
RRI: When did you realize that you couldn’t live without playing and performing in front of people?
ED: I never really stopped. I bought an old Gibson J-45 acoustic guitar and started playing shortly after leaving the band. I wasn’t doing it professionally, but I wrote songs, did occasional gigs, and had a little home studio. Music is and has always been necessary for my mental health.
RRI: Tell us about your latest album release, “Raven and the Bluebird”, and where we can find it.
ED: I really enjoyed making that record. It’s not perfect, but at some point you have to set it free. I had recorded the demos in my home studio over a period of a couple years. Thanks to MySpace, I hooked up with Minnesota producer and super talented multi-instrumentalist, Andy Dee. Luckily for me, he agreed to produce the record. You can find it on iTunes, as well as CDbaby, Amazon, and others. Just Google me and you’ll find it. My website is under renovation right now, so if someone wanted to buy it directly they can send me a message on my Facebook page.
RRI: I understand you had the help of a few industry heavyweights involved with the recording process including Phil Solem of The Rembrandts and John Ely of Asleep at the Wheel. Thoughts?
ED: Absolutely! Thanks to Andy and another very talented guy named Chris Zann, who also has connections with the best of the best in the Minnesota area and Nashville, I was able to get these guys on board. Michael Bland, of Prince’s New Power Generation, also played drums on four tunes. Coincidentally, there’s even a Rockford connection there in Randy Sabien, who played fiddle on the Cajun ditty called “Chuchotements de Desire”. I was incredibly lucky to have these folks contributing.
RRI: Favorite movie of all time?
ED: That’s a tough one. I would have to say Cool Hand Luke.
RRI: Best music concert you have ever seen from the audience?
ED: Dylan with ‘Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’, is probably my favorite.
RRI: The last time you were in Janesville and decided that it would be a good idea to stop into that goofy Circus Drive-In restaurant for a burger?
ED: The last time I was in Janesville was 1996. I didn’t hit the Circus Drive-In, though maybe I should have (laughs).
RRI: Most memorable gig you have ever played?
ED: With Streetlife, it would have to be the New Year’s Eve show with Bad Boy at the Electric Ballroom (might have been The Palms by then, I can’t remember) in Milwaukee. It was the first time we were treated like rock stars. Limo, suite at a fancy hotel, live radio broadcast, the works. The place was sold out, and it felt like we were really going to make it. I’m not sure my feet touched the floor that night.
RRI: Favorite Sunday morning album?
ED: These days it would be In The Throes by John Moreland.
RRI: What’s next for Egon Danielson?
ED: I’m getting ready to do another record, with a band this time. The plan is to do a more organic, live in the studio, thing. I’ll be out playing with this crew over the winter, and looking to release sometime next summer if all goes according to plan.
(Photo courtesy of Derek Feldman from Shaker Steps Photography)