The Telemaster
November 27, 2007 4:26 PM   Subscribe

He was called "the Telemaster", "the Humbler", and " the greatest unknown guitarist in the world". Danny Gatton, revered by guitarists great and small, never achieved popular acclaim. His refusal to stick to any particular genre of music, and his reluctance to travel had much to do with that. But to those of us lucky enough to enjoy the Washington, DC music scene of the eighties and nineties got to see arguably the most talented electric guitar player this country has produced.
posted by Benny Andajetz (26 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps there was a reason he was unknown? The dude has some chops, no doubt, but he lacks a little je ne sais quois. Kind of like a guy like Alan Holdsworth (yeah I know he's British) who is one of the more amazing guitarists, but never really cut through to being really well known. I would say Bill Connors is every bit as talented as this guy, but you've probably not heard of him either.
posted by Eekacat at 4:44 PM on November 27, 2007

Fun. Reminds of me Austin's Redd Volkaert.
posted by nonmyopicdave at 4:51 PM on November 27, 2007

I saw the guy on Austin City Limits years ago and he blew me away.
We're all old enough to know the best stuff doesn't always make it into the mainstream. Gatton was a guitarists guitarist, I wish he was still around...
posted by black8 at 4:57 PM on November 27, 2007

He did some great stuff. 88 Elmira Street was a terrific record. he is missed.
posted by jonmc at 5:08 PM on November 27, 2007

Great post, and truly a genius. But I think Les Paul has the claim to that title....
posted by lumpenprole at 5:12 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

but he lacks a little je ne sais quois.

I agree with that in terms of his studio albums. Too many overdubs, a little sterile.

However, the 1979 live recording Redneck Jazz Explosion will honestly BLOW YOU'RE FREAKIN' MIND!

Oh, and I've jammed with Redd Volkaert. I have no idea how thos fat sausage-fingers are so accurate.
posted by sourwookie at 5:16 PM on November 27, 2007

Love him! The only time I ever saw him was at the Wolf Trap jazz and blues festival where he played one of the side stages nestled in the woods. I wish all my hikes through the woods ended with a scene like that.
posted by hoppytoad at 5:28 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here's a link with more details about Gatton's death. Really sad stuff.
posted by landis at 5:39 PM on November 27, 2007

Wow. Just awesome. What a waste that he's gone.
posted by RussHy at 6:54 PM on November 27, 2007

Can't put a metronome on him, but his timing sure sounds good to me. Now I have to get a slab Tele, is that what you're telling me?

and this is a tenor sax guy talking here
posted by Sk4n at 7:14 PM on November 27, 2007

Yeah, definitely one of the greats.
posted by arto at 7:27 PM on November 27, 2007

What a fantastic guitarist. I'd urge anyone who came in here to snark at the silly "greatest guitarist of all time" rhetoric just to take a minute and listen to his playing.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:07 PM on November 27, 2007

ikkyu2, I did watch all 4 linked youtubery videos, and I've heard him before. He is very talented, and amazing technically, but no, he's not the greatest guitarist of all time. That rhetoric is absurd, and you know it. Here's a challenge, how are you going to measure who the greatest guitarist is of all time? Perhaps there should be some kind of 10 trials of Asterix for guitar players. Fastest to run through all major and minor scales. Longest legato run at 180 notes per minute. Best face while soloing. Most groupies banged after a show... There have been a ton of great guitarists, and even more really great ones that don't get noticed. The guy is really good, but he lacks a certain amount of soul to his playing, and he really isn't truly innovative. Not like someone like Les Paul as mentioned earlier, or say Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, or Steve Vai.
posted by Eekacat at 8:28 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Very cool Benny...I'm a huge Gatton fan and have been meaning to do this post for some time. Thanks for doing it.

I'm very bummed that I lost 88 Elmira St and Cruisin' Deuces in a move and haven't heard them in awhile. (Cruisin' Dueces in particular has a unbelievable studio version of Harlem Nocturne.) The Joey DeFrancesca collaboration is outstanding as well.

After I saw the Arlen Roth videos Telemaster I (soloing) and II (Strictly Rhythm) it completely ruined the way I played for awhile while I switched to that hybrid picking style, trying to get his Hammond Organ sounds out of my Tele (it's close, but not as good without the Joe Barden pickups). Having a homemade Magic Dingus Box also would help. He's using the original in this old Redneck Jazz clip and I'm sure there are other clips out there.

(and I defy anyone to hear that clip and say he lacks any "certain something" or whatever you want to call it in French.)

His suicide was a terrible, terrible loss.
posted by edverb at 8:29 PM on November 27, 2007

I think it was Carlos Santana who made this point (and if I'm wrong about that please correct me), but the definition of greatness in a guitarist is the ability to recognize their playing as theirs immediately. Out of the hundreds of millions of people who've ever played the guitar, how many can you instantly identify just by hearing them play? Two dozen, maybe? Danny Gatton definitely passed that test.

And I'll say this much as I love love love SRV, there will be no Kenny Wayne Shepherd who will come along sounding just like Danny Gatton any time soon, and it won't be for lack of envy or attempts to emulate him. Believe me, I've tried ;-)
posted by edverb at 8:34 PM on November 27, 2007

I'm not sure that distinctive sound is synonymous with greatness. Steve Albini has a very distinctive sound, for example, and I like his playing, but he's hardly up there in the pantheon of guitar greats.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:18 PM on November 27, 2007

Great picker; one of the finest for sure.
posted by Wolof at 9:30 PM on November 27, 2007

Brent Mason ya'll. As queer as I was for Danny Gatton (I still have his Hot Licks video for goodness sakes!) I am much more of a fan of Mason (he is a first call Nashville session player as well). Oh and Albert Lee!
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:01 PM on November 27, 2007

Kenny Wayne Shepherd is spending so much time trying to be Stevie Ray Vaughn that he forgets that he can be himself. A lot of that has to do with people telling him he's the second coming of SRV. I bet if he put his mind to it he could sound like Danny Gatton too, but there's no money in that. I threw Stevie Ray Vaughn in there as a ringer since so many people think his covers of Hendrix are great, but to me that's his weakest stuff. Hendrix was hearing things different from anyone else when he played what he did, and though SRV plays it more "perfect" it lacks the vision Hendrix had. SRV stood just fine on his own with his own music. As I said, Danny Gatton is obviously a great guitarist with huge technical skills, he just lacks the vision of original thinking that some of the other folks who are considered greats have. Perhaps I have a different idea of great, but I think it involves more than technical prowess.
posted by Eekacat at 11:13 PM on November 27, 2007

Well, I'm not here to snark, just to respectfully disagree with him being "the best guitar player" or the best unknown guitar player. The guy was talented, no doubt about it. I've caught a few of his performances over the years (on television and videotape), but bottom line, he just doesn't move me past eliciting a "Heh, that was a pretty cool lick he just played". He had his own sound, he could play fast and all, but he wasn't a soulful player imo. I mean, listen to the Sleepwalk intro link....there's just something mechanical about his playing. I'd have to agree with Eekacat that "he was lacking a little je ne sais quois." Basically, my opinion/critique of Mr. Gatton can be summed up as "Talented player, but there was something missing."

Then again, I can certainly understand if some people (muscians/guitarists themselves at that) thought he was the cat's pajamas, appreciation of music and art in general being subjective and all.

RIP Teleman.
posted by Devils Slide at 11:33 PM on November 27, 2007

Don't forget the other spectrum while staying true to the Telecaster theme: Albert Collins. Less is more (in a Dm open, capo'ed tuning no less!)
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:43 PM on November 27, 2007

stinkycheese, you meant to say Steve Vai.
posted by toastchee at 5:55 AM on November 28, 2007

Yeah...I can't stand Steve Vai personally, but I accept that he is widely considered, ahem, great. For me, he will always be the guy playing the goofy-looking three neck guitar in that David Lee Roth video.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:49 AM on November 28, 2007

I have a towel that Danny used to wipe off his Tele, after he soaked it in beer and played through the towel.

Amazing performer.
posted by Corky at 11:31 AM on November 28, 2007

I made this post because Danny Gatton was never a household name. Guitarists know him, but few outside them do. It's hard to express to the uninitiated that Danny was not just about the blazing chops you see on YouTube (there's a reason we have the term "YouTubery"). His greatness, and a huge part of his commercial weakness, was he could, and did, play everything. He could play blues, jazz, punk, surf, rockabilly, fusion with equal ability - sometimes all in the same song. Many guitarists excel at one kind of music, but few are "renaissance men". Steve Morse comes to mind as one, but he hasn't enjoyed great commercial success, either (but guitarists know who he is).

Bill Connors has great chops- as a jazz player. Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Derek Trucks have great chops- as blues/rock players. Steve Vai has great chops - as a wanker.

Sidenote: It's amazing, as I get older, how much music I enjoy involves Vince Gill. He really has involved himself with a high-order level of musicians.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:20 PM on November 28, 2007

Danny Gatton had a Hot Licks video? How did I get stuck with this Steve Lukather Hot Licks video, and Skomsvold gets the Danny Gatton video? There ain't no justice.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:52 AM on November 29, 2007

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