Five Questions with... Danny Marks
You’d be hard pressed to find someone in Canada who cares more about the blues than Danny Marks. Aside from his own lengthy career as a musician dating back to his late-Sixties days with chart-toppers Edward Bear, Marks has been a familiar voice on radio, including his current hosting duties on the popular BLUZ-FM, heard Saturday nights on Toronto’s Jazz FM91.
The show has given Marks free reign to explore the genre’s hidden corners through his boundless knowledge of the blues, and to tell stories about the connections many artists share, along with illuminating the influence they’ve passed down.
Marks recently used that theme as the basis for a television series entitled Cities In Blue, seen on the HIFI TV channel, which presented a tour of many of the cities crucial to the evolution of the blues, such as New Orleans, Memphis, and Chicago.
Marks’ latest album, also entitled Cities In Blue, is a companion piece to the TV series, a collection described as original songs and soundscapes. Along with Marks on guitar and vocals, the album features a host of Toronto’s top blues artists, from pianist Julian Fauth and harmonica player Dave Rotundo, to the Whiteley Brothers and legendary session guitarist Rob Piltch.
Like the album’s cover photo, which pays homage to one of the only known photos of Robert Johnson, Marks’ attention to detail is all over Cities In Blue. But rather than making it merely a history lesson, Marks has shown that the music still lives and breathes by approaching this project as a labour of love. Go to dannym.com for more details.
What sets Cities In Blue apart from anything you’ve previously done?
It was a chance to help design a TV series from the ground up. We had meetings with network brass, producers and writers to shape the show. Composing music for each region was a natural and fresh challenge. The songs came to me during long summer walks in the Don Valley.
“Houston To L.A.” has resonated with many, including the folks at the T-Bone Walker Blues Festival in Chicago who have invited us to play. That song has served a perfect purpose. Fact is, every time I pay tribute to a past icon of the music, there are serendipitous rewards. “Belt Line Blues” is all about our sweet home in Toronto, but it became a loving nod to Elizabeth Cotton and the Piedmont Sound.
What are your fondest musical memories as you were growing up?
Living on Chaplin Crescent with the Belt Line in our back yard. Playing on the tracks. Summer nights walking to Yorkville and reeling in the first years of the Sixties. It was a time of inclusive vision, in culture and the world. Turn your radio on! The Ronettes, Dion, Bert Kaempfert, Otis Redding, Conway Twitty, all on the same charts!
At family functions, I was the MC and standup. And I wrote my own material. At summer camp we had the classic campfire singalongs. At school I had a tough time often; things moved too slow for my liking. Mom and Dad recognized my aptitude for performance and sent me to the finest drama and music schools. I didn’t do all that well there either, I was a rebel. Fortunately, I did have some good teachers at Oriole Park PS. One thing the other kids were scared of was public speaking. I found it a breeze.
What has been the biggest change in your life over the past year?
In the past year, health and well-being have become job one. Diet is paramount for anyone wanting to stay alive and well. Going off wheat one year ago completely changed my life.
What has been your most memorable experience while touring in Canada?
It was years ago, we crossed the country often by truck and by train. Edward Bear toured relentlessly in the early years and afterwards we took the train with Bill Amesbury. That was an adventure. Stuff happens on the train—hi-jinx. Plus the view can be spectacular. Living in the Big Smoke it’s easy to forget just how massive Canada is. These days a western tour is Oakville.
If you could change anything about the music industry, what would it be?
The Internet has changed everything. Industries across the board and jobs have vanished. With people less interested in physical product, it’s all in the realm of ones and zeroes. We’re missing nuance on so many levels. I grew up with records and radio. Owning your first 45s and LPs was a rite of passage. Music meant so much. Looking at the big picture is key, but the devil's in the details.