Danny Antonio Alexander is one of those rare individuals who has been fortunate and talented enough to earn money from doing what he loves, yet who remains genuinely humble and grounded.
Born and raised in Lafayette, Danny Alexander is the front man of the eponymous Blues Band that has been playing the New Orleans circuit for the last decade or so. He spoke to Kreol Magazine about how he entered the world of blues at the relatively mature age of 37, and what it means to him to be a Creole at the heart of the music scene.
How did the Danny Alexander Blues Band come into existence?
It began one Christmas, I was 37 years old at the time, and my young daughter asked me if we could sing carols together under the tree. I said really? So I borrowed one of my co-workers’ guitars, and trust me, it was the worse rendition of Jingle Bells you ever want to hear. I had no clue what chords to play, but we sang it, it was great. That was all it took for the music bug to enter my veins.
Tell us a little about your background?
I was born and bred in Zydeco Country, Lafayette, and growing up I was surrounded by the Creole culture and listened to blues on WWOZ radio. My love of blues followed me after I moved to New Orleans in 1987. After that fateful improvised jam session with my little girl, I began to try to develop my blues skills, picking up some chords here and there at occasional blues jams where, at first, I knew only enough to play Johnny B. Goode and a simple shuffle number. As my knowledge and experience built up, I began playing local gigs with my band, initially as a hobby. Soon, though, this hobby became a central part of my life and my passion for playing and facilitating the music I loved swiftly developed. Now, although I still work full time as a juvenile counsellor at a detention facility, I take my music career very seriously and, as well as playing my own gigs, I also host blues jams around New Orleans, featuring some big hitters in the field.
Why the two parallel activities?
My main and steady employment is at the detention facility. This I require for a regular income. This means that I can only do gigs local to New Orleans, so I play about four nights per week. I am content to balance my day job with my life in music After this combination for so many years it might all change in 2018 when I am due to retire from my regular employment. I hope to find someone to book some gigs for me further afield, perhaps even out of state. I’m going to give it a shot. My old coach said to me that, “I’d rather shoot for the moon and miss it than aim at nothing and hit it.” So yeah, after I retire I’m going to give it a shot.
Tell us a little about your family and the role of music?
My wife sadly passed away last October from ovarian cancer and my music is a means of keeping my mind occupied. My two children are now aged 24 and 17 and I am proud to say that my daughter graduated this year with good grades, though sadly her mother did not live long enough to see that happen. Both my children are naturals when it comes to music. Music kind of runs in the family, my grandfather played harmonica, my dad played music for 11 years, in the Lafayette area. My sister also played music in the Lafayette area and now she’s full time at it and makes a living out of it.
What does music mean to you?
Like my sister I make a living out of it too, of course, but my main reason for playing gigs and hosting events is to meet different people from diverse backgrounds. Making money is not a consistent feature in my gigs: some make good money but some are played for free and I am particularly proud of my benefit gigs. I recently hosted a benefit gig that raised an amazing $40,000 for a children’s hospital, which was truly gratifying. My job at the detention center can mean that I see the worst of humanity at times, and having a release through music that also benefits others balances this out.
How is Creole intertwined in your identity?
I am a Creole through and through. I feel that Creole is generally under-recognised as a culture, and even in Lafayette and the south-west region many musicians may often go unrecognised as Creole. My message to any Creole musicians and music-lovers is to support Creole music as often as you can and appreciate it. Try to pick up on some of the language, because I know it is sort of forgotten. The language is not as central to the Creole identity in New Orleans as it was in the Lafayette of my childhood, though. In New Orleans, if your hair is straight, or if your hair is curly and shiny, you’re Creole. If you’re kind of light skinned you’re Creole. I know Creoles who are whiter than a guy’s shirt. My mother in-law is the whitest person I know but she’s black! That’s a whole different racism that you get in to.
Regardless of a person’s racial heritage, though, it is clear that music unites people from all backgrounds in New Orleans. (Kreol: It’s not hard to understand how much Danny loves the city and how strongly he feels that music resides in the city’s heart.)
New Orleans and music. What is your take on it?
Danny concludes with the telling, “Music just oozes out of this city, you fall in love with it. I have met folks who come here for some kind of music festival and then move here the next year, because the city embraces you. The city loves you back. It doesn’t take long either, so be careful what you ask for.”