Even Jeff Daniels’ fans may not realize the actor of “Dumb and Dumber” and “The Newsroom” fame also is a musician.
Wikipedia will tell you all about how Daniels is an award-winning actor whose career includes roles in film, television and theater such as “Terms of Endearment,” “To Kill A Mocking Bird,” “101 Dalmatians,” “The Looming Tower,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “God of Carnage” and “The Comey Rule.”
But you have to go to Daniels’ own website to find out that he’s a blues guitarist with seven recorded albums.
“It’s a shock to most people,” Daniels, 65, said in a phone call with The Daily Herald from his home in Chelsea, Michigan.
“I mean, way back to William Shatner. You know, when William Shatner started putting out albums, it kind of ruined it for all of us,” Daniels said, referring to Shatner’s infamously campy vocal stylings.
Edmonds Center for the Arts will present Jeff Daniels’ “Alive and Well Enough” virtual concert Jan. 15 via www.jeffdaniels.com. A Q&A will follow Daniels’ livestreamed show featuring songs from his latest album of the same name. He’ll perform from his home studio.
Daniels picked up the guitar in 1976 after moving to New York to pursue a career as an actor. If he wasn’t acting, he was practicing and writing songs.
“I knew I was there to be an actor, and that I had to chase that as far as I could, but in the meantime I decided to learn the acoustic guitar,” he said. “I learned how to fingerpick from Doc Watson and Stephen Grossman tab books.”
He said the guitar (he had a Guild D-40 back then) kept him sane while waiting for the phone to ring for another acting gig.
“If you don’t do something, the rejection alone will kill you — but the waiting around will do you in, too,” Daniels said.
His blues and folk influences include Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Arlo Guthrie, Robert Johnson, Steve Goodman, Charlie Patton, Son House, John Prine, Skip James and Lead Belly.
The first time Daniels performed live was at a bar in Chelsea in 2002. He played one song — “Roadsigns,” which is on his 2020 album “Alive and Well Enough.” He wrote “Roadsigns” in 1978 based on a poem by the revered playwright Lanford Wilson. Every time Wilson saw Daniels — they worked together at the off Broadway Circle Repertory Co. theater — he’d ask the actor to play “Roadsigns.”
“I spent 25 years writing and playing on my back porch,” said Daniels, who also has toured both coasts with his son’s band, the Ben Daniels Band. “It was just something I was doing for me. Nobody knew I owned a guitar, let alone play one.”
Since 2002, Daniels has shared the stage with Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Joe Ely, Cheryl Wheeler, Guy Clark, Christine Lavin, Keb Mo’ and Bruce Hornsby.
He has played at clubs all over the U.S., including Seattle’s Third Door, The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, Club Passim in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cafe Lena in Saratoga Springs, New York, Houston’s Mucky Duck’s, Ram’s Head Tavern in Annapolis, Maryland, Minneapolis’ Dakota Room, The Ark in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Chicago’s Old School of Folk Music and Latitude 62 in Talkeetna, Alaska.
Daniels has written and recorded seven full-length albums. In addition to “Alive and Well Enough,” he also has released “Jeff Daniels Live and Unplugged,” “Jeff Daniels Live at The Purple Rose Theater,” “Grandfather’s Hat,” “Keep It Right Here,” “Together Again” and “Days Like These.”
Proceeds from his album sales benefit The Purple Rose Theater Co. in Chelsea, which Daniels founded in 1991. It is named after the 1985 Woody Allen movie “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” which Daniels starred in. A playwright as well as an actor and musician, Daniels has written more than a dozen plays for the company.
“I truly felt the acting career was going to end — and then ‘Newsroom’ happened, so I kept going,” he said. “But I still enjoy playing shows. And, with these livestreams, it’s almost like shooting a movie for a couple sitting on their couch. I like that.”
The Jan. 15 show will feature songs from 2020’s “Alive and Well Enough,” including “Come A Little Closer,” “Trumpty Dumpty Blues,” “Jesus Was a Stoner,” “Everybody’s Brave on the Internet” and “I Am America.”
The songs on “Alive and Well Enough” were inspired by his thoughts while staying at home during the pandemic.
“The theme is this is what I’m thinking about … while being locked up in a bunker, hoping I don’t get COVID,” Daniels said. “I think some of it is universal and some of it is personal, but it’s ‘Here’s where I was — and maybe it’s the same place you were, too.’”
In his concerts, Daniels likes to play a mix of selections from his album catalog, as well as new songs that have yet to be recorded.
Why blues? Because it is the foundation of Americana music.
“I grew up in a small white town,” he said. “The blues to us was “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly. I was clueless, just clueless.
“But then you start to see blues infiltrating everything, and then you realize it was really the source.”
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; firstname.lastname@example.org; @sarabruestle.
If you stream
Edmonds Center for the Arts presents Jeff Daniels’ “Alive and Well Enough” online show at 7 p.m. Jan. 15 via www.jeffdaniels.com. Tickets are $20-$30. Daniels’ concert will feature songs from his latest blues album, also titled “Alive and Well Enough.” A Q&A with the award-winning actor, playwright and musician will follow the show. Call 425-275-9595 or go to www.ec4arts.org.