The hottest thing going in genre-bending music during the past year has been the award-winning Hellecasters, whose first album on Mike Nesmith’s Rio Records Return of the Hellecasters raised a lot of eyebrows and the entire guitar world’s pulse rates with its eclectic high octane blend of Celtic, Country, and good old rock and roll music. Three masters of the guitar, John Jorgenson (ex-Desert Rose Band), Jerry Donahue (ex-Fairport Convention), and slide wizard Will Ray have unleashed another album, Escape from Hollywood, and during a hiatus between performing at the 1994 Arlington Fall Nationals Guitar Show and a benefit at New York’s Bottom Line, held as a tribute to the late Danny Gatton, joined Vintage Guitar for a round table discussion.
You’ve all committed to doing this benefit performance at the Bottom Line to help the family that Danny Gatton left behind …while the Hellecasters will headline, a real heartfelt support from the music community has become a part of this event, including Sonny Landreth, Arlen Roth, Jimmy Vivino, G.E. Smith, and of course the remaining members of the Danny Gatton band. How are you feeling about Danny’s death?
John: I was called the following morning by someone close to Danny, so I wouldn’t hear about it through the news. I appreciated that. In thinking back …I wasn’t that surprised. He was having problems with depression, and that can be as debilitating as any physical illness. He’d suffered a big loss with the death of his friend Billy Windsor earlier in the year …they were buddies forever. I felt bad that he couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. His achievements, his wonderful playing didn’t make any difference. I wasn’t that close to him as a person, although we’d become friends during our time playing together. But I felt a loss, that one of our own, had been taken. And now he’s gone.
Initially, when I spoke with Harold from Guitar World (major sponsor of the event with Allan Pepper of the Bottom Line), the idea was to do a recording that would help benefit the family who were left behind. That didn’t seem like enough, and it wasn’t immediate. Harold and I agreed that Mrs. Gatton and Danny’s daughter, Holly, needed support now, so we plunged ahead with this tribute to Danny at the Bottom Line in NYC. I committed the Hellecasters, and everyone’s been wonderful right from the start, covering their own expenses, including plane fare, so that all the money could be channeled to the family. We couldn’t have done it without everyone pitching in.
Jerry: What a tremendous loss. We’d grown to be good friends lately. We’d all gotten together at James Burton’s new Rock and Roll Cafe on a weekend, and there was so much going on. James was celebrating his birthday, and the opening of his new hangout, and Fender wanted to shoot an ad featuring us, the three Telecaster players, all together. We jammed together at the club that night, and had such a wonderful time. There was no way of knowing that he was in such pain. Danny was such a gentleman, even with people who had just met him. I guess he kept his deepest thoughts and problems to himself, and only his closest friends were even aware that he was troubled. He was a startling guitarist, and a very special person. He’ll be missed by anyone who had the good fortune to meet him and get to know him, but universally by all those who loved his music.
What have you guys been up to musically?
Jerry: Mostly, I’ve been working with the Hellecasters and trying to keep time zones straight. We just finished the new album, Escape from Hollywood, and we brought a limited edition of about a thousand CD’s to Texas just for the guitar show. Our new album is a real departure …it was pretty democratic the way this one worked out. It’s all original material, unlike the first album, and I’m featured on about a third of it. This time around, all the songs have been written specifically for the Hellecasters