As I was putting together my thoughts for this piece on Country music songwriter and performer Danny Griego, I found myself quietly, non-chalantly singing the Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings song: Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys / Don’t let ’em pick guitars and drive them old trucks / Make ’em be doctors and lawyers and such / Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys / They’ll never stay home and they’re always alone, even with someone they love.
Funny, but I don’t know how I even remember the song considering how young I was when it came out, but my subconscious clearly put two and two together here. And yes, Country music purists, I know it was a remake, and that there were variations of the song, but that’s neither here nor there. This is about a man named Danny Griego, who, after many years of writing songs for other people, released his own debut album just one year ago. A man who was literally struck by lightening and survived. Yes, seriously.
It just so happens that Danny’s mom (I’m assuming) was smart enough to push him to succeed, despite other routes he could have taken with his grassroots cowboy lifestyle, and he came out of college with two degrees. On the flip side, he also came out picking guitars and touring the land as an over-achieving bachelor. So how does a knack for songwriting and performing, a love of hunting and fishing, a strong business mind, strong faith, and sense of responsibility all mix together?
Before we answer that, let’s factor in Danny’s passion for wheels… not dirty old trucks, but hot rod bikes! And get this… the song that popped into my head… it turns out that Danny actually toured with, wrote songs for and was mentored by Waylon Jennings. Three points for my memory bank!
Delightfully, Danny Griego has found a way to blend all of his talents and hobbies into a an often fast-paced career. And he still finds time for philanthropy, giving back to good causes and donating funds from his music sales. He shows his support for U.S. veterans in many ways, like creating jobs on his upcoming tour for those who have served our country. It also should be noted that Danny sings in both English and Spanish on his records, so he’s truly got the pulse of the American connection at his fingertips.
We talked at great length for this interview, and rest assured this man is someone you’ll want to get to know as he comes up in the world of Country music and beyond. Read on as we find out some of Danny Griego’s best tough love advice in this UrbLife exclusive!
Tell us about your fascination with the hot rod scene. What excites you about bike racing?
Danny Griego: I love racing, when we were kids I got into those American muscle cars and I think kids are still into that really. A lot of people live online nowadays, and there are a lot of people who don’t know about the National Hot Rod Association. It’s actually a 501c3. It’s a charitable organization. It’s pretty neat to spend a day at the races. I’ve been on the road with them a couple of years touring with them all around the country, and we’re getting ready to go back on tour.
This year’s really special because we’re tying it in with a veterans’ program. We’re employing veterans for the entire tour. The tour is in 2015 and we are really excited about it. It will be a job sustainability program and were really excited to have the opportunity to bring the jobs to veterans because they are so deserving.
How do find balance in your life to keep yourself happy and healthy?
DG: Well I try to put a fishing rod in my hand every now and again. [Laughs] I just got back from Monster Lake in Cody, Wyoming. That was a real balancing trip for me, being able to go out there. It’s a catch and release lake, and being able to catch these huge… I mean it’s named Monster for a reason. Part of my balance is being in the outdoors. That’s a big deal for me, it brings me closer to God and I suppose that He is the balance.
How do you go from having a marketing and managing dual degree to going into the artist side of the music business and still stay sane?
DG: The music business is totally crazy. But there are a lot of quantified areas in it, hence the business. We’re on the road and you better have your logistics lined out when you’re doing that. The road is tough love. When I’m out there, I haven’t had the luxury or a tour manager, a road manager, stage manager, or production manager. I’m wearing all those hats, so I’m booking all the tickets, doing all the hotel rooms, all the logistics, and picking the guys up from the airport.
Sometimes I hire someone to get the guys from the airport and I’ll always go meet them for lunch, no matter what I’m doing, because it’s important for me to go let them know that they are important to me. It really wears you out. Because of that, I don’t have the luxury of a lot of time when we’re on tour so we start early, especially rolling around with the Hot Rod Association.
We have to kind of sneak in like church mice and do our thing and set up in the middle of the night so that were out of everybody’s way. When they come rolling in there to do their work at seven in the morning, we’re already all set up and done for our day until the guys show back up around noon, so that those morning hours we’re out of everybody’s way. You really have to have your act together on that.
One of the things that’s taken [time]is that type of discipline to where I was itemizing every 10 minute blocks in my day timer to make sure that I was on track and get everything done and set my goals and knock them down. That’s one thing I still do today. I make a list every night before I go to bed so that I can get some sleep and not roll around and worry about it, and when I get up I’m on track with what I need to do. If nothing else, education teaches you a process and skill set that will help you your entire life.
A lot of people who don’t have that discipline may look at your structure and call you a control freak. Have you ever had those kind of battles before?
DG: I’ve totally been accused of that. Give me a checkbook and I’ll gladly turn this stuff over, I just don’t have the budget to do it. There have been a few shows where I’ve had the budget and I’ve done it, I’ve delegated out those responsibilities.
In fact, we had a minor incident on one of the last shows where my sound man, who usually wearing the hat of a stage manager as well, they were packing up at the end of the night and we rented a bunch of gear and a couple of things didn’t get turned in. Instead of picking up the phone and handling the situation with the rental place, I called him, gave him the company’s number and told him to make it right because it’s his responsibility. He’s a real aspiring guy in his early twenties, and he doesn’t need me fixing his problems. He needs to take care of it himself. I love the guy and he need to learn that.
If I was a control freak, I would have picked up the problem and handle it, and it would have been handled in two days. It really took a couple of weeks to get it handled – he got it handled.
You definitely sacrifice something if you are a control freak, and you’re biting off all those jobs because you lose the ability to be an artist, that creative side and that really cuts into you. We’ve added more people to the team as we’ve rolled down the road. I don’t like to run things as a dictatorship. Everybody has a job. Training somebody is one thing, but once they are trained, letting them have that freedom to do their job is another.
What I like to do is have quality circles and we sit around every now and again and bounce ideas off each other and talk about how things could have gone better the last roll. You’ll find if you do that, the people that are working with you generally have ideas you probably never would have thought of. I would love to have a road manager and production manager to help line me out for things and act as a liaison.
I think It’s really good thing to have a team around you, because it lets people know that you have your act together. Also there’s something to the exclusivity of not being able to get directly at an artist. If you can get directly at them that might hurt you, because then all of a sudden you’re accessible and that’s not a good thing.
I don’t have a problem working seven days a week and working my butt off. But on a show day, I have a hard time with the business side of it because it cuts into my creativity and getting on stage. The guy that gets on that stage isn’t the business guy you know. If I don’t have the time to decompress and flip my brain over to that [creative]side, then the business guy walks up on time and that’s not a good thing.
It takes me awhile to get into my show and performance that way so I rarely let that happen. One particular show I did in Flagstaff, Arizona, there was a major problem with the sound and my A.D. was trying to get a hold of me to tell me that. It was the venue’s sound, and they couldn’t reach me. I showed up right before the show and they said “man we’ve been trying to get a hold of you all day about the sound problem.” I said “Y’all get it handled?” and they said “yeah we got it squared away.” I don’t even know about it. [laughs]
Had it not gotten fixed, there’s nothing I could have done about it anyway, but it dang sure would’ve ruined my show had I known about it. I would have been stressed. There’s a point in time where you done everything you need done and you just need to go off by yourself and have some downtime.
Can you think of one piece of tough love advice given to you that you were able to apply to your life?
DG: I can think of a few different things that have become words of wisdom that I’ve ended up living by… “Hard work and luck go hand in hand.” My dad was really big on instilling in us that if we were gonna do anything in this world, we’re gonna need work at it and keep our nose down and that’s something that’s never gonna change.
Another thing Waylon Jennings told me is “You don’t go running off to Nashville. The doors will never be open. You go out there and make some noise and once you do that they will come to you and then the doors will open.”
I really didn’t understand that. I got to go on tour with him toward the end of his life, and we were running around in New Mexico and Arizona. He took the time to tell me a lot of things. We were rolling around in this 1964 Cadillac Limousine that I had, and he had one of those back in the day. It was him, Richie Albright, and a preacher. They would go chase the tour bus down the road and meet him in the venues in that car. He taught me a lot of things when we were rolling around in my ’64 Cadillac.
I didn’t really understand what he was telling to me. Someone can tell you something and you could nod your head up and down and remember it and think you have a handle onto what they’re saying, but you don’t really get it until you’ve walked in those shoes. There’s so much wisdom in the statement of going out and making your own noise and letting them come knock on your door.
What’s the best piece of advice you would give someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
DG: Watch out for what you pray for, because prayers come true. I distinctly praying to be a songwriter and every major door I walked through He swung open and there were some big ones. I got to write with Hank Cochran, Red Lane, and Max D. Barnes. Those had nothing to do with how many doors that swung open. Along this road that I’ve been walking and that’s been my deal I made with Him. If He wants me to continue to do this and He draws a line I’ll walk it.
Man, you gotta be careful of what you pray for. If you sign up to be a songwriter, you’re gonna go through some trials. The Man’s gonna put you through it, and that is a tough love thing. He’s doing it for your own good, but it will give you some writing material for sure. [Prayers] will come true and not necessarily how you thought they would. If you pray for stronger shoulders, there isn’t gonna be a wand waved and boom you have stronger shoulders. You’re gonna have to carry a lot of load to get there.
Is marriage a goal in life or do you see yourself as a free spirit?
DG: I think it’s totally in the Lord’s time kind of thing. It’s the farthest thing from my mind. It’s not that I don’t want to, I’d love to have kids and have a partner. She just hasn’t showed up yet, and I’m not gonna get impatient and try to make that happen, I’m really busy right now touring and writing and the veteran’s tour is a major goal for me right now. That’s pretty much my whole life. I’m one of those artists that’s on the road all the time.
What do you have coming up as far as collaborations or new albums?
DG: One of the things I just wrote is with Hall of Famer Red Lane. For me it’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever written and we’re getting ready to go track it. There’s a big producer in Miami and it’s a Latin crossover song, so it’s kind of new direction for me to go do this. I’ve tracked thing before in English and Spanish, but they’ve always been on the Country side. This is not on the Country side, if anything it’s on the Pop side. I’m really looking forward to laying it down.
There’s another one that I’ve wrote with Tony Stampley who’s a really talented writer. He’s written a lot for Hank [Williams] Jr. and he’s a quick study. We have something that’s time appropriate that’s gonna be on the next album. That’s the straight up country thing that hopefully will be able to track here pretty soon.
I still have some business to wrap up on the West Coast for this tour, so I’m traveling a lot right now and I want to be back in L.A., hopefully wrapping up all the logistics. The project is way bigger than I would have imagined it being. It’s been a lot of work, and we’re looking forward to getting out there and seeing it through.