Danny Kortchmar Returns to Bridge Street Friday
Guitarist has served as writer/performer on Hits for Don Henley, James Taylor and Jackson Browne
"Dirty Laundry." Don Henley had the title, but he needed a song.
Fortunately, he had Danny Kortchmar working with him, and Danny had an idea. Using a Farfisa organ, Kortchmar composed the distinctive keyboard riff, running it through an Echoplex unit to create one of the most memorable tracks of the '80s. Henley added lyrics about those bloodsuckers in the media, and the result was a hit from his first solo album, "I Can't Stand Still."
Kortchmar was crafting hits long before he met Henley. Unlike a typical session guitarist, he could translate the empathy of a tune through his instrument. This made him the go-to guitarist for James Taylor, Carole King, Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt; he's all over the classic albums Tapestry, Sweet Baby James and Running On Empty.
No one did soothing sounds like Kortchmar, but it was never his thing. "I hate folk music," he once declared. He also doesn't consider himself a session player, since he's really a collaborator (he eventually stopped bringing his acoustic guitar to sessions so he wouldn't have to play it).
That's how Don Henley put him to use, which resulted in some of his best songs: "All She Wants To Do Is Dance," "Sunset Grill" and "New York Minute" among them.
Unlike some of his former bandmates (check out the History of the Eagles documentary), Kortchmar has fond memories of his time working with Henley. "He's a very conscious fellow and a guy with a lot to say," he explained. "He had a lot to say and a lot to prove, and he did it."
Raised in Westchester County, New York, Danny became a soft rock stalwart simply by circumstance. In the precursor to their genre-defying early '70s output, Taylor and King both found themselves in bands with Danny: Taylor with The Flying Machine in 1966 (listen to "Fire and Rain" to hear a mention), and King with The City in 1968, the year Danny moved to California.
For the next decade or so, Danny was rarely a stone's throw away from another brilliant musician. "We all knew each other, we all used to record things together," he said. "We used to tour together, we used to write songs together, produce each other's stuff and play on each other's stuff. It was a helluva community."
Other Kortchmar co-writes include "Somebody's Baby" by Jackson Browne and "So Close" by Hall & Oates. The hidden gem in his catalog is "Honey, Don't Leave L.A.," which was a single for James Taylor in 1978. Danny wrote the whole song, with lyrics triggered by a woman who chose the other guy, moving to the South of France with her boyfriend. It's Taylor at his rollicking best, and Danny in his compositional sweet spot. It's a song with permanence, something Danny thinks is unique to the era.
"That stuff is considered classic rock," he says. "That's a format that keeps surviving, because it's classic. It's kind of like La boheme or Aida. Those are the grand period of opera and that's still what people see when they go to see opera. Those are really well known and classical opera pieces and no one's ever beat them. I think it's the same with classic rock. It's just a period of time that will last for a really, really long time, because it just spoke to people."
On Friday, Aug. 30, Danny will perform at Bridge Street Live with the Kortchmar-McDonald Band. The McDonald is Tim, a singer/guitarist originally from Worcester whose carrer arc had him singing jingles for a while. How did he and Kortchmar get together? "Danny had moved up to Connecticut and was exploring the terrain," says Tim. "He came to a McDonald & Teague gig at the Maple Tree in Simsbury. We then got involved in a recording project for local singer songwriter Dana Pomfret's latest release Float. Somewhere along the way, Danny asked me if I wanted to help him form a band. Of course, the answer was yes!"
These days, Danny lives in northern Connecticut, works on music, and spends a lot of time with his daughters. Ask him what aspect of the business he most enjoys, and he'll tell you: "my absolute favorite thing to do is to play music with my friends."
"Anyone that's seen my show can recognize that we're all having a terrific time," says Danny. "I love playing with those fellows. They're great. Tim is a fantastic musician and singer, and I really, really enjoy playing with him. So whether it's in the studio or on tour or in a club or wherever, I love to play music with my pals. And that's the joy of my life. Love to play the guitar and I love to play in a band."
The Kortchmar-McDonald band plays Bridge Street Live on Friday, August 30 with special guest Lipbone Redding. Tickets are $17 for general admission and $27 for a seat at a table.
Carl Wiser writes for Songfacts.com. The full Danny Kortchmar interview, with the stories behind his hits, is here: http://www.songfacts.com/blog/interviews/danny_kortchmar/