Interview With Danny Kroha (The Gories)
This coming Saturday night, The Gories will be reuniting for the first time in over a decade. The show at the Majestic Theater in Detroit will be one of only three in the United States before they make a trip to Europe. Danny Kroha plays guitar along side Mick Collins with Peggy O’Neill on the drums. Aside from The Gories, Danny has also played in The Demolition Dollrods, The Readies, The Skies Above, and has recently performed with Rodriguez. All of his music has had a strong blues undercurrent; the impact of blues music can be heard heavily in The Gories, as well as his solo performances.
Danny, can you talk a little bit about how you got started playing guitar?
Well I always wanted to play guitar. When I was six I wanted an electric guitar really badly but my parents would have none of that. So it wasn’t until the age of 19, 18 or 19, I bought my first electric guitar and started teaching myself how to play. But before that I was the lead singer in a band. I was in this band called The Onset.
So after that did you go away to college?
Well I went away to college after high school, and my dad wanted me to go into business but I had no interest in business, I was just doing it because that was what he wanted me to do. And I didn’t . . . I don’t know, I wish I would have just been stronger about saying what I wanted but he . . . there really was no room for me to say what I wanted. It was kind of like, “You’re doing this and that’s all there is to it”. So my way of rebelling was to just, rather than yelling or something I just pretended like I was going to do what he wanted me to do but then ended up doing my own thing.
He owns . . . He owned, he doesn’t anymore, he’s retired. He owned a factory that made breather elements and packaged various things. Emission hoses and gas filters and that sort of thing, and I worked there for a while just in the factory, just packaging stuff. It was during that time that I really started playing.
When did The Gories first start playing?
The Gories started in the very beginning of 1986.
So that was right after The Onset was done?
Was the idea always to have the minimalist sound?
Yeah absolutely. I think, none of us could really play that well at that point so we knew that we had to do something that was very simple. So we chose sort of a, you know, an instrumentation that would be simple and easy to do. We, at first, we were going to have a bass. Mick and I were going to play bass depending on who wrote the song. Whoever wrote the song got to play guitar. But, you know we discovered pretty quickly, I think on our first practice, that the two of us together pretty much equaled one guitar player. You know, like we discovered that I could actually play chords on the guitar and Mick couldn’t really play chords but he could play leads, and I wasn’t much of a lead player. So we decided, why don’t we just do it like this where I’ll play rhythm and you do leads? And, like I said, we just about equaled one guitar player.
And Peggy, I mean Peggy never played an instrument before at all. So we knew that her kit would have to be very simple. And I even said, when we first started out, I don’t want any cymbals. Cause I’ve been in bands with drums that just bashed cymbals constantly, so I’m like, I don’t want any cymbals! No cymbals. It’s going to be like this Bo Diddley jungle beat and not even have a kick drum. We’ll just have tom toms, that’s it. So that was the idea.
What was it about the blues that attracted you to that type of music?
Probably because I’m white. (laughs) You know, and it’s like a foreign thing to me so it’s always been intriguing. I like things that are mysterious, and that’s always been a mysterious thing to me, and I’ve always loved it. I remember listening to the radio when I was like, I don’t know, I must have been in high school, and somehow I came across a Gospel station and it just blew my mind. I think I was kind of, from them on, bitten by the blues bug so to speak.
I think the thing that I loved about the blues stuff is that it’s just so raw, so simple, so visceral. It just speaks to your soul and to your gut. And blues music, when I first heard Muddy Waters it almost scared me. It felt like something I shouldn’t be listening to. And of course that made it that much more attractive.
How did you first start discovering these blues musicians?
Well, from Yardbirds records. I got into The Yardbirds because they would play ‘For Your Love’ on the radio back in the early 80’s and I really loved that song, I thought it was great. It sounded absolutely nothing like what was happening. It sounded nothing like REO Speedwagon or Journey. And when I heard stuff like The Kinks ‘You Really Got Me’ and (The Yardbirds) ‘For Your Love’ I was like, that’s my music, that’s the stuff that I like. So I started getting into The Yardbirds and I found a Yardbirds record and loved it, an album called Having a Rave-Up with The Yardbirds. I loved it, I listened to it a lot, and I loved the songs so much that I started looking at the credits, who wrote these songs. And I noticed none of the songwriter’s names were anybody in The Yardbirds. And I’m like, well who are these guys that are writing these songs? So then I started to discover it was actually Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley. That these were the guys that were writing all these great songs. So I’m like, shit I’ve got to find out who those guys are. So I started seeking that stuff out and buying records by those guys. And once I heard that stuff I was like, aww my God, this is the real stuff.
Another band you were in, The Demolition Dollrods, if you look at a lot of the album artwork and the live performances it seemed like you put a lot of effort into the costume and the stage presence. Can you talk about where those ideas came from?
Well I think a lot of the costume ideas were really Margret. It was her idea for me to be a girl in the band cause she wanted an all girl band but she wanted me to be in it. So she was like, will you be a girl in my band, and I said yeah sure. I’ve always been kind of like, I don’t know, in touch with my female side I guess you could say. So, that was not a big stretch for me to do that. And I love dressing up anyway so, I was down with the whole idea. Yeah all those costume ideas were hers. But then once I really started getting into it and we started having costumes made then I would design my own costumes. I would make a drawing of it and I would tell the guy that made them what I wanted. Cause I really do love clothes and costuming and that sort of thing.
To move on to another one of your projects, The Readies had a show not too long ago but you had a break for a while. Are there any plans with that band?
Yeah, we just recorded a couple songs that we want to put out on a single. I’m not exactly sure who is going to put it out yet. But I think they came out good and I’m excited for them to come out. And once I get back from this Gories tour at the end of July I’m looking forward to doing some Readies stuff in August and onward.
More shows or recording, or both?
For a while you were doing a lot of solo shows, could you talk about your diddley bo?
Yeah, I have a record that was put out, probably in the 60’s or 70’s it’s called Detroit Blues of the 1950’s. A lot of the songs on it are culled from JVB Records catalog which is a very small Detroit blues label that existed in the 1950’s. It was this guy by the name of Joe Von Battle who had a record store and in the back of the record store he had a recording studio, a very primitive recording studio. He would record a lot of Detroit blues musicians, and then he would put out the records himself on his own label. He would just sell them in his store so they were never really distributed outside of Detroit and subsequently the records are very rare. But they are really great, super raw blues stuff, and one of the guys he recorded was a guy by the name of One String Sam. He only played on the streets of Detroit, he was a street musician, and he played this one stringed instrument called a diddley bo. Well I bought this compilation of Detroit blues from the 1950’s and One String Sam is on it, in fact he did only one record for JVB. One side of his one record is on this blues album. So I was just always intrigued by it, I love the sound of it, and I thought it wouldn’t be so hard to make one. So I came up with a design in my head and built one and refined it from playing it. Then after I had built one I saw a picture of One String Sam in a book about the blues and it looked very much like the one that I’d made.
I heard that in the movie It Might Get Loud with Jack White there is a scene where he uses one as well. You two have been friends for a long time, is that something that you showed him?
He may have gotten the idea from me, I’ve been doing it for a few years and I did send him some recordings so yeah he probably did get it from me. (laughs)
What is that, It Might Get Loud?
It’s a movie with Jack sort of representing rock music in the late 90’s/2000’s, The Edge from U2 representing the 80’s, and Jimmy Page representing the 70’s. They all cover their own 1/3 of the movie talking about their guitar playing and influences.
Was it released? Has it come out yet?
It played at the Toronto Film Festival, I’m not sure if they found a distributor.
Oh okay. Yeah ,he probably did get it from me. I’ve been doing it for a few years now so, it may have been me.
Another thing that I noticed at one of your solo shows you had kind of a homemade acoustic that you were using, can you talk about that?
Well that guitar was given to me. I was driving around, I like to just drive around Detroit and look at old houses and stuff. So I’m driving around one day and come across a sort of intriguing place. It was an abandoned house but there were some things set up in the yard. There was a desk with a broken computer. In the driveway was this thing that looked like a missile but it was made out of heating ducts, like aluminum heating ducts. I thought it looked interesting so I stopped my car and got out and I was looking around at this yard and this guy comes out of the house. I started talking to him and he picked up a broken remote control off his desk in the yard, and he told me that if he pushed a button on it that that missile in the driveway would fly to the White House. (laughs) I thought, this is interesting. So we’re talking and somehow we go to the subject of guitars, he may have asked me what I do. So he went in the house and he came out with this guitar that he made himself that looked like a square made out of 2×4’s that had a neck on it that he had just put strings on. It had like four strings on it and he had it tuned to an opened chord and started playing some sort of blues type stuff. Then he said, well hold on a minute I’ve got a box that you’re going to like, I’ve got a box for you! So he went in the house and came out with that guitar. It wasn’t painted blue, it was yellow and it had some sort of magic marker drawings on it, and I kind of wish I would have left it like it was. But I had some old Rustoleum paint and I really liked the color of it. I think it’s a color they don’t make anymore, that blue. So I painted it blue. My friend Johnny who was a scrapper, he would go around and collect scrap metal, and he had a license from the City of Detroit to collect scrap metal. Well he’s driving around and going through garbage and he found a pick-up in the garbage. He knew I played guitar so he gave it to me. So that’s where that came from. It was all found.
So what are your favorite records right now?
Right now, I’m really loving the Monroe Brothers. They’re a 1930’s, Bluebird Label recording. For some reason I’m on a big country and gospel kick right now. I love songs like Gospel Ship, “I’m going for a trip on that old gospel ship”. Stuff like ‘May the Circle be Unbroken’, all of the traditional gospel, I love that stuff. The Monroe Brothers do a lot of that stuff so I really love that.
I saw Willie Nelson recently, it was the second time I’ve seen him and he just blew my mind. He was so good. The band is really stripped down, really simple, really tasteful. His guitar playing is amazingly great, he’s a great singer, he does a wonderful variety of songs. He sings a good amount of gospel stuff, which I love. So that was one of my favorite things I saw recently.
What else have I been listening to? I’ve been on this big folk music, Jim Kweskin, really into him. This guy Dave Van Ronk. Stuff like . . . well I haven’t been listening to a whole lot of rock and roll stuff. I just had Charlie Patton on the other day, I’ve been rediscovering Charlie Patton. To me he is one of the most difficult, old time blues singers to get into. It’s really taken me a lot of time to get into him. I listen to it, then put it away, then go back to it. It’s been quite a process but I’m starting to really grasp that stuff.
What makes it so tough for you to get into?
His singing, he’s really raw. He has a really raw singing and playing style. Because the records are so rare, they are very scratchy so that makes it hard to listen to. Also, his voice, it’s really difficult to understand what he’s saying, I think he’s the most difficult to understand. So that makes it hard.
Oh, and I was listening to Rodriguez a lot too because I was doing those shows with him and his stuff really blows me away. Both of those, his two records are so great. I was getting into his second album quite a bit, called Coming From Reality. Got the CD that was just reissued and the bonus tracks are so good on that.
So are you wrapped up with him now?
Yeah he’s off this summer touring Europe and he has various bands around different places and I have lots of other things to do so. I really, really enjoyed playing with him and wish I could do more but it’s just not to be right now.
So all your shows are posted for The Gories/Oblivions schedule are up on Myspace, that’s the final schedule?
Yeah it’s all up on The Gories Myspace page.