Danny B Harvey has toured the world with a guitar on his shoulder. This Texan guitarist has courageously developed a unique style while playing alongside Lemmy, Nancy Sinatra, Slim Jim Phanton, Wanda Jackson, Johnny Ramone, The Rockats…
We rebuild his life and career through this novelized interview created from conversations with Danny and research. We tell you in first person about this amazing story and let your mind fly to places, characters and situations to form a biography about this authentic guitar hero.
First Riffs of Danny B Harvey
I was born in Killeen, a place about 80 miles from Austin, Texas. I soon left this peaceful place. My family moved to Catlettsburg, Kentucky, at just six years old. There, I discovered sounds that would be part of my life and I started playing the guitar.
Surrounded by country, rock or blues, the sounds of the southwest were inserted in my brain. That’s when I discovered the music of my idols Joe Pass and Merle Travis. I dreamed of playing like them.
At fifteen, I went to live in Canyon County, California. In Los Angeles, I studied the finger picking style. It was a dream to receive my first classes with the great Joe Pass. He was a very nice guy. His classes were fascinating and the memories were unforgettable.
We improvised, we listened to old jazz records and talked about music. After two years of learning, I got to enter USC to study classical guitar with the maestro Pepe Romero.
Despite these incredible experiences, I found myself out of place. The big city overwhelmed me. That’s why I decided to make a name for myself as a guitarist and look for my future in the powerful and thriving Rockabilly scene in the United Kingdom.
In England, in the early eighties, there was a resurgence of Rockabilly. It was a phenomenon that had been incubating since the early 1970s and broke out with the creation of the Levi & the Rockcats in 1977.
Danny B Harvey in the UK
Levi, the leader of the Rockats, lived in the early 80’s in the US, where he could find the sound that fascinated him so much and he was noticed with tours throughout the country and television appearances. I met him in Los Angeles and a special chemistry emerged. At that time, Levi had left the Rockats. I joined his new band, the Ripchords, and went to London. Levi auditioned Brian Setzer, from Stray Cats, but despite a mutual interest, he did not join the band.
In 1981, The Rockats hired me for my versatility with the guitar after seeing me in the Ripchords. I then began a fascinating time in my life with Barry Ryan, Mike Osborn, Smutty Smith and Dibbs Preston in NYC. When I arrived to the Rockats, we didn´t have a label or manager, but soon signed with Champion Entertainment, a management label directed by Tommy Mottola.
Then, we recorded a cover of Marvin Gaye, One More Heartache, and shortly after we signed with RCA. We toured, shot videos and included songs in the remake of Where the Boys Are. We spent a very good month in Miami, recording four songs for the soundtrack of this cult film in a spectacular studio.
In August of 83, we played before 20,000 people on David Bowie’s tour. The following year our song Make That Move slipped on the MTV lists.
At that time, our manager had a decision that did not convince any of us: to change our name. That was when we moved to MCA. Secret Hearts was born with a new album in which I played all the guitar parts. It was the worst experience I lived recording a record.
The album was also called Secret Hearts, but nothing was the same and the band broke up. I left the Rockats and was hired on Twenty Flight Rockers in 1986. During three years, I played with Gary Twinn, Mark Laff of Generation X and Jeff Vine. We were managed by former Clash manager, Bernie Rhodes. The band signed to EPIC Records and recorded two LPs that didn’t get released until a decade later because of music business politics.
Return to Los Angeles
Already in 1996, Tim Worman and I decided to gather together for a gig in San Francisco. Tim had had a huge success with The Polecats when he was just 15 years old. In Los Angeles, where I eventually settled, we contacted Slim Jim Phantom.
Slim and I had a friendship and mutual admiration. His band, Stray Cats, had taken the Rockabilly to another level. We also talked to my old friend Smutty Smith, who had shown his talent with the double bass with the Rockats. All of us wanted to have fun playing and decided to create the 13 Cats.
In 1999, I was hired as a composer of the movie Carrie 2: The Rage, the remake of Brian de Palma’s classic. In the film appears three songs of mine and two of the 13 Cats, which in 2001 are published as part of our first LP, In the Beginning. But 1999 was an intense year, in which I lived the beginning of another incredible adventure.
I met Lemmy in England in the 80s. He was a great guy, very peculiar but very funny. In 99, we were at a time when we wanted to enjoy music with no pretensions. We got together with Slim to record a tribute to Elvis Presley. Elvis was a passion that the three of us shared when we recorded Swing Cats.
Rock with Lemmy
One of the musical achievements of which I am most proud is to have produced and played in was the last recording session of the great Johnny Ramone. Johnny has been one of the guys I have most respected in the music industry. Away from drugs or the egos of other musicians, only the passion for music moved him. He was a great person with an enormous talent to create rhythms.
Together with Lemmy and Jim, we recorded Good Rocking Tonight and Viva Las Vegas in 1999. It was a unique moment. Years later, they were published by Cleopatra Records as part of the Johnny Ramone‘s vinyl The Final Sessions. I knew the Ramones well since I played in more than two dozen of their concerts opening with the Rockats.
Although, I used to see a lot with Johnny and Dee Dee when we weren’t on tour, I never felt as close to Johnny as I did in that recording session. That was the true gem of Head Cat.
After the recording, Lemmy started playing old songs by Eddie Cochran, Johnny Cash or Buddy Holly. At that time, we decided to create a band of covers of those songs that fascinated us so much to play them in small venues and enjoy the essence of music. We called ourselves the Head Cats doing a pun on our bands: Motörhead, Stray Cats and 13 Cats.
Lemmy created Head Cat for fun and abstraction. Motörhead took him to be away from home for five months. It had an incredible infrastructure and they were very meticulous tours and with great responsibility. Deep down, he just wanted to play rock and roll.
Small places, great experiences
Lemmy didn’t care about the capacity, Head Cat had more fun than a Motörhead concert before 50,000 spectators.
Within a few years, Motörhead got bigger, Lemmy got bigger and The Head Cat got bigger. We went to London, Berlin and other places in Europe and received a warm welcome. Everyone was shouting : It’s him, it’s Lemmy!
I remember playing at the London Cat Club in front of 100 people one New Year’s Eve, opening the doors of the bar, walking down the street and listening to people’s cries. They didn’t believe Lemmy’s closeness.
That was not for bucks. Going in the van, unloading, playing, everything was pure fun. It was great for fans to be able to touch Lemmy and see him in smaller places. It meant sharing an intimate moment with your idol.
He spent the night sitting at the bar smoking, drinking or playing with a slot machine. There were no bodyguards around him. He was fully accessible to have a drink or chat with his fans. Those were unforgettable rock and Jack Daniel’s nights.
Love and rock
Shortly after, I met my wife. It’s a funny story. She’s Jerry Lee Lewis’s niece and was opening for her uncle on his 75th birthday, in the year 2000. It was a special day. At last Lemmy knew Jerry, one of his idols.
There was Jerry’s daughter, Phoebe, whom we also met that night and who was representing her father at that time. She introduced us to Jerry. Lemmy shook his hand and said: He’s the fucking killer.
Six months later, we were performing in Las Vegas and I found out Jerry Lee was going to play nearby, so I sent a message to Phoebe to ask her if we could see his dad and then, he put us on the list. He performed in the Orleans. Eric Reacon went on stage and began singing with the Jerry Lewis band with him on the piano.
There she was, on stage. I asked Phoebe who that girl was, and she replied: She is my skinny cousin. Do you want to meet her? She gave her my number. Two years went by until we were in the same city. Then we had our first date and we fell in love. We have been together ever since.
Since I was with her, I have met her uncle a few times. I played with him on his 82nd birthday in NYC. A while ago I was with Jerry and his new wife, a wonderful woman with whom he is very happy. He is seen with more energy. He’s a cool guy.
I have never played in his band. Kenny, his guitarist has been with him for 40 years. Buck, the other guitar, met him in the 60s. Now he has a new bass player because the original bass player was shot in a robbery in Memphis ten years ago. Kenny and Buck are great guitarists.
Danny B Harvey with music myths
In 2002, we released the LP 13 tracks of the 13 Cats. Shortly after, I started collaborating with Wanda Jackson, the living myth of Rockabilly. In 2006, we set out to make a well-deserved tribute to Elvis by reviewing the fascinating stories of Wanda. Wanda and Elvis were dating in the 50s. It was a brief affair but left a perennial imprint on her. The album is called I Remember Elvis.
In 2003, Lemmy met Wanda. He was holding a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in Amoeba Records on Sunset Boulevard. Wanda was recording I remember Elvis, her first LP in 15 years. We sat with her and talked for hours.
From 2003 to 2005, I joined the band of Nancy Sinatra. I admire her charisma and professionalism. It was a great experience to play with an artist of her size.
For the production of Wanda’s album, I had hired Dallas singer Lynda Kay Parker to make the backup voices of I Remember Elvis. I discovered that we had many things in common and began to play together in different gigs. Both me and Lemmy became close friends with her and in 2006, we embarked on a Rockabilly project called Lonesome Spurs.
We released a record on Cleopatra Records and played more than 900 concerts during the two years prior to my move to Austin. In Austin, I could enjoy music again in a more relaxed way. In the Texas capital, I started new projects while continuing with the Head Cat.
New musical adventures
In 2010, we recorded our second album, 11 years after our debut with Lemmy, Slim Jim and Danny B. Our new work, Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk, was half live, half acoustic.
Lemmy’s state of health made it very difficult to maintain our usual rhythm of concerts. Meanwhile, I produced the songs of the Devil´s Daughters and played with them. This duo broke into the rock scene in 2012 through the voice of my wife, Annie Marie Lewis, and Mysti Moon. Their album Rebirth + Revelations came out that same year. Once in a while, I joined my old friends of the Rockats to play in places like Las Vegas, in its Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend 2013.
I’ve always been open to new ways of interpreting rock. One of them is the Gothbilly, a transgressive genre in which I immersed myself with the band 69 Cats. Jirky69, of 69 Eyes, is an Elvis-worshiping Finnish musician who plays Gothic Rock.
With him and Chopper Franklin, the bassist of the Cramps, we formed 69 Cats to have fun rocking. We soon released an EP called Bad Thing and a dark album, Transylvania Tapes.
Two years later, bad news shook me. My great friend Lemmy passed away after a long illness. I toasted for him and still keep him in my thoughts. Shortly after, in 2017, I started a new project with my wife, Danny B Harvey & Annie Marie Lewis, with a first album where we paid tribute to rock that fascinates us both. Barbwire Heart was followed by Reckless, Wild & Crazy.
The new Head Cat
The Head Cats decided to continue with the group despite the duel for Lemmy and soon we found an ideal substitute. David Vincent was the leader of the Metal band Morbid Angel.
After a life dedicated to Metal, he decided to be brave and explore the Country. With Slim Jim and David, we have continued battle-ready with Head Cat and in this year we have toured the United States on a tour that turned out to be an adventure.
Now, back to Austin I look back taking a beer in this fabulous White Horse, a honky tonk that maintains the essence of the genre, where you usually find me on stage every Saturday I spend in the city.
In Austin, you can play a lot, but it’s hard to live from music. In the old days, you worked to get an agreement with the record companies and release a record that would be sold anywhere in the world.
You could start a band, record the songs or play in a small club, a label signed you and the following year you became a Rockstar. That doesn’t happen anymore. Now, it is hard work. Bands earn more money selling shirts than records. There will be no benefits with the discs anymore. The money is in the live concerts.
Now, people become famous through the Internet. You break into a pop or hip-hop star through YouTube videos. It’s more artificial. There are no club stars left.
Any advice? Have fun. Because that’s probably what translates into an economic reward, but even if it doesn’t arrive, always enjoy what you do.
+ Stories on Night Talks
Photos: Danny B Harvey / Head Cat Facebook Profile