When he was around 55, blues singer-songwriter Chris Daniels considered retiring his band, Chris Daniels & the Kings, which had been together for 25 years. He told his father, whose response was blunt: “Dude, you’re just getting into the most productive time of your life.”
Daniels, who turned 65 last September, says his dad was right.
The last year has been especially busy for the Denver musician, who released Blues With Horns Vol. 1. His group also served as the backing band for Garth Brooks, John Oates and Amy Grant at last summer’s Colorado Music Hall of Fame Rocky Mountain Way concert at Fiddler’s Green.
Nonetheless, Daniels, who was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in 2013, says some people treat him more like a relic than a thriving musician.
“I know other people are going. ‘I’m getting ready to retire,’” he says. “I’m going, ‘Not me — I’m getting ready to go to the next thing, whatever I can do.’”
He’s reunited with Magic Music, hailed as Colorado’s first jam band, for the first time in four decades to make a new album. The band worked with Lee Aronsohn, producer of Two and a Half Men, on a Magic Music documentary, which premiered at the Napa Valley Film Festival last month.
All of these projects have been in the works for the past few years. Daniels started work on Blues With Horns Vol. 1 about two years ago. When it came time to record, he and the Kings completed the album in eight weeks.
“We just went in and did it, kind of the way people did records in the old days,” Daniels says.
Now he’s busy on Vol. 2, in which he will try to best the first in the series — not an easy feat. Daniels thinks that Blues With Horns Vol. 1, the band’s fifteenth release, is the best record the Kings have ever made.
The album’s sound fits somewhere in between Sam & Dave and St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and the songs — a mixture of originals and covers like Buddy Miles’s “Them Changes” and Sam Cooke’s “Soothe Me” — help make it damn fine.
Daniels’s voice is in great form throughout, particularly on “Sweet Memphis.” Singers Freddi Gowdy, Hazel Miller and Coco Brown and the horn section help fatten the cuts.
The Kings also break out the funk on Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Baby’s in Love with the Radio.”
“I still love the original version of it,” Daniels says. “It’s just over-the-top and funky. Ours is fantastic, but, man, the original version: It was cut back when they first had synthesizers, and he does layers and layers of all this synthesizer stuff and all this horn stuff on it. God, is it funky. It’s really fun to play live.”
While most of the songs on Blues With Horns Vol. 1 are spirited and upbeat, the album’s final song, “Rain Check,” is a poignant tale that references Daniels’s mother, a cancer survivor, and Daniels’s own battle with leukemia in 2010.
“I know there are good people who approach disaster and illness in all kinds of different ways,” Daniels says. “In my family, it was, you go straight at it. So when I got sick, it was seven days between the time I was diagnosed with the leukemia and when I went into isolation to get the full chemo dose. That was seven days. For some people, it will be a week or two weeks or three. Not me. It was just, bang — get on a plane, fly to Houston, go to the hospital, get a stent put in, and start doing massive chemo.”
On “Rain Check,” Daniels sings some of his mother’s favorite lines, including “Life’s like toilet paper; it goes faster at the end,” and “You either get busy living or busy dying.”
Daniels says that when he was young, if it was a pretty day, his mother would make sure he went outside. “She was one of those people that just said, ‘You go out and live life for every ounce you can get out of it. She and my dad both, they really instilled in us a kind of sense of wonder about the world and also, ‘Go out and make a difference.’
“They really believed you do something with your life,” he says. “You give back. You do something that’s good for other people.”
Chris Daniels & Friends, Saturday, December 16, Swallow Hill Music, 71 East Yale Avenue, 303-777-1003.
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