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Eulogy for Danny Pendleton:  "Danny and the Love of Music"

 

For me, Danny was about music. And the love of playing music well is a fine metaphor for Danny’s life.

 

There are three important aspects to those who play music:   touch, time and tone.

 

The first point is touch, and whether he was playing guitar, piano or steel guitar he had wonderful touch.   Anyone can pound on a piano, or a guitar although most of us are afraid to even go near that pedal steel that he mastered.

 

But pounding the piano or beating the guitar are not what Danny did.  He caressed and loved those instruments and discovered the right notes to play and how to play them.

 

Good analogy for his life, because he touched us all in life with the same caring grace and skill. He didn’t bang or pound, but what he contributed was right on.  The lives he touched: yours, mine, our families, co- workers, golfing pals, drinking buddies, and the whole world through his music.

                                                                                                                  

Since I’m on about music and touching lives, I first actually met Danny at a wonderful party of musicians in Washington.  It was a rare event in the early 70's when many of our generation’s musical “some bodies” were all in DC together.  The party was at the home of John and Faysioux Starling: John of the Seldom Scene with Mike Auldridge, Ben Eldridge, John Duffy; Taffy and I who were Fat City; Leo Kottke, the great guitarist from Minnesota; Emmylou Harris, Linda Rondstadt, and my friend the late Steve Goodman, who wrote City of New Orleans.

 

Guitars were passed around, and we all sang and played.  But the end of the evening, with all these stars around, found me at the bar drinking Budweisers with this handsome tall steel guitar player, talking about the Redskins.  I invited him to watch the game the next day and we were friends ever since. 

 

Before I met him he was into country music, and told me once about a show he played with Elvis Presley at Marshall Hall, Virginia, in the ‘50's.  The concerts were on a boat that sailed the Potomac.  But when Elvis was there, so many folks attended, the boat couldn’t sail and they did the concert at the dock.

 

He played with several country artists in the ‘50's, Vernon Taylor, Ralph Case, and later, Little Feat, John Denver, John Jennings, Mary Chapin Carpenter. 

 

He always left a good impression.  I never heard anyone say anything bad about Danny, ever, or his playing, and all, especially other musicians, loved his touch.

 

Time

 

In comedy, they say timing is everything.  In music also, and so in life.  In music, timing means playing the note precisely, when it’s supposed to be played, sustaining it for the time it’s supposed to happen.

 

Like pounding and banging, playing at the wrong time, coming in late, or playing too much, are no-no’s.  He knew when to play, when it was right, and when it wasn’t.

 

After we became friends, one day I told him I was going to start a band.  It became Starland Vocal Band.   When we had our first gig, Danny asked could he come and just help out and play a little in the background.         Well, we weren’t a country group, and we didn’t really need a steel guitar, but we loved being with Danny, and he always played something interesting, so we said “Sure.”

 

Danny came up and played for free, which was slightly less than we were making at the time.  But he stayed in the background and was always there with a nice, tasteful fill or a lead line.

 

Well, he may have been a walk-on, but he was there at the beginning, through all of our albums, even producing and engineering our “Christmas at Home” album.  He did all our John Denver tours with us, all our regular shows, and all our TV appearances.

 

Now we’re talking about timing here.  Danny not only did this all with us, but also worked full-time at NASA.  How could this be? One might ask.  And I certainly did.  And I found out that the answer was “Accumulated Annual Leave.”  Of which Danny apparently had perpetual amounts. 

 

Now just as an aside, and to show how show business sometimes works, the Starland Vocal Band never really made any money, although we worked very hard.  I remember one time in Los Angeles, when we were playing a John Denver television special.  We had flown Danny out, first class, so he could play with us.  Well, RCA records decided that since Starland was in L.A., we should do some promotion.  So they sent a limo at 9 a.m., with a drunken limo driver, and we spent the next 7 or 8 hours going from radio station to record store back to radio station. 

 

I remember the limo driver, at one point, trying to navigate an alley that was too narrow for the limo, and we became wedged in the alley, unable to get out.  Finally, after pretty much destroying the exterior of the car, the driver reversed, extracted us, and took us back to the Sheraton Universal hotel.  It was exhausting, frustrating, humiliating, and bad.

 

So I took off my “meet and greet” clothes, put on a swimsuit and t-shirt, and went downstairs to the swimming pool bar for a drink. 

 

Guess who’s there?  Being paid by us, and by NASA, with sunglasses, a vodka tonic, reading a copy of Money Magazine, was Danny.  He said “How was your day?”  Talk about timing.

 

Through all this time, Danny never missed a day or a beat.

 

Tone

 

Tone is really the most precious quality in music. It’s what makes sound feel like it does.  And, back to our analogy, it’s a pretty good indicator of the quality of our own lives and our humanity. Tone—Danny was pitch-perfect. He got it right.

 

I first heard Danny play at the Red Fox Inn in Bethesda with Emmylou Harris and the Angel Band. They became great friends and stayed so forever. I told her the other day about Danny’s passing.

 

Here’s some of what she said:

 

“Danny set the bar for what a musician was supposed to be.

He taught everybody what it meant to play music.

He taught us all. 

He taught us the beauty of tone.

His playing made me a better singer.

He was a guide to the music. 

He never told anybody what to play, but he inspired everyone by his playing.”

 

That’s Emmylou  Harris

 

And listen to this, from Tom Guidera, the bass player for that band Band:

 

“Danny created such beauty. I remember having to be careful when we performed together. I’d find myself being lifted off the stage, balanced somehow between his steel guitar’s voice and Emmy’s voice. One could easily forget to play, and simply listen”

 

I want to tell you that in our playing years, Danny often noted that my guitar was out of tune at times, which made it unenjoyable for him to play, since playing in tune was what he did.

Instead of trashing me, which he also did sometimes, he’d say before a show “Can I tune your guitar?” which recognized my total irresponsibility and his total love.

 

And to take again this musical analogy back to his life:  It was all about tone.

 

As Danny was in distress these last several years I visited with and phoned him often.

And while we all wondered about the state he was in, he never complained. Never said, “Why me?”  He always was thankful for those of us around him, especially Patrese, his wonderful caregiver and friend for several years.  Thank you Patrese.

 

When I asked Jon Carroll, our mate from Starland Vocal Band, here’s what he wrote about Danny:

“To describe his musical style is to describe his personal countenance–warmly lyrical, wryly thoughtful: disarming and without ego, bracing yet sweet like a mint julep with the kindest gentleman stranger”.

 

Music, touch, time and tone and when you end up being remembered by poets and loved by all, forever will take notice.

 

Love and Peace     

 

Eulogy for Danny Pendleton 

Delivered by Bill Danoff on February 28, 2007

St Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, Davidsonville MD

                                                                                                                                               

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