Music News & Reviews

Jeff Daniels returns to SLO with his humorous brand of acoustic blues

Jeff Daniels is bringing his acoustic blues band to the PAC in SLO.
Jeff Daniels is bringing his acoustic blues band to the PAC in SLO.

Like Jeff Bridges, Kevin Costner and countless other actors before him, Jeff Daniels is taking a temporary break from Hollywood and seeking a new spotlight on the musical stage.

“Creative people gotta stay creative in between (jobs),” explained Daniels, the Emmy Award-winning star of “The Newsroom,” “Arachnophobia,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo” and the “Dumb & Dumber” movies. “We’re at the mercy of the studios and Broadway. It’s something we have no control over — but this (music), we have control over.”

Daniels, 60, will bring his humorous brand of acoustic blues to San Luis Obispo on Wednesday, Nov. 4. He’ll be backed onstage by the Ben Daniels Band — which, as the name suggests, is led by his oldest son.

“It’s beyond a parental highlight to stand on the stage with your kid who wants to leave a creative life in the arts,” the actor said.

When Jeff Daniels told his parents that he planned to quit college, move to New York City and join an off-Broadway theater company, the Michigan native said, his father’s reaction was supportive but understated.

“He just looked at (my mother) and he looked at me and said, ‘You should go,’ ” Daniels recalled. “They, wonderfully, did not stand in the way.”

Daniels brought a guitar with him to the Big Apple because, he said, he had a feeling he’d be “sitting in a room a lot and waiting for the phone to ring.”

Once in New York, he found himself surrounded by authors and playwrights such as David Mamet and Sam Shepard. “I didn’t think I was going to write movies. I didn’t think I could write a play. But I did think I could go back to my apartment and write a song,” Daniels recalled.

Songwriting “became this wonderful creative outlet for me that frankly kept me sane,” he said. “The guitar became my best friend.”

Until 1999, however, Daniels kept his love of music to himself. That’s when late playwright Lanford Wilson encouraged the actor to perform at a fundraiser concert for the nonprofit Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea, Mich., which Daniels founded in 1991.

“We’ve done it nearly every year since,” Daniels said.

Still, when he and the Ben Daniels Band went on their first concert tour in August 2014, “I was terrified,” Jeff Daniels acknowledged. “I was drenched in sweat at the end of the (initial) show and mostly wet, hot fear.”

Over time, however, he’s found that audiences have been receptive to his foray into music.

“You can either play or you can’t. You can either write or you can’t. You can either sing or you can’t,” Daniels said. Otherwise, he added, “The audience will tell you, ‘Stick to your day job.’”

“I like it when there’s some people who bought tickets to see a train wreck (and) by the end of the show they’re up dancing,” he said.

Daniels’ stage show features funny songs and stories about life, relationships and show business. Select titles include “If I Weren’t So Stupid, You Wouldn’t Be So Smart,” “You Can Drink An Ugly Girl Pretty” and “If William Shatner Can, I Can Too.”

In the song “The Dirty Harry Blues,” for instance, Daniels sings about filming 2002’s “Blood Work,” in which he plays a serial killer who is — spoiler alert — gunned down by a retired FBI profiler played by director Clint Eastwood.

An encounter on the red carpet inspired Daniels’ tongue-in-cheek song “Are You As Excited (About Me As I Am),” about a washed-up celebrity still clinging to his past glory. “I saw someone standing there going, ‘Oh my God, can you believe how big this is for you?’ They were more excited than I was,” he recalled.

Fortunately for listeners, Daniels still harbors an enthusiasm for entertaining. And he’s passed along that passion to his son.

“At age 19 or 20, Ben came to me and said, ‘Teach me how to play the guitar,’” Daniels recalled.

Daniels said he supported his son’s decision to become a professional musician from the start.

“We told all the kids, ‘Find out what you’re good at — what comes naturally — and spend the rest of your life learning how to do it better,’” Daniels said. “The only (specific) thing I told him was, ‘If you’re going to have a career, write your own stuff.’”

Calling Ben Daniels “a poet with a guitar in his hands,” Jeff Daniels described his son’s band as a folk blues ensemble in the vein of the Dave Matthews Band. He and the Ben Daniels Band are on their fourth tour together.

“It’s a family affair,” said Jeff Daniels, noting that his other son, Lucas, serves as tour manager.

Jeff Daniels said he and his sons enjoy a professional relationship on the road.

“My only rule is ‘See you at load-in tomorrow,’” he said.

Any attempts at a curfew, the actor added with a laugh, ended long ago.

Jeff Daniels

7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4

Cohan Center, Cal Poly

$22.40 to $48

756-4849 or www.pacslo.org

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