Danny Griego

Exclusive Interview | Talking Outlaw Country Music With Danny Griego

Danny Griego is the real deal – a dazzling singer-songwriter and Outlaw Country artist who has written with Hank Cochran, Red Lane, and Max D. Barnes, and with performers such as Waylon Jennings, Billy Joe Shaver, and Michael Martin Murphey.

A decade after establishing himself as one of the best songwriters in Nashville, Griego ventured out as a solo artist, releasing his debut album, Cowboys, Outlaws & Border Town Dogs. The album’s lead single, “The Coast Is Clear” hit the Top 30 on the Adult Contemporary Chart, as well as surging onto Billboard’s Top 10 “Hot Sales” chart.

According to Griego, “When I create music, I’m sharing my life experiences with a person to help them pass through their trials, which in turn helps me; and honestly, reflecting back over the years, that is one of the only ways I have survived the ride.”

CelebMix sat down with the Country Outlaw to find out more about how he got started in music, how his songs come together, and what’s next for him musically.

How would you describe yourself?

I am a songwriter, then an entertainer.

What is the most trouble you’ve ever gotten into? 

I pleaded “no contest” to “exceeding a speed reasonable and prudent” and went to driver education school.

What’s your favorite song to belt out in the car or the shower?

I don’t really sing in the shower; on occasion in the truck when a classic comes on. Too many to list, from Sinatra to Haggard, Nat King Cole to Ray Charles.

How did you get started in music? What’s the backstory there?

I wanted to be an entertainer from the first time I saw Elvis Presley. I was watching a rerun of his ‘68 comeback special. I was around 7-years old. I knew that moment what I was supposed to do with my life. Getting there would be a whole lot longer and harder road for me than I could have possibly imagined.

They used to cast me as the lead in Christmas plays singing since kindergarten. I never remember trying out. But once sports and girls came around, that all took a backseat, a detour if you will. When I was in college, God gave me a wakeup call. I was struck by lightning. I died that day. It paralyzed my right hand. I was told by a neurosurgeon that if I learned to fingerpick the classical guitar, it could help me rebuild the pathways/motor-skills. During that time, I started writing songs in my sleep. I would wake up and sing them into a tape recorder. I initially learned many chords from trying to find them from my own recordings. Before too long, I was singing in the bars and had my own bands.

What musicians influenced you the most?

Musicians: Reggie Young, Waylon Jennings, Ray Charles.

Writers: Hank Cochran, Red Lane, Max D. Barnes, Townes Van Zandt.

Singers: Roy Orbison, Marty Robbins, Ray Charles, Waylon Jennings, and so many more.

Do you consider your music to be outlaw country or bro-country, or something in between?

I’ve been running around with the real founding outlaw crowd a long time. I have had the privilege of touring with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Ray Price, David Allen Coe, and several other mentors. By definition, I am an Outlaw Country Artist. My music can, at times, be much broader and eclectic. My current single probably leans more towards Don Henley and Orbison.

What is your songwriting process?  Do the lyrics come first, or the music?

I do my best to be true to the song and the written material, whatever it is that the work calls for. I am just to get out of my own way and remove the boundaries and barriers. I rarely ever start off writing a song by thinking “this is going to be in this genre.” The song already knows, creativity decides. I am just holding the pen.

Many times I will get the premise first. Once my subconscious gets ahold of it the melodies and arrangement just seem to show up fast and for many years, way beyond my knowledge. After the creativity is down, and only after, do I put on my editor’s hat and structure.

These days I am far more particular about the premises I write. Unless I feel they are very strong and unique, I just let them swim on by. There is only so much energy to go around and you have to pick and choose where you focus your energy, or the overall quality of your writing will suffer. When creativity shows up, you must have the energy to catch and harness it, or it will just keep swimming on downriver for someone else to catch.

What was the inspiration for “You’ll Never Stop Lovin’ Somebody?”

“You Never Stop Loving Somebody” was one of those. It’s a story about hitting rock-bottom, about true forgiveness. Sometimes when a person’s will is strong, the Good Lord has to put you on your knees to get you to look up and reach out.

It was given to me in a violent thunderstorm just after a divine epiphany. The song showed up fast and powerful with the entire specific melodic structure and production. I knew exactly how it would sound. It always still amazes me when you’re in the studio with the right musicians, how you can communicate to them a song with a guitar and that same magic creativity will show up. Music is truly a gift from God. One universal language. When we recorded that song, it was like a flashback; being able to hear that God’s radio, that one that was in my head when I wrote it. That’s an amazing feeling. It makes you feel like you’re divinely, purposefully, and precisely where you’re supposed to be at that moment. There is a great comfort in that emotion.

I read that your ancestors founded El Paso in 1598 and colonized Santa Fe in 1610. What does that legacy mean to you personally?

Family is high on my list of life priories. I believe that it is very important to know where you come, your lineage; no matter where that ‘from’ is or how diverse. If we were all able to experience the struggles and difficulties our ancestors endured just to live free of oppression, just to survive, perhaps we would appreciate where we are today a little bit more. My direct ancestors have an enduring legacy of survival in America for over 420 years. We have a legacy of loving our country and fighting for its freedom because our founding fathers had the wisdom to recognize that we had certain inalienable rights granted to us by our Creator.

I recently had the honor to sing our national anthem at the Cody Stampede’s Centennial Celebration in Cody, Wyoming. I rode out into that arena on a blue roan with my guitar. I can tell you that our legacy in this country, as Americans, means so much to me that when that crowd let loose at the end, I had to cowboy up. It was all I could do to get through that song without losing it.

What’s next for you musically?

I am extremely grateful to have recorded a duet with one of my biggest heroes – the late, great Waylon Jennings. I did not want to release this song until I had my own chart success. In just a few weeks, we will be shooting a video for the song “At The Crossroads” in the Mississippi Delta, where Robert Johnson made his infamous deal. We hope to have the video and the single released by this fall, Good Lord willing.

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Written by Randy

Randy Radic is a Left Coast author and writer. Author of numerous true crime books written under the pen-name of John Lee Brook. Former music contributor at Huff Post.