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Danny Gatton Biography

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Danny Gatton (September 4, 1945 – 4 October 1994) was a talented and enigmatic American guitarist who committed suicide at his Maryland home in 1994 while still relatively unknown to the public.

Gatton was born in Washington, DC on September 4, 1945. His father, Daniel W. Gatton Sr., was a former rhythm guitarist known for his unique percussive style, who left his musical career to raise his family in a more stable profession. The younger Gatton grew up to share his father's passion for the instrument.

Danny Gatton began his career playing in bands while still a teenager. He began to attract wider interest in the 1970s while playing guitar and banjo for the group Liz Meyer & Friends. He made his name as a performer in the Washington, D.C. area during the 1980s, both as a solo performer and with his Redneck Jazz Explosion, in which he would trade licks with virtuoso pedal steel player Buddy Emmons over a tight bass-drums rhythm which drew from blues, country, bebop and rockabilly influences. He also backed Robert Gordon and Roger Miller.

Gatton's playing combined musical styles such as jazz, blues and rockabilly in an innovative fashion, and he was known by some as "the telemaster" or "the world's greatest unknown guitarist". However, he never achieved the commercial success that his talent arguably deserved. His skills were most appreciated by his peers such as Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, and his childhood idol Les Paul.

He usually played a 1953 Fender Telecaster (Fender now manufactures a replica of his heavily customized instrument), with Joe Barden pickups and Fender Super 250L's, or Nickel Plated Steel (.010 to .046 with a .015 for the G) strings. As a slide Gatton would use a beer bottle or mug.

His technique was unorthodox, but allowed him to use all ten fingers for both picking and fretting. He always played with a jazz style teardrop pick, and was capable of intricate passages combining Bluegrass, bebop, and garage sounds, executed with amazing clarity and at dizzying speeds.

On October 4, 1994, Gatton locked himself in his garage and shot himself. He left behind no explanation.

A biography, Unfinished Business: The Life and Times of Danny Gatton by Ralph Heibutzki, was published in 2003. It has a voluminous discography.

Heibutzki, Ralph (2003). Unfinished business : the life & times of Danny Gatton. San Francisco: Backbeat Books. ISBN 087930748X.
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