Izzy Bryars captures the magic of ListynKC In Persyn presents Danny Cox
In 1965, singer-songwriter Danny Cox was on his first solo tour performing in coffee houses across Canada. It was in Winnipeg that he met an 18 year-old guitarist also on tour when a broken guitar string by Cox prompted a quick lend of a guitar.
They ended up playing in many of the same places over the next year and their friendship grew to where Cox offered him a place to stay if he ever came to LA. Cox went back to LA, carving his name in the folk scene with his own albums and collaborations. That 18 year-old did come to LA, staying with Danny while getting on his feet, and we all know him as the beloved rock and roll artist, Neil Young. Young now has millions of fans across the world, but they may not be as familiar with Cox and his sneaky but persistent influence in folk rock.
In July, I got the opportunity to photograph the Center for Recorded Music (C4RM) event celebrating Danny Cox's 80th Birthday, his life, and his music. C4RM’s celebration was centered around listening to Cox’s 1974 album “Feels So Good” and also hearing songs and stories of related artists.
Not only did the audience and I get to hear from Cox about the quietly glorious career he created, but we also learned about the historical context that undoubtedly shaped the lives of Cox and his fellow folk artists of the 60s and 70s.
On the fourth floor of the UMKC student union, fans of Cox as well as members of the C4RM community gathered in front of a stage where he and C4RM Founder, Kelsyn Rooks, sat clutching microphones.
Rooks introduced Cox to the audience, dressed in all yellow from his striped beret down to his neon Crocs. Normally, when Rooks hosts his monthly album listening events, he’s “telling you all sorts of stories, but you don’t know if they’re true.”
“But now, we have Danny’s version of the stories, and if he’s making it up, that’s okay because that’s where it came from,” Rooks jokingly said.
“And remember, I took a lot of acid in the 60s” Cox quipped. “So a story could go any way.” We laughed at Cox's light-hearted yet straight forward humor.
Born to a family of musicians in Cincinnati, Cox early on looked up to his Uncle David, who played with groups like the Silvertone Singers and was almost involved in a project with Sam Cooke. “He was wonderful and he was a great inspiration in my life,” Cox said.
But Cox didn’t have an easy go from the start. As a Black man growing up during segregation, he recalled the first time he went to jail during the Civil Rights Movement in eighth grade. Cox credited John Sweet, a Smithsonian honored musician for his work with the Civil Rights Movement, as "the guy that got me into folk music.” Sweet’s father was also known in the folk movement for being a union newspaper editor, which Cox said, “at the time, that just meant you were a communist.”
“John’s house was just it, man,” Cox recalled. “Pete Seeger would stop by, all the artists who couldn’t find a place, especially the Black artists; You’d go to John’s house and people would be there.”
As soon as Rooks put down the needle for Pete Seeger’s “The Hammer Song,” Cox was immediately bobbing his head, cheerfully singing the lyrics, and tapping his foot.
One of the things I love most about listening to an album in a communal space is seeing and feeling the reactions it elicits in others. I love seeing the tapping feet and bobbing heads and shoulders but experiencing that with the artist himself felt special.
Cox went on to work on solo projects and collaborated with multiple other acts like the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and Brewer and Shipley. Cox was also part of the group that founded the Cowtown Ballroom, Kansas City’s famous concert venue from the early 1970’s that deserves an entire article on its own. It was to my surprise that Cox was involved in the making of Brewer and Shipley’s “One Toke Over the Line,” an undoubted classic in my book. When Rooks then played the song, I had to put my camera down and sing along with the rest of the audience–and Cox, of course, who bopped his way through every track.
Having been to C4RM events before, I know that I love appreciating an entire album, no interruptions. But having the artist there as a guide and provider of context for the music brought another level to a listening experience. Hearing Danny’s dynamic arrangements for songs like “Gimme Some” and “You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine,” I could see the early folk influence and how he infused it with not only rock n’ roll, but his distinct sound.
“There’s something about live music that you just can't replicate,” Rooks said. “However, recorded music is kind of the same thing. When you’re doing it live, you don’t get sixteen takes to get it right. You don’t get to do overdubs. You don’t get Danny playing five guitar parts in one recording. We think there’s a place in the world to give the recording the same reverence that we give the live performance.”
Part of what draws me to the C4RM events is the anthropological experience that it adds to enjoying music. Not only do these events allow the audience a space to exclusively appreciate recorded music, it allows us to learn about the artists, the experiences that inspired them, and the context of the music’s time. I know I often fantasize about meeting my favorite artists and asking them about their lives. We often don’t get the firsthand juice that brings deeper meaning into the music, but hearing from Danny shows just how meaningful that can be: for the artist and the listener.
As Cox’s last song off the album, “And I Love Her” came to end, he had tears in his eyes as he animatedly sang along. After starting a family with his wife, Mona, and living the full life he had, I could only imagine how full circle it was to listen back to his art and feel how its meaning grew and changed.
Just before the song ended, Cox rose from his chair and reached for the audience.
“I’d like to clarify to all of you: when I wrote this song, I didn’t know my wife, but this song,” he said holding back tears, “it’s for my wife.”
Celebrating Danny Cox and his life in Music at C4RM article and event photos by Izzy Bryars
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