Monster guitar player Dan Lawson rocks South Shore, the nation

Powerhouse guitar player Dan Lawson has been a popular road musician across the United States for many years. Although he is still not that well known in the greater-Boston area where he resides, he has been a fixture on the national music festival circuit for quite some time, having shared the stage with everyone from Styx to Rick Derringer to Grand Funk Railroad.“I play all over the United States. I do all of the major bike rallies from Sturgis, South Dakota all the way to Florida to Maine. I do Laconia. I do Myrtle Beach. I’m all over the planet, man,” Lawson said.

Lawson moved up to the Boston area from Maryland in 1973. Now, he’s living on the Cape and he’s calling it his base. “I don’t play around here that often. The main reason why is the genre of blues-rock that I do, there’s not a real big call for that in Boston any more. You’re either rock or you’re blues. I lean a little bit more toward the Jeff Beck/Stevie Ray Vaughn rock-blues.”

Lawson did recently pick up four new South Shore rooms that he will play in the next few months. The guitarist scored the new rooms after he played Hajjar’s Restaurant in Weymouth, Massachusetts a few weeks ago. Representatives from South Shore clubs came to check him out and each booked his Dan Lawson Band. He’ll be playing Bert’s Landing on New Years Eve. He’ll also bring his band to Players in Rockland in February.

“It just took one time to play because I’ve just been so damn busy playing everywhere else,” Lawson said about his recent inactivity in his own area of residence. He actually had to turn down some gigs between those South Shore gigs because he doesn’t want to thin out his audience.

Lawson is working on a new CD at this time and songs from it will be featured on the TV show Sons Of Anarchy next season. The songs have already been licensed even though the CD is still untitled. Lawson had songs featured on the first three episodes of The Sopranos. The producer of The Sopranos, David Chase, lives in Pawtucket, Mass. Lawson also got play at the recent Boston Music Awards. “It was gracious of them of to ask us. I was quite honored,” he said.

Lawson was able to play at major blues festivals across the country by starting out a place called The Buffalo Chip in Sturgis, South Dakota. He has been the house band there for a number of years, opening for The Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Foghat, and many others. The national bookers for those shows put Dan Lawson Band on the festival circuit. Lawson played with John Mayall at Montreal Blues Festival and with Z.Z. Top at Ottawa Bluesfest. Lawson is endorsed by Mesa Boogie, Fender, and Ernie Ball, and many others, including Gig Effects located in Boston.

Lawson likes the Sturgis motorcycle rallies because of the diversity of the people who attend. “People from all corners of the earth come to Sturgis,” he said. “I sell a lot of gear there, my shirts and CDs, my sunglasses with my logos.” Lawson sells his CDs to people from as far away as Australia, Korea, and Japan and he’ll hear back from them about his music.

Lawson said the Sturgis rally never has a bad year. He said the rally couldn’t be stopped by a hailstorm that dropped hail the size of tennis balls and did over $5 million of damage to the Buffalo Chip. “They didn’t leave,” he said. His most indelible memory was a year he opened for Kenny Wayne Sheperd. Lawson and his band were on their last song of their set it started to rain. “When I say rain,” Lawson began, “I’m not talking vertical rain. I’m talking horizontal, vertical, upside down, rain coming from every angle, the wind blowing like nothing I’ve ever seen. It blew all of the power out of the Buffalo Chip and Sturgis, except the three main generators. The three main generators run the sound, the two spotlights, and the TV screens. We finished our whole song with people yelling, screaming, lighting flying, until the owner of the Buffalo Chip came over and said “Guys, You’ve gotta get off the stage.’”

Lawson has other memories of the Sturgis rallies. In place of clapping and cheering, 60,000 people in the Sturgis amphitheater fire up their motorcycle engines. Lawson witnessed this most indelibly two years ago as he performed the national anthem for an appearance of Senator John McCain. Lawson got a knock on his door a day before the event from organizers who told him he‘d be playing the Star Spangled Banner. Kid Rock and Dee Snider were present too. There was a 100,000 people there and 75,000 motorcycles.

The guitarist was immediately struck by the security measures taken to provide protection for McCain, who was a presidential candidate that year. “The most worrisome part about was there were about 450 snipers and ATF agents there,” Lawson said. The agents had to search Lawson’ truck. Lawson saw them change their clothes to disguise themselves as bikers and he saw them climb up poles. “We had snipers on top of the roof,” he recounted.

The agents also brought on stage a bulletproof wall, a one inch thick, five foot long, four foot high metal plate, and they put it in front of Lawson and his amp. “They said, ‘If you happen to hear any bullets or any kind of gunshots, just drop down behind this.’” Lawson responded to them: “Let me explain something to you. If I hear gunshots, you’re going to see 200 pounds flying across that stage so fast, you’re gonna think it was one of the bullets.”

Lawson also related that there were media people from all over the world following McCain’s bus into the festival. “What rattled me was watching all the people down in the front that had been dressing in the back with all their weapons and nobody out front even knowing it was them. That was scary. In that situation, there’s no way they can search each and every person that ever came through those amphitheater doors. That’s why they had so many ATF agents. There’s no way they’re going to put all those people through machines and metal detectors. And that’s South Dakota. That’s the west, man. Everybody’s got a gun.”

After he played his last note, Lawson was yanked off the stage by the government agents. Lawson later received a video link from McCain’s daughter thanking for playing the national anthem “Jimi Hendrix style.”

Lawson grew up admiring the guitar style of Jeff Beck because of Beck’s courage and innovation. Lawson has actually met Beck and found him very gracious. Lawson pointed out that Beck’s avant-garde approach was miles ahead of where everyone else. That inspired Lawson to also do his own thing. “I am not a blues guitarist. I am not a rock guitarist. I am somewhere in between there with icing, I guess,” he said. Lawson said he does not have a vocal influence. He freely admits he doesn’t have the greatest range, but he does admire Greg Allman and he hung out with Steven Tyler. He doesn’t think they necessarily influenced him.

Lawson’s uncle, Roy Parks, was lead guitarist and music director for several years for Tex Ritter. Lawson credits his uncle for getting to think in terms of a practice regimen. “He taught me how to listen and play. The big thing was listening. His biggest comment was, ‘Dan, you’ve got two ears and one mouth, and that two ears are there for a reason.’” His uncle also gave him the freedom to come up with his own interpretation of lead guitar phrases. His uncle would often play him a phrase before leaving for a tour and would tell him to invent his own version before they met up again.

Lawson wrote all but three of the songs on his 2003 release In The Nick Of Time. Lawson got permission from Mark Farner to record “Time Machine” from the first Grand Funk Railroad album. These days, Sony music distributes his CD in American and Sony Red is his distributor in Europe. The CD is on the Plymouth Rock label. The guitarist should have a new CD out sometime in February, just before he hit’s the road to play the big bike rallies, which begin in March, in Daytona Beach.

Lawson composes complex blues-rock songs that put emphasis on his guitar. He has a song called “Road Kill” he wrote when he was on the road two years ago. The song, not yet included on an album, has a fiery melodic phrase that Lawson said came to him while improvising on an old slow blues riff. “I just doubled up and put a harmony with it,” he said.

Lawson’s other hit “Let’s Ride” has a greasy, slippery phrase. It seems to move around while also moving the song forward. He said it’s one of his favorite riffs that he’s ever composed. “You can invert it. You can change it,” he said. “You can use that riff anywhere in that song, inverted, front, backwards, upside down, and it fits. It’s like the word ‘level.’ You can spell level same way front and back. That riff, just because of how it’s phrased, it makes your foot move.”

His tune “Miss Me,” another song not on an album at this time, has an elegant phrase with soulful feeling that balances emotion and technique. “That was written about my ex-wife, so we have to be careful how I put that,” he said. “I found this little ghosting track that put the guitar underneath. I thought, ‘Let’s give it more of a haunt.’ We took a major scale song and we minored the song and it became haunting.”

Lawson freely credits his band for being able to bring out the best in him. Drummer Tim Provost, bassist Jason Adams, and keyboardist Shaun Hagon fill out Lawson’s sound. “Our band is a collective output of the song, There’s no individuals in our band,” Lawson said. Everybody just works so well together and off of one another. Rick Derringer gave us a compliment when we did this last tour with him: ‘You guys really work well as a unit.’ Coming from Rick, that is a really big compliment.”

Out of all his gigs with big name stars, Lawson’s most indelible impression was helping Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad on the Rock To The Rescue concert in Cleveland. It was a fundraiser for the Port Authority staff in New York City who lost all but two of their staff on September 11. Farner, Tommy Shaw of Styx, and Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon put the tour together. The rockers saw a need to help the Port Authority charity funding as their chief, assistant chief, and all most their entire were killed in the rescue attempts at the Twin Towers. The Port Authority were not receiving the same support as the charities for New York Police Department because it was a separate department. When Farner called to ask for his help, Lawson jumped at the chance to participate.

For equipment, Lawson owns an array of Fender Stratocasters built between 1956 to 1980. He doesn’t use newer models. Mesa Boogie has been endorsing him for 11 years and Fender has been with him for a while too. Fender approached Lawson in 1986 in Nashville after seeing him play there. Mesa custom builds gear for him.

The Dan Lawson Band will play Bert’s Landing in Plymouth, Massachusetts on New Year’s Eve.

One response to “Monster guitar player Dan Lawson rocks South Shore, the nation”

  1. Cyndi

    Great write-up, Bill….awesome article on an outstanding musician! This is why I love LIVE music!