There was a time when it was almost impossible not to see Chris Daniels around town. One might find him singing at the Farmer’s Market, performing for the Washington County Historical Society, or singing in any number of coffee houses around town. Featured on the cover of the Arts of the Ozarks 1995 calendar, Chris also performed in over 20 music videos featured on Fayetteville’s public access television, many of which can still be seen to this day.
In recent years Chris has been in poor health. While I wrote the questions for interview below, Bob Bond of the Ozark Gazette staff cornered Chris in 1995 for this lively encounter.
Q&A with Chris Daniels
Ozark Gazette: You have been entertaining the people of Fayetteville fora number of years now. Have you always lived here?
Chris Daniels: I've lived here since about the age of five. So Fayetteville is my home.
OG: You have sung on the square during Fayetteville’s Farmer’s Market, at different coffee houses, and on videos for public access television. Do you find strangers coming up to you on the street, recognizing you?
Daniels: Yes, occasionally I do. Since I have taken a brief hiatus from doing that, it isn't as often as it used to be. But I still do have people coming up and recognizing me.
OG: How long have you been singing, and how did you start out?
Daniels: I've been singing since a very young age. As far as performing, I've been doing it since I guess about twelve years old. I was influenced by my cousin, who is a musician. He and his brother had a band here in Fayetteville that was very popular when I was in high school. So that actually was my beginning for performing.
OG: You are very definitely a working class musician, working any number of jobs while you work on your musical career. What sort of work has sustained you?
Daniels: Lately I've been working as a rehab tech at the Rehab Hospital here in Fayetteville, and that has done very well for me. It has provided me a very good living, and lately things have gotten even better for me.
OG: Watching your videos on television, one can see a definite evolution in your musical style. How would you describe your musical growth?
Daniels: That's kind of hard, because I dabble in just about everything. I take a little bit out of all the musical styles that I like to listen to, and try to incorporate them, or mimic them, so to speak, in my own style.
OG: Does your music evolve as you do?
Daniels: Yes, it does, very much so. As a matter of fact I have a collection of my music over the years and I occasionally will listen to my early stuff and my latest and make a comparison.
OG: What songs have you written that you are especially pleased with?
Daniels: One my favorite songs I've written is called “Back Street Jazz.” because I guess really I was inspired by Eureka Springs. This one, “City of Inspiration” is another. I think it is during that time, because in the song “City of Inspiration” there is a verse that says, "It was the Graceland summer, Simon said it was so, so you know it must be true." And that is referring to Paul Simon's Graceland album. When that album came out a lot of music that I was writing, a lot of my best stuff, came out of that.
OG: What frustrations have you particularly faced in your music?
Daniels: Well for one, basically trying to express myself musically gets kind of frustrating sometimes because since I am an unlearned musician, everything I do is either by ear, or a friend comes and teaches me something, that kind of thing. So then if I want to try to incorporate a certain style or attitude in my music, I have a little bit of difficulty there. So that causes me a little frustration to have to deal with that.
OG: In 1994 you went through a difficult time, health-wise..We know that you weren’t able to play as often as you liked. What have you taken away with you as a result of that experience?
Daniels: I went through a surgery in which they put a tube down your throat so they can perform the surgery, and pump oxygen into your lungs. When they did that, they stretched my vocal chords out of shape, which kind of put a damper on my voice. I wasn’t able to sing like I used to. So that is like a new challenge to me now, where I have to learn to sing, especially my own stuff, a little differently.
OG: Have you recovered from that situation yet?
Daniels: I am still recovering. As a matter of fact, this afternoon I went and did a screening with the physical therapy program up at Springdale, to make sure that I am okay to work. I found from the tests I did, a lot of the stuff that just a few months ago I could not do, I am able to do with a lot of competence.
So I am just waiting for my voice to come back full, if you will. And it’s gained about fifty percent now. I would say I’m singing about eighty percent of what I was before.
OG: You have been playing recently in a number of coffee houses in Fayetteville. How has the response been to your singing?
Daniels: The response has been very good. Now lately, since the change in my job, I have not been able to go, and that is because I’m working the graveyard shift, so the time I am usually at the coffee house, I am now asleep. But in the near future I plan on getting back there, especially since I have acquired a new piece of equipment. It is my new guitar, which is a Bentley Acoustic Electric, which I have named “Ben.” And so Ben and I will be on stage very soon. I predict within the next couple of weeks, once I get my sleep pattern down, Java Straight is probably the next place I’ll be.
OG: What night is it likely to be? Will you be there regularly?
Daniels: It will be Thursday nights. They usually start out at about 7pm, and chances are I’ll be one of the earliest people there to get in and get out, so I can go back home and go to bed before I go to work.
OG: How is playing before a live audience different from recording in a television studio?
Daniels: Playing before a live audience is actually one of the few things that I thrive on because you get to deal with your audience, and feed off of whatever they are giving you back, to decide “What am I going to play next?” or, “What do I think this audience wants to hear?”
In the studio you do have the opportunity to correct any mistakes. That way, for instance if I’m doing a live performance and I make a mistake I just go, “well, so much for that.” But if I’m in a studio I can say, “Stop! Let’s do that again.”
OG: You have played with a number of partners over the years. Are you playing with any one now?
Daniels: At this moment I am not. I was concentrating on trying to put back together my capella trio. That will probably be my next project, to try and get that stuff off the ground again. I am just waiting for my voice to catch up to me.
OG: The political climate in America now seems almost repressive as far as the arts are concerned. How do you feel about what is happening today, and are we likely to see any sort of political commentary in your music? Have you ever had any in your music? Are you a political animal?
Daniels: In one respect I am, but as far as making a difference politically, I don’t see myself able to do that. I am upset that the axe is falling the way it is, taking out a lot of the arts and entertainment that we get. Now, on a local level, especially here in Fayetteville or in Northwest Arkansas, I don’t really see it affecting us that much. But on the national level, and this is like a video that I was watching earlier today, a comedian was doing his routine, and he was making a lot of literary references, and if you didn’t have that kind of knowledge, his jokes would go right over your head. And I said to myself, I’m glad I had the time to be really be taught about these kind if things.
If our arts are cut back, that kind of stuff is going to basically be considered too high-brow for the average man. I think the average man at least deserves to be informed and have the ability to learn about these things, and participate in the arts.
OG: What does the future hold for you, musically? What would you like to do that you haven’t had a chance to yet?
Daniels: If I get my finances straight, I will be going to public access television and getting my producer’s permit, and produce some videos at my music. I've seen some things on access television that were done in a very tasteful manner, and I was very pleased that somebody was doing that. And then I've seen some other things, especially my own work. As soon as I get my producer permit, I’m going to replace all my videos, because I'd like to see them done a little bit differently.
Of course, over the years it has been a matter of “Let me come in and record this song and get out.” I plan on expanding that. If I go back to redo my music it will be almost like an anthology of my music and my style, and how it develops, and how it has grown and changed. If someone were to look at the videos that I have done from beginning to end they would see a great difference that has taken place over the years.
OG: What other instruments do you play?
Daniels: Just the guitar: Occasionally I can pick up a bass guitar. I play the kazoo. That is one of the things I am working on. The group that I want to put together is going to be using things like a kazoo. I would use it only in an interesting way, and not just to fill up space. Also things like, and I can't think of what they called now, but Rosewood sticks that you tap together. They have a real nice sound.
Then there is a little toy which my daughter and I finally caught up. This is part of what I am working on, trying to bring back my childhood. I know there are a lot of people my age that identify with some of these things. For instance, in my bedroom I have the remains of a Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robot. It was like 1967 when my brother and I got ours. I’ve got the blue one. There are a lot of other things. For example I grew up with School House Rock on ABC. I've got two of the four tapes. I'm working on doing some of that music, as a matter of fact.
Of course, I'd have to get the rights to the music, but I am working on that.
Ozark Gazette - November 13, 1995