Locals Only: : The Blue Adler

Cincy native Danny Adler's storied career soars back to his hometown

Dana Strong

Danny Adler

Danny Adler's career is salted with so many amazing musical associations that he almost seems like a real-life Zelig, Woody Allen's fictional everyman who crossed paths with the great figures of the 20th century.

The native Cincinnatian has worked with local talents like Bootsy Collins and H-Bomb Ferguson and foundational legends like Chuck Berry, Solomon Burke and Arthur Crudup. He joined and recorded with Elephant's Memory (later a favorite of John Lennon and Yoko Ono), played in Rolling Stone drummer Charlie Watts' Boogie Woogie side project Rocket 88 and, with his band Roogalator, toured the '70s English pub circuit with the likes of Nick Lowe, Dr. Feelgood and Elvis Costello, which led to a single on Stiff Records.

During the course of his three-and-a-half decades in the business, Adler has recorded close to 20 albums of his Blues, Funk and Soul blend, with his bands and on his own. And that's a version of the story that even Reader's Digest would admit is far too condensed.

Adler has recently revived the Danny Adler Band, which he had assembled in two previous incarnations, one that ran concurrently with Rocket 88 and the DeLuxe Blues Band, a group he formed with utility players from Fleetwood Mac, the Groundhogs and Savoy Brown. Adler's latest version of the DAB is based in Cincinnati, although he currently resides in Charlevoix, Mich., where he works as a freelance train engineer.

Adler's musical journey began in childhood with his father, a piano-playing Jazz/Dixieland hobbyist who passed his love of music to his children. An early fan of R&B ("WCIN used to come through all our telephone lines," says Adler from his Charlevoix home), he was also exposed to the Blues through his older brother, and fell in love with Lonnie Mack, The Beatles and Rolling Stones.

He took up guitar in the early '60s, started playing in bands and began picking up session gigs for traveling Blues artists.

He moved west in the late '60s, moved back east for the Elephant's Memory gig then headed to England in 1971 where there was more live Blues work than in the U.S.

"I was playing in Irish Country & Western bands with African drummers and Jamaicans and all that was blending into the original stuff I was doing," says Adler. "Then I started getting my own bands together and started recording in the mid-'70s."

Adler formed Roogalator in 1975 and recorded his classic Cincinnati Fatback album shortly thereafter. Roogalator ran for three years before Adler disbanded the group.

When work dried up in England, Adler returned to the States to care for his parents. He began his railroad training and effectively took nearly 15 years off from professional music, preferring to pursue it on a recreational basis.

"In the late '80s I met these Belgian gypsies whose fathers had played with Django Reinhardt and I was practicing techniques they had shown me," says Adler. "I met the Bluegrass guys in Cincinnati and started jamming with them, and I was playing Jazz and I started playing saxophone and more keyboards. I think the most important thing I learned was that I got to listen to music the way other people do — and as a healing thing, to just enjoy — and I think that's helped color my newer material and make it more emotionally connected to peoples' lives."

Adler was pulled out of retirement in 2004 by local musician Tim Brown, who wanted to learn Adler's arrangements. After a year of woodshedding, the Danny Adler Band began playing out. Although the new band has yet to record any new material, Adler has demoed a lot recently and has at least 20 new songs ready to record. "I'm just taking my time with that," he says.

Perhaps the biggest news in Adler's career at the moment is the fact that he's working on a digital music distribution deal that would make the bulk of his catalog, a good deal of it out of print for years, available through iTunes. The deal should be done this summer.

In the meantime, Adler is enjoying life in northern Michigan as an itinerant engineer, the return of his band and the odd solo gig. The only thing Adler doesn't see much of is home; his day job and his night job both involve travel.

"That's tricky," he says with an audible grin. "I like the work and that's about all I can do."

THE DANNY ADLER BAND plays the "Cincinnati Fatback Guitararama" at the 20th Century Theater Friday with Scotty Anderson, G. Miles and the Hit Men and American Standard.

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