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Getting in the Room with Guitarist Danny McKinnon

Danny McKinnon doesn’t care much for labeling musical genres, even though he has a Grammy with a label/genre printed on it. While confirming that he’s proud to have this acknowledgement, it’s not the end goal for him as he states, “I think the biggest achievement is getting in the room with really talented people and being able to create with them. Once you’re in that room, nobody cares how many awards you have; they just want you to bring something special to the music.” It’s this type of pure artistic aspiration that many of the most successful musicians point to as the possible resurrection of the music community and industry. McKinnon has earned the biggest awards and played some of the most iconic live music venues in the world yet he confirms that every day and every new project is a fresh opportunity to prove his artistic merit, one which he excitedly welcomes.

Guitarist Danny McKinnon

While the public might perceive McKinnon as bursting onto the scene in the last couple of years, the truth is that this Vancouver native started his musical pursuits long ago. He concedes that these days he’s more recognized for his work on the 2019 Grammy Award Winning album (Best R&B album) Ventura by Anderson Paak than the numerous other projects of previous years. In addition to playing guitar on Ventura, Danny co-wrote the songs “Reachin’ 2 Much (ft. Lalah Hathaway)” and “Good Heels (ft. Jazmine Sullivan).” Other Grammy Award Winners appearing on Ventura include Andre 3000, Nate Dogg, and the iconic Smokey Robinson (a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). McKinnon brings influences that range well beyond R&B and Pop music, even venturing towards jazz and early progressive rock bands like King Crimson and Yes. He communicates that the atmosphere at the sessions for Ventura were rooted in relaxed collaboration as he informs, “There’s never been much discussion about what we are going to do when I’ve worked with Anderson. He is an amazing musician as well as being an artist. When we are in the studio together, it’s usually me on guitar or bass, Anderson on drums, and Pomo on keys. We like to make up ideas on the spot and slowly change things until it feels good. There’s not much verbal communication involved. We all have similar musical influences and everyone has good instincts about where the music should go so the writing process is quite natural.” 

One of the aspects most enjoyed by this award winning guitarist/writer is being able to balance recording and touring. The creativity offered in the studio is palpable excitement when experienced on the concert stage in front of thousands of fans. McKinnon vacillated between the two in nearly real-time while co-writing many of the songs with his longtime musical associate Pomo for the artist Berhana’s 2018 release Han. While in Japan to appear at the Fuji Rock Festival, whose attendance totaled over 100,000, the trio rented an AirBNB and spent two weeks writing the core of what would become Han. The album is an eclectic blend that rebukes any singular genre, preferring to incorporate elements of jazz, rock, funk, soul, pop, and anything else which they feel is authentic to the emotion of the songs. Danny embraces an approach that rejects restriction to a sound or style dictated by marketing. This includes the influence of nonwestern artists like Haruomi Hosono’s album Pacific (a mixture of jazz and surf rock guitar) which he channeled for some parts of Han. Confirming that performing at the Fuji Rock Festival was a highlight for him, McKinnon confirms that big stages are not unfamiliar to him and are a welcome part of his career. One of his favorites is Colorado’s famed Red Rocks Amphitheater which has hosted the biggest names in music from The Beatles to Radiohead to U2’s live concert film U2 Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky. McKinnon has performed on stage at Red Rocks numerous times with bands like Chromeo and international acts such as FKJ (French Kiwi Juice). 

Danny McKinnon’s celebrated career, standing on the stages where his heroes performed as well as winning the industry’s most prestigious awards, begs the question, “How does it feel to have realized your dreams?” While adamantly professing his happiness with what he has accomplished thus far, he clarifies, “I think a creative person is always looking for a new challenge or a new way of expressing themselves. Evolution is the nature of being an artist. I started out in my youth playing along to my favorite artists like Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin and then ventured into Jazz and Psychedelic Rock. You’re naturally going to hear what’s on the radio and being played at clubs like Pop, R&B, Rap, whatever…and that will influence you as a musician as well. I’m always learning and discovering different players from other countries like the African guitar players Selam Seyoum and Franco Luambo. Moving to LA two years ago was a big step that has opened me up to more players and more opportunities. I am excited about what’s still to come!” 

Written by Patrick Wilson
Getting in the Room with Guitarist Danny McKinnon Reviewed by JaamZIN on 9:50:00 AM Rating: 5
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