Jeff Daniels, the Hollywood actor, has appeared in 70-plus films, TV shows galore and on the Broadway stage (where he won plaudits as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.) But he is also a fine singer-songwriter/guitarist and, to that end, his new album, Alive and Well Enough, shows off his skills as an Americana humorist like John Prine, Loudon Wainwright III or Randy Newman. His songs — especially “Trumpty Dumpty Blues,” “Al Kaline,” “Jesus Was a Stoner” and “Everybody’s Brave on the Internet” — combine wit, vocal fluidity and acoustic guitar chops. His 10 albums are, in a word, fascinating.
— Intro by Mike Greenblatt. Compiled by Patrick Prince.
Elton John, 17/11/70
I was still in high school and didn’t know who he was. I bought it at the drug store because of the cover. Plus he played piano like I was trying to do. It blew me away, especially that long, extended “Burn Down the Mission.” I still play air-guitar to Dee Murray’s bass line. It just builds and builds. That would be my desert island disc. I’d never get tired of it.
Arlo Guthrie, Alice’s Restaurant
It grabbed me and I didn’t know why at the time. The first concert I ever saw was Arlo in Detroit. He was doing something that I only later understood. You didn’t need a band! The title cut was an 18-minute story with guitar underneath. What is that?! It hooked me.
Steve Goodman, Affordable Art
Arlo’s version of Goodman’s “City of New Orleans” brought me to him and I bought up a bunch of Steve Goodman albums. He wrote “funny.” It gave me permission to stop trying to be so serious. I’d always admired humor in acting. There’s precision to it that drama doesn’t require. Goodman’s songs, “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request” and “Old Smoothies” are like the two Greek masks for drama and comedy… and he did it with just an acoustic guitar.
Stephen Stills, Stephen Stills Live
He played acoustic on a medley of “Crossroads” and “You Can’t Catch Me.” And it was enough! It was plenty. The acoustic guitar was everything. Especially when played by a guy like Stills. Stills was always the one for me. Not (Neil) Young. I mean, I tried with Young. But Stills had the blues. I saw CSNY in Chicago 20 years ago, and I first realized how Young’s minimalist leads cut through the crowd and I finally got it with him. But it took until then.
Doc Watson, On Stage Featuring Merle Watson
Just the two of them. Then I saw Doc in New York City in the late ‘70s. That triggered my deep dive into finger picking. I got a tablature book and learned “Deep River Blues.”
Robert Johnson, The Complete Recordings
You might know enough chords but can you play the blues? It’s not just the way he plays, but it’s the spaces in-between the notes, and way he used the acoustic guitar. He sounded like no one else. Sure, there’s Son House, Skip James and Charley Patton, but Johnson? I wrote “Forgive Me, Robert Johnson” for being just another white boy with the blues. I played that song at his grave in Mississippi.
Lyle Lovett, Pontiac
When I first heard “If I Had a Boat,” I knew I had permission to write anything. It was just such an out-there song. Plus, Lyle’s whole presentation, with the hair and that voice! Again, he didn’t sound nor did he write like anybody else. Totally original.
Keb’ Mo’, Keb’ Mo’
I saw it in ’94 at a record shop and bought it because of the cover and the guy’s name. He covered Robert Johnson and his own songs were so blues that I went to see him in Ann Arbor and celebrity’d my way backstage. Between his simplicity, beauty and tone in not over-playing, it was going to school. I told him how his instructional DVDs made me better. He invited me to his California home to give me a lesson. So I did. He’s now a good friend.
Joe Bonamassa, Live At Carnegie Hall
What an evening! I was in the audience for that album. I love Joe. When I wanna turn it up to 11, I just put on any Bonamassa album. Again, I celebrity’d my way backstage and got to meet Joe. He couldn’t have been nicer. In the middle of the show, he did “Woke Up Dreaming” with just a cellist. Unbelievable. You can’t stop him!
Bruce Springsteen, Live in Dublin
He rolls out these Pete Seeger songs and puts a Bruce arrangement on them with banjo and fiddle. It’s still my favorite Bruce album.