Long before he was a Grammy winning children’s musician, New Hampshire-born guitarist Dan Zanes was rocking it up as frontman for one of Boston’s most celebrated garage bands.
Zanes was barely out of his teens when he and bass player and college pal Tom Lloyd formed The Del Fuegos, enlisting Zane’s kid brother, Warren, on guitar and drummer Brent Giessmann.
They would soon make quite a splash.
The Del Fuegos threw itself into the Boston club circuit, increasingly drawing fans to their stripped-down rock and enthusiastic live performances. In 1984, they released their first album, The Longest Day, prompting Rolling Stone magazine to declare them the best new band of the year.
In all, they recorded four albums, scoring a moderately successful hit, “Don’t Run Wild,” along the way. After their final release, 1989’s Smoking in the Fields, the band finally called it quits. Warren Zanes had left the band prior to the album, and the radio airplay the band coveted — and deserved — remained ellusive.
Zanes withdrew to his own music, and began a solo project that evolved into his only solo album, Cool Down Time, released in 1995.
But the birth of his daughter changed things. Zanes grew frustrated over what he deemed to be a lack of quality children’s music. So he began playing his own. Rather than do jingles and sing-a-longs, he delved into his own roots and focused on blues, bluegrass and traditional folk music.
Tapping musical celebrities that both he and wife Paula Greif, a prominent video producer, had come to befriend, Zanes recorded with artists like Sheryl Crow, Suzanne Vega and former Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke and released Rocket Ship Beach in 2000. It was the first six albums of children’s music, all of them drawing on traditional music for both kids and their parents.
It proved a succesful formula. One of his releases, Catch That Train, won the 2007 Grammy Award for best children’s album. The follow up release, Nueva York, has also garnered critical acclaim and has made Zanes a regular on children’s television.
It’s certainly a long way from the smokey Boston bars where Zanes got his start. But turning in his Stratocaster for a banjo seems to have worked out quite well for this former rocker.
(NOTE: This is part of an occasional Listening Room series I’ll be doing on noted rockers and where they came from. JF)
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