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Stage craftsman: Jeff Daniels performs in Stoughton

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By Bill Livick, Special to The Gazette
August 13, 2014

STOUGHTON—Jeff Daniels has made his mark on American culture by appearing in more than 60 films, stage performances on and off Broadway, and winning a 2013 Emmy Award for his role in the HBO series “The Newsroom.”

The 59-year-old actor has been nominated for more than a dozen awards for his work on stage and in television and film.

Daniels is also an accomplished guitarist, singer and songwriter who has released five albums. He'll demonstrate that aspect of his talent Saturday, Aug. 23, when he performs with his son's blues-rock band—the Ben Daniels Band—at the Stoughton Opera House.

The five-piece band and Daniels are embarking on their first tour together, performing 15 shows in 18 days. It will be Jeff Daniels' second appearance in Stoughton.

In a telephone interview, Daniels said he's excited about opening another creative chapter in his long career. He sees it as pulling together all of his professional experience.

“It kind of takes everything I do and bottles it into one night,” Daniels said. “It uses the guy that can be on the Broadway stage—the actor who knows what to do in front of a camera and an audience—and puts a guitar in his hands. It also takes the playwright that I've become out of the Purple Rose Theatre Company, and the songwriter and singer that I've become since I started playing for audiences in 2002.”

Daniels said he loves playing live with a band. For one thing, he has complete creative control over the performance. At the same time, it's unpredictable.

“For me, creatively, it's going to be very exciting,” he said.

And there's another perk: “Look, to be a father and to have a child that even wants to talk to you when they're in their 20s, there's some value in that—let alone get on stage with you.”

Daniels began playing guitar shortly after he graduated from high school in 1973. He never considered it seriously until the late '70s, when he caught a concert by the late Steve Goodman in New York City.

Seeing Goodman perform was a revelation.

“He walked out with just his acoustic guitar,” Daniels recalled. “To see Steve Goodman hold and entertain an audience with just his acoustic guitar, I never forgot it.

“Years later, when it came time for me to get on stage, I went back to what that guy was able to do all by himself. And then I started to study other performers.”

After Daniels had achieved fame through acting, he began to think about other avenues of artistic expression. He established the Purple Rose Theatre Company in his native Michigan after starring in the 1985 Woody Allen film “Purple Rose of Cairo.” Later, he began studying guitar technique with masters Keb Mo and Stefan Grossman.

At first, Daniels wrote novelty songs, most with an element of humor. Eventually, he developed into a skilled guitarist and wordsmith.

“Starting out I had to deal with the fact that I was an actor with a guitar,” he said. “And so I wrote a lot of those novelty songs. 'If William Shatner Can I Can Too,' and 'Dirty Harry Blues,' and others that played right into those who bought the tickets so they could see the guy from 'Dumb and Dumber.' So I just dealt with it and catered to it.

“Then Keb said to me once, 'You know, you don't have to play those songs anymore. You're good enough.'”

Daniels hopes the current tour will demonstrate that point while giving audiences a great and entertaining show.

“We're going to try to come out of the rehearsal room with a lot of songs that not only I don't get to play solo, but that I don't try to apologize for being an actor with a guitar,” he said. “There will be musicianship, but there will also be an eye on making sure each song can stand alone as something that connects with the audience.

“You know, you want to earn their respect,” he added. “There is a difference between being really good in your living room and being really good in front of 500 people.

“It's a big leap. But if you can make that and still satisfy the guitar players who are sitting in the audience, then personally I'll feel very good about the night.”



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