Emmy-award winning actor Jeff Daniels first picked up a guitar when he moved to New York City in the 1970s to try and make it as an actor. He’s long since made it in the acting world, starring in “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Dumb and Dumber,” and “The Newsroom.” He’s also an accomplished musician who is about to hit the road with his son’s band.
But when he first moved to New York, he just wanted to learn how to play guitar.
“I moved to New York City in ’76 and threw a guitar into the back of the car. I always wanted to learn how to play it,” Daniels said.
“And I had a feeling I would be sitting around my one-room apartment in New York City waiting for the phone to ring as an actor and, to keep myself sane, I thought I would learn how to play the guitar.”
In the years after he moved to New York, Daniels was inspired by playwrights he knew from acting in off-Broadway productions to start writing songs. “I would just go back to my apartment and start writing songs in my notebook, because I wanted to do what they were doing,” Daniels said. “And I wasn’t going to write a play or movie that anyone was going to produce. I was just no-name actor in New York City, but that was a good outlet for me, to write and throw it into the notebook.”
He said he was further pushed, in the early 1980s, to really challenge himself to learn new chords and scales on the guitar after meeting some talented guitarists. Eventually, Daniels tried putting his music out into the public to raise funds for The Purple Rose Theatre, a non-profit he founded. Since then, he’s released six albums and played with Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt and Keb Mo’.
He’ll be touring the East Coast and Midwest throughout January with The Ben Daniels Band. The tour starts in Philadelphia next Thursday, Jan. 7, and comes to Alexandria next Friday, Jan. 8, when Jeff Daniels and The Ben Daniels Band are set to perform at The Birchmere. They’ll mostly be playing songs from Daniels’ 2014 independent release Days Like These.
Daniels said that he was planning on playing some live shows during August 2014 and wanted to try something other than playing an acoustic set, which he’s done many times.
“I asked Ben…I said ‘Would you guys consider throwing what you do on top of my songs and seeing what comes out of it?’ and that’s what the August tour became for me, this grand experiment,” Daniels said. “And it worked. We came off the road and I said I would like to do this again in January and they said we’re in.”
He said that playing with his son has been a great experience. “Playing on stage with your son, looking to your left and there’s your son playing music with you, it’s a life highlight,” Daniels said. “But it wouldn’t work if it was just a vanity project. The musicianship is there and they lift the material and it becomes a whole show. They don’t open for me – we all walk out together.”
Daniels has also been enjoying the creative process – he calls it “banding it up” – he’s experienced through collaborating with The Ben Daniels Band, a group of accomplished musicians in their own right who have been together since 2008.
“It’s great to hand your songs to people like them with the musicianship that they have and the youth they have and see what they do with it,” Daniels said. “Arthur Miller is the great American playwright and he once said, ‘I look forward to seeing what my work inspires in others’ and that’s what you do…it’s just a thrill for me.”
• For more information about Jeff Daniels, visit jeffdaniels.com.