Drum career leads Vincennes native Jimmy Daniel around the world
By Bernie Schmitt
Not long ago, Vincennes native Jimmy Daniel bought a house and moved from Miami to a small town in the south of France. He’s also got a cabin in Switzerland, too, but he hasn’t spent much time in either place.
He’s having too much fun playing music.
“I’m just a big kid still trying to play the drums,” Daniel said, during a recent visit home. “I’m having a lot of fun.”
He’s been spending time playing for various artists at music festivals in Europe, going “from one venue to the next.”
“I thought I’d slow down moving there,” he said. “But I haven’t. It’s interesting.”
In January he was spending time in Lexington, Kentucky, playing drums for a recording of a new album for The Triplets. He arrived in Vincennes after spending time with his son, Cain, on a driving tour of Mexico.
In early January he visited an old friend, David Parman, a music professor at Vincennes University, where he toured the audio recording studios at Shircliff Humanities Center. Daniel attended VU briefly after high school in the 1970s, but playing music and his dreams led him to New York City.
“I took chances,” he said. “I didn’t know very much.”
The Big Apple
After playing drums at a variety of bars and nightclubs in southern Indiana and venues in the Midwest, a young Daniel went to New York with another Indiana native, John Mellencamp, for whom he played drums.
“I had a lot of experience playing, but not a lot of technical ability,” he said.
He learned quickly, that he wasn’t at the level he wanted to be. Mick Ronson, former guitar player for David Bowie and who collaborated with Mott the Hoople’s Ian Hunter, befriended the 18-year-old Hoosier who was trying to find his way in and around the intimidating music scene in New York.
“I have to give him a lot of credit,” Daniel said. “He was a big influence on me.”
Thanks to Ronson’s advice, Daniel decided to “make the leap” to get an education. He “did some gigs” with Ronson and through him also got to know Rick Derringer and his wife Liz, who worked for Cream Magazine.
“They were all very nice people, and a good influence,” Daniel said.
Soon after he enrolled at the Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. He was so eager to get to New York that his car was packed and he took off after his last final exam.
A freelance drummer, he took what jobs he could, until he started to make a name for himself in the Harlem R&B clubs. Recognition of his skills led to jobs with Gladys Knight, Melba Moore, Keith Sweat, Cissy Houston and Bobby Brown.
“I really got into the black music scene,” he said. “It was great for me. It changed my career.”
World music influences
In the mid-1980s Daniel began to travel in his spare time and study world music, re-discovering some of foreign influences he was exposed to as a student at Berklee. He was fascinated by Carribean, South American, and African rhythms and explored those interests whenever he could.
In New York, he collaborated with Nana Vasconcelos and Cyro Baptista playing Brazilian rhythms all the while playing with people like Bo Didley, Dr. John, Sam and Dave, Chuck Berry, and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes.
His playing with different bands, and especially his work with varying genres of music, taught him even more and allowed him to experience a wide range of musical styles. This helped his resume, leading to a job in the early 1990s playing with Diana Ross. This in turn led to gigs with Aretha Franklin, David Byrne, Joan Osborne and Vanessa Williams.
At one point after his travels he put together a nine-piece band that played Brazilian music, leading to a three-year job playing music in Brazil for some of that country’s top artists. In the mid-1990s, he worked on his own world music project, NooVooDoo, and recorded an album mixed with religious drumming, songs from Haiti and Cuba, and modern western music.
His credits include at least four movie soundtracks from the 1980s (including the hit “Splash”), and with his own, nearly 30 different albums and music videos.
Playing by ear
Daniel grew up in Vincennes, listening to country and western music, along with some blues. He learned to play by ear, by “feeling” the beat. He was young when he discovered what he wanted to do.
“My parents took us to some Elks Club event or something,” he said. “In the corner there was a band. I saw the drummer and that was it. I don’t know what it was, but I was just into it.”
He’s learned the art of music, and he’s also learned the business side of music, something he didn’t know when he started years ago during that first trip to New York. He’s seen technology change and musicians change.
“I always thought that I’d be a band guy, you know, a part of a band,” Daniel said. “Deciding not to do that opened for me a lot of other kinds of music.”
Young people today can learn twice as much in a shorter time than in years past, he said. Technology has changed how recordings are made, and how music sounds.
“One time I played in a Big Band and there was an old guy playing the bass,” he said. “That guy had played on ‘The Jackie Gleason Show.’ These are guys who had to play it right the first time, all the time. They didn’t have technology to help back them up.”
So many today look for “immediate gratification,” he said, hoping to make it big in the music business in two years or they quit.
“I didn’t even think about that,” he said. “I didn’t think about, or look for endorsements right away like people want today. Young musicians have high expectations.
“I played for the fun of it,” he said. “Sometimes that’s not there today.”
Thanks to his experience, Daniel now supplements his playing and recording income with endorsements for Pearl drums and Istanbul cymbals.
The son of Jim and Karen Daniel, the 1974 Lincoln High School graduate said he may have disappointed his father by not following in his business footsteps. Years ago, the elder Daniel was the first to establish a large department store in Vincennes in Big Js. He later was the owner of Western Sizzlin Steak House and other properties.
“My parents were not happy with me taking off for New York to play music,” he said. “But they didn’t stand in my way.”
Daniel credits the live music scene in Vincennes and the immediate area for giving him his musical foundation. It was in bar rooms and live music clubs — many more which existed in the 1970s — that gave him his early experience. He doesn’t have any plans to retire anytime soon. He’s enjoying himself too much playing with different musicians in different locales.
“As I said, I’m just a big kid playing the drums and loving every minute of it.”
For more information about Jimmy Daniel, log onto www.jimmydaniel.com.