Updated: May 22, 2021
The first time I remember meeting Danny Graflund was during the recording session that resulted in The Radio Kings’ first album“It Ain’t Easy” on Icehouse Records. That was August 1994. We were holed up at Crosstown Recorders in Memphis, Tennessee for a week. It was then that I renewed my acquaintance with Jay Sheffield. Jay was responsible for us getting our record deal (producing our first two records), would go on to manage The Radio Kings, and play a significant role in my life to this day. It was the first time I met Johnny Phillips (who owned Icehouse Records), although we had talked on the phone many times prior. Johnny and I have been working together ever since, including the new eponymous album by The Dinallos. I renewed my friendships with Bob Harding (the first to champion me in Memphis) and George Paul Eldridge during that week, too. (George Paul was one of the few folks who booked us, at the Blues City Cafe, when we hit out on the road the previous year sans a record.)
Knowing what I do now, I’m assuming I met Danny, prior to The Radio Kings even existing, at Huey’s in Midtown Memphis. It was November 1989 during the W.C.Handy Awards in Memphis. The band I was playing with at that time was Chuck Morris and Sidewalk Blues. And, true to our name, we were working BealeStreet for tips on a late afternoon with a chilly mist blowing in off the Mississippi River. We made such an impression upon the Memphis Blues Cognoscenti that we were hired to play behind the W.C Handy Blues Challenge Winner John Weston that evening at Huey’s, which was owned, at that time, by Jay. Jay said he couldn’t afford to pay us anything but beer and burgers. He probably would have rather paid us in cold hard cash after our generous consumption. It was a pretty magical night. I wish I could remember for sure if Danny was there but I remember some of the others: Bob Harding, Dennis Brooks, Bubba Sullivan.
How shallI put this? Danny was the ultimate Memphis music figure who didn’t play an instrument. At least he was to me. He always had a new tale of some local happening or a great story from years gone by. I learned all about Big Star, things about Dan Penn or Jim Dickinson I’d never heard, and so on. Danny was the ultimate raconteur. He got me to think about Memphis, music, and even life differently. While he was alive, I can’t remember a single trip to Memphis over the course of 25 or so years when I didn’t see him. Memphis is a very special place for me, made more so by my knowing Danny. The twinkle in his eye and that grin told more than he ever said. He witnessed so much. All these people witnessed so much. I’m proud and extremely grateful to have known and ran with ’em all. In a lot of ways Memphis and Danny were completely intertwined. One of my favorites quotes —“Memphis is the town where nothing ever happens but the impossible always does.”— comes from Danny in Robert Gordon’s wonderful book “It Came From Memphis.”
And so, this leads back to the “All the Ponies Go ’Round (Danny’s Lullaby)”— the opening track on The Dinallos’ new album, released on Memphis International Records.
Danny’s gone. So are Bob, George Paul, Dennis, and too many more I knew once upon a time. Thankfully, Jay and Johnny are still with us. Thank you – one and all.
-Michael Dinallo, Boston, March 31, 2021