Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"Spotlight on Danny Cox" by Tim Russell

This article if from the December 2012 issue of KC Stage

Danny Cox has been a busy man. With a long career in entertainment across the country and in Kansas City, he has amassed more hyphens than a keyboard has keys. Learn more about this amazing artist by learning a little bit about all of the "hats" he has worn.

Hat #1: Baby Bonnet
Danny was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on July 8, 1943. As a young man in Cincinnati, Danny sang in a church choir with Rudolph Isley. Isley, better known as "Rudy", was a member of the famous Isley Brothers signing group.

Hat #2: Touring Singer
In 1960, at the age of 18, Danny began his professional music career performing and touring the country with the Hootenanny Folk Tour. During his career, he has been the opening act for Ray Charles and has had Steve Martin as his opening act on tour.

Hat #3: Kansas City Resident
On his first trip to Kansas City in 1963 on a tour, Danny was not allowed to stay downtown at the Muehlebach Hotel because he was black. Instead, he was taken across the river into Kansas City, Kansas, for the night. For the past 49 years, Kansas City, Kansas has been his home.

Hat #4: Mecca Builder
The Vanguard Coffeehouse: a folk music Mecca.

Stan Plesser opened the Vanguard Coffee House at 43rd and Main streets in 1963. The location became a key venue to many acts. Danny performed there alongside other talents like: Brewer and Shipley, Chet Nichols, Glenn Frey (later of the Eagles), John Denver, and comedians Gabe Kaplan and Steve Martin.

Hat #5: Manager - Good Karma
Danny was a partner in a company called Good Karma Productions, which managed the acts of Brewer and Shipley, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, and his own career. Good Karma developed out of the "scene" at the Vanguard Coffeehouse and featured many of the participants from the popular night club including music producer Stan Plesser.

Hat#6: Venue Owner - Cowtown Ballroom
Danny was a co-owner of the Cowtown Ballroom from 1970 to 1973. Growing out of the activity at the Good Karma, the partners there decided to branch out. Their attention quickly fell on the El Torreon Ballroom, a former jazz club that had been turned into a roller skating rink. The venue put the spotlight on a wide variety of music, ranging from Good Karma acts like Cox, Brewer and Shipley, and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils to B.B. King, Frank Zappa, Van Morrison, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Linda Ronstadt. The Cowtown Ballroom was the first venue to record, edit, and broadcast concerts to top 40 radio stations in the US and England. Those shows make the venue famous. After only 38 months of legendary music, the ballroom closed on September 16, 1974.

A documentary about the ballroom made a few years ago, Cowtown Ballroom ... Sweet Jesus, features performances by Danny Cox. More information about the documentary can be found at www.cowbr.com.

Hat #7: Recording Artist
Danny has recorded for ABC Dunhill, Casablanca, MGM, and others.

Hat #8: Television Star
Danny appeared regularly on Allen Ludden's Gallery and The Danny Kaye Show.

Hat #9: Voice Over Artist
Danny is a featured performer in the documentary Cowtown Ballroom ... Sweet Jesus. He narrated the KCPT documentary Ain't Seen Nothing Like It Since: The Kansas City Monarchs. He can also be heard in numerous TV and radio ads.

Hat #10: 2009 Kansas Music Hall of Famer
Danny Cox was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009, to take his place next to such luminaries as Melissa Etheridge, Gene Clark, Brewer and Shipley, Marilyn Maye, Martina McBride, and many others. Established in 2004, the Hall of Fame honors performers who have made significant contributions to the musical history of the state of Kansas and the greater Kansas City metro area.

Hat #11: Jingle Writer and Vocalist
Lived in Kansas City long? If the answer is yes, you have no doubt heard one of Danny Cox's jingles. That infamous "High on Grass" jingle for the Grass Pad? Written and performed by Danny Cox. You've also heard his work promoting business like Bob Jones Shoes, McCarthy Chevrolet. and Angel Berry Realtors.

Hat # 12: Social Activist
Troost Avenue Blues is a three-part musical presentation that uses several blues traditions to portray life within the central corridor of Kansas City, Mo. The song has best been described as a blending of Muddy Waters and Bob Dylan in a journey through urban America.

Danny Cox recalls the early 1960s, when Troost Avenue around 31st Street was a bustling economic district for the African-American community. "Today, the area is characterized by vacant lots, second-hand stores and crumbling infrastructure." Cox, with producers and musicians Miquelon and Coleman, found that although the media carried stories about the disintegration of the urban core, few west of Troost – especially elected officials and community leaders - seemed to care. So the three artists/activists decided to use the universal language of music to bring the problems of urban Kansas City to life in a way that people could relate to on an emotional level. More information about this can be found at www.troostblues.com.

Hat #13: Baseball Historian
Danny is an avid baseball fan and has a long attachment to the Negro leagues. Danny's father played for the Atlanta Black Crackers. In collaboration with Gene Mackey, executive director of Theatre for Young America, they wrote The Monarchs of KC, which was re-worked in 2012 into Fair Ball: Negro Leagues in America and performed during All-Star week in Kansas City this year. Danny composed all of the music and lyrics and has performed in each version of the show.

Hat #14: Survivor
On January 6, 2008, a fire destroyed the Cox family's KCK home, including most of their belongings and many of Danny's guitars. Danny rallied his family to rebuild and his friends rallied to help. Several benefit concerts were organized by local musicians and old friends like Brewer and Shipley. The final concert was "Raise the Roof" in September 25, 2010, and enabled Danny Cox and his family to rebuild their house.

Hat #15: Sexagenarian Singer
Kansas City - Where I Belong was released in January 2012 by Pilgrim Chapel Music in Kansas City. Included are tracks that Cox wrote more than 30 years ago, along with more recent material featuring his son Joseph. The package artwork features several drawings by Cox and was designed by Amy Young.

Hat #16: Composer
On top of his work on The Monarchs of KC and Fair Ball: Negro Leagues in America, Danny has also created original music for The Legend of John Henry, El Gato Sin Amigos, Trains Across America, and Black Cowboy in the Old West. Cox is particularly proud of John Henry, the only African-American tall-tale hero to appear in the folklore of the United States.

Hat #17: Actor
Danny has made many appearances on Kansas City stages. He appeared in A Christmas Carol at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Little Shop of Horrors at the American Heartland Theatre, and continues to work regularly with the Theatre for Young America and others.

Hat #18: Father and Husband
Perhaps Danny's most important hat! Danny enjoys a large talented family!

While many with such a long and distinguished career would be ready for retirement and resting on their laurels, Danny continues to work at his craft. His warmth, creativity, and energy will make him a part of Kansas City’s art scene for years to come. No doubt he will find another hat out there to add to his collection! Now that you know a little bit more about him, you can keep your eyes and ears open for more!

Tim Russell is a theatre artist, nonprofit consultant, and librarian living and working in the Kansas City area. He is a poet, a philosopher, and a purveyor of world peace. Okay, that’s not true - but he and his staff of 100 monkeys on typewriters produces reviews for KC Stage Magazine.

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