This week, Makin Waves breaks out in three different components. Below is an interview with local media triple threat Danny Coleman. Click here for the new Makin Waves Record of the Week and here for the Makin Waves Scene Report, a new column that features the 10 hottest elements in the New Jersey music and entertainment scenes.
You’ve heard of a triple threat in theater, meaning they can act, sing and dance – or in film, write, direct and act. Well, with us media folks, it’s radio, TV or web and print.
The only guy in Jersey I know who is a media triple threat is Danny Coleman, host of “Danny Coleman’s “Rock on Radio” live from 7 to 9 p.m. Sundays on panjradio.com based out of Lambertville. He also hosts Carousel Arts’ “One More with Danny Coleman” web series, also live from 8 to 9:20 p.m. from Monmouth Music in Red Bank, and is the “ROCK ON: This Week’s Soundbites” columnist for NewJerseyStage.com and njstagemag.com. That column drops every Thursday morning, along with Makin Waves.
While each of those outlet’s audiences are small, they combine to draw a rather large following, thereby making Danny a good guy for musicians and other artists to know. But did you know that he also is a musician?
Yup, he’s a drummer who came up in the mid-’80s in Trenton when the city’s music scene grew with the emergence of City Gardens, a pioneering alternative-rock club that, like Maxwell’s in Hoboken, presented Nirvana, Soundgarden, Sonic Youth and more, while still on indie labels.
Danny and I both miss those days immensely, as well as many other venues that no longer are around. Yet, the number of bands vying for gigs and media attention has exploded with the advent and ease of digital recording technology. Infinite number of acts to cover, itty bitty amount of spaces for them to play.
But Danny Coleman keeps chuggin’ along, always having another hour or two to spend with a worthy music act and a variety of other artists. We chatted about how he balances all three outlets, the occasional gig as a drummer, and the state of the music scene compared to those good old days in the following interview.
Question: How did you get the itch to write and broadcast about music after so many years of playing it?
Answer: My radio show came to me after I quit my day job as a UPS driver. I woke up one morning after 20 years of delivering in downtown Trenton with more miles on my hand truck than the actual UPS truck. I woke up one morning in January 2009, and I never made it to work. I had four herniated discs. I had blood in my spine. One of the discs pinched all my nerves and dropped me like a ton of bricks. It kept me from everything for four months.
I finally was able to walk with a cane. They did surgery nine months later, but they waited a little too long. I still can’t feel my feet. They’re constantly on pins and needles … like they’re asleep.
I was faced with having to reinvent myself, so the radio show led to the writing, which led to more gigs as a musician, which led to the YouTube, so it kind of came full circle.
I graduated high school in 1981 and then in February of 1982, I went to broadcasting school. It was only a year-long course, but I got my FCC license and certificate. Then I applied to a couple of radio stations. I was working for the Wall Street Journal at the time. Originally, I started in the mail room as an 18-year-old kid and then I went into software. Radio was paying less than I was making at Dow Jones, so I put it on the shelf until 2009 when I got hurt.
I saw an ad on Craig’s List about radio show ideas. So I went down to a station in Burlington County and pitched an idea, and they bought it, and “Rock on Radio” was born. That was WIFI 1460-AM.
Then the music writer at The Trentonian quit, so I reached out to my contact and said, “I want to take over that column.” He said, “Submit something. If we like it, we’ll keep it.” So I did, and they said, “Okay, your next one is due Tuesday at 10 o’clock.”
Q: So you had radio and print, which eventually moved to PA/NJ Radio and New Jersey Stage, and 35 episodes ago, you started with Carousel Arts on YouTube. You’re what I call a triple threat. Does it ever get confusing who’s going to be on what show and who you’re going to write about?
A: Not really. I’m at the point with the radio show and the writing that people are reaching out to me. The press contacts reach out to me on a daily basis. I can kind of pick and choose who I want to write about. But as far as radio and YouTube go, I have to keep them straight, and it’s hard to do when I don’t have my computer with me at work.
Q: What’s your day job?
A: I work for St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton. I work in the warehouse, and I inventory and restock all the supplies. I deal with outside vendors. It’s purchasing.
Q: Out of the three mediums, which do you feel most passionate about?
A: The radio show probably because I’m comfortable. I’ve been doing it since April 26, 2009, so we just had our eight-year anniversary. It’s also totally mine. With “One More,” I have the producer, I have the crew. I never worked with that before.
Q: Does anybody besides me take advantage of three mediums and ask you to crossover with artists?
A: Some of them do.
Q: That’s what makes you so rare. I don’t know anybody else like that. I know a lot of music writers who have radio shows, but not any that also have a YouTube show. That’s what makes you a local music media mogul.
A: I get, “When do you sleep?” Fortunately, I require very little sleep. When I was on my former station, 40 Foot Hole Studio in Lanoka Harbor, it was an hour and 10 minutes from my house, and I was on at 10 o’clock at night then. When I moved to Lambertville, everybody was like, “Oh, make it earlier so we can listen,” so I made it earlier from 7 to 9. I’ve had to pre-record some shows because I have gigs on a Sunday. I never had those issues at 10 o’clock at night.
Q: Why is it worth investing the time in all three media outlets instead of playing out more?
A: I’ll always be a musician. I’ve been a musician since I was 11. When I was 12, my cousin who was five years older than me, give me Led Zeppelin IV for my birthday. It literally changed my life.
Q: You wanted to be John Bonham.
A: I heard those drums on “When the Levee Breaks” and “Black Dog” and “Stairway to Heaven” when they came in, and I’m like, “I gotta be this guy.” I ate, drank and slept Led Zeppelin. So I’ll always be a musician. I prefer to freelance over being in a band.
Q: How come?
A: Too much drama. Too many personality clashes. Too many egos, honestly. I love to play music … but I’d rather get that call that says, “Hey, can you fill in for this guy tonight?” There’s no pressure on me to make sure I do everything 110 percent right.
I did four gigs in one day. I started at the Stone Pony with Laura Crisci, then I went over to the Colts Neck Rock Fest and played with this band called The Itch. I’d never met the guys. I had to use Facebook photos to try to find them in the crowd. We never practiced. Did that. Then I went over in Spotswood, the Cambridge Inn, they were having a 15th anniversary party, so I was fooling around over there a little bit. Then I came home, and I took my shoes off, and I got a call, “Hey, our drummer didn’t show up. Can you come down?”
Q: Why do the media stuff when you could be playing more gigs and making more money as a musician than as a media person because it doesn’t pay? What is about the media thing that makes taking fewer gigs worthwhile, especially given the fact that music gigs pay and the media gigs don’t?
A: I am in one band called Boss Radio AM Gold, BRAG. What we do is recreate an AM radio broadcast with a live band using the music from ’66 to ’76. And I’m the radio voice. We have three drummers in the band. We have a drummer on the kit. We have another drummer who plays percussion but also plays guitar. And we have myself on percussion, and I’m the radio voice. I’m the (disc jockey voice kicks in), “Boss jock from BRAG radio.” We go from one song into the next, boom, boom, boom, boom. At some gigs, we have a 30-foot video screen, where we have videos that correspond with the songs. We do the commercials, the jingles. We have all that stuff.
We’re a 10-piece band. We have a gig June 17 at the Hamilton Elks.
Q: That sounds like an amazing band. So then what makes the media worthwhile?
A: We’re a 10-piece band, so the gigs are only like once a month. Maybe twice. I take medication, so I need a day job. I have high blood pressure. (Laughs) that’s hereditary though. My ex-wife got the house and everything else. I got high blood pressure (laughs).
Now I’ll always be a musician. You can’t stop. It might slow you down a little bit when life gets in the way, but you can’t stop.
Now with the media, I talk to people that I only dreamed of talking to when I was a kid. Ian Anderson, Ann Wilson, Nancy Wilson. Ann and Nancy Wilson replaced Farrah Fawcett on my wall. You know what I mean?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate, and that’s how I look at it. But I’m hoping that through the media, it can actually lead to being paid to do something I love for a living.
Q: So you’re paying your dues.
A: Right. John Pfeiffer (of The Aquarian Weekly) wrote something very nice about me. He said, “Coleman has no agenda.” And he’s 100 percent right.
When I was 16, my band, Valhalla, was in an unsigned band contest on WPST in 1979. I was at a church carnival, and this girl I went to school with said, “Listen. Come here.” And she drags me over.
My band was on the radio! I got goosebumps from head to toe. I was like, “Are you kidding me?” I remember that feeling, and I thought to me myself, if I could ever give another band that feeling that I had … which is how the radio show was born.
And being a musician … I went through a brutal divorce. And her lawyer stand up, holds up a copy of the Trentonian, and says, “See, he writes for this paper, and he admits that he’s a drummer and plays on weekends. Where’s that income on his sheet?!” Now I worked with a lot of original artists. So the judge says, “Is this true?” And I said, “Yes.” He said, “How much have you made so far this year?” I said, “$450.” He said, “And you play “very weekend? What kind of music do you play that you get paid so little?’ I said, “I work with a lot of original artists.” And he looks at the lawyer and says, “All right, be seated” (both laugh). Even the judge knew there was no money in original music.
But being able to help these people, so they can tell their friends, “Hey, we’re going to be on the radio tonight. Tune in,” so far it’s worked out.
Q: It’s a passion for the underdog and a sense of nurturing. Parenthood is the best, but it’s a different kind of nurturing because compared to your children, you’re almost nurturing strangers. But there is a sense of nurturing to it, and for guys like you and me, it feels really good to do that.
A: To help them. Yeah.
But through the media, I’ve also gotten to play with Gary Hoey, Ed Roland of Collective Soul and Corey Glover of Living Colour. And I always tell them I’m a musician, so they don’t think I’m some Joe off the street asking questions. I can relate to what you’re talking about, so talk to me.
Here’s one of the funniest stories. My daughter turned 17, so we go to Chili’s for her birthday. We’re not there five minutes, and my phone rings. It’s from New York, and I’m like, “I have no idea who that is.” Ignore! I’m with my daughter. It’s her birthday! I’m not going to sit on the phone. You know?
So about 30 seconds later, it’s ringing again, and it’s the same number. I looked at her and said, “You know what? I don’t know who this, but they want to talk to me awfully bad. Let me see.” I say, “Hello.” “Hi, is this Danny Coleman?” I said, “Yes, it is. Who’s this please?” He says, “This is Corey Glover.” I said, “What?!” He said, “This is Corey Glover of Living Colour? You’re supposed to interview me at 7 o’clock.” I said, “Yeah, tomorrow.” He said, “Oh, shoot, I got the date wrong. Oh man, do you have time now?” I said, “Can you give me about an hour and a half? I’m having dinner with my daughter. It’s her birthday today.” He said, “How old?” I said, “17.” He said, “Put her on the phone.”
He starts singing “Happy Birthday” to my daughter on the phone. She says, “Thank you,” and hands me back the phone. She had no idea who Living Colour was.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/
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