Danny Paisley may have grown up listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd and playing saxophone in the school marching band, but today, he is a bluegrass traditionalist who works to preserve the music while keeping it relevant in today’s world.
Raised in Pennsylvania, Danny picked up his love of music at Sunset Park in Chester County.
“I loved country and bluegrass music. I listened to Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Hank Williams Sr., and other country music artists at the time. I also loved Ola Belle Reed, who was also a transplant to Pennsylvania. She had a great band, New River Boys and Girls.”
In high school, Danny often played on the weekends with his father, Bob Paisley, who was in a band called The Southern Mountain Boys. “I joined them in 1974 when I was 14 years old,” he recalls. The band gained recognition from their performances on New Jersey Public Television. Ted Lundy, Jerry Lundy, and Fred Hannah joined Bob in the band. When Ted Lundy passed away, Bob took over the band and changed the name to Bob Paisley and the Southern Grass. Ted’s sons, T.J., and Bobby Lundy, joined the band. They played for such notable events as Jimmy Carter’s presidential inauguration and at the Library of Congress. When Bob passed away in 2004, Dan took over as the frontman for the band.
Stronger than ever, the band has been recognized with over 15 IBMA nominations. In 2009, they were awarded IBMA’s Song of the Year for “Don’t Throw Mama’s Flowers Away.” Dan’s robust vocals have earned him the Male Vocalist of the Year award three times – something only five other artists in bluegrass history have accomplished.
Today’s Southern Grass continues the family tradition his father started. Danny plays guitar with the band, while his son, Ryan, plays mandolin. “Ryan is becoming a great singer in his own right,” says Danny. “I have developed my style over the years, and it’s hard for some people to sing with me. I may sing a song one way one day and totally different the next. But Ryan sings tenor with me and knows what to expect.”
The tradition continues with Ted Lundy’s sons, T.J. Lundy, on fiddle and his brother, Bobby, on bass and vocals. Dean Phillips plays banjo with the band. The Southern Grass has produced consecutive chart-topping albums. Their most recent album, Bluegrass Troubadour on the Pinecastle label, features pure traditional bluegrass music. “I love pure bluegrass,” Danny says. “That’s what I grew up on, and that’s what I hear in my head when I think of bluegrass music. When people send me songs, that’s how I hear them. That sometimes makes it hard to find material that works well.”
Danny says young people today can’t relate to the Blue Ridge Mountains. “I have to work hard to stay relevant. But I have found that there is an audience for pure, solid bluegrass. That’s what we play, and we put a lot of rhythm into it.”
After a bout with throat cancer, Danny says he is grateful that he is now in good health.
“I thank God for curing me. I am so fortunate that music has provided me with a comfortable lifestyle. It has taken care of me and my family. I am also fortunate to have good people around me who support me. I have been able to travel throughout the United States and the world and see things I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to see.”
Knowing where his bread is buttered, Danny says he appreciates it when people use their hard-earned money to see him perform. “I’m never going to shortchange them,” he says. “I give my all at every show.”
Every artist worth his salt has a good manager, and Danny has that in his manager, Laura Mainer. “She has done great things for me and other artists as well. She takes the pressure off so we can focus on what’s important.”
Group shots by Dennisandersonphotography.com
Single shot of Danny Paisley by Jodie Fisbein.