A Journey with Blues Singer-Songwriter Lonesome Dan Kase

Lonesome Dan’s newest album, Hours Seem Like Days, is his first album after a ten-year recording break. His inspiration? A deep admiration, observation, connection and love for shelter animals. Dan has long-loved rescuing rabbits (Hazel and Fern) and cats (Winnie and Addie). Taking these companion rescue animal bonds as inspiration, Dan has merged his passion for blues, country, folk, R&B, ragtime and jazz with personal, emotional stories to create powerful new songs.

Lonesome Dan Kase has spent a life on the road. Originally from Hillsdale, Michigan, by age 18 Dan left home and started a journey busking and gigging. He finally made his way to Minnesota in 2001, where he’s made a name for himself through his unique style of fingerpicking blues guitar.

Lonesome Dan Kase playing guitar

MJ Gilmore, The Cedar’s Box Office and Office Manager, sat down for an interview in The Cedar’s green room with Lonesome Dan to talk about his upcoming album release show for Hours Seem Like Days  on Thursday, January 17th.

I feel the best after a gig when I feel like I’ve really touched people. To create and express energy and to inspire people is so important.  Music that makes me feel something has always touched me, no matter what kind of genre, if I feel it in my soul, I’m inspired.
— Lonesome Dan Kase

MJ Gilmore:  Hi, Dan, welcome to The Cedar!  We are looking forward to your upcoming album release show on January 17th!   Will you share some of your musical background with us?

Lonesome Dan Kase: Hi, MJ, thanks for having me and I’m looking forward to my upcoming show at The Cedar!  I just noticed the Dave Van Ronk poster on the wall! I really enjoyed his show here back in 2001--I think it was one of his last shows.    

I grew up in a small town in Southern Michigan named Hillsdale.  I discovered country-blues, jazz and old folk music around age 17.  I left home and moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan when I was 18 years old.  I have been playing this music and traveling ever since-- it’s been my main passion.  

Most of the music I’m influenced by and play is from before the 1950s.  I have a love for old music. I started out listening to Chuck Berry. Chuck Berry was influenced by Muddy Waters and Muddy Waters was influenced by Robert Johnson.  That’s a pretty natural progression that I think a lot of musicians of my generation are influenced by. I jumped into old blues pretty quickly.

When I was growing up, I listened to a three-hour Sunday evening radio show called the “Blues Cruise,” that broadcasted out of Ann Arbor.  I would tape the show--I still have those cassette tapes! There would be about a half hour during that show that they would dedicate to old acoustic country blues and this was always my favorite part of the show.  This is where I first heard of musicians like Reverend Gary Davis, Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson. This was the start of my love for this genre of music.

Reverend Gary Davis

Later on I discovered more of the Chicago Blues, like Muddy Waters and Elmore James.  There’s a wide range of Blues: for example, Texas Blues with Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin' Hopkins, and Carolina Blues with Blind Blake.  Between 1910-1940 there was a wide range of blues music that came out. I tried to combine all of these influences, to include piano music, into my musical style.  Hearing this music on the radio show was my first time hearing old blues and it hit me pretty hard. Especially hearing Henry Thomas playing guitar and panpipes at the same time was really neat--like an early version of a harmonica rack. He blew my mind!  Also, Reverend Gary Davis’ guitar playing and singing really inspired me.

Really, from age 18 until my early 30s, acoustic blues really was my most musical influence, and then I started branching out more with rhythm and blues music from the early 1940s.  I also started getting into more piano music such as ragtime and old barrelhouse piano. I started to discover myself more as a musician after my early 30s. Now I feel it is really important to listen to more than just guitar music.  This way you can develop your style more. This has been my focus for the last ten years, but my roots are steeped in old blues music. Also, I’ve lived the blues lifestyle--traveling with no money! Dedicating yourself to something can be a sacrifice.

MJ: What was it like when you first started playing your music publicly?

I think busking is a good experience. It teaches you how to sing louder and put up with a lot of nonsense that you’re going to put up with later!
— Lonesome Dan Kase

Dan: My first solo gigs were busking on the streets of Ann Arbor, Michigan and Denver, Colorado.  When I first started playing solo, I would play songs by Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams Sr. I didn’t start old blues fingerpicking until I was 21 years old.  I made my living busking for the first few years of my music career. Even when I first moved to Minneapolis in 2001, I was busking on Nicollet Mall, because I spent all of my money on two months rent and I needed money for food! I think busking is a good experience.  It teaches you how to sing louder and put up with a lot of nonsense that you’re going to put up with later! I think it helps with your growth.

MJ: Who are some contemporary musicians who have influenced you during your career?

Johnny Long

Dan: I met the musician Johnny Long in Denver.  He has been a huge influence on my music. The night I first met him, he was playing in a bar, but I was too young to get in, so I watched him play through the window. I met him outside after his gig.  Johnny gave me a lot of advice on how to dress and approach the music business in a more professional way. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri now. He is a very wise person and I learned a lot from watching him play music. Sometimes I would be the only one in his audience and wonder why more people weren’t there.  So, this taught me humility of how someone can be so talented, but not have a large audience. I learned a lot of life lessons from Johnny.

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Paul Geremia, a blues musician from Rhode Island, is another musician who really influenced me.  I think one of the reasons I like Johnny and Paul so much is because they don’t have a smarmy attitude that some musicians can have.  I feel it’s luck of the draw with what music is trendy at the time.  Old blues music has never been overly trendy. Thankfully, I am at a place in my life where I’m trying to strike a balance between promoting myself, but not doing anything that is uncomfortable.  I luckily am able to create original music full time/make a living with my music.

When you learn from a record, you have to get inside the song—swim and walk inside it, this is how you get it into your soul and learn it.
— Lonesome Dan Kase

Lonesome Dan Kase performs a few songs off of his album "Hours Seem Like Days," courtesy of The Cedar Cultural Center's Facebook page.

MJ: Will you talk about your guitars and fingerpicking style?

Dan: My first guitars were handed down to me by my two older brothers: Electric Lotus and an Electric Fender Mustang and later an acoustic Fender guitar.  My first true guitar that I bought that felt really good in my hands while playing the blues was a 1928 Dobro and a Gibson 1948 LG-1--these are my favorite old guitars.  Now I play a Kopp K-35 6-string built by Kevin Kopp, a luthier from Montana.  I also play a National Resophonic Wood-bodied Tri-cone.

Mostly I’ve learned by ear from recordings and learned guitar picking on my own.  I collect records that include a lot of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and Document-Records old blues and jazz recordings.  Some of my favorite artists are Brooklyn ragtime composer Joseph Lamb, St. Louis pianist Speckled Red, and Texas blues performer Blind Lemon Jefferson.  When you learn from a record, you have to get inside the song--swim and walk inside it, this is how you get it into your soul and learn it.  I have created my own style and have also been influenced by listening to piano and horns. I practice about five hours a day, if I’m not traveling or playing gigs.  A few years ago, I took a really great guitar picking lesson from Dakota Dave Hull. He helped me out with my musical timing, which is really important.

Blues music can be happy and sad. Originally Blues music was a way to let go, to be free with yourself, music and life.
— Lonesome Dan Kase

MJ: You produced albums with 32-20 Jug Band in Denver and also with Crush Collision Trio in Minneapolis.  What are some of your memories from your solo albums?

Dan: I transitioned from busking to indoor gigs when I started a job at Wax Trax! Records in Denver.   My first recording, Crooked On Every Hand, was recorded on a cassette tape in the basement of this record store in 1998.  The title track was a tribute to my grandpa, who had passed away a couple of years before the recording of the song.  He was a major influence in my life. He was born in 1907. I lived with him from age 9 until I left home at age 18. He would tell me his stories about hopping trains and all sorts of fun things.  He taught me to appreciate old things. My second album was called Stop Time Blues, and I recorded it with my friend Micah Ciampa. My first two albums each had one original song and the rest of the tracks were my favorite old blues songs.

Addie

Hours Seem Like Days is the name of my new album that will be released at The Cedar Cultural Center. The songs on this album are about the life of shelter animals and how they judge time--I am a big animal lover.  A few songs are about my bunny Hazel and my cats Winnie and Addie! This is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Everything is so perfect now with recording, but I prefer to stick to recording live, because it feels so natural to me. I recorded this album at Wild Sound Studio in N.E. Minneapolis.  

Hazel and Winnie

MJ: What is at the heart of your music?

Dan: I think it is so important to dive into the heart of each song and show the passion. The words are really important in conveying what you want to express. It is important to feel the soul of the music you’re playing.  I feel the best after a gig when I feel like I’ve really touched people. To create and express energy and to inspire people is so important. Music that makes me feel something has always touched me, no matter what kind of genre, if I feel it in my soul, I’m inspired.  This is why I feel music is different than other types of art, for me, music has such an immediate impact of emotion.  For example the emotion I feel with my new album that is dedicated to animals, it is the emotion of sadness / a deeper understanding of where these animals emotionally are coming from.

Blues music can be happy and sad.  Originally Blues music was a way to let go, to be free with yourself, music and life.  This is why I love New Orleans music so much, it’s a way to let go of feelings and emotions and not being worried, or constricted.  

Lonesome Dan Kase in The Cedar’s green room

MJ: Dan, as we come to a close with our interview, do you have any final thoughts you would like to leave us with?

Dan: Try to find something you can be passionate about.  Be honest and don’t live a lie. Be open to your own shortcomings and be willing to look in the mirror and change things.  Life is ever evolving and try to keep an open mind and keep moving forward.

Get your tickets to see LONESOME DAN KASE ALBUM RELEASE with Corpse Reviver and Doug Otto & Hurricane Harold on Thursday January 17th here. Tickets are $12 General Admission. Doors are at 7:00 PM / Show: 7:30 PM.