Memories are the adhesive that bond a community together. And within any community there are always those individuals whose actions, either overtly or subliminally, consciously or intrinsically, generate the memories that become nearly legendary stories that are passed from person to person. Such was our friend Danny West.
In my experience there has never been a human being who enjoyed playing music as much as Danny. Whether he was strumming immaculately timed rhythm guitar or pounding out honky-tonk piano rhythms, you only had to see that toothy, ear-to-ear grin and hear his trademark high-pitched squeal of delight to know that here was a man who had found a very genuine source of inner joy, and not just internalized, personal joy, but joy that exploded outward powered by that ragged, exuberant voice, that stomping right foot and that incandescent smile.
Some years back I got a call from Danny to see if I was available to do a New Year’s Eve gig at the Bambi Inn in Butte Meadows with John LaPado and Bob the Barber. Naturally I jumped at the chance. New Year’s at the Bambi is a fairly legendary event in its own right, and to play it with three of my favorite musicians was an opportunity that I’d drive through a snowstorm for anytime.
As luck would have it we beat the snowstorm, arriving at the Bambi just before the sun went down and the road turned into a ribbon of ice you could skate on. Then we discovered that each of us thought the other had packed the PA system. Danny, intrepid troubadour and steadfast showman that he was, decided we had enough time to get down to Chico and back before show time, so he and I bundled up and headed down the hill to fetch the PA. We did three or four 360-degree spinouts over our first couple of hundred yards of travel, so we decided we could get by by sending the vocals through one of the guitar amps.
The gig was a slice of honky-tonk heaven, warmed by wood heat and fervent dancing and powered by Danny’s raw enthusiasm and bountiful musical energy.
About 10 of us spent the night in a cabin behind the inn, staying up till the wee hours shooting the breeze, nursing a beer or two and finally snuggling into our sleeping bags for a few hours’ sleep before a hearty Bambi breakfast and a drive down the hill that earned our excursion the title of The Danny West White Knuckle Tour because the road was slicker than snot on a doorknob, so icy that my little Toyota pickup kept going into long slow-motion spins every time we passed into the icy shade. During one such spin, when all hands were clasping the dashboard or the steering wheel with horribly comic intensity, Danny let out his signature laugh and yelled, “Hold on boys, it’s the white knuckle tour!”
And such it has remained ever since.