Lonesome cowboy heads for greener pastures
Local cultural icon Danny West—a self-taught musician-songwriter, painter and historian known for his signature mismatched plaid outfits and exuberant, rambunctious speaking style, passed away at his Chico home on Wednesday, Sept. 22, at the age of 54, of an apparent sudden heart attack. West, who in recent years had been suffering from a debilitating seizure condition, had also battled alcoholism for much of his life.
He leaves behind two brothers, Doug and Dave, of Santa Rosa, and two adult children, Benjamin and Hannah, of Sacramento, as well as countless friends.
West was born in Oakland in 1950, one of four sons of Lawrence and Eva West. He moved to Chico in 1979 from Sacramento, after a divorce, to study at Chico State University. He graduated from Chico State in 1982 with a degree in art. West had shows of his one-of-a-kind, colorful paintings and drawings at a number of venues around town, such as the Upper Crust and the now-defunct Cory’s.
West played piano and guitar and sang in his own highly entertaining, idiosyncratic way in a number of Chico bands over the years, most notably Danny West and the Lonesome Cowboys. West was known affectionately by a number of nicknames—"The Blue Kahuna,” “King of the Blues,” “Honky-tonk Hero,” “Big Danny,” “The Lonesome Cowboy.” Every Martin Luther King Jr. Day he would go down to KZFR and sing and play his song, “I Remember the Day Mr. King Died.” Every Thanksgiving and Christmas he would go around to all the nursing homes in town and play piano.
West was also employed at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. as a cook and later a brewer’s assistant for about 15 years. He worked in the kitchens of Ruby’s, Ivy’s, Karen’s and LaSalles as well. He traveled extensively, to Europe, Alaska, Hawaii, Israel, Australia and Indonesia, and taught English for a while in Japan.
A passionate lover of really roots music, West adored Hank Williams, Elmore James, Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley, among others. “He had a lot of records, all in really bad shape” from repeated use, his longtime companion Clancy Callahan said recently as she shared stories about West’s life. Callahan described West as “really unpretentious … a natural artist … who read all the time and … would always tell all these stories and they were always more interesting when Danny told them. … He would act out Captain Cook getting drowned,” she added, laughing, flailing her arms in imitation of West’s performance. “He did everything because he loved it. I think he truly loved life. He had this capacity to take it in and see it in a funny way. … I loved Danny.”
Callahan shared a story that she said really summed up West and why he was locally known as the “King of the Blues": “He played a gig in Oroville once, and afterwards an old guy came up to him and asked, ‘Son, was you raised by Negroes?'”
West’s memorial service will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 6, at 7:30 p.m., at the Chico Women’s Club. Donations to the Danny West Memorial Scholarship Fund for talented high-school music or art students may be made at his memorial service. Guests are also encouraged to bring food and play some music.