The Danny West I knew

John LaPado is a longtime Chico musician and illustrator. He works at Chico State University.

Danny West, who died last week at 54, was a Renaissance man, one who knew hard times in his early adult life—crime, imprisonment, loss of his children—but turned himself around, becoming a dynamo of constant positive activity.

Music, painting and self-education were Danny’s pursuits, and he never let up, always playing his self-styled blues ("For the people!"), always knocking out paintings for his next gallery show and always reading, everything from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ different Tarzan epics to histories of all peoples. Every year he would read the Ramayana, the Hindu epic of a reticent soldier-prince and his complaints with God (Rama) about the gore-fest known as this life.

When I met Danny around 1980, he had it in his mind to be a blues piano player and singer. His singing sounded like a Tibetan monk caught in a bear trap, and he played the piano like he was wearing mittens. Something about his great beat and enthusiasm kept people hugely entertained. His piano playing later became much more articulate, with the same great groove. His singing still made Keith Richards sound like Engelbert, though.

“I got my own style!” applied to his paintings as well—a cartoonish, graphic style of big-legged women and landscapes and buildings, but with colors unimagined, brilliant and fearless. Stuff you can’t learn in college. Once I moved into a place by 5th and Ivy and found some of Danny’s watercolors being used as shelf paper. When I told him, he said, “That’s some cold shit!” and laughed his head off. Those paintings now hang proudly in my house.

In ‘84, Danny talked me and Kim Gimbal into going to Hawaii. We got to Honolulu on a Thursday, had our own place on Friday, surfed all weekend and found jobs on Monday. The Hawaiians loved Danny. He was a great surfer with a beautiful aggro style. They loved his music, too, even though we were cruder than the sophisticated harmonies and changes they had. They knew Big Danny was the real thing.

I also went to Europe in 1990 with Danny and Mark Wilpolt—Oktoberfest in Munich and a couple of good gigs. Then Danny freaked out in Prague after Mark got all of his musical equipment stolen by Gypsies in the train station and beat it on home.

These are just a couple of my stories. Since his demise, I realize how many stories the members of Brut Max, Matt Hogan, Danny’s old girlfriends, his Sierra Nevada workmates or people I don’t even know have. He was a true original and an irreplaceable figure in this town. Danny had an ability to cut through the bullshit with a combination of street smarts and Vishnu’s “sword of discrimination.”

As it says on the Senator Theatre marquee right now, "RIP Lonesome Cowboy."