Blues Project Guitarist Danny Kalb dies at age 80

Danny Kalb, guitarist for the Blues Project, has died at the age of 80. He died on Saturday in a nursing home in Brooklyn.

The news was confirmed by Kalb’s brother Jonathan, who said New York Times that his brother had been diagnosed with cancer about three years ago.

Born Daniel Ira Kalb in Brooklyn, the guitarist grew up in Mount Vernon, NY, and began playing when he was 13. He was attending the University of Wisconsin and performing at local coffee houses when he crossed paths with another young musician on his way to something bigger Bob Dylan.

“Dylan crashed with me for a couple of weeks in Madison on the way from Hibbing, Minn., to New York,” Kalb shared AM New York in 2013. “We were having so much fun, I dropped out and followed him.”

Kalb subsequently met Dave Van Ronk, an influential figure in the Greenwich Village folk music scene. The guitarist quickly became a mainstay on the scene himself, performing and recording with the likes of Dylan, Judy Collins and Phil Ochs.

He contributed two songs, “I’m Troubled” and “Hello Baby Blues,” to 1964’s The Blues Project: A Compendium of the Very Best on the Urban Blues Scene, which featured musicians from around Greenwich Village playing traditional acoustic blues music. Kalb decided to focus on electric blues after seeing a performance by John Lee Hooker around that time.

Listen to Danny Kalb’s ‘Hello Baby Blues’

The following year, Kalb formed the Danny Kalb Quartet with rhythm guitarist Artie Traum, bassist Andy Kulberg and drummer Roy Blumenfeld. Traum was soon replaced with guitarist Steve Katz. Singer Tommy Flanders then joined and the group changed its name to the Blues Project, a nod to the Elektra album Kalb had appeared on.

The band then auditioned for Columbia Records, where producer Tom Wilson hired session musician Al Kooper, who had worked with Wilson on Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. Columbia did not offer them a deal, but Kooper was subsequently invited to join the group, and Flanders soon left. Wilson then moved to MGM, where he signed the Blues Project with one of the label’s subsidiaries, Verve/Folkways. Their debut album, Live at Cafe Au Go Gowas released in January 1966, followed by a US tour

The Blues Project only studio project, 1966s Projections, featured a rendition of Muddy Waters’ “Two Trains Running,” a song that had long been a staple of Kalb’s set. That same year, the Blues Project shared a bill with Waters. After the show, Kalb addressed his hero.

“I had to find out, in my deepest part, what he thought of our version of this tune that started in the South years ago before he recorded it with some electric band,” Kalb shared. UCR in 2016. “And these strange white people were doing this song: What was that about? So right before Muddy opened the door to leave, I went up to Muddy Waters and I said to him, ‘Mr. Waters — well, what did you think?’

“I knew at that point that he knew what I was asking him and he told me, ‘You really got to me,'” Kalb added. “If I had died then, that would have been enough.”

Listen to Blues Project’s ‘Two Trains Running’

Another classic Blues Project album followed, 1967’s Live at the town hall, and the band also performed at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967. By then, however, the Blues Project had begun to splinter. Kalb released Cross currents with Stefan Grossman in 1968, but did not return to the studio for decades. Planned obsolescence also arrived in 1968 under the Blues Project banner, but featured only Blumenfeld and Kulberg. Various other lineups then released a series of little-heard LPs from the ’70s.

Kalb’s solo career resumed with 2003’s All together nowThe 2007s Played a little violinThe 2008s I want to live the life I sing about and the 2013s Moving in blue. Kalb also memorably reunited with Katz and Blumenfeld in 2012 as the Blues Project, along with other musicians.

Although they became famous for interpreting songs written by others, Kalb felt that this did not detract from the Blues Project’s creative talent. “We’re not an imitative kind of band, although we used other people’s material very often,” he told UCR. “But just because you write your own songs, unless you’re a great songwriter like Dylan or someone like that, doesn’t mean all your songs are great just because you wrote them. I believe in that. I believe in writing songs, and I encourage it. But we were a great band. That’s all I’ll say.”

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