You might think there’s a handful of musicians named Danny Coane performing around Vermont on any given week. There’s Danny Coane, singer and acoustic guitarist with the rockabilly band Starline Rhythm Boys. Or Danny Coane the bluegrass guitarist/banjo player and singer with the Vt. Bluegrass Pioneers. And Danny Coane the singer and guitarist with Them Boys, as well as Danny Coane, singer-guitarist with the Radio Rangers.
Surprisingly, there’s only one Danny Coane, a soon to be 73-year-old from Montpelier who would easily win the award for Vermont’s busiest performer if the category existed.
Coane has been making music in Vermont since 1963 as a student at Montpelier High School, later at the University of Vermont, and then as an independent musician who was also an insurance investigator. He has appeared on a number of albums, most prominently the six that the Starline Rhythm Boys have produced, but never as a solo performer or bandleader.
Musicians with whom he has played think highly of his musical abilities and his character. “He’s got such a great voice. It grabs you, the way he delivers,” says Colin McCaffrey, multi-instrumentalist-performer and music producer from East Montpelier who plays with Coane in Them Boys, along with Dave Rowell.
“I get chills listening to him. It’s a voice that grabs you,” McCaffrey says of Coane’s vocals.
McCaffrey also praises Coane the man: “I love Danny, he’s got a real heart and connects with people. He’s polite and compassionate and an open person. He’s funny with a lot of good stories. He’s a positive guy, a lot of fun to be around.”
“He’s got the strongest voice I’ve ever worked with,” notes Dan Lindner. “He’s also the best rhythm guitarist I’ve ever worked with, he’s right on the beat and really carries the group.” Lindner along with his brother Willie and Sam Blagden play with Coane in the Vt. Bluegrass Pioneers.
Lindner dubbed Coane “the busiest musician I’m aware of.”
Lindner says Coane has an encyclopedic knowledge of the state’s roads and people. “He knows every back road in the state. It seems like there’s no one or no road he doesn’t know.”
Coane’s path to becoming a leading musician in a state full of great musicians started in Montpelier in the very early 1960s. “I was musical growing up,” Coane says. “My parents saw I had some ability, I took piano lessons in grade school.” In Junior High School he took clarinet lessons from band director Cliff Mix. At Montpelier High School he played bass clarinet in the school band.
As early as 1960-61 Coane started listening to country and bluegrass music by tuning in WWVA from Wheeling and the Saturday Night Jamboree. He heard bluegrass greats the Osborne Brothers, Red Allen, Alex Campbell and the New River Boys with Ola Belle Reed.
“They were awesome!” Coane remembered. He eventually took up guitar, banjo and bass in 1962.
Coane’s first band was The Jesters 1963-65 where he played electric bass guitar. While attending UVM in the late 1960s Coane was even more attracted to country and honky-tonk music. A history major earning a bachelor of arts degree in 1969, he admits that his growing interest in music “affected my studies.”
“I just loved country and bluegrass,” Coane says. “The sound and feel of it, and the banjo. It just hit me.” Other musical influences Coane credits are the blues, Chuck Berry and Buck Owens and his harmony style with guitarist-singer Don Rich.
Coane is lauded by his co-musicians for his powerful voice and he was influenced by singer-guitarists Jimmy Martin, Red Allen and Del McCrory. Banjo players he learned from are Earl Scruggs, Don Reno, Allen Shelton and J.D Crowe, each a “major driving player.”
Coane has played in a number of top Vermont bands. Before Starline Rhythm Boys, which formed in 1998 and plays as many as 150 gigs a year in Vermont, there were the Throbulators, a rockabilly from Burlington 1982-91.
“Making a living as a musician in Vermont is pretty hard to do,” Coane says. With the Throbulators, he and his bass-playing wife Kathleen did it. “Together we were able to make a living, to get by.”
That band got Coane into the movies. The band is featured in dance scenes from “Sweetheart’s Dance,” filmed in Hyde Park in 1987 and released in 1988.
Coane says that band was the “first rock band to play a gubernatorial inaugural ball when Madeline Kunin became governor in 1984. Also, you might have heard Coane playing banjo with Tony Washburn and RFD3 from the 1970s, The Slant Six Review during the late 1970s, and the Chrome Cowboys from the 1990s.
Somehow he also fit in time to play banjo with bluegrass bands including Pine Island, and Breakaway, replacing the late banjo phenom Gordon Stone for several months.
When COVID-19 shut down of most music venues, Coane’s schedule of performances with any of the bands he currently plays with has been limited. “Being a musician is hard,” he admitted. “The whole scene has changed, social media, getting your music out there, virtual concerts — it’s a whole new world.”
“There were a lot more clubs and bars and nightclubs to play back then. Today a venue is hard to find; even weddings have cut back, they run streaming music —work is not what it used to be,” Coane says.
“I used to play a lot holiday parties. They dried up with tightened liquor laws.” he explained. “CD sales are dead, downloads are the scene, the money is zilch. This is almost a throwback to the 1950s when artists got pennies on record sales.”
For the near future, work looks limited at best until the fear of COVID-19 is diminished with a vaccine. “I may not play at all this winter,” he said. “Ski areas are not booking any music — ski lodges are not going to happen. The Starline Rhythm Boys are on hiatus. All my bands plan on sticking together, but beyond that I don’t know.”
McCaffrey praises Coane as a mentor to others. “Although he doesn’t think of himself in that way. He’s leading the way for a lot of us.”
Lindner considers Coane “the original Vermont bluegrass musician. He’s about the most knowledgeable musician about bluegrass and country of anyone I know of. Willie and I love working with him, he takes joy in the music, it’s so obvious.”
Coane is humble about his 57 years as a professional. “I have a long and varied career.”