Red Carpet Interview
Nominated for guitarist of the year 8th annual LA Music Awards
Don Haney was at his peak. He had been nominated 3 years in a row as Guitar Player of the Year by Los Angeles Music Awards. His album was charting on some of the top blues radio stations in the country. He had sold over 150,000 albums independently and Billboard Magazine rated him #3 Top 100 Unsigned Acts.
Then he had back surgery and lost the use of his right hand.
“I watched two potential hits drop out of the charts because I didn’t have the strength to hold a pick,” Haney acknowledges.
Don Haney left his birthplace of Deadwood, South Dakota when he was 12 years old to find his father. He didn’t find his old man, but he found the blues. “I was wandering around the loop in Chicago and I heard this guitar lick. Man, that thing went into my ears and down to my toes. That meant the blues to me.” Turns out it was an Albert Collins’ lick bursting out of a Chicago blues club in the early 60s.
For the next 40 years, Don Haney didn’t do anything but play the blues. He played his guitar with more acts than he can remember, including Aretha Franklin, John Fred, Clifton Shanier and Gatemouth Brown. In the late 60s he joined the all black Blue Notes and played the Chitlin Circuit as one of the few white musicians to perform in those clubs during the Civil Rights Movement.
At the turn of the century, after a lifetime of accomplishments, Haney had finally started to get some real recognition until the career ending surgery.
For the 12 years following the surgery, Don Haney was retired. He moved back to his birthplace of Deadwood to recover and start a new life that didn’t involve the blues. He regained the use of his hand, but had lost all inspiration – until he met Bubba Startz.
“I wasn’t really interested in playing music with anyone in the area,” Haney remembers, “but Bubba came to me and he could really play! He reignited the fire that I lost being out of the music game for so long.”
Haney was working as a manager at a ski resort when Startz found him. “He was the guy who fixed the ski lift when it broke,” Startz mentions, “but one night at an open mic I heard him play one lick out of his guitar and it was on! I had to play with him.”
Bubba Starz spent years busking on the streets of Venice, California. “Back then, I was playing to live,” Startz confesses. He moved to Venice to take care of a friend with cancer, but after another friend was murdered, Startz had to get out. He moved back to Deadwood near family, mountains and familiar watering holes.
Startz met 21 year old Shantel Bolks while promoting a show with his former Deadwood band. “I was handing out flyers on the street when a girl with dreads and a guitar on her back started up a conversation. She came to our show and we hit it off.” Startz introduced Bolks to Haney and the trio was formed.
Separated in age by over 30 years, saxophonist Shantel Bolks, bassist Bubba Startz and guitar legend Don Haney are on track to regain the honest blues Haney has been playing all his life. Haney admits, “It’s hard to find people that are true to the blues. These guys are true. When we’re playing the blues, there’s not an age.”