In this episode, record producer, Dann Huff, joins Rich Redmond and Jim McCarthy down memory lane as he tells the story of how he got started in the music industry. As a guitar god turned hitmaker, he goes into the details of how his life was from playing in a band with his brother and the circumstances that occurred, leading him to produce some of the household bands and solo artists in music. He talks about the impact of having a wife and family who supported him truthfully to live his dream. Dann also gives his opinion about people moving into Music City in hopes of making it big, as he explains the different factors you need to consider and the mindset you need to have to make it in the competitive world of music.
It’s another episode of the show coming to you from Music City, USA. At my side is Jim McCarthy , man about town, co-producer, and co-host. He’s funny 90% of the time. He’s always got a comfortable pair of shoes.
I do. It’s the best part of being a dad.
What have you been up to since the last episode? We record four a day of these things when we’re in town. I’m telling you what, this is Jesus’ water right here. We got some French wine in our mugs and we’ve had many requests, “Where could I get a mug?”
We got to get that set.
We got to get a T-shirt happening. Do you know what the T-shirt is going to say? It’s going to say, “That was fun.” Everybody that does the show, they take their headphones off and they go, “That was fun.” That’s what we want. To spend an hour with friends learning and laughing.
If you’re reading this, know that you can listen to richredmond.com/Listen.
You could take us to the gym. You could take us to your commute.
Please, always remember the School of Rock. They’re joyful enough to sponsor and get in on the ground floor of this amazing opportunity.
They are our title sponsor. We’re big believers in music education. Angie and Kelly McCreight, they’ve had The School of Rock here for years in Music City, USA. There are 250 locations of the School of Rock around the globe. They have the best students. These kids are amazing. Parents, if your kids are interested in music, I’m a product in music education. I know you grew up playing the drums. If you want to get your kids off the video games, off the YouTube, get them playing music, get them playing drums, bass, guitar, and keyboards. Get them fronting a band. They’re going to go out and they’re going to play shows. We did a big fundraiser at the Ryman Auditorium. I emceed. I got up and played with our friend, Josh Paul, from the band Daughtry. That was fun. What are the email addresses if parents are interested to get their kids to sign up? Where are they, Jim?
Tell them that Jim and I sent you. What podcasts are you listening to these days?
A lot of the ones that I produce. Is that bad?
No, you produce six podcasts here in Nashville. What are those?
I produce yours and I produce ours, you could say. I’ve been producing The Talk of Music City Real Estate with Carey Ann Cyr, who’s a local mortgage expert and Monte Mohr of Realty One Group Music City. A bunch of different podcasts, Tips, Tactics and Tools is another one. I’ve been listening to ours because I always believe in listening back to them.
You got to listen to yourself and learn.
My buddy’s podcast, Mostly Automotive Marketing. A lot of the podcasts, you’ll hear my voice on. Maybe I’m narcissistic.
If you guys don’t know, Jim spent twenty years in radio and he is a professional voiceover artist. If you’re driving down the highway and you hear him on an ad, that is Jim and he’s probably wearing that zipper hoodie.
If you hear anything on the radio, it’s probably me.
Do you know what I’m listening to? I listen to The Ed Mylett show. I listen to the Joe Rogan show. I listen to the Marc Maron show because I love his sardonic wit and he has amazing A-list actors that go to his house in Highland Park. He had Obama.
It’s like going to a house in Brentwood.
If you go two streets over, it gets weird. We’re safe right where we are.
The Jim Breuer Podcast, The Real Brad Lea podcast.
Drummer’s Resource is great. Our buddy, Nick Ruffini, who helped launch this podcast. Enough of this stuff, let’s get into it. This guest that we have on the show, I’ve been saying, “Our next guest,” but your wife has been like, “Make sure he doesn’t say that because it’s today’s guest.” Our guest, I’m excited about because he’s been a staple of the Nashville and Los Angeles music scene for decades. Everything you hear on the radio, this guy is either producing or he’s playing or he’s writing, my friend Dann Huff. Back in the day, Howard and the crew would have rubber chickens and they would have drums and whistles. We got it all right here in the RØDECaster Pro. This is where it’s come. It’s crazy.
The speed, the cadence is daunting. I’m going to tell you this is going to slow down a little bit. Not you guys but from my standpoint.
This is the end of the day for all of us and we’ve been pounding coffee all day. We’re drinking some prosumer level French wine from Kroger.
It works for me. As long as it slows you guys down to my level, we’re going to be fine in this conversation.
We don’t want you sitting there forever. As a guitar player, if you pull up the Wikinator, you have played guitar on so many hit records. You played for everyone, Michael Jackson, Scritti Politti, Whitesnake, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Kenny Rogers. We’re even talking about Whitney Houston’s debut record, so much work as a session guitar player. Was that the dream? When did it all start for you?
That was the only dream. I grew up in Nashville. I went to my first sessions probably twelve, thirteen with my dad. He was in Christian music. He hired a lot of the session guys, the greats here in Nashville. I went straight to I want to do that. I didn’t care about being in a band, just the absolute antithesis of what young guitar players want to do. They get on stage, get all the girls. I was like, “Nope, I’m going to be in the studio.” That’s all I wanted to do. I met my wife when I was about thirteen. I checked that off. It’s another freaky story.
We love stories. Your dad was the Pops Conductor for the National Symphony. Was he not?
Yeah. I didn’t find this out till later, but he moved to Nashville when he was 30. He had three sons, $800, and was going to try to make it as an arranger and he did. He was wonderful. He did a lot in the Christian community, the contemporary Christian shows, but then moved on and did a lot of other pop records. He died, but he was the best man in all of his son’s wedding. That’s an indication of the relationship. It was great, he loved it. You don’t deserve it when you get a dad like that, you just get it. Do you know the name Bill Gaither?
That’s where all that stuff started. I hired him to do strings on a Megadeth record. He put that in the credits at some Christian event somewhere and I said, “Do you think you have to do that?” He said, “Yeah, I’m proud of that stuff.”
It was called Cryptic Writings. It was when I first moved back to Nashville and I was still in the rock and roll business. They had some singles, it was back when AOR radio was still doing it.
The late ‘90s or mid-’90s.
We did it in Nashville.
Is that when you moved back to Nashville, ‘96, ’97?
It was in the ’90. You’re asking about guitar, but that was the dream. I moved out to Los Angeles when I was 21, 22. It went fast. I was lucky. A lot of things had to happen. I had the right thing at the right time, shall we say?
If you’re starting, you’re seeing the best of the best work and the expectations of what the best of the best does at thirteen then you have seven years to foster that by the time you’re 21.
I was in high school and I played at Belmont College with all those guys. Everything lined up. You have to have it, but there’s a lot of luck. When I moved to Los Angeles, one of the top guitar players was a young guy at that time. You probably know the name Steve Lukather. His band was ridiculously successful.
He moved out of it and there was a lane. One thing led to another. I’m all of a sudden in the fast lane.
Lukather was playing the guitar solo on Beat It.
Eddie Van Halen did that. He did the bass in the main lick.
He played on so many hit records. He got the total thing going on. Those guys had a rhythm section almost like a wrecking crew type thing. They were young, he and Jeff Porcaro. They were playing on the Sonny and Cher show while they were in high school.
Jeff did. Being drummers, you guys appreciate it. I got to play a lot with Jeff, which was transcendent. That was kind of a kid in a candy store. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.
Back then, we didn’t have Siri. Getting around Los Angeles, was it the Fodor’s guide? You would pull over and you plug the maps and payphones.
It was daunting, but I was young enough. My wife, Sherri, said, “I think that you were naive enough and dumb enough that it wasn’t as daunting maybe as it should have been.” I got in some good rooms. That took me to a point where I did it long and hard for that over that long, five or six years. I got a little bit bored, shall we say? That’s when I started to dabble in a band. That was my high school dream at the end of my twenties.
The band is called Giant.
I’ll cut to the chase, there was some good music. Not that I’m not proud of it, but it ultimately failed like a lead balloon, which ended up bringing me back to Nashville, which started the course that I’ve been on since the ’90s.
We have a lot of readers that aren’t musicians. What would be something that would derail a band? Why would a band fail?
Not having enough hits. We were on the right trajectory, but it was at the wrong time. It was at the end of the hairband stuff.
When did Nirvana hit?
Right about when we started tanking. I’ll never forget, I was up at Sony Studios in ’90. We were mixing our second record. We had some good success in the first one. We had started touring. We’d moved back to Nashville because I wasn’t going to play sessions anymore. I was going to be a rock star. We were on MTV and that was still when that was a deal. I remember being in Sony Studios in New York. We were mixing the second record. Somebody said, “Let me show you this new video.” I remember seeing Even Flow by Pearl Jam where Eddie Vedder’s climbing. Do you remember this video?
This guy is scaling some small theater wall and I thought, “That’s the end of my career as a lead singer because that’s great and what we do is passé, which it was.” When the ‘90s came in and Grunge hit, everything that we were doing with all the pristine chops and all that stuff, we were about five years late. Looking back on it, thank God that happened. I’d be doing those tours, the where are they now tours where they bundle five acts. I’d still be trying to fit in spandex and sing like a freaking soprano. It all worked out great.
You got such an early start. I didn’t get to Nashville. I went a different route. I ended up becoming overly educated in academia because I went to North Texas State and where you learn how to play big band swing and all this kind of stuff. I kicked around Dallas like Gregg Bissonette and the guys. We kicked around Dallas for a little bit and then they would make their move. I moved here in March of 1997 with Jim Riley from the Rascal Flatts and they’re doing their farewell tour. How did that happen in twenty years?
Farewell business is good business. I did bust Jay on that. I said, “You guys farewell then you come back the next year.” He didn’t think that was funny at all and he’s a funny guy.
Cher has done seven farewell tours. She’s on her eighth farewell tour. If we wanted to tickle everyone’s ears with some a little candy here, this is a playlist I put together for you. This is a Giant song called I’m a Believer.
At the tail end of this whole scenario in the LA Rock, this would come on the radio unedited like this on the biggest stations when they still had rock radio. It’s a minute-long guitar solo before the band even starts on.
Is the DJ talking over it?
No. Can you imagine my mid-twenties ego hearing this thing? I heard that even Eddie was into this band. That was a big thing. The best stuff comes about 45 seconds in.
Have you ever broken bread or hung out with Eddie?
I’ve never hung out with Eddie. We’ve communicated only through guitar techs. It was confirmed that it was a nice thing.
I can’t imagine. You’re cruising down with the PCH with your top-down and there’s you, Blair, and divebombs.
It gets technical.
It’s a long intro, too.
They played the whole thing. That was the lead singer, too.
Is that 5 minutes and 44 seconds?
They played every second of it. It was back when less ads and maybe a little less ADD overall for the consumer. It was fun.
That was a big deal.
The drummer in the band was my brother, Dave. Dave is a good drummer. The Nashville Session, Mike Brignardello was in the band too. We all had long hair. It was a good time. It took us about 2.5 years to figure out that we almost made it and that’s what landed me back here.
There was another plan for you guys to come and help shape the new sound in Nashville.
It was unbeknownst to us. I grew up in Nashville but I never listened to country music.
You probably get out there relatively often.
I don’t go out at all.
Do you miss the Armenian food and the Persian food and everything in one strip mall?
I was worried about coming back to Nashville when we came back because of the culinary side. We’re doing okay here.
It’s getting better. In ’97, when I moved here, it was a little rough.
Think about the 1970s when I was a teenager, it’s like, “No.” We’ve come a long way. You live with gratitude. If you got to go to New York to get a meal, you go to New York.
When you moved back, you’re probably 30 years old. Tell us about the funny story with your bride. You guys are still married. Your schedule, I bet, is like, “When are you going to be home, sweetie?” “I don’t know.”
She did tell me that it was a great time when we were probably 24, 25, and I was living my dream. She’s a nurse by profession. She came to me and she has a beautiful Southern accent. She said, “Dann.” Dann has 2 or 3 syllables when she says it. She’s not to be trifled with, because I’ll never forget this day. She said, “This is good. I love you. I’m going to move back to Nashville. We’re going to still stay married but if I don’t see you, I may as well be with my family.” She wasn’t joking. I’ll never forget that night because she meant it. It wasn’t a threat. It was a reality. She didn’t want to stop me from living my dream. Shall we say it resets some of my priorities? It keeps you going back to that in order to make that work. With music and all this stuff, there’s got to be a little luck involved. You get hitched when you’re that young.
Luck favors the prepared.
Luck favors but there are many things you have to line up, too. You got to end up growing up the same way. We lucked out doing that and I’m appreciative. She’s not a musician, but she’s been the best critic.
She gets it.
She cuts to the bullcrap.
I love that she’s an RN. Did she retire?
Since we started to have kids, she put that back.
My mom was a nurse for 40 years and a cancer survivor and a strong woman. Nurses are great, because that is a solid job. Nurses have to have a lot of heart, a lot of empathy. They get humanity.
Which is why they pick the underbelly of the musicians, right?
Yeah, someone to take care of.
They’re like, “This poor guy.”
When you’re out in LA and she’s making these threats, “I’m going to go back to my family,” what about your in-laws at that time? Were they like, “What are you doing here?”
No. It was a little bit of a dream come true. It’s a Cinderella story. The threat or whatever it was, it was like, “You got to do something for the relationship, too.” I changed my schedule. It changes again. You got to reset, but it was a good thing. It helped me keep that path, which worked out good. It’s a lot cheaper to stay married too in the long run.
You come back and you’ve got all these thousands of credits, everything from Mariah Carey. You played on the Christmas song that everybody hears 5,000 times an hour during Christmas. When did you decide, “I’m going to produce?”
That came probably after we moved back to Nashville. The rock star thing didn’t pan out. I had to make a living, either move back to Los Angeles or stay here where we can raise our kids. It so happened that country music was changing its base. A lot of what I did in the ‘80s was popular in the ‘90s. That happened and that took me down the road. I played in sessions for about seven years here.
That was in 1997 and that was the boom. That was Alan Jackson gone country thing. When I moved here in ‘97, it seemed to hit a low.
That’s when Shania started. It’s somewhere right around there and I started working with Mutt Lange. I’d never considered producing that much. I used to work at a lot of records with him and he said, “You should probably be a producer.” I dabbled in 1 or 2 little things, but I never had the momentum on my own. I’d played on Faith Hill’s records and when she and Scott Hendricks were engaged to be married. When they split up, that was a big deal. All of a sudden, she doesn’t have a producer. She’s not going to use her ex-fiancé.
What was that first Faith Hill record you produced? Is it the one with Breathe and all that stuff on it?
No, that was the second one. Shania told Faith, “You should try Dann. He’s my guitar player.” Tim’s producer, Byron Gallimore, was doing it and I would say I was a second producer. I was the rhythm producer.
What a great vote of confidence to have somebody like Mutt Lange say, “You should do this.”
That was it. The first time I did it with Faith was a song called Let Me Let Go, which is a cool song. It was a big hit. That was the thing that all of a sudden when you have somebody like Mutt Lange who has the credibility of probably one of the tops.
AC/DC and Def Leppard.
You don’t get better than him and truly one of the gentlemen in the music business. All of a sudden when he says that you’re a producer, you’re a producer. That was it.
It’s like being ordained by the don.
That’s exactly what it was. You can’t ask for that stuff and that was it. It took a while to get my sea legs because I had worked with Mutt a lot. Everything that I was doing, I wasn’t anywhere as close. I wasn’t enough to carry whatever it is.
His triangle. His hard drive.
We didn’t have hard drives back then. That was the thing and you try to learn how to be yourself in it.
What you had on your side was tons of musical experience and all those tens of thousands of hours in the seat taking direction from all the greatest producers or the worst producers in the world, and maybe you’re probably making a mental note, “I’m not going to do that.”
That’s precisely what it was. You learn as much from both. I have played for a lot of lame-assed producers and some were big.
Are there some mean people?
Not awful people. I’ll put it in the positive, Mutt Lange could extract music from a stone. He had that ability. He was going to carry everybody across the finish line and you are going to get to be the best that you were. He wasn’t afraid of that. I also worked for producers who, when things didn’t go well, they felt like they were being exposed because they didn’t have that much ability. Perhaps they didn’t have much confidence or whatever it was and they would start castigating the players. If you don’t cast people right, there were several times I would be called for something that I was not that good at. I was maybe good at something else and then you see this guy grinding his teeth, “Why can’t you play like this?” Call that guy. You learn over a period of time. You’ve had all the experience so you know the exact same thing. You learn how to inspire people and try to get the best out of people.
Be encouraging. We had Lindsay Ell sitting right there and I said, “You’re working with Dann.” She’s like, “It is cool to work with a guitar player because we could geek out and nerd out. He helps me with my solos and we talk about tone.” That’s got to be great. You’ve done six Keith Urban records in a row.
I did six complete. I’ve worked with him on songs from that point on.
That’s got to be fun to hang out as guitar players.
I’ve learned probably more music from him than probably anybody in town.
I worked with you one time on a Steel Magnolia record. Thank you for the call. The thing that I noticed was you bring out the best in people and you’re encouraging, but you push people and you’re like, “Let’s try this. Don’t use the tops, cross-stick there.” You’re writing your chart and make everything, “That’s great. One more change.” It was awesome because the finished product was exciting. It was maybe different than something that I would normally do because a lot of times in this town we’re on the clock and it’s like demoitis and it’s like, “Copy the demo.” “Drummer, let’s get this track because I got to do two layers of guitars. I got to overdub a mandolin. I got to get this done.” We did one song every three hours, which was a cool luxury because I’m used to doing no less than two every three hours.
Five songs in three hours or something?
When demos, you do five songs in three hours.
My brain doesn’t work that fast. By the fact that I am one of the older dudes in this business, you say you can’t do it any other way and they feel pity for you so it works. I don’t like to go too much back in the day but when I started cutting records as a guitar player in Los Angeles, I always wondered as a kid, “How do they get these great records?” You get on the sessions and you realize they would spend eight hours doing one song, a rhythm track. There it is, because you have time to step away. It’s not time playing it right, it’s time to have an objective and subjective reaction to something. It’s like walking around a room and getting different perspectives.
To me, time is the greatest commodity that you can have in music. That doesn’t mean you can’t capture lightning in a bottle in a take, sometimes you got to know when you got that too. For the most part, it’s like doing something. That knowingness comes after you’ve developed muscle memory in what you’re doing and then you let it go. You first have to react to something and then you also have to learn how to disengage and then re-react again. Who knows how long it takes? As a guitar player, I was slow.
You were willing to experiment with kick drum patterns, change snare drums. Can you hit the cymbal softer? Can you pick up a shaker in your right hand? Cool stuff. It was an amazing experience. It sucks that the act didn’t fly.
They had to hit right out of the box. It was a good song.
It was a great song, as far as getting to the second signal and the second record and then establishing themselves as an act.
That happens more than not. I do have a funny story. I have a lot of drummers in the family. My brother, I’ll never forget, he told me early on, he said, “Dann, do yourself a favor, don’t sing drum parts because it gets you look stupid.” That’s my brother, my best friend. It always stuck with me. I’ve always felt insecure. You what you got to do. You have to still go for it. The fact that I said that much is surprising to me.
You would reference things like, “Let’s try a Stan Lynch thing or whack that snare drum like Kenny.” You know your drummers, because you’ve worked with them all so you can reference them. For the young drummers coming up, it’s their responsibility to be able to recognize who are these people you’re talking about. I’m sure there are some young kids that are coming up that don’t know who Charlie Watts is, which is a scary thing.
Also, by the same token, there are some younger drummers. I got to do the same thing, keep up with who’s coming down the pike who have no reference point for.
I don’t want to be, “Get off my lawn,” guy. I want to keep up with everything. Isn’t your son playing drums for Kane Brown?
I’ve seen videos of him playing and I’m like, “It’s in his blood.”
Your old man’s music is not the music you’re going to listen to. He had no interest in anything I was doing. He’s a metal drummer, he’s effortless and a natural. Even as a teenager, I always heard things. Of course, there’s this old band and I’m sitting there, “Groove, you got to make sure you take care of that because that’s where you’re going to make money. You want to make a living doing this. It doesn’t mean you have to play the lowest common denominator. You have to be cognizant.” Somewhere in his early twenties, he decided that making a living sounded a positive thing. He’s integrating. He’s exciting to watch. I love him dearly and I’m proud of him.
He was playing with another act that was wonderful, it was a band called Seaforth and they’re great. They were a second or third support of Kane. This is what Kane told me later down the line, “I heard Elliot playing with Seaforth, they’re wonderful. They’re coming up the pike.” Kane’s drummer, Kenny, died. How things happen, why there are opportunities. This is the most exaggerated, horrific opportunity that was laid Elliott’s feet. He went and auditioned for it. A lot of people tried out for it. He’s good and they chose him. He’s never lost the fact that you can’t do a victory dance for that one. He knew Kenny by the way and they were friends.
They were on tour with us. I said, “Kenny, you’ve been out all year, we haven’t taken a photo together.” We took a photo together and then I got the news.
He was loved and that band has a tight-knit thing. There’s no way to go past that tragedy, but it is what it is. They had to move on. Elliot’s first gig with him was at the Staples Center. They were filming it for DVD. I’ve never seen my son that quiet. He absolutely nailed it.
He was quiet because he was focused.
It’s a 21, 22 song set and the band has been playing together for a while. They were getting their stuff together as a band. It was fun. I went out like a dad would do at this point. I went and geeked out watching my kid. It was fun. I played with him sometimes, too.
You played a guitar solo on a Rushlow record. Me and the guys in Aldean’s band, we’re in a band called Rushlow with Tim Rushlow that Jeff Balding produced. Kurt was like, “I’m not playing that solo because Dann Huff is playing that solo.” You and Jeff worked together on a lot of things, the Megadeth record.
When I was in a Christian music band, you don’t have that. Don’t even look at that. That’s gone way too far.
Were you on Whiteheart with Chris McHugh?
No, I was mocked one. It was David. My brother was in that one. They got better once I left. I left because I wanted to go to LA.
We had the drummer from Newsboys. We had Duncan Phillips. He’s had that job for a long time, in 30 years.
Did you convince Dave to move here?
No, I didn’t. I didn’t convince him at all. He liked what he saw.
He lives around here. I used to sell Mercedes Benz and he used to come into the dealership every now and then.
Dave is an intense young man.
He always seemed like a decent, nice guy.
I’ve never met him. Our bass player, Tully, was in a band with your brother.
I forgot the name of it, but it was around ’97, ’98. They had a little rock band. It’s like a project band.
With my brother or with my cousin, Bobby? He’s also a drum player.
It is Bobby Huff.
He’s a good drummer.
All these Huffs’, so many Huffs’.
One guitar player and all these drummers.
What have you wanted to always ask Dann?
It’s funny, you mentioned producing Amazed and I have a funny story about that. I don’t know if any of you could say this, but I had that song played in my living room by the man himself.
Richie McDonald sang it in your living room?
In my living room.
What was the reason?
It was a video shoot. I do a lot of video. Back in the day, Tim Rushlow reached out to me and I did one for him, Larry Stewart, and Richie for the front men. If you remember when they did that project, they still do that. Rushlow is doing the big band stuff now.
Tim is the guy that will consistently reinvent himself. He’s had so many record deals. He’s doing a Christian deal. He’s doing a duo. He’s doing a band. He’s a big band crooner. Paul Leim came and talked to us and he plays every Christmas out there with Tim. It’s crazy. We took our cute little rhythm section that’s been playing together for years and we brought it over to Aldean. We cheat on each other all the time. We got to do other things to keep it fresh, but we finished each other sentences.
You guys produce as a team, too.
We did. We had a nice little run. We had two number one songs for Thompson Square. We had another number one song for a group called Parmalee. We helped a lot of people get record deals. The tides were shifting on how producers monetize because there’s hardly ever any back end so you have to get your stuff upfront. We had a foreman company. There was a lot of mouths to feed. We got a publishing deal and Magic Mustang. I started trying to develop a new skillset of writing songs every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. A kick and snare drum pattern can be brilliant, but it does not qualify as intellectual property. I said, “Let me try the songwriting thing.” I did that for five years. Around the 8th or 9th year with the deal, they’re getting number one songs. They wrote a number one song for Seein’ Red for Dustin Lynch. They wrote songs for Dirk and they got a bunch of Aldean cuts. They’re rocking.
You parted ways. You’re still active, right?
We still make music. I’m studying acting in Los Angeles and I do motivational speaking for Fortune 100 companies so that’s where I’m going, as an author. I’m studying TV hosting. I’m going to see where this is going because I’m lucky and fortunate enough that I have this wonderful job in the music business that we keep going out and playing year after year. Why not use that opportunity to try to cultivate some new interesting things?
You seem to be a natural at it.
I’m trying to, thank you so much. You decided you’re going to produce. Did I hear a story about how you went out and bought your first Pro Tools rig?
It was because of Megadeth.
YouTube tutorials or are you reading a manual? What are you doing?
We were always like blind leading the blind. We had no clues back when they had those big drawer hard drives, maybe four.
It was in the late ‘90s.
It was necessity that drove it. We learned how to make music with a band like that. My predecessors would do it with analog tape. I didn’t want to do that. Things emanated from that. That year, I remember producing Faith Hill and Megadeth. The reason I got Lonestar is because they were on the bubble. Possibly they weren’t going to make it. Give a young guy a shot at it. They put all the eggs in the basket of another song which they released, it’s the first single. Joe Gilani was running the record label back then. This song not only came out but it was polarizing, too. It was like run away from this song. He flipped the single in the middle of the single.
I put out Amazed, which is a song that probably everybody turned down in Nashville. Every major act turned that song down. By the time it came down into my hands, I thought, “That’s a good song.” It’s not like I had any clue what that was going to do. That solidified the business urge to ask a question, “Can this guy produce?” All that said, I didn’t even know what that meant. All of a sudden, that first record, I don’t know how many million it sold. It was like, “This guy has the answer.” I had no clue that I even knew the question at that point. Apparently, I had all the answers. That’s how the thing starts rolling. I did three records that first recycle. There was a band called SheDAISY.
I remember that.
You brought in Vinnie to play some drums.
Yes. My old buddy, Vinnie. That was fun. The record that I thought was going to be the thing.
No, it was another one. The one thing that I thought was going to be my meal ticket absolutely evaporated. The other two things that I had, I didn’t have any clue whether it was going to go, SheDAISY and Lonestar. All of a sudden, I became a contender.
Let me ask you this, you got all this success and all of a sudden, the adulation and adoration comes with it, were you like, “No.” Were you like, “I don’t know.”
I was humble only because I’ve realized I didn’t know jack crap about anything. That was the bottom-line. It moves fast. I’ve been in the music business since about eighteen. Playing and producing, there’s a big difference and lining up to produce. It didn’t matter what my credentials were. By playing, you do your best. You’re graded on what you do every day. On production you’re graded on one thing. Does it succeed? Does it sell? That’s the thing.
It’s a meritocracy at that point.
You could do something that’s good and that’s the best thing you could do and it’s an absolute failure. You get to that point where it’s a little different skillset and learning how to deal with all the fears, narcissism of artists, which I had a little experience. I live from week to week on the charts being in the band. I learned some lessons there. I learned all these lessons from being a guitar player. I didn’t know I was being paid to go to school, which is what it was. I got paid to go to school for ten years before I started producing records and then here it goes. One thing leads to another. I got the Keith Urban gig. Mike Duncan, he was the head of Capitol Records at the time. I heard that he didn’t like what I was doing. It’s just records. I was bold enough to say, “Will you meet for breakfast?” I asked him that.
No, it was something like that. I asked him, I said, “I’m hearing on campus that you don’t like what I do.” He looked at me busted. We became good friends and it was because of that. Keith had a record out, he had some success, but they weren’t finding that equilibrium within the label himself. He said, “Why don’t you try Dann? He’s a guitar player.” That led to the next thing.
He had a record before the big Golden Road record or is it The Ranch?
No, it was between. He had some hits. He had By the Grace of God and Blacktop.
Who produced that record?
Matt Rollings, a great musician.
Matt is living in LA.
He’s back in Nashville, playing and doing his own thing. All this stuff comes. It’s one after another where you don’t see where you’re going. Keith and I needed each other at that time. There’s a great creative tension between us, because we saw the world differently and it was good. I remember him yelling at me, “What do you want?” Keith is a live guy. It’s all about the emotion. It’s what makes him a great entertainer. I would say, “I see what you’re doing, but it’s got to translate in speakers.”
It’s got to translate forever.
We educated each other in different music world views. I would give him more credit than almost anybody for affecting my musicality in Nashville.
Am I right to say that you were producing the six Keith Urban records and the six Rascal Flatts records at the same time?
Yes, the cycle.
That’s working five days a week and eighteen-hour days, right?
Yeah, and there were some other records in there too. The expectations and the competition were sizeable.
The Rascal Flatts guy was like, “I heard you’re doing Keith’s record now, too.”
Rascal Flatts ended up having a massive hit, These Days. Darrell Franklin brought me that song and I said, “This is a hit record.” It’s a great Jeffrey Steele song. I don’t know who the other writer was. I played for Keith in my kitchen and I thought, “This is it. This is going to even solidify this more.” He goes, “It’s not me. It’s not going to hit.” This is before I started Rascal Flatts, I ended up having to play guitar on it for Mark Bright and Rascal Flatts made it a massive hit. In the business, you got to learn quick.
You’re hands-on in helping choose the songs for the artists you’re producing.
Early on, my preference is making records.
You get the songs, “This is what we’re doing,” and you bring your glory to it.
Nowadays, that’s what I prefer. I will still listen to songs. Do a lot of publishers listen to your podcast?
Hopefully, every single one of them.
We have a great balance in Nashville. A&R people are coming up to the plate and they’re doing their jobs. That’s what they’re supposed to do. Producers should augment that, but I’m not a publisher. It’s not like that’s what I do. My job is to make records sound good. If you’re spending half your time auditioning songs, it’s a no. I’m not going to do that.
I like that, because I don’t want to do that either. I wonder if we could spin a little bit of this Amazed to take people on memory.
It’s a great song.
It’s a big wedding song.
“ Every time our eyes meet
This feeling inside me
Is almost more than I can take
Baby, when you touch me
I can feel how much you love me
And it just blows me away
I’ve never been this close to anyone or anything
I can hear your thoughts, I can see your dreams
I don’t know how you do what you do
I’m so in love with you
It just keeps getting better
I want to spend the rest of my life with you by my side
Forever and ever
Every little thing that you do
Baby, I’m amazed by you”
Was that Keech?
That was Paul Leim.
You’re looking back at your early artistry as a producer, would you have changed? There’s a cymbal crash every measure.
I don’t think I even realized it.
Years later you’re going, “Oh my God.”
It worked. The most poignant time where I’ve listened to something that I’ve done and didn’t realize what I was doing, it was the first single that I released, I was the producer of Rascal Flatts and I had played on some of their earlier hits, it was a song called What Hurts The Most. We mixed it on small speakers. We never referenced it on big speakers, because the studio that we mixed in it was that way. There were some subs on that song. When that came out, that was not in country music. I remember they said they’re going to play it on the radio. I went in my car in the garage, turned on the car and heard it and I almost threw up. It was speaker rattling and I thought, “That’s the first song. I’m going to be fired after this song,” because that doesn’t happen. It was bold for that time. If you listen back to it now, you’ll think nothing.
Did it work?
It was huge.
That’s the stuff.
That was a beautiful mistake.
It wasn’t even a mistake. It wasn’t even on the radar. I would probably say something nowadays.
Is Justin still involved in mixing your projects?
Justin is funny. He’s a guy who took a chance on me early on. He hired me a lot to play percussion on Marty Stuart records and Jedd Hughes’s record. He’s like, “Rich, bring in your shakers and your tambourines and all your weird homemade things. It’s going to be the glue.” He got me paid. I was starving at the time. We got to play some music together. He believed in me and I said, “Come do this podcast.” He goes, “It’s not me. You know me, I don’t like that stuff.” He’s behind the scenes guy.
We’ll get him on because he needs to. He gets uptight about talking. The funny thing is if you ever get him in a room, he has a hard time hugging.
I’ve tried to hug him many times.
He does the Midwest side hug. Go full frontal on him and see him squirm.
Be awkwardly long with it.
Hold him, that’s what I do.
He’s in Chicago, isn’t he? Where is he from?
Wisconsin. He had a real tough time. Seriously, full Frontal and hold a little bit awkward.
Do the thing that I did to you before.
I tried to break away five times.
Hold on and get close to his ear.
We got to treat our audience to this. This thing was instantly recognizable and it was everywhere.
“ There’s a new wind blowing like I’ve never known
I’m breathing deeper than I’ve ever done
And it sure feels good to finally feel the way I do
I wanna love somebody, love somebody like you
And I’m letting go of all my lonely yesterdays
I’ve forgiven myself for the mistakes I’ve made
Now there’s just one thing, the only thing I wanna do
I wanna love somebody, love somebody like you
Yeah, I wanna feel the sunshine
Shining down on me and you
When you put your arms around me
You let me know there’s nothing in this world I can’t do”
Do you want a story on that one?
Keith didn’t want to work with me. We laugh about that. He didn’t hear anything at that point that was inspiring to him. Mike Duncan wanted to shoot it out. He had his studio booked to the same band. He sent me some songs and said, “Which song do you want to do?” I said, “That one.” They had been in the studio for two days. It was like, “Dann’s going to come in.”
It’s like a producer shootout.
It was to try out, it’s what it was. You got to be prepared but the right thing happened. It coalesced on the floor like that.
You have the right guys on the floor, the right song, the right moment, and it all came together.
I brought my guitar, I’m hooked in, and we played. It filled some of the slots that Keith didn’t know. We had a chemistry that was these polar opposites. It worked. In a lot of good music, I always find that tension is there. I don’t look at tension like a bad thing, but it was there. That happened to be the first song. Talk about something that would absolutely affirm you. Keith has a different version of stories, same facts. He goes on but he’s like, “That’s what a producer does.” I was a musician. I was a guitar player and I hit it up from a guitar-playing standpoint, but all that stuff happened.
You hear the big picture. You hear everything.
That was on a radar, too.
Treasure Isle, we worked on the radar for the first five records.
I don’t know that things sound that much better, if any. That was 44-1, 24 bit radar. We cut it at the Sound Kitchen.
What’s radar? What do you mean?
It’s pre-Pro Tools.
It was a different DAW.
Digital, but it did sound full.
It sounds funny when you try to find the spot.
You got to do it old school, like two-inch tape.
It was like digital tape. I can’t even remember what it looked like. It was good.
Go over to a Treasurer Isle and you’ll see it.
With Keith being on that song, was it that the first time where he looked at you and said, “I get it.”
Yeah, it emanated from that. That was the tryout. You walk into something that is the perfect thing for you to do.
Did you walk in there like, “I know exactly what to do with this?”
No. I had an idea. It was a great song, number one. That’s the bottom line. It’s a phenomenally composed song. It was a rhythm section. Yes, I knew that situation and then you listen. Like anything, you listen. You try not to be dictatorial. It would be pointless at that point because they had already settled in.
You were the new guy.
It worked. It felt sizable. It’s certainly not like Post. It was a big deal for him. It certainly put him on the map and elevated him to superstar status, because he’s that good. Everything had to meet.
It all starts with that great song.
A great mix and everything.
Do you guys get together and be like, “Remember that time?”
Keith is not one that talks about the past.
He’s thinking forward.
He’s always moving forward. There’s a great appreciation for it. How can you not love that?
Great creative minds, they’re always like, “What’s next?” You can’t rest on your laurels. You had all those accomplishments and the pedigree in your back pocket and you still got to show up and earn that supper. It was incredible.
More so now.
There are more people that want to do it and less opportunities.
In Gravity and I’ll be 60. To me, it’s seminal.
We’re only ten years apart. You played on a lot more records than I had.
When I was young playing on records and I saw a guy that was 40. I work with a lot of young artists now. You always have to morph and listen. I co-produce a lot nowadays, which is great. It’s a different skillset. A lot of these young artists, they want a flavor of that thing, whatever that thing is, whatever that thing that I might represent. They also want a part of their culture. I can copy it to a certain degree. It comes from being in your twenties. The best advice I ever got was from my wife, years ago. I thought, “This seem like they come a little faster. I’ve been doing this a long time. Maybe I’ll head off in the sunset and do something different.” She was scared about me being at home, “Are going to retire?”
“You’re going to be here every day.”
It was at that time that I had Thomas Rhett come over to the house and he said, “I’d love you to help me on my records.” I said, “You got a producer. Jesse Frasure is great.” He said, “I like what you do.” Would you be willing to work with Jesse? I said, “You should do it. What do you got to lose? You may learn something.” I learned more from that experience, from hanging with Jesse and from his perspective of being a DJ, songwriter. His and my production values, they absolutely coalesce but we come from two different extremes.
When you put those together it’s like peanut butter and chocolate. You were talking about that tension in music. It’s always the drummer and the frontman but it’s a gorgeous thing, it’s almost a requirement. Stewart and Sting, Kenny and Mellencamp, a little bit with Max and Bruce. Jason is from the Deep South. I’m from Connecticut. We see the world differently. He relies on me and trusts me to bring the energy and the sweat and all that stuff every night. He’s not one to get all the compliments because he goes, “You got the job because you do what you do. I’m not going to blow smoke up your butt every day.” There is that slight thing, but it’s steeped in 21 years of working together.
You guys are one of the tightest bands out there.
It’s crazy. Thank you. We do finish each other’s sentences. Dann I was like, “Do you like to be found on social media or do you have a website?” You’re like, “Nope.” I’m like, “Wow.” I tell all my students, “You might as well have a lighthouse, it’s free. It’s a way for people to see you play and hear you play.” You are well established. You have all your relationships locked in. You’re a living proof that you don’t need to have that.
I don’t know if it’s proof. It’s proof that I started before it happened. I do have a history. If I were starting out now, I would have been one. I would be active. I’m glad I don’t have to be.
I envy you. Jim and I are sitting over here trying to figure like, “What hashtag should we use for the show?”
We’re on TikTok.
I don’t know about this TikTok.
I do have Instagram, that’s a network.
Jim usually asks the random question of the day.
I got to find one.
Make it good.
The pressure is on. I’ll find something.
Is there any parting wisdom that you could leave for someone who’s moving to Music City, which I feel is one of the last places in the world to have an amazing music career? It’s all here, the machinery, the publishers, this idiom is putting butts in seats. If someone is moving here and they want to write songs, they want to be a recording artist, they want to be a studio musician, tour musician, what do they do?
Is there a roadmap though?
No. You have to be able to answer the question or the accusation. When people ask me should they come to town, the honest answer is no, you shouldn’t. I’m not a gatekeeper. I can’t tell you not to. We don’t need another musician in this town. You don’t need another songwriter. You don’t need another singer. They’re already here.
Let’s say they want it.
You have to have no other conception of how your life is going to be. You have to do it. You also have to be willing to stand in line because there’s no guarantee that you’re not going to get heard. It may take you ten years.
By virtue of asking the question, you probably shouldn’t. It’s like when people would say, “Isn’t the maintenance on a Mercedes expensive? Maybe you shouldn’t buy one? It’s probably too expensive for you.”
You have to be a bonehead. I remember when I was young, I moved to LA. Who needed another guitar player in LA? Either you’re a bonehead or you’re oblivious and maybe a little both is the way to do it and then you get in line and you wait for your moment. The real advice is relationships. From a musician’s standpoint, I’ll never forget what my dad told me when I told him, “I want to be the hottest guitar player.” He smiled at me and said, “This is good, Dan. I’m glad you’re motivated like that.” He said, “Remember one thing, when you get a gig that means another guitar player lost a gig. Keep that perspective.” It’s a downer, but it’s the truth. That helps you reverence for this thing because this is life.
You got the gigs. This is how we pay our bills. This is how we raise our families. This is how we do everything. Yes, there’s competition. Yes, gravity is going to take hold and you’re not going to own it and have it forever. You can’t disrespect that. You heard about the reverence Indians had on the plains when they would kill an animal, they had some kind of service commemorating that and that’s because a life was lost. To me, it’s the same thing with musicians. If you get a gig, don’t forget that some other guitar player has not only lost a gig when I got one, but they’re also not too happy about that too. It keeps you humble.
That’s an incredible insight. It’s a perspective that I had never witnessed or heard.
I can’t take credit for it. That was my dad.
That reminds me, have you ever saw that movie The Big Short?
Remember Brad Pitt’s character where they go to Vegas. I can’t remember the deal that they made. The guys that he was working with were trying to get into Wall Street and they were trying to work their way up. They finally strike a deal based on what they’ve been seeing the other parties in the movie with the housing bubble. Using Brad’s characters clout, they go and pull off this deal. They’re walking out of the casino and there’s cheering and they were high fiving each other and he’s like, “Stop it now. Do you realize what you did?” He puts them in check and says, “You just bet against the American economy. It’s going to play out for you guys and you know it. This is going to be a bloodbath. This is not something to cheer about.”
That’s a heavy Insight. I’m sure your dad was proud of all you guys of life and music.
He was awesome. This is a relationship. You can go beyond that whole thing but when you’re dealing with people, that’s exactly what you’re doing. You got to be good enough but after that, you got to share and play well. It’s the kindergarten stuff.
You got to take the things when you can. Like Michael Knox, whether I’m playing drums for him or not, he’s like, “The client wants this drummer. I’m going to go ahead and they’re going to hire that drummer, but you’re coming in and playing your tambourines and shakers and all that stuff. I get double scale doing that because it’s me and the producer. Who wins?” It’s like, “Thank you, Michael Knox. These relationships are for twenty years.” It’s incredible how my band is finishing each other’s sentences. My dad goes, “You do realize that the job that you have, there are drummers in this world that want you dead.” It not only creates a feeling of gratitude but a responsibility that every time you get on your ax to play that song again for the 1,500 times, you got to make it sound like the first time.
That’s the advice right there. That’s great. I couldn’t have said that better.
You got to execute.
I got a question. This is the random question, the question is, I’m going to change it, what is the most uplifting thing happening in Nashville? What comes to mind?
The condos going up.
No pun intended.
Talk about people having to learn to live in a smaller space with one another and have to deal with some of this stuff. I don’t know if it’s uplifting. Getting any kind of knowledge is uplifting for me. Obviously, I’ve been around long enough to see this whole thing change. It forces people to readjust maybe some of their callousness towards other people. We got to share this thing. I don’t know if that’s a great answer for your question.
Whatever it may be.
People complain about the traffic. I’m like, “We got this.”
Go to LA. I did try to go from Santa Monica to the Staples Center.
After 3:00 PM?
How many days did it take you?
It’s 13 miles. I looked at it and it was an hour and a half in an Uber. There are good things with growth. This town is growing up. Culturally, the best thing is happening. People are having to rub shoulders with people who are not like them and that’s a good thing, because this town can be static. I can say it because I grew up here. There’s a beauty about the South. I’m a northerner by birth but I’m a southerner by years. There’s a harmony, grace, and elegance to the southern lifestyle. Historically, there are some baggage and this stuff has changed and it’s a good thing.
It’s becoming more open-minded and the music is reflecting that as well.
It used to also be a stepchild of music. It was both coasts and Nashville is no longer the stepchild. We’re flat out equals, which is nice. I like that.
I like that too.
It’s almost becoming the epicenter. It’s starting to have its own gravitational pull.
It does. You see the amount of talent that I get to work with. I’m talking about guys who do what I do, producers. I’m seeing my replacement, which is humbling but that’s the truth. You’re seeing the effect of music that has been put out and these guys are learning it and they’re coming in their early 30s, late twenties and they’re exceptional.
Every guest that comes in, I say, “What do you see in the trend?” We had Neil Thrasher in and I said, “What do you think of these track kids and their laptops and their MIDI pads?” He goes, “They’re sickeningly talented.” He goes, “I took a little break but I’m more fired up than ever and I’m writing with these guys all the time, a younger guard.” That’s interesting.
He’s amazingly talented. In your off time, what do you like doing?
I was waiting for that question . I love working out.
You got your athletic gear on.
I became a grandfather. I’m a walking cliché. You have never seen somebody become goofy. I’m the goofiest person you’ll ever see just to get a smile from these little suckers. I got two, one is fourteen months so that’s a little bit over a year. I always say the month stuff, and I got another one. Eli and Liam are two and a half months. A part of my day on my calendar is I got this session. I got this overdub. I have to do this at 3:00, I’m picking up Eli from daycare because my daughter is out of town with the other kid and the father is working in Nashville. That’s part of my gig.
The reason being, speaking as a father, you’re in the midst of it while your kids are growing up. You’re out there in the grind, trying to make sure you’re providing, saving for retirement or wherever the eventuality may become. I would imagine that once you do have the grandkids now, you can go back and treat them like you wanted to treat your kids. It’s an odd dynamic, I would imagine .
You’ve been around the track once, right?
You get it. You’re able to be that guy that says to your kids with their kids, “That’s okay. They’ll be fine.” Let it go and you spoil the hell out of them and then you don’t have to take them.
There is no chance of me being a grandparent.
You can always adopt.
It’s not going to happen.
It helps to have kids.
I should have started earlier. I never found the right one.
My kids call you Uncle Rich.
I’m everyone’s uncle. I do a lot of mentoring.
To me, that’s the same thing. The only thing about the biological side is that you’re goofier. I see you as much cooler than me. I’m reduced to absolute goofiness.
I will do anything, short of murder, for a smile. What did you learn?
I’ve heard your name and this is the first time I’ve met you. I’ve heard your name from Rich and a lot of different people over the years. You build up this image of somebody in your mind before you meet them and it wasn’t based or predicated on anything that anybody had said. In my mind, I imagined this powerful person coming in here. When I saw your name that you were coming in, I’m like, “That’s a big one.” It was one of those things that I’m amazed at the humility, once again, of our guests. To know somebody who’s accomplished so much in their lifetime and such an amazing career has got from seemingly tremendous humility, it’s refreshing and I appreciate that.
What I learned was it reassures that quest and hunger for knowledge and education and continual self-improvement through all the areas of our life, all the seasons of our life. You’re still hungry to learn. You’re open-minded. It’s easy to become Clint Eastwood, “Get off my lawn.” As soon as you do that, it’s like one foot in the grave and you’re heading towards retirement and being completely irrelevant and that is never going to happen to Dann Huff.
Have you ever not lived in abject terror? You’re more educated musically than I am. If you went to North Texas, I don’t even have that pedigree.
You started making hit records.
When I was in my twenties, in the midst of it, I always worked with people that were much better than me and you’re just as like, “Do these guys think I’m that good?” That never changes. I don’t know if I’m humble, thank you. I’m just aware enough to go, “This isn’t all about me. It takes a lot of people to do this stuff.” You learn it and you also get swatted around enough too, which is good and healthy. Right when you think you have it somebody kicks your ass and it’s a good ass-kicking. Plus, I’m married to somebody who does not take any crap.
That sounds great, marrying the right person.
That works. As long as she drives, it’s phenomenal.
Dann, thank you so much.
It’s my pleasure.
Thank you, Jim, for all that you bring to the table. I got to tell you this, we have done ten podcasts in three days. Jim never loses his childlike enthusiasm. He brings his A-game to the table. At the end of the day, he gets a little punch-drunk.
I need to have some sappy music playing while you’re doing this.
There are some wind chimes.
I do appreciate you. We appreciate everyone that’s reading. Do us a favor and send us an email, it can be a praise, it could be criticism, suggestions at TheRichRedmondShow@Gmail.com. Be sure to subscribe, share, rate, and review.
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