BY KENT WOLGAMOTT | Special to The Bee
Jeff Daniels is an Emmy Award-winning actor and movie star who’s onscreen in two of the fall’s biggest movies, “The Martian” and “Steve Jobs.”
Daniels is also a musician, a noted singer-songwriter who plays guitar at home, in the studio and on the road.
Touring with the Ben Daniels Band, a five-piece Americana/folk-rock outfit led by his son, Daniels plays clubs and small vintage theaters, driving an RV from town to town to play for a few hundred people a night. They appear Saturday, Nov. 7, at Harlow’s in Sacramento.
While he’s a movie and TV star, Daniels knows that having his face on a movie screen or in your house every week is no guarantee that people will come out to see Jeff Daniels, the musician.
“No one wants to go see an actor playing a guitar,” he said. “In a way you’ve got a strike against you. … (There’s) no reason for me to go out there beyond I enjoy doing it. … I enjoy playing clubs and the old theaters and opera houses. … It’s more intimate. And the audiences really appreciate it.”
Daniels has been writing songs and playing guitar for four decades, committed to the music to the point where he plays a Martin OM Jeff Daniels Signature Edition guitar. That’s right, Daniels has a guitar named after him.
“I had an old 1934 C-2 archtop Martin,” he said. “They made about 500 of them. The top piece was replaced with spruce so I had a 1934 guitar with a 2003 top piece. God, did it play. I played for about 10 years.”
Daniels then visited the Nazareth, Penn., headquarters of C.F. Martin & Co. and showed them his guitar.
“It was just one of those great days,” he said. “They decided to make it. They’ve sold 50, 60 of them. It’s inactive now, which ups the value. But, for me, it’s not a collector’s guitar. I use it. I play No. 26 on the road.”
Daniels uses his Martin on songs that are a blend of folk styles full of sharply written lyrics with plenty of humor in a John Prine vein.
In his live performance, he said, acting and music feed off each other as he works to connect with the audience and crafts a set that has a beginning, a middle and an end. The biggest differences: On stage he’s playing a character, and there’s a distance from the audience. Playing a show, he’s Jeff Daniels, and the audience is right there.
The only downside for Daniels in getting so close is the selfie.
“The cellphone is the bane of my existence,” he said. “It’s used to be you put a Sharpie in your pocket, and it got you through the situation. Now … someone will come up and want a picture. If you do one, you’re doing 30. So you say, ‘thank you, no. That’s the deal.’ ”
Daniels, 60, started writing songs in 1976, when he moved from Michigan to New York to become an actor. He’s continued throughout his career, often penning songs while on the set waiting for his scenes to be called.
Daniels had just finished promoting “Steve Jobs” when he headed off on his fall tour.
So how does he balance acting, playing shows, playwriting and running his Purple Rose Theatre in his hometown of Chelsea, Mich.? “You’ve got to schedule,” he said. “A lot of things are done ahead of time. But sometimes things change.
“ ‘The Martian’ was scheduled for Christmas and moved to early October. So there was promotion and interviews I had to do for that that weren’t expected. But I said, ‘The tour is sacred. Don’t count on me moving things. I want to go out with my son again.’
“It’s our fourth tour,” Daniels said. “It’s just a joy.”
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JEFF DANIELS AND THE BEN DANIELS BAND
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7
Where: Harlow’s 2706 J St., Sacramento
Information: 916-441-4693; www.harlows.com