Danny de Wet

Danny de Wet

Danny de Wet

Danny de Wet is a bona fide South African Rock Music Legend who kicked off his career in flamboyant percussive style behind the drum kit for two iconic eighties bands - éVOID and Petit Cheval. Expanding his talents to include writing songs and singing, Danny furthered his musical path as the driving force behind successful subsequent acts The Electric Petals and Wonderboom.

Headlining every major festival in SA, playing to over a hundred thousand fans at the “Concert In The Park” milestone charity event and appearing on bills with Simple Minds, Chris Cornell, Live, Rodriguez, The Mission, 30 Seconds To Mars, Kaiser Chiefs, Korn, Mike & The Mechanics, Good Charlotte, (as an industry player) Danny also got meet and hang with international superstars like Eric Clapton, U2, David Lee Roth and Richard Branson (as the V2 label manager for SA).

A four-decade career in the entertainment industry includes stints at prestigious record companies - marketing Prime Circle and The Parlotones, co-owning the famous Wings Beat Bar venue (at which The Springbok Nude Girls made their Johannesburg debut and Chris Chameleon’s university band held down a residency), arranging international clinics by Tom Petty’s drummer and Linkin Park’s Grammy-nominated sound engineer as well as tour managing Feeder, Wishbone Ash, Soulfly, Missy Higgins, Starsailor and Wayne Hussey.

Johnny Clegg – ex-drummer of his “favourite cover band” Wonderboom remembers.

title pic and tickets

We miss you, Johnny ... your shoes are too big to ever be filled.

Our nation has lost the most influential cross-cultural musical icon South Africa has been blessed with.

On the day of his memorial, it is with a sad heart and happy memories that I recall many emotional moments as a Johnny Clegg fan in the audience and how our paths crossed in a professional capacity after Wonderboom (the band I spent thirteen years directing from the drum throne) recorded and released arrangement of his classic Juluka song “Africa” while signed to DGR.

Shortly after the release of the second Wonderboom album, as part of the pitch to his New York lawyer Jamie Roberts (who also represented INXS in the States), David Gresham had mentioned that the group had toured with Simple Minds and Live and personally handed him a copy of “Never Ever Ever”. Mr Roberts liked what he heard, there seemed to be some interest from other parties that he had played the CD to and he requested more material.

Most of the other compositions on hand were deemed way too indie or not radio-friendly enough and we needed to write “hits” or lose this fantastic opportunity. With enough strong songs on the table and the right industry players keen to possibly work with us, David told us that Jamie would set up a showcase gig in the Big Apple.

This raised the bar significantly and Cito, Martin, Wade and myself started writing and arranging new songs in earnest -the upside was that the band was working harder than ever before but there was a serious downside that came with the pressure. Every tune that we presented to the DGR team was scrutinised and held under the “will this be a top twenty hit, by New York standards?” magnifying glass.

Wondeboom when the band recorded “Africa” Danny and current Wonderboom drummer Jono at The Cure

As time went by, Jamie kept adding more interested parties and the pressure on David to deliver the additional material increased to desperate proportions. The band was submitting fewer songs every week because we were taking ourselves out of completing tunes, not wanting to waste precious time on anything that wasn’t a sure-fire chart-topper.

My previous outfit, the Electric Petals had played select covers live and even included “Rainy Day Women” by Dylan and The Beatles rarity “I Got A Feeling” on the ‘Polynation’ album. My new bandmates had made it clear from the start that they would never entertain playing anything unless it was written by one or more of the four of us and I respected that.

With that in mind, I came up with a compromise idea that I thought might take the pressure off for a while, hopefully also keeping Jamie on board to avoid losing this chance.

During my time in éVOID, I had played “Shadows” to thousands of people and experienced the response that happens when a truly great song is so good that people buy into it, whether they know the song well or are hearing it for the first time.

Because it hadn’t been released in the USA, we could do a version of Shadows and present it as part of our catalogue. I outlined that we need never play it live in South Africa and if it was the song that broke us internationally, our growing fan base would embrace it. The Boom was open to this and we started to have fun again, coming up with a rock arrangement of the Eighties hit. To keep the momentum up, I suggested another two SA classics and when I mooted putting a glam rock stomp groove to Juluka’s “Africa” and using a mbaqwanga beat as a foundation for Falling Mirror’s “Johnny Calls The Chemist”, Ziggy Adolph (legendary Gresham producer) opened a folder called “Danny’s Hare-brained Schemes!”

With Martin at the forefront, we arranged these tunes superbly and once Wade had put his unique bass stamp on them, the three SA covers sounded so exciting that they reignited the DGR team’s belief.

Vocally Cito ‘owned’ these tunes - he loved performing them and proudly declared “I still won’t do covers ... unless they’re South African!”

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This led to us including the covers in concert setlists, recording a few more and releasing the best selling Wonderboom CD to date ... complete with the cheesy “Rewind” moniker.

All four band members weren’t ecstatic about the title, especially because we had a spectacular name that suited the artwork but we weren’t allowed to use it as the suits were afraid of possible repercussions. The cover features the four of us in bed under a bedspread that is the current South African Flag and I am sure readers will concur that this piece of Wonderboom art should have rightfully been called “Lucky Duvet”!

cd cover copywrite

Look closely on the actual CD you will find that my determination to include it somehow was successful and in the small print it says “This album is not called Lucky Duvet”.

Three songs off “Rewind” got lots of radio airplay - ‘Africa’ and ‘Shadows’ were top ten hits with a Mandoza version of the Rabbit ballad, ‘Charlie’ reaching number one on 5FM. David, Johnny and the band also received a sizeable payment when ‘Africa’ was used as the music for a Pajero TV/Cinema advert around the beginning of the new millennium.

Wonderboom had opened for Johnny Clegg shortly after the band had formed and the first time we saw him after ‘Africa’ was out, occurred in an unlikely setting. Cito and I had been offered VIP tickets to the first WWE Wrestling event at the Dome in 2003.

My fellow bandmate is originally from the USA and played sport in his teens (yes folks, Cito played flank in the first team rugby squad at high school) so he was familiar with the superstars we mingling with but I had no clue who Rey Mysterio and John Cena were!

There were two faces that I did recognise were from the music industry (Attie Van Wyk being his wonderful generous self no doubt) - Barney Simon being in attendance wasn’t too much of a surprise but what the hell was Johnny Clegg doing there?

Once we got chatting to Le Zoulou Blanc, he explained that he had brought his teenage sons who were into wrestling and introduced us to them ... I should have saved time and asked Jesse for his autograph there and then!

As the conversation turned to ‘Africa’ Johnny thanked us for recording the track and when I asked him if he minded me inflicting a trashy ‘Suzi Quattro’ beat onto his ethnic classic, he said that as long as we kept doing versions of his songs, we were welcome to add any elements we wished to.

Then, with that phenomenal twinkle that we all loved beaming from his eye, Johnny added:

... and every time another one of those royalty checks arrive, for some or other reason I seem to like your arrangement more.”

In Roddy, Jeanette and the team at Real Concerts, Mr Clegg enjoyed top-class management and throughout the years Johnny made sure that once you had interacted with him, one received a personalised signed copy of his latest release.

He captioned the CD I received whilst in the Electric Petals wishing us a ‘flowering success” but the autographed album that came after the WWE encounter was priceless – it said:

To my favourite cover band!”

THE THUNDER ROLLED THROUGH AN AFRICAN CASINO, MY SISTER NEVER INHERITED A MILLION BUCKS (SHE WON IT!) AND I GOT TO SEE BOB DYLAN IN CONCERT.

OR ... how I thought I was going to see Dylan live and didn’t because Bob thought he was going to see Elvis ... then I did because Bob didn’t!

With the media hype around the Bob Dylan/ Neil Young UK dates last weekend as well as the recent release of The Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese a film that contains the best live footage of the Nobel laureate - from an era that had a profound effect on this writer’s life, I thought I’d share the two pilgrimages from Africa (one unsuccessful) to catch the man in concert for the first time.

Prior to the 'Blood On The Tracks' album, I had been a serious fan - subsequent releases 'Desire' and 'Street Legal' led me to have the obligatory operation, joining the cult and proudly declaring: “I am such a big Bob Dylan fan that I had a nose job, ....to have my nose made bigger!”

Poet, singer, songwriter, author, movie director, painter, metalwork artist and guru – an icon whose lyrics have taught me way more than anyone linked to a religious order.

I had a stark dream encounter with the man in the early nineties. Seated in a familiar diner in a little town adjoining the city in which I spent my high school years, people around me started to whisper excitedly to each other that Bob Dylan had just walked by. I looked up and from the back, it may well have been.

Optimism trumped cynicism and I burst out of my seat to find my “ghast well and truly flabbered” when the eyes gazing at me were indeed those that Joan Baez described as being “bluer than Robin’s eggs”.

As I was trying in vain to articulate a trillion profound (and trite) thoughts, Dylan just looked at me shaking his head slightly with a gentle quizzical expression that translated into “I know ...I know.” I woke up with a smile on my face and the whole scenario indelibly etched into my brain.

Danny and the two most important men in his life

Danny and the two most important men in his life

In 1997, my Irish descended wife and I dipped into our savings in order to tour England and Ireland on a belated honeymoon - we had tickets for every UK show that Bob Dylan & Van Morrison (performing together on one bill) were playing that summer. It was to be the first time I was going to see either artist live and a week before we were due to leave in a “simple twist of fate” Bob went into the hospital with histoplasmosis and cancelled the performances – only the second time he had done so citing medical reasons up to that point.

Our bitter disappointment was offset by seeing Van Morrison twice, going to the Glastonbury Festival (Radiohead headlining the Saturday night) and catching some incredible performances by The Levellers, Ben Harper, The Jayhawks, Luka Bloom, Shawn Colvin and The Chemical Brothers.

Thankfully uncle Bob survived what has been reported in some publications as a ‘near-death experience’ and once he was discharged, he gave a typical wise-ass Dylan statement: “I really thought I’d be seeing Elvis soon!”

I returned to the South of Africa with a smile on my face but unfulfilled as the prime motivation for my trip had not been realised and at gatherings, my family couldn’t resist teasing me while my one and only rambling gambling sister would frequently toast rounds of shooters with: “Don’t worry when I win a million, you can go and see Bob Dylan anywhere in the world!” And lo and behold she did ... and I did!

Bob Dylan First show ticket

It was raining in Cardiff on the 18th June 2004 and, though we arrived in the mid-afternoon, there was already a queue - once, inside the arena, we ended up standing about thirty metres from the stage and made small talk with two elderly fans.

I complimented the dishevelled academic on his nineteen seventy-eight, moth-eaten Blackbushe Picnic T-Shirt just after he mentioned that this was his sixty-fourth Dylan concert. He thanked me and asked how many times I'd seen the man perform. I told him it was my first time and his comment triggered a reply (using a Shelter From The Storm lyric) that I used as a trump card quote to get from where I was right down to the very front …. with the blessing of all the punters I passed.

Well, the deputy walks on hard nails and the preacher rides a mount
But nothing really matters much, it's doom alone that counts
And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn
Come in, she said I'll give ya shelter from the storm

Any Dylan aficionado will know that Bob wouldn’t say something as banal and obvious as the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a funeral horn – the official lyric is futile and I’ve heard it changed on live bootlegs to feudal BUT FUNERAL … NO WAYS!

NOTE: The Dylan-police on the net may lurch into action and smugly point out the exact dates and locations that funeral was the operative word … but that’s okay too. Some people have heard “Flugelhorn” and others “Frugal horn” – as per this article and discussion: thebluemoment.com and rec.music.dylan.narkive.com

Anyway, back to said conversation in Wales…

Dishevelled academic: “Your first time, you must be a recent convert?”

Me: “Anything but – I have been a Dylan diehard from when I was a little boy, have waited years to see him in the flesh and travelled six thousand miles do so tonight.”

Dishevelled academic: “May I offer my profuse apologies to a bona fide fan.”

Me: “Thank you for the vote of confidence … we both know that the one-eyed undertaker would never blow a FUNERAL horn!”

Dishevelled academic: “Indeed” and then to the group in front of him “Gentlemen, this chap is a real fan and has come all the way from Africa to see Bob perform for the first time, please allow him a good vantage point in front of you”

Me: “Thank you, we ALL know that the one-eyed undertaker would never blow a FUNERAL horn!”

And so it went with yours truly using the “one-eyed undertaker /funeral horn” chirp until I was in right in front!

The performance was spectacularly chaotic … early in the set I only recognised “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” when Bob mumbled the words “Baby Blue” for the second time! He redeemed all with a beautiful harmonica solo in the song just after I had found out which song it was. Then a short while later he enunciated every single word in a wonderful rendition of 'Shooting Star'.

Other highlights of the show were great versions of long-time classics 'It Ain’t Me Babe', 'Highway 61', 'Just Like A Woman' and 'Like A Rolling Stone' never phrasing the “How does feel?” lines in a way that he and the audience can sing in unison!

Nothing has changed fifteen years down the line – this review from last Sunday’s Kilkenny Bob Dylan/Neil Young show:

'Like A Rolling Stone' is re-shaped as a jazz-inflected funk jam. The crowd bravely try to sing along. Every time the chorus rumbles around, Dylan finds a way to catch them out. Ed Power (The Irish Times)

For the finale bow, the band stood, waiting for him as he walked to the table next to his keyboard, put down one harmonica, selected another one and then rinsed it in a container of water. He blew it and then joined the row of musicians - which perplexed me in hindsight because no more tunes were played – maybe the initial harp wasn’t in the right key for the bow!

He was shaking slightly when he started staring at me and because we were so close together it was a real-life enactment of the dream. I was overwhelmed and because those around were patting me while commenting that he was looking at me, Bob continued to hold my gaze.

With tears of joy streaming down my face, I recalled his Grammy speech given for the ‘Time Out Of Mind’ album:

“I just wanted to say that one time when I was about 16 or 17 years old I went to see Buddy Holly play at Duluth National Guard Armoury...
I was three feet away from him and he looked at me …”

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