“So, I dipped into his bag of sin, and I had me a hell of a time / I was left with an empty wallet and an over-anxious mind,” croons Jesse Daniel on “Little Devil.”
The dobro, fiddle-fueled bluegrass ditty features a tongue-in-cheek, lyrical cadence in the vein of Shel Silverstein’s “A Boy Named Sue.” Though Daniel didn’t pen the tune, he delivers it as if it had initially flowed from his soul. Jay Lingo, a cattle rancher who lived in Ben Lomond, where Daniel was born and raised, wrote the tune years ago.
Daniel became friends with Lingo and started working on his ranch. There was always time for music after a day of shoveling cow crap and pitching hay. Lingo would play some of his original tunes for Daniel, including “Little Devil.”
“That song instantly struck me,” Daniel says. “We’ve been playing it live for a few years, and I send [Lingo] videos from time to time of crowds singing along when we play sold-out shows. It’s become a favorite. It took a few years, but I finally got into the studio and cut it.”
Three years ago, the singer-songwriter left the Santa Cruz Mountains and set out for San Marcos, Texas, a small town halfway between San Antonio and Austin. He’s been pounding the country music pavement hard and catching the ears of both fans and seasoned country music notables like Raul Malo of The Mavericks, who appears on Daniel’s 2021 record, Beyond These Walls.
Daniel’s fanbase continues to grow, as does Santa Cruz County’s unconditional love. A YouTube video from a 2021 show at Felton Music Hall reveals a packed house singing along to “Rollin’ On,” the title track from the musician’s last record.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Daniel says. “We had a lot of shows similar to that one throughout the west coast and started hearing people singing along. It’s a huge honor, and it shows me that people have absorbed the songs and gotten to know the words. It’s even more special when it’s in Santa Cruz—it’s my home in my heart, and I was honored.”
With Beyond These Walls, Daniel had more resources as far as production and the opportunity to experiment, but more than anything, the record showcases Daniel’s growth as a singer-songwriter.
“I’ve worked on storytelling,” he says. “I always try to paint a picture with as few words as possible and create a vivid story that somebody could imagine or relate to within a three-and-a-half-minute song.”
The minimalist fingerpicked “Gray,” the album centerpiece, is about struggling with drug addiction, something Daniel knows about firsthand. Now, five years sober, the song marks his first attempt to let the outside world truly see who he is. Though it’s not a first-person narrative, it’s not difficult to conclude that Daniel knows and feels too much not to have experienced these hardships personally.
Before country music, Daniel played drums for several Santa Cruz punk bands, including Three Up Front. Just like Dwight Yoakum and John Doe, the similarities between punk and country music are easy for him to see, as is the philosophy.
“Make the kind of music you want to make, and do what’s true to yourself, and the right people will find it, and they will be into it,” Daniel says.
Jesse Daniel with Hellbound Glory and Summer Dean play Friday, April 8, 9pm. The Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $20/$25. catalystclub.com.