Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
We've never met another man, in four-plus years of doing Daytrotter, quite like Christopher Denny. The Arkansas native is a riddle some days. He's a weirdo some days. He's a sweetheart some days. He's a mad man and a comic all of his days, just as he's a musical genius all of his days. He's as complicated of a man as you'll ever meet and yet you root for him, always. He fires bands regularly. He struggles within himself for the kind of contentment and happiness that are going to be lasting and not just flashing and brief and these struggles have made it nearly impossible to get settled into a groove that will one day be his groove. He's battled addictions, like many have, but he insists that he's rounded the corner there with them. More than anything, he's a misguided (at times), but filled with kindness and some volatile, adventurous nature that has him constantly playing with and manipulating fire. He summons all of his demons as well as the spirits of heroes such those old-timey country & western singers who lived in their glasses and bottles of whiskey, who believed in heavy drinking and heavy loving, feeling that there might be a connection between the two, or at least an association that wasn't all that unsavory. He summons up those needs that he has for expression in his own very particular and signature way, which sounds a lot like the Arkansas that he still calls home and one that hasn't existed for over 80 years. His is an antique way of observing his heart - steeped in romantic ideals, just that when he thinks about them, they're butting heads with his swirling thoughts and the many, many tripwires he lays down before himself, almost daring himself to find them and see what happens.
We spent a full week with Christopher Denny and this short-lived ensemble that he called The Natives, an impossibly talented group of childhood friends from the same schools that Denny attended in Little Rock years ago. The sets that the band played on the second Barnstormer tour last October were uncompromising displays of top-shelf musicianship, seriousness and the kind of bluegrass music that is in short supply these days. It's golden and dusty and it's so heartfelt that it hurts. The sets that Denny and his band played in these barns located in Eastern and Central Iowa and Western Wisconsin were primarily new material from an unscheduled, but supposedly already recorded second full-length. They completely slayed every night, one night even prompting a stoic and gruff barn owner to climb the rafters of his barn and sit like a grizzly bear on the beams as he snapped photos of Denny and the crowd. We found out later that Denny had won the man over - we assume anyhow - with his heavy-when-he-wants-it-to-be Southern drawl and dirty stories. In a way, it's how he wins most of us over, first. Then you hear him sing and you'd better be prepared for a flooring. Your ears stammer. Your mouth goes cotton-dry and you're in love as you're listening to Denny sing about people changing - constantly changing - and finding that their loves aren't going to follow them anywhere. "God's Height" was a song that everyone on the Barnstormer every night requested every night even if he didn't want to perform it, but the magnificent song about a "tall mama baby," who's unreachable by a mortal man, is a crowning example of what makes Denny such a brilliant guy. It rips and it awes you. It's exactly how we feel about this mama's boy we hope will become as much of a sensation as we think he should.