“Anacostia Delta” explores a time when many White working-class families lived east of the river, including Gatton’s. He grew up at 88 Elmira St. SW — which provided the title of one of his solo albums. This movie features a lot of old guys talking in a “Warshington” accent. In their marrow is a music that’s a seamless amalgam of country, bluegrass, jazz and early rock-and-roll.
In the film, sax player Bruce Swaim talks about how the musicians he encountered at clubs in D.C. and Southern Maryland “were still doing it for real. It wasn’t like a retro thing.”
That included Gatton, who often sported a greaser’s ducktail haircut and who named one of his bands the Fat Boys not out of irony, but because everyone in it had an unhealthy BMI — and I’m not talking about the music royalty company.
Gatton and Buchanan may never have achieved Eric Clapton-level fame among the general public, but they inspired a generation of guitarists.
Andy graduated from Fairfax County’s Hayfield High in 1978 before heading to the University of Virginia. Country music — what would eventually be called roots music or Americana — wasn’t something you’d encounter in Charlottesville then. New wave and jam bands reigned in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
When Andy returned to D.C., he caught Gatton at Club Soda on Connecticut Avenue NW.
“It was just electric,” he said. “It was like everyone was hyperfocused on his playing. It was kind of like a religious thing: You are seeing something really special and amazing.”
As fellow Tele player Tom Principato puts it in “Anacostia Delta”: “Danny was responsible for a lot of guys going home and practicing.”
“When I would see him, I would hope to learn one thing,” he said. “He was so blindingly fast and amazing and beyond me, I thought if I could just catch one thing. I wasn’t going to go burn my guitar. I was inspired. I was fine that he was miles beyond me.”
That’s part of what makes a healthy music community: Players are inspired by one another, learn from one another, compete with one another, but also support one another. In that regard, Washington more than holds its own, regardless of genre.
“Anacostia Delta” is a great primer on Gatton, who took his life in 1994 at the age of 49. And because it’s constructed around a 2015 Birchmere show organized by bassist John Previti celebrating his music, it includes a lot of killer live performances. Featured are musicians who played with Gatton or were influenced by him, including guitarists Principato, Dave Chappell, Chick Hall Jr. and Anthony Pirog.
Andy himself could have been on that bill, but he had another gig that night. That’s what musicians do: They pack up, go out and play.
Of course, that’s hard to do these days. Live-streaming on Facebook is nice — Andy’s Thrillbillys will do that Saturday at 3 p.m. — but it doesn’t come close to sweating in a club, a cold beer in your hand, your ear against a speaker and your eyes on a Telecaster’s fretboard.
Be seeing you
I’m going to take a little time off. I’ll see you back in this space on Sept. 21. Stay safe.