Patlansky sings the blues, shoots the lights out
Oozing effortless rock-star charm, world-renowned blues rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Dan Patlansky says that for him, music is a calling. Named the fourth best guitarist in the world by the UK’s Total Guitar Magazine, Patlansky is currently touring the country while working on his upcoming album.
“My parents are both big music lovers so growing up, there was constant exposure to music – particularly in the genre I play in now like the blues and classic rock,” Patlansky said in an exclusive interview with the SA Jewish Report. “If you get exposed to it that regularly, it forms part of who you are, especially as a kid when you’re like a sponge. You almost can’t help but want to make music.”
More importantly, he says, having the support of his parents in his quest to make music a career was a game changer, especially early on. “I couldn’t have imagined doing it without their support. It would have been 20 times harder. There was a point where it may have been tough for them because it’s a very risky thing. There’s a certain amount of suffering and heartbreak in this industry, but I suppose my parents could see something in me that gave them some confidence to say, ‘Give it a go.’”
Though Patlansky got his first guitar at the age of 10 and briefly took lessons, he completely lost interest until he reached high school. Moving from King David High School Victory Park to the National School of the Arts in his last two years of schooling helped him to hone his musical talents and theoretical knowledge. “It was a great place for the direction I wanted to go in,” he says.
Playing professionally from the age of 18, Patlansky, who’s now in his 40s, honed his innate talents to slowly build a profitable career. “It’s a calling more than anything else,” he says, speaking of what it takes to have the courage to pursue such an uncertain path. “The thought of not making it, starving, and not being able to look after yourself almost takes a backseat to the passion you have for it, especially when you’re younger. Whether it’s a success or a failure, you just want to create music. For me, it’s always been that.”
Having produced 10 acclaimed albums to date, including Dear Silence Thieves, which in 2014 was voted the number one blues rock album in the world by Blues Rock Review in the United States, Patlansky’s dedication to making music has more than paid off.
“I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve managed to make a living out of it my whole life, especially since blues isn’t just any music – it attracts a niche market. I feel blessed to still be here and doing this full time.”
Though blues artists may not have the biggest following in the world, Patlansky says the truly loyal following the genre attracts makes it all worthwhile. “Yet, it’s a scary thing too, because the other musicians with whom I share this space are absolutely world-class. It’s great though because it keeps pushing you to be better, especially touring overseas when you see the level of performance there. You never feel content about where you’re at musically, and that’s a great thing.”
The release of Dear Silence Thieves sparked global attention, widespread radio play, great overseas reviews, and opened international doors for Patlansky. In the same year, he played to an audience of more than 65 000 at FNB Stadium when he opened for Bruce Springsteen, who personally approved him as his opening act. An unbelievable experience, the performance doubled his Gauteng fan base, he says.
Though Patlansky loves the rush of playing overseas with world-class infrastructure and the chance to perform in steadily bigger venues as his fanbase grows, South Africa remains home. “As cool as it is playing gigs and touring overseas, I think with all the problems we have in South Africa, it’s still a really good place to live,” he says. “My wife, kids, and other family are happy here, and while it can be difficult, it’s a good life. You get that perspective only if you travel a lot – Europe and the United Kingdom have some massive problems. I’m really happy here.”
Speaking of settling down, he says though having kids means he can no longer tour for six months at a time, he’s not young enough to manage the exhaustion that comes with that in any case. “I try to keep overseas tours to four weeks, maximum. Then, when I come home, I make sure that I’ve got four weeks off so I can really maximise time with the family, be at home, and really bond, which seems to work. Yet going away now is far more thought provoking and tougher to do than when it was before I was married and had kids.”
During lockdown, home became a constant base. Patlansky began teaching guitar lessons online with pupils around the world to get through the trying period. In doing so, he found another passion. “It was great, and I’ve have continued that with my Patreon page, which is where you pre-record weekly lessons and then people subscribe to the page and get access to all these lessons. It’s financially beneficial but mainly it’s such a joy to do.”
Speaking of what keeps him motivated musically, aside from the inspirational artists that make up the blues community, he says it’s about continuous improvement. “It’s about always being better on the instrument, vocally, as a songwriter, and as producer of albums.”
Currently testing out new songs on his Electric Trio Tour, Patlansky says he’s excited to be getting back to the roots of what he loves most about music. This renewed sound is reflected in his live sets and upcoming album. “With every new album you do, you always say this is definitely the best I’ve ever made. If you don’t say that, what would the point be of doing it? It’s the same feeling with my upcoming album.”