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Surrey’s ‘Rock and Roll Kid’ is all grown up, and he’s even more awesome on guitar

Now fronting a prog-funk band, Daniel Sveinson, 24, recalls 15-plus years of playing like a pro
Surrey-raised Daniel Sveinson is now known professionally as Daniel James. (Photo: submitted/Ryan Deasley)

SURREY — With a wide smile slightly hidden by a shaggy beard and shoulder-length hair, Daniel Sveinson ripped into a solo and, in a quick mid-riff move, playfully punched the arm of fellow guitarist Eric Gross. The guys were clearly having a gas, and the crowd at the Hindenburg, a small club in Vancouver’s Gastown district, jumped in time with the electric prog-funk the quartet rocked that warm September night.

Sveinson, a Surrey-raised musician who could play guitar like a pro before most kids can use a microwave oven, was loving every second of his first gig as a true front man, playing his own music and singing the songs.

“What a night!” Sveinson later wrote in a Facebook message. “I have been performing since I was ten years old and last night was probably the most fun I’ve had on stage.”

Thirteen years ago, when he toured with the Danny S. Band, Sveinson was dubbed “The Rock and Roll Kid,” the title of an hour-long 2006 documentary movie about a spunky, gifted Surrey boy who’d already played the famed Apollo Theater in New York and shared a stage with guitar icon Les Paul.

Inspired to play after hearing Angus Young’s work with AC/DC, and urged on by proud parents Darwin and Jean, the young Guildford-area resident turned heads with fingers that seemed to fly across the fretboard.

“He was just an old soul on the guitar,” recalled Dave Chesney, who wrote a column for the Now newspaper at the time and currently serves as a White Rock city councillor.

“Kids can study and learn the technical side of it and play fast like Steve Vai or somebody, but Danny always had this style beyond his years, just that intuition to lay back and let it breathe,” Chesney added.

“He was just a freak, and should never have been able to play that great at that young age, but he did. You can’t play guitar like he did by just learning out of books or whatever.”


Will's Bane live at Hindenburg

Need a healthy dose of progressive funk? November 24th at the Roxy Cabaret!Tickets: Page: us through the Daniel James page for ticket delivery in the lower mainland!

Posted by Daniel James on Thursday, November 2, 2017

Sveinson’s recent show at the Hindenburg club was a coming-out party for a guy who is, of course, even more skilled as a guitarist now, after more than a decade of honing the craft playing with cover bands, tribute bands, original bands and assorted sessions. It’s not a stretch to say the man, now 24, was born to be a rock star.

For the time being, Sveinson’s side gigs, with the likes of Lee Aaron and Heart tribute band Barracuda, have been shelved, save for a trip with the local classic-rock band Aviator Shades. More than that, the good ol’ days of Sonic City and Mad Shadow and The Led Zepplin Show – bands that kept Sveinson busy in his teens, as a student at Johnston Heights Secondary – are behind him.

“This year I really haven’t looked for many gigs because I’ve really taken so many years off from playing my original stuff and writing,” Sveinson told the Now-Leader. “While I’m still in my early 20s here, it’s time to write some songs and try that out again, because it’s a totally different experience. I mean, it’s wonderful doing gigs, the hired-gun stuff where you have a writer and you’re just playing, and it’s a professional environment and all that. It’s rewarding to be on that side of things, but there’s something about going up there and playing a song you had a part in that can’t be replaced, and I figure it’s time to work on that again before Father Time catches up anymore.”


For scenes in Bob Fugger’s The Rock and Roll Kid movie, a preteen Sveinson and his band of adult musicians are shown gigging at The Roxy, the Granville Street cabaret where Daniel James, as he’s now known professionally, will return to play Friday (Nov. 24) in a showcase with another band, Quantum Council.

More such concerts are sure to follow for Sveinson and his “band of killers,” dubbed Brass Camel and featuring the aforementioned Gross on guitar, Cole George on drums, Adam Wazonek on keys and Christopher Wong on bass. They’re not just bandmates, they’re buddies, which suits Sveinson just fine.

Sadly, another friend of his, North Van-raised singer Erik Olufson, who had held the microphone for Mad Shadow and The Led Zeppelin Show, was laid to rest last summer. When asked about Olufson, Sveinson took a few moments to gather his thoughts.

“He really did bust out some pretty incredible vocals and just his ad-libs and everything,” Sveinson said. “He was a really fun guy to be on stage with. We just had a riot. It was really a delight to watch him grow as a performer, and he sure grew as a performer really, really quickly.”

Sveinson and Olufson were nearly perfect as Page-Plant in The Led Zeppelin Show, which toured for three or four years.

“We did about a year of gigs as Black Dog while we built up the rig and everything, because we didn’t think it’d be right to call it The Led Zeppelin Show if we pieced together a bit of a hack rig, so we took awhile to get all the stuff together – the Hammond B3, the Rhodes and the vintage Marshalls and the 42-inch gong, all that,” Sveinson recalled.

“That was an interesting experience,” he continued, “because we had it in our contract that we were an authentic Led Zeppelin experience and that we were going to be playing very, very loud, heavy blues. You know, we’d actually do songs they had recorded on bootlegs, so before a show we’d say, ‘OK, tonight’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ will be Osaka ‘72, which means in the middle we’ll be playing Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson and an Eddie Cochran cover, you know, a Jerry Lee Lewis cover in there, and tomorrow night we’ll do something different.’”

Sveinson said he’s never been a huge fan of tribute bands, “so if we were going to do it, we said, let’s show the heavy blues that is Zeppelin, and that meant if we were playing a thousand-seat theatre, then, you know, a hundred people wouldn’t be so sussed on it, and there’d be a hundred just thrilled because they’re Zep diehards and couldn’t believe we were actually doing a Buddy Holly cover just like they did in Osaka that night back in 1972. And I got the sense that the other 800 people didn’t know what the hell was going on, but they were enjoying it.”

For those gigs, of course he played a Page-preferred Les Paul-branded guitar, the type the Gibson company named for the man Sveinson had the good fortune to meet – and perform with, on a Django Reinhardt tune and also a Benny Goodman number – as a wide-eyed 12-year-old at New York’s Iridium club.

“It was mind-blowing,” Sveinson recalled. “I was a bit of a literature freak when I was a young kid, so I just poured through every guitar book and music book I could get my hands on at the library and dial-up internet. So when I met Les, I knew quite a bit about him and influences and stuff like that, and I had the great pleasure of getting to sit down with him quite awhile before his show began, for just a one-on-one chat. And that just so inspiring – for someone of any age, I imagine, but for a 12-year-old, it really hit a note.”

Sveinson and his father sat at a table directly in front of the stage, where he could touch Paul’s guitar if he tried.

“He came out and sat down, and his assistant gave him his guitar,” Sveinson recalled. “Les was probably 90 years old at the time, and he had kind of a dour expression on his face, but when that guitar was placed in his hands, he busted out with the hugest grin I’d ever seen. I remember just thinking, holy crap, if a 90-year-old could be made to smile like that after playing guitar for that many years, I might as well stick with it.”

Moving forward, Sveinson plans to juggle his solo stuff with that of Aviator Shades, with whom he toured Canada earlier this fall.

“They’ve been great friends of mine for three or four years now, and I’ve been watching them from the wings – some great chops and unbelievable work ethic, and I find that’s something, particularly in my teenage years, that I struggled with – just working hard on the business side of things,” Sveinson admitted. “So just having hung out with these guys and seeing how hard they work, it’s been inspiring to me.

“And with the solo stuff,” he continued, “I’m still trying to see what direction it takes. I wouldn’t say it’s a struggle, but I’ve got one side of me who’s still a rocker, still heavy blues and Deep Purple and that stuff, but I’ve just been listening to so much Jeff Beck and Herbie Hancock and stuff like that over the last couple of years. So just trying to figure out whether doing my take on Frank Zappa-style stuff, or doing heavier rock, it’s been a bit of a juggling act with my solo stuff, no question.”

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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