“The songs were not meant to be funny…” says Danny Blueberry (aka Danny Fonfeder) of his most recent release, Isolation — available now.
“I was writing about deep, personal pain,” he continues, “and yet the audience broke out in laughter.”
For some artists, a dramatic 180-degree pivot from their creative intention — especially one that involves such intimate, vulnerable feelings — would be devastating. But for Danny, it was another lesson in life. “This is what happens when you grow up in total isolation,” he reflects. “You write with the tools that you have without a frame of reference as to how the real world will react.”
The name of the release is quite literal; Fonfeder very much did grow up in total isolation as part of a strict, religious family. “I had little access to the secular world, but plenty of access to music in the forms of praise choirs and prayer psalms.”
An outcast from a very early age, Danny was electrified when in 1977 at the age of twelve he heard “Walk this Way” by Aerosmith in the car before his parents could shut off the radio. “From that point on, I knew I was meant to be involved in the world of music, and writing about how you really feel.
“As in, yes, singing ancient words of prayer in a choir or at the Sabbath table, not so much.”
It was also 1977 when a cousin told Danny about a band named Queen with their beautiful, operatic harmonies; the introduction and further digging lead to musical fandom for Heart, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones. “I would sit in front of my record player and listen to the albums over and over again until the vinyl wore out and they were unplayable.”
He’s got stories: “The cover of my Heart album mysteriously disappeared,” he recalls. “It was confiscated by my dad; the front photo with the two Wilson sisters and their shoulders exposed was too revealing to have in a religious home.
“My parents, relatives, and school mates had no understanding of what was going on in my head and my obsession with rock music. They basically thought of me as weird.”
In the religious boarding schools where Danny was sent to from the age of thirteen, listening to non-religious music was forbidden so he bought a cheap transistor radio and hid it in a tissue box next to his bed. “Late at night, when the dorm counsellors had left and my roommates were sleeping, I would use a set of spliced together Radio Shack earphones — so I could listen in stereo.”
A guitar was gifted to him as a bar mitzvah present from his cousins and has never left his side since.
The stories continue: finding himself in an arranged marriage at the age of 23 — with young children quickly following and being trained in the family business — Danny continued to write songs. “I could not pay anyone around me to listen to them,” he says. “To say I was discouraged from starting a music career would be an understatement.”
Eventually, Danny found his tribe, and met two “born again” religious musicians who entered his very secluded community; he convinced them to record some of his original songs professionally. The results of those sessions — from 1992 to 1994 — are among those found on this, his debut release — Isolation.
In 2005, at the age of 41 after a bitter divorce, Danny exited the religious community and started a popular handmade guitar company Blueberry Guitars (www.blueberryguitars.com)named after his two-year-old daughter, Blueberry. The Blueberry Guitars workshop is located in the exotic Indonesian island of Bali where traditional Balinese woodcarvers express their art and carving skills onto the bodies of acoustic and electric guitars that are built from scratch using local and exotic woods.
Blueberry Guitars soon achieved international success and Danny was suddenly surrounded by accomplished musicians. In 2009, Danny started playing and performing the many songs he had written from the age of 17 at open mic nights in Montreal bars, cafes and clubs.
“This went on for many years — staying there and meeting musicians until the very early hours,” he recounts. “To my amazement, the audiences loved my lyrics and songs and started requesting them.”
The songs were fresh, unique, funny — albeit unintentionally so, for some of them. “They were direct and written from a totally different angle than the music anyone else was playing. And yes, many people also found the songs to be hilarious.”
Danny’s habit of telling the story about how and why each song was written before performing it in itself became a popular part of his songs.
Today, and at the age of 54, Danny decided it was time to release his first album. “I discovered a deep and disturbing truth about my roots. I decided it was time to release this album and focus on what I was meant to do on planet Earth: entertain and express myself musically.”
In his music, there are shadows of his early rock influences, but the minor chord progressions and harmonies come from the Shtetel, and the themes of angst and rebellion are obvious. The melodies are pure; the songs are beautiful and they often rock hard.
Watch ‘Undress Me With Your Eyes’ from the album Isolation here: