[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
Danny Holloway owns as many stories as vinyl records: 50,000. Before our waiter at El Tepayec takes drink orders, he's already riffing on how he almost signed N.W.A.
After stumbling across “Boyz in the Hood” and following a trail of Eazy-E phone and pager numbers, the former senior vice president of publishing at Island Records arranged a showcase for the soon-to-be gangsta-rap gods. The asking price for distribution was $200,000. But against Holloway's advice, Island balked. Priority didn't, and it still receives royalty checks whenever someone spins “Straight Outta Compton.”
Over his half-century in music, the 62-year-old East L.A. resident has been a bassist, journalist, producer, label executive, DJ and party promoter. His story starts in Long Beach, where two parents with an extensive collection of 45s nurtured his obsession. As a teen, he played bass in surf rock and British Invasion-inspired bands before moving to London at 19. Lying about his resume, he wrangled a job writing for NME.
In 1972 and '73 Holloway interviewed almost everyone worth covering: Van Morrison, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Frank Zappa. Every cassette recording remains pristinely preserved, and Holloway recently sold his Bob Marley interview to Damian Marley. His most jealousy-inducing tale concerns a Jamaican trip to chronicle The Rolling Stones during the making of Goats Head Soup.
“They'd wake up around noon, drink all day and head to the studio after dark. Jagger strutted around like a petulant glamour queen, but everyone else was normal. I never saw drugs, but one producer always suspiciously carried a briefcase,” Holloway says, pausing from his massive Hollenbeck burrito.
Despite the surfeit of stories, Holloway speaks without nostalgia. He's how you want to be at 62: excited about the future, enthralled by new ideas, absent any regrets. He looks like a hip-hop Gene Hackman, wearing jeans and a “Funky Ass Records” T-shirt, sunglasses resting below the crown of his shaved head.
Holloway left NME to work for Island founder Chris Blackwell, who broke reggae to the world. Holloway's most historic contribution occurred during the mixing of “Get Up Stand Up,” when Marley asked the young American if he believed the song would win over his homeland.
“I said it was a great anthem recorded too slowly for its message. Americans want something insistent that makes you raise your fists,” Holloway recalls. “So I told the engineer to speed it up and Blackwell looked at me and asked, 'Fast enough?' I said no. So he said do it again and asked me, 'Now?' I nodded. And that's the tempo that everybody knows that song.”
During the mid-'70s and early '80s, Holloway moonlit as a producer for seminal reggae group The Heptones and power-pop trio The Plimsouls. He also founded True Soul records — where he briefly signed Sublime before almost getting robbed for drug money by a strung-out, baseball bat-wielding Bradley Nowell.
Over the last decade, Holloway sparked a fifth career as a DJ, and his rare reggae and soul mixes are played on Dublab. He also recently launched the monthly party Blazing 45s at downtown's Nola's. He says his ultimate goal is to direct a movie.
“My biggest charge is doing something that I've never done before. When I mention the movie thing, some of my friends laugh,” Holloway says. “But I've learned that experience matters less than having the nuts to follow your dreams. And I have more nuts now than ever before.”