Danny Paisley: “Be Open Minded”

Be Open Minded: I have played a lot of places where people had negative preconceived notions of Bluegrass Music and places where some had never heard it. Earlier in my career, I became very pessimistic towards these venues in fear that we would not go over well. As I grew older, I realized the error […]

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Be Open Minded: I have played a lot of places where people had negative preconceived notions of Bluegrass Music and places where some had never heard it. Earlier in my career, I became very pessimistic towards these venues in fear that we would not go over well. As I grew older, I realized the error of that view. I have found that most people enjoy what you do or at least appreciate your effort if they know how much you love music and enjoy playing it!

As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Danny Paisley.

Critically-acclaimed recording artist Danny Paisley and his band The Southern Grass, carry on a legacy set forth over six decades ago! With roots planted deep within the Roots genre, the group plays powerful, unadorned, and intense traditional music. Their combination of instrumentation and vocals convey the energy and emotion of classic bluegrass and country music. Danny has a distinctive voice that is completely original, so much so that many prominent musicians including Alison Krauss, have considered Danny as one of their favorite singers.

Turning several heads over the years, Paisley has garnered multiple accolades, and is the International Bluegrass Music Association’s reigning “Male Vocalist of the Year.” Since taking the helm as the band’s leader upon his father Bob Paisley’s death in 2004, Danny has continued to bring The Southern Grass into new territory. The singer/songwriter’s career has recently come full circle with the release of the 2021 album, Bluegrass Troubadour. The project marks the next chapter in the band’s storied journey, along with their first release on Pinecastle Records. It also features Danny’s son Ryan, showcasing the next era of the award-winning band! From start to finish, the new collection is rooted in tradition, but with an approach that looks optimistically into the future!

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in the small town of Landenberg, Pennsylvania. My father’s family were migrants from rural Ashe County, North Carolina. When my grandparents came north in the early 1930s, they settled on an old farm that dated back into the 1700s. My Grandfather, Hershel, farmed the land, and as his children grew up, he would give them a part of his ground to build their homes and start their lives on. As kids, we were surrounded by our cousins, aunts, and uncles. In later years, we named the area “Paisley Hill.” But our family was not alone, as the entire area was a microcosm of families just like ours who journeyed north into Pennsylvania and Delaware with the hope of a steady job with decent pay — and they brought their music with them. My Grandmother, Jessie Paisley played the guitar in the style of Mother Maybell Carter, and my Grandfather Hershel played the Clawhammer Banjo. On my mother’s side, my Grandfather came from Ireland in search of the American Dream, he played the fiddle and the piano, so it is not hyperbolic to say music was an interictal part of my youth. Although Irish and bluegrass music were prevalent in our community, it was not the only music we heard. I can recall being transfixed by the sound of our neighbors the Maxfield family. They were an African American family who would sing old spirituals, some of which my father later recorded. As I boy, I remember the jam sessions my dad would have with the Maxfield parents while all of us kids played together. Life was easy, we were very isolated from the world, and there was no hate or prejudice in our community. We relied so much on each other and spent so much time together that we considered the other family’s part of our own. It Is now a cliché, but we did not have much, but we did not know it.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

In the early 1960s, my father joined a man named Ted Lundy and formed a Bluegrass group named “Ted Lundy, Bob Paisley, and the Southern Mountain Boys” as a side gig when they were not working. As a child, I would sit in the center of the circle they formed when they practiced. Sitting in the middle taking in the rhythm section they formed and the harmonies they sang kindled a fire within me that made me want to pursue music as a career.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Earlier in my career, while I was playing with my father, we were asked to perform for a state visit of Princess Anne of Great Britain. It was a great honor to perform for her. Before the show, I realized that I forgot my spare guitar strings in our vehicle. Silly me, I decided to go down to where we were told to park and retrieve them. As I was walking, to my great surprise, a man jumps up from the ground out of nowhere. He turned out to be a secret service agent and he was not very happy to see me. They had to check me out and verify that I was there to perform before I could proceed. I assure you at the time it was not funny but as I look back now — it certainly is.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what you learned from that?

When I was in the beginning of my career, a friend of mine called and asked if I could substitute on the guitar and vocals for a gig. I of course said yes. After the show I and the other guys in the group are standing around talking, waiting to get paid. Eventually my friend returns and hands all of us a handful of corn, tomatoes, and other vegetables. I thought “well this is nice; they are giving us some fresh local produce.” An hour passes and all of us are still hanging out and I figure it’s time to get on the road for the drive home. I asked my friend “Hey can we settle up? I have to get home.” He responds, “I already paid you.” I laughed it off thinking it was a joke. Then stood there waiting. He then said, “Man, I already paid you; remember the corn, tomatoes, and vegetables?” The moral of the story is to always make sure you know what you’re going to get paid before you commit to a gig.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects we are working on right now?

I am so excited for our next project on Pinecastle Records entitled Bluegrass Troubadour! By the end of our recording sessions, it became one of my favorite projects that I have ever recorded, because of the cumulation of songs we did and the quality we were able to produce. I love taking old songs that have fallen by the wayside of listener’s minds and breath new life into them as we did with “May I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight Mister” and “I’d Rather Live by The Side of the Road” on this project.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think its important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Diversification brings invigorating new energy and increases creativity on whatever you are working on. The foundation of our music is African American Blues, Scotch-Irish Music, and older ballots. Frankly, without diversity, our music would never have been formed. In the past, Bluegrass music has been largely a man’s world, that is why it is so exciting to see a new generation of female artists further breaking the Bluegrass Glass Ceiling and contributing to the music. Diversification is an imperative aspect to keep the music from becoming stale, it ensures that the music continues to grow and stays alive for generations to come.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Pease share a story or example for each.

Be Open Minded: I have played a lot of places where people had negative preconceived notions of Bluegrass Music and places where some had never heard it. Earlier in my career, I became very pessimistic towards these venues in fear that we would not go over well. As I grew older, I realized the error of that view. I have found that most people enjoy what you do or at least appreciate your effort if they know how much you love music and enjoy playing it!

Be Willing to Adapt: The willingness to adapt is a crucial component to any musician for several reasons. One example is reading the crowd. Scanning the crowd and looking for their level of interest and engagement on certain songs will enlighten you as to how to tailor your set to what they like, thus, creating a more enjoyable experience for them and in turn you too.

Stay Above Criticism: One of the unfortunate downsides to any kind of success is that it brings about jealousy that can lead to criticism. It is not pleasant to hear negative things people say about you, and at times it can come in the form of awful slanders against your character that hurt, but the key is to not let them win by engaging in it. Stay above it and do not let it get to you.

Do Not Worry About the Industry Roller Coaster: I can tell you firsthand that the entertainment industry is a roller coaster of extreme highs and bottomless lows. I have had great triumphs and been at the very bottom with no record deals and no gigs. Do not beat yourself up too much. Keep working hard, adapt, and the day will come when you start back on the climb.

Do Not Take Anything for Granted: As we said before, the entertainment industry is a roller coaster. It is so important when things are going great to appreciate it and keep working because in a flash it can all be gone.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them thrive and not “burn out?”

Pace yourself! That is so important to not burning yourself out and not burning your audience out to your music. Also, keep things fresh and new, it is always good to have a new challenge. Finally enjoy the ride and realize how lucky you are to be in this industry. Not everyone can travel the world and perform for people. We are truly fortunate.

You are a person of Enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea could trigger. 😊

Stop hate and bitterness. It is nothing new, but I feel that right now especially people are pitted against each other. I wish people would realize that the way you vote does not make you a bad person. The color of your skin does not make you a bad person. Your gender should not make you inferior to others, and your orientation does not make you a bad person. People need to stop looking for ways to hate and look for ways to get along.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many. I would first have to say my father and Ted Lundy who taught me how to play music as a unit and not as a person. Rounder Records gave me my first big break when I started on my own. My former talent agent Jim Roe stuck with me in the good and in the bad times for 15 years! That is so rare in the music industry. Also, Tom Mindte, who when I was at the bottom of the roller coaster 10 years ago — with absolutely nothing, took the risk of putting me on his record label and helped get me back on my feet. Finally, there is no way I could do what I do today without the amazing teams at Pinecastle Records, Main Attraction Management, and my band. They are the best at what they do!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Appreciate what you have and stop worrying about what you don’t.” Life is ironic, sometimes being depressed is what will allow you to find happiness. It takes losing everything to appreciate the smallest things, and it takes hard work to appreciate relaxation.

Is there a person in the world or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or She just might see this, especially if we tag them.

That is a hard question. Honestly, I would really enjoy having breakfast with President Biden. I met him different times when he was campaigning for reelection to the U.S Senate. I only got to speak with him for brief moments, but he always seemed like a cool guy.

How can our readers find you online?

Readers can find us on our website, streaming platforms, and social media:


Facebook: Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass

Instagram: @danny_paisley_southern_grass

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