Dan Patlansky won’t soon forget 1 February 2014. It’s the day he opened for Bruce Springsteen at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium.
“That was fantastic, even though it was one of the most daunting things I’ve ever done,” he remembers. “The scary part wasn’t the actual number of people, it was that none of those 80 000 people were there to see me,” he chuckles.
“So it was a case of trying to win the audience over, and we did that in the first song which was fantastic. So, of course, your tension levels drop a bit,” he continues. “Then I made this fatal mistake of looking to my right-hand side and in the wings of the stage was Bruce Springsteen watching our set, which took the stress levels back through the roof again. No pressure after that!” the always cheerful singer and Fender-endorsed guitarist laughs.
The fact that The Boss stayed to watch his entire set (“that was so fantastic and quite humbling”) says a lot about Patlansky who, over the past 15 years and seven albums, has become South Africa’s foremost blues-rock star. He’s not just prodigiously talented, he’s ambitious, and he gets the music.
“The blues is such a basic form of music and because it’s so basic it’s really really tough to make it sound appealing to a person listening to it,” explains the musician who first picked up an electric guitar at the age of 15. “It’s almost like a blank canvas, the blues, and you as a player have to colour it and make it interesting.”
And that’s exactly what Patlansky has done, with his music constantly evolving.
“Every album I do moves in a slightly different direction. When I started out I was just doing classic blues – the old-school middle-of-the-road thing – and that was great and I still love that,” says the man who cites Stevie Ray Vaughn as one of his original influences.
“I’m now doing more of a blues-rock type of thing. Everything I do is always rooted in the blues, but I like to kind of borrow from other genres – a bit of the classic rock thing, a bit of the jazz thing – and it’s just fantastic to mix all that up, especially when you’re writing, and see what comes out.
What’s come out is ‘Dear Silence Thieves’. Set to be launched in the UK with a nationwide tour in April and May, it’s his strongest collection of songs yet.
“This Grammy Award-winning producer in the States once asked me: Would you rather play a cool guitar solo on an average song or play a cool solo on a great song? So that hit home for me – rather just get the songs right. Before you even worry about anything else, like solos, the songs must be able to carry themselves.”
Many of those songs – brought to life on record with the help of Springbok Nude Girls guitarist and South Africa’s most in-demand rock producer, Theo Crous – now form an integral part of Patlansky’s blistering live shows.
“We always try to do our best to give it 100 percent whenever we go on stage regardless of audience size or wherever it is,” he says with the confidence of a man who spends more nights on the road than he does at home.
“The last couple of years have been insane,” he admits, but it’s clear that Patlansky loves the thrill of performing.
“If I’m really feeling it I’ll push a solo out a little longer than the album or the previous night. So that for me is also an exciting part of doing this kind of music – the song will remain the same every night, but the directions and turns you take in the song are completely different every night.”
And there will be many of those nights in the coming months, with his tour schedule filling up faster than his fingers fly on the fretboard. Apart from the UK gigs, he expects to be back in Europe three or four times before the end of the year, including “a fantastic support slot – a really, really famous guitarist that I’m going to be touring with in November in the UK and possibly Europe.
“So it’s going to be a busy year but very, very exciting.”
- This article originally appeared in The South African.