Danny Click (photo: Carolyn McCoy)
Words by Carolyn McCoy
In 1985, “Unabomber” became a household name, the Regan Era was in its full fascist swing, there were over 4 billion people on the planet, and John Cougar Mellencamp introduced the world to his eighth studio album Scarecrow. The album reflected world events and the corporate hold we were now under. The American Dream was crumbling into dust and there was need for a voice during that time to show us the light while explaining what was going on. With Scarecrow, Mellencamp stayed close to his musical Americana roots while moving to a more political direction with his songwriting. In particular, he gave voice to the plight of the American farmers fighting to save their farms, expressing their burdens in songs like “Rain on the Scarecrow” and “You’ve Got to Stand for Somethin’.”
Marin County guitarist and songwriter Danny Click decided it was high time to create a live show around Scarecrow, as the album still holds ground in this day and age. Click grew up on farmland, so he understands the plight many farmers were experiencing in the ’80s. “Everything on the album is true of how the farmers felt about what was going on with the farmland,” says Click. “It’s a statement to what was wrong with the world at the time. It’s sad to see that it’s all still wrong 34 years later.”
Alongside a plethora of amazing Marin County talent, including vocalist Susan Zelinsky, percussionist Robin Goodrich, guitarist Erik Schramm, accordion player Wendy Fitz, and guitarist Dave Sampson, as well as Click’s regular backing band the Hell Yeahs, (vocalist Lyn Carpenter-Engelkes, guitarist Jon Mitguard, violin player Adrienne Biggs, bassist Mike Anderson and drummer Rob Hooper), Click gave the album a tremendous reboot recently at San Rafael’s Terrapin Crossroads to remind us all of the timelessness of Scarecrow.
“When I first heard the record it was a visceral thing for me; the songs, the tones, the way the guitar playing was approached,” says Click. “The drum sounds were huge. It was a wonderful performance by a band at its height.”
Click and company played the album in its entirely from first to last song with great regard for what Mellencamp was trying to get across to the listener. From the opening song “Rain On The Scarecrow,” with Goodrich hammering a beat on an actual anvil to portray the workaday vibe of the album, the band channeled Mellencamp while staying true to their own individuality as a band. One could tell from the players onstage that they truly enjoyed the songs and music Mellencamp created, laughing and dancing around as they made the songs their own.
The album is not all political, and Click made sure that he made light and fun with great songs like “Small Town,” “Lonely Ol’ Night,” and the epic anthem and usually misunderstood song “R.O.C.K In The USA.” It tells the story of how rock and roll emerged in America, and how the now-famous musicians stated in the song were not afraid to take personal risks for the sake of their music and therefore became a strong influence on the next generation.
Second set was pure “Danny Click.” His music in general is very much in line with what Mellencamp was doing: hard-driving Americana rock and roll. His shows are normally filled with raucous guitars and poignant songs, including his mainstays “Wait My Turn,” “Everything’s Alright,” and “When I Get Drunk,” showcasing his stellar playing as well as the solid groove he has with the Hell Yeahs.
Showcasing Scarecrow was a brilliant move, as it’s an album that needs to be heard again and again to understand how, when the world is at unease, we have a choice in how we handle that. Says Click, “The album stands alone as one of the most real honest rock and roll social-political directors ever made for me. Everything Mellencamp is singing about on the record is still true, but it’s only worse now than it was then. So like the song says, ‘We’ve got to stand for something or we’re going to fall for anything.’”