Singin' The Lonesome Blues

Local coffee shop showcases Eliot Park musician with a passion for the old time county blues.

He wears an old pinstripe suit and a gray fedora as he plays the old time country blues on a 1948 Gibson guitar. His name is Lonesome Dan Kase—catchy isn’t it. In 2003, City Pages named him the best acoustic performer in the twin cities. He’s recorded five CDs and has regular gigs at coffee shops and bars all over Minneapolis and the surrounding environs.
I first saw Lonesome Dan performing his distinctive music at E.P. Atelier, a local coffee shop on 10th Street. I was one of maybe eight audience members that night and from the beginning I was intrigued. Here is this young-looking man playing old songs written by guys with names like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Reverend Gary Davis.
By the end of the night I have to admit that I was caught up in the mystique of Lonesome Dan Kase.
Every good itinerant blues musician of the past has a story. The 1930s singer/guitar player Huddie Ledbetter (better known as Leadbelly), for example, went to prison for killing a man. One day the governor visited the prison and overheard Leadbelly singing. The old bureaucrat was so impressed that he eventually issued Leadbelly a full pardon. Lonesome Dan has never been to prison. And though I didn’t ask him, I’m 98% sure he’s never killed a man. But he does have a story.
Kase grew up in Hillsdale Mich., one of six children. He started playing the guitar when he was seventeen. At eighteen Dan and one his friends hopped on an Amtrak and rode it to Albuquerque, NM. From there he moved around—Arizona, California, Colorado. He played his guitar and worked odd jobs and read French poetry.
Four years ago Kase moved to the Twin Cities. Now he’s a member of a band called Lonesome Dan Kase and the Crush Collision Trio, but he plays a lot of solo gigs as well.
The music he plays hasn’t been heard (at least by most) in 70 years. It is captivating music, full of raw and throaty vocals, and intense finger-picking guitar work. It’s foot-stompin’, knee-slappin’ music of a bygone era; nostalgic music that takes you back even if you’ve never been there before. When you hear it, it makes you wish you had a name like Lonesome Dan, or Reverend Gary Davis, or Sleepy John Estes, riding from town to town on a freight train and playing the country blues on your old beat up guitar.
Country blues, in case you were wondering, doesn’t sound much like today’s country music (as in Garth Brooks and the Dixie Chicks). Back in ‘20s and ‘30s it was called “race” music because it more or less originated among African-Americans. It is deeply rooted in traditional folks songs, slave songs and spirituals. Dan said that about 30 percent of his repertoire was gospel.
Somewhere along the line, the name was changed to country blues. It remains an important link between the spirituals and old-time gospel music of yesteryear and today’s blues and R & B styles. It’s old music and therein lies its charm. Synthesizers, voice modulation, or computerization does not belong in Lonesome Dan’s act. The word genuine comes to mind.
As I mentioned he’s recorded five CDs. Two are with the Crush Collision Trio, which consists of Lonesome Dan on the blues guitar, Matt Yetter on the mandolin, and Mikkel Beckmen on the washboard, wash tub bass and 1948 GE refrigerator door (I only wish I could make things up like that).
Kase also has three solo albums including one that he just finished recording. He expects it to be released within the next several months.
Lonesome Dan is committed to playing the country blues. “I’ve never looked back in terms of style,” he said. He loves a good audience.
If you want to hear Lonesome Dan you don’t have to go far. He’s playing Wednesday, Jan. 16 at 7pm at E.P. Atelier as part of a series of concerts benefiting the Tsunami Relief Fund. Otherwise, you can find him and his band at Dusty’s Bar in Northeast Minneapolis every Thursday night at 9:30pm.


James Stambaugh
The Northern Light