Danny “The Count” Koker is known for being the star of the hit television show Counting Cars and his appearances on Pawn Stars, but he’s also the frontman of the Count’s 77. The group released its debut album earlier this year and the band was voted into Blues Rock Review’s Top 20 Albums of 2014. We caught up with “The Count” to discuss Count’s 77, the future of the band, and more.
How did Count’s 77 come together?
It was truly just a very organic growth with the band. A lot of people have this perception because of the TV show that I do they think, “OK, he does a TV show so now he decided to put a band together.” It’s really quite the opposite. I grew up in music. My father was a musician. I used to be in music when I was much younger and then kind of got away with it.
The band happened years before the TV show. I have a rock club here in Vegas called Vamp’d. It’s an old school rock club. We would do a weekly jam night, which we still do and it’s hosted by John Zito, who is one of my guitarists. And John Zito would do this weekly jam, him and just a three piece, and then he’d invite people up and just kind of jam on a weekly basis. He had found out that I used to do music so he’d get me to come up on stage and sing with him and stuff like that on occasion, and on one particular jam night all of us guys except for Tommy Paris, who we haven’t met at the time, but the rest of us kind of all ended up on the same stage at the same time and just kind of turned into a little night there with us and it just felt real. It felt great. We all just really gelled. After that night we sat out on the patio there at the club and talked about how good it felt and we just decided for the next jam night why don’t we get together? Let’s learn a few songs together, let’s rehearse a little bit, so we did that and then our jam nights started to actually draw a crowd as a jam night. And then it evolved into opening up for other bands. We’re rehearsing all the time and then it grew into basically our own band, so it was really an honest, organic growth from a group of guys that are all about the same age group. We all grew up listening to the same stuff. We’re all very passionate about the same type of music, so it happened very honest like that.
How did the group get signed to Shrapnel Records?
One day Mike Varney from Shrapnel Records came cause Stoney Curtis, our leader guitar player, has a long time relationship with Mike Varney. Mike came to one of our shows and after the show he said, “I wanna do a record with this band,” so we did a record deal with Shrapnel. We sat down and worked on the debut record with Mike Varney and he had brought in Tommy Paris. Tommy Paris came in to do some vocals and to do all the keyboard work. So, we finished the record and now we were like, OK, we have to be able to duplicate this live and as fortunate luck would have it, Tommy happens to live here in Vegas and really wasn’t doing much of anything at the time, so we talked to Tommy about being a part of this and now Tommy’s been an official part of the band for probably about a year now he’s been with us. That’s how the whole band actually all came together, so now there’s six of us and we’re truly like a group of brothers. We have so much fun together. It’s not work. It’s fun. It’s good times.
What was the recording process like for the album?
It was awesome. Working with Mike Varney is amazing. I spend a whole lot of my time traveling. I’m on the road a lot. Mike just told me to write down all your random thoughts all the time cause like I said, even though I’ve been involved in music and I’ve sang for years and played some minimal along the way, I’ve never actually written anything. Mike helped walk me through the writing process and on the road wherever I went I was just writing random thoughts all the time and it would be categorized in certain areas and Mike really made sense of these random thoughts and helped put all of this stuff together.
Stoney Curtis sat down forever writing riffs, different riff after riff after riff and different vibes, and he would work with Varney in developing those riffs. And then Mike would come in and he’d work with the rest of the band. I gotta say, there’s six of us in the band and everybody brings something to the table. Nobody is coasting along. There isn’t a weak link in the bunch, but it’s really amazing when you work with a guy like Mike Varney, who takes all of you and brings the best out of all of you. It was a really cool experience putting that record together and Mike makes it fun. Yeah, he works you, man. He won’t let you coast through anything. He will definitely make sure that you put out the best because he’s putting his name on.
I’ve got a recording studio here and that’s where we did it and we just lived with it day and night until it was done. It was a pleasure to be honest with you. There wasn’t any times where you just went, oh, no, not again, oh, I’m dreading this. Oh, I’m mad, or people throwing stuff at each other. It was never like that. It was real and it just came together so nice. I can’t get enough credit to Varney and what he can do is amazing. And again, the whole band is so talented. What he brings out in everybody is just great, so the process was awesome.
Who are some of your musical influences?
They’re all over the place. The obvious ones would be Led Zeppelin, absolutely a big influence on my life, The Doors, a huge influence on my life. I love Jim. I love his vocals. It’s like Stoney Curtis says, he likes singers that sound like a man. And Jim sang like a man. I’ve always enjoyed Jim. Cream was a big influence on me. Thin Lizzy was a big influence on me, as was Kiss, as was Grand Funk. I love Grand Funk. I love Rare Earth. Then I start wondering into things like Ray Charles. I’m a huge Ray Charles fan. I’m a huge Curtis Mayfield fan. I’m a big Marvin Gaye fan. There’s a whole lot of soul. My background was gospel. I grew up in southern gospel and black gospel music, so there’s a whole lot of soul that influenced me as well. I’m influenced by both the harder rock of the late ’60s and the ’70s and influenced also very much by the R&B and the soul of the late ’60s and early ’70s as well.
If we were to take a look at your IPod, what would be on it?
I don’t have one! (laughs) I am that old school.
You’re a vinyl guy I take it?
I’m a vinyl guy, man. In my car all I listen to is satellite radio unless I’ve got a CD of some sort. So right now if you got in my car you would have in the CD stacker anything from Zeppelin, The Doors would be in there for sure. I know I’ve got Sly and the Family Stone in there right now. I’ve got a few mixed CD’s that some friends have made for me that have got various artists on them, but again, it’s all from that era.
What are your goals for Count’s 77?
For me it was something to feed my soul to be honest with you. I lost my father in ’08 and he was all about music and he brought me up in it, so for me, it was something that could feed my soul. It was something that could help me cope with losing him. To this day every time we play I have at least one moment on that stage where I feel close to him somehow. And so for me that’s kind of all that it was intended to be was something that just warmed me up from the inside. It’s grown now to something huge and I’m so excited about that and I feel like this is something that my father would be very proud of, and that makes me really wanna keep pushing it and pushing it.
I can’t say that I have a real goal for this. I just want it to continue and I want it to be the best that it can be. I’m never satisfied and neither is anybody else in the band, which is amazing. And it’s not like we all sit around and gripe about, oh, that was bad, it’s not like that. We’re happy about it all the time, but we love to rehearse and we love to keep pushing ourselves. We love to keep pushing each other to be better and better and better. For us, I don’t know what the goal is, but I can just tell you that all six of us are very dedicated to this band. All six of us are dedicated to working at it for real. None of us are kids. We’re all gentleman right around the 50-year-old age group. We’re trying to exercise, we’re trying to take our health seriously also so that we can do our live shows. We do a live show and it’s two hours. We don’t do a short show. We give you the full ’70s experience. It’s very high energy. It’s a lot work, so we’re trying to take care of ourselves and we want it to keep growing and be the best it can be.
Where it goes? We don’t know, but we just talked with Varney and he wants to do another record. We’re looking at probably January/February. We’re going back into the studio. We’re gonna start working on a second record. This year we did 21 travel dates, so for me it’s difficult. I shoot the TV show five days a week and then on the weekends get on a plane and fly in and fly out all over the place. We’ve been doing some of the large fairs, we’ve been doing a lot of the big bike shows and car shows. We seem to have caught the attention of the Hard Rock, which is wonderful. We played a Hard Rock in Biloxi, Mississippi and sold it out and gave a two hour show there. And some other representatives from other Hard Rocks came to that show because they wanted to see what was going on, so now we’re getting booked at different Hard Rocks as well. We want to tour. The challenge for me on the touring is the fact that it has has to be weekend fly in and fly outs because of shooting Counting Cars television show. So there’s always that challenge, but the blessing is the television show is a marketing tool that I could never ever afford, so having that show has been very helpful for the band. But the most fun thing about it is a lot of people will come to see one of our shows because it’s that guy from TV but they get there and realize it’s not a gimmick. It’s not Danny and a handful of his friends screwing around. It’s a real band that delivers a real rock show. And so in this past year of all this touring it’s the caught the attention of real venues, real shows, so we’ve been offered some very nice touring opportunities and the challenge is for me on the personal level with shooting the show and doing the band. My heart is so with this band that I book every band gig that I can possibly do.
Do you ever get the opportunity to sleep?
No, I don’t. I’ve got the shop here. I’m building cars, I’m building motorcycles. I’ve got the rock club up the street (Vamp’d), thankfully I’ve got a wonderful management team that handles that. I’ve got a management team here at my shop that handles this. I’ve got a tattoo shop at The Rio. I’ve got a great management team that handles that. I’ve got the recording studio. Stoney Curtis actually handles my recording studio, so he’s wonderful in that. Mike Varney is actually looking to move back to Vegas now because he fell in love with the studio and he’s been bringing several artists to the studio. So he’s getting involved in that and then there’s rehearsing and there’s playing. I really don’t sleep, man. Strike while the iron is hot. You don’t know how long things like this last. How long does a television show have success? You don’t know. How long does a band have success? You don’t know, so I’ll sleep later.
Have you already started the process of writing for the next Count’s 77 album?
Kind of like the first record I’ve got my trusty little notebook out and I’ve been writing random thoughts again. And I know Curtis has been diligently working on different riffs and different vibes for different songs, so we’re kind of getting a head start on things. But when it gets down to it, Varney will come into town and we’ll all get together and really focus on it.
Do you draw inspiration for your music from your other projects like Counting Cars?
Absolutely. On this current record right now there are songs like “End of the Day.” That song is 100% about a day in the life of Danny Koker and how that plays out. There’s another song, “Stand Tall,” and that was all about a very bad business partnership that I was in that I got out of my life when I swept some trash out of my life. There’s “Working for the Man,” (laughs) that would probably be about my relationship with the network (laughs). There’s certain aspects in that respect, but they’re not all about me as well. There’s contributions from other band members that influence other songs as well on there, so, yeah, a large part of it does have to do with myself and the day in the life of me, but some of it is just straight up rock songs. There’s a song in there called “My Machine.” It’s about a car but it’s also kind of a synonym for a hot chick. It’s just straight up rock and roll songs as well. Some of the songs have deeper meaning with my life and some of the other songs are straight up rock songs.
Anything else you’d like to add?
A huge thank you for number one, just nominating us and considering us, and a monster thank you for everybody that voted for us. That was way cool. Thank you guys for including us in that top 2o, we truly appreciate it. And we just want people out there to keep their eyes on us. We are for real. It’s not a gimmick. It’s not something that came out of a TV show. It was here long before that. And just keep your eyes peeled for us because we’re coming to a town near you and we’ll melt your face (laughs).
Interview by Pete Francis