Danko Jones talks longevity, regrets and the evolution of his hard-rocking guitar tone

Danko Jones
(Image credit: PYMCA/Avalon/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Danko Jones has many skills, but being quiet is not one of them. Through a career spanning 25 years with his eponymous band, a podcast, a book, tons of guest appearances on other artists' records, political rants on Twitter and enough old-school, down-and-dirty rock ’n’ roll riffs to make even the ghost of Malcolm Young smile, Jones has made a living from being loud. 

So when you ask him about the key to his longevity, you shouldn’t be surprised that false modesty takes a back seat. “We started the band in ’96 and we’re very proud of it!” he says. "I heard the average lifespan for a main band is seven years, and the fact we more than tripled that, especially during the age of internet downloading, is something I’m very proud of. 

“It’s a confirmation that the live shows are great, the music is great and we’ve been right all along. “The one thing I really resent is people going ‘How did you do that?’ Well, we’re a fucking good band. That’s how we fucking did it.” 

There’s that expression that one shouldn’t fix that which isn't broken, but even a quarter of a century in, Jones and his compatriots are still refining what it is they do. So with his relatively new axe in hand, Jones joined long-time bassist John “JC” Calabrese and drummer Rich Knox to crank out their 10th album, the aptly named Power Trio.

For longtime fans of the band, it’s more of what they’ve come to love; high-octane garage rock, driven by Jones’ aggressive power chords and snarled lyrics. It’s a sound that has made Danko Jones a beloved institution in Europe, where they are a mainstay on the summer festival circuit.

But across the pond in the US, and even in their homeland of Canada, the love hasn’t been quite as forthcoming, despite Jones having been championed by or collaborated with big names as disparate as Volbeat, Marty Friedman, Lemmy Kilmister and Lord of the Rings actor Elijah Wood.

On 2010’s Below the Belt, Danko Jones sang about being full of regrets, but does he have any regrets about how his career has gone west of the Atlantic?

“I don’t have any regrets in terms of Canada. Canada should have regrets when it comes to us!” he quips. “The first opening we got that would have taken us out of Canada, we took and it proved to everyone, whether they know it or not, that we were right.” They say living well is the best revenge, and on Power Trio, Danko Jones is once again strutting his stuff.

Even for a band that has often sung as much from the crotch as from the heart or the head, the new album can come across as pretty damn horny. Good Lookin, Get to You and Dangerous Kiss all have the kind of swagger that’s been missing from rock since Mötley Crüe called it a day the first time around, but with the stripped-down, straight-ahead, no-bullshit tones of classic garage rock. In other words, it’s a Danko Jones record.

That’s not to say there’s no growth. Anyone who follows the outspoken frontman on Twitter has gotten an earful of his views. Whether it’s him lambasting Ontario Premier Doug Ford for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic or ripping on Rob Schneider and Kevin Sorbo, he’s never been one to hold back.

On Power Trio, that desire to speak truth to power is most evidence on Raise Some Hell, which was “directly influenced by what I witnessed last summer in the BLM protests, the George Floyd blackout Tuesday, the #showmuststop hashtag. Songs like I Want Out, Let’s Rock Together and Start the Show were definitely outcomes of living through and writing a record through the pandemic.”

If the actual sonics of the band Danko Jones haven’t changed all that much over the years, how Danko Jones the guitarist gets his tones has. When the band first started, he was often seen with a Telecaster around his neck, but for the majority of his career, he’s been associated with Gibson SGs. That came to an end during the making of 2019’s A Rock Supreme, when he discovered a much more economical, but no less ferocious option.

Taking a break from the studio, Jones and producer GGGarth visited a Vancouver music store. “I saw this Hagstrom Metropolis and I picked it up and just played it. I think it’s a couple of hundred bucks; it’s one of the low-end models. I didn’t even plug it into the amp. I just started playing it and, I don’t know why, but [it felt] amazing.”

Going with his gut has served Danko Jones the man quite well for the past 25 years. Full of regrets? 

Hardly. While the band has never had the full-on, crossover smash hit that should have vaulted them to their rightful place among other rock revivalists such as the White Stripes and Black Keys, they’ve stayed on a low-simmer for 25 years, racking up a loyal cult following that will follow them to the grave.

With his debut book of essays, I Got Something to Say, hitting bookstores in 2018, he still has his eyes on pushing his music – and everything else – harder, faster, louder.

“A follow up book – I want to do that. I don’t know how or in what way, but I want to do that. And I want to try Twitch; I’ve been flirting with the idea of doing a Twitch channel,” he says. “I think it’s a really cool, new platform to try. I paused my podcasts because these days are kind of crazy for me, but I want to bring the podcast back.”

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Adam Kovac

Adam is a freelance writer whose work has appeared, aside from Guitar World, in Rolling Stone, Playboy, Esquire and VICE. He spent many years in bands you've never heard of before deciding to leave behind the financial uncertainty of rock'n roll for the lucrative life of journalism. He still finds time to recreate his dreams of stardom in his pop-punk tribute band, Finding Emo.