Cult singer-songwriter and rocker Dan Sartain dies aged 39

Dan Sartain performs on stage at the Rock City Basement Bar during the Dot To Dot Festival on May 30, 2010 in Nottingham, England
(Image credit: Ollie Millington/Redferns)

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Dan Sartain has died age 39. The Alabama musician’s passing was confirmed via a GoFundMe page set up by his family to help pay for funeral expenses. No cause of his death has been revealed.

“Dan Sartain left us many memories and music, but has unfortunately left us way too early,” a statement on the page read. “As wonderful as his legacy is, he had no plans for the unmentionable, and thus, here we are."

The GoFundMe page quickly reached its goal, and the family said any further funds will be used for care for Sartain’s daughter.

Born in Center Point, Alabama on August 13, 1981, Sartain got an early start playing with the Birmingham-based hardcore band Plate Six in the 1990s.

He released a pair of self-produced solo albums – Crimson Guard and Romance in Stereo – in the early 2000s before signing with San Diego-based Swami Records for the more widely-available Dan Sartain vs. the Serpientes in 2005 and the following year’s Join Dan Sartain.

Boasting a unique mix of rockabilly, punk, blues and other sounds, Sartain’s music began attracting a wider audience, and also the ear of other artists. In 2007, he toured as an opening act for the White Stripes and the Hives, and also released a single, Bohemian Grove, on Jack White's Third Man Records imprint in 2009.

Regarding that period of his career, Sartain said, “Touring with the White Stripes was my Rocky Balboa moment. I was a virtually unknown barroom singer, and I went the distance with the champ. I don’t feel like I’m cut out for stadium touring, but there were a few times where we got some good licks in.”

Sartain continued to perform and record, issuing several more solo records, including 2012’s Too Tough to Live, which he called an “obvious tribute to the Ramones,” over the past decade. His most recent release was 2020’s Western Hills, an album of covers of western songs and cowboy television and movie themes.

In an interview with Music Mecca around the release of Western Hills, Sartain was asked the piece of advice he would give to young artists. 

"Make yourself available,” he said. “I’m not the best singer or guitarist in my town. I’m likely not the best singer or guitarist on any given city block. The most talented musicians I know were usually defeated by something before they can even make it to the stage with their talents. Some people just can’t handle big crowds, or get stage fright. Some of the most talented people I know didn’t even take their music outside of their bedroom, much less get on a stage. Some people can’t take the rejection, which leads them not to try at all. 

“I never had these specific problems," he continued. "I have always been extroverted. See and be seen, that was my motto. I used to go to any show that I could. I’d tell bands they were good when I didn’t really mean it. I would dance to any song that had a steady rhythm. I just loved live music, and knew I had to stop at nothing to be involved with it. I would go out and dance my ass off to a Christian ska band when I was a teenager, just cause it was something to do. 

"It doesn’t matter how talented you are, if you aren’t available and willing to display it.”

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.