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In 1994, Danny Gatton—whom Guitar magazine famously named “the world’s greatest unknown guitarist”—committed suicide at the age of 49. Five years earlier, director and producer Virginia Quesada started work on a documentary entitled The Humbler, an effort to tell the story of the Anacostia- and Oxon Hill-raised roadhouse strummer known for his ability to pick rockabilly, blues, jazz, and country riffs so well he left other guitar players feeling meek. Quesada has been intermittently working on the documentary for the past two decades and is nearly finished with it, following a successful crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo.
Though the crowd-funding campaign helped, Quesada and her team had already invested a lot in this effort. “It is hard to realize how much money is needed to do a project of this scale,” she says. “Our personal investment is already over six figures, [and] per the Indiegogo page, the money recently received will be used for final shooting and editing. We saw good support for the campaign early on. Danny’s fans are quite devoted and we all want to make sure his legacy is continued for future generations.”
Quesada’s filmmaking background includes co-directing and producing the music video “Passionate Kisses” for singer Mary Chapin Carpenter, and producing Carpenter’s In the Spotlight special for PBS. Earlier in her career, she produced and directed another PBS program, Singing For the Union, with Pete Seeger.
Quesada is aiming to have her biographical work done by July 2017, and the donations will help make that happen. She’s going to film more background footage of the Eastern Shore area that Gatton lived in towards the end of his life, plus work on editing, graphics, music licensing and sound mixing. Next year should offer Gatton fans several chances to learn about this fast-fingered guitarist, as Bryan Reichhardt’s more recent Anacostia Delta, a movie paying homage to Gatton and other roots rocking locals built around a 2015 tribute concert, is scheduled to premiere in February 2017.
Quesada and her Video Culture, Inc. non-profit team taped Gatton in concert and interviewed him at his Maryland farm home, where he also spent time working on hot-rods. While Gatton performed regularly in the area—in city clubs, suburban joints, and rural honkytonks—he never enjoyed touring as it took him away from time with his family and his classic cars.
Gatton’s own voice will be used to narrate much of the story. The movie will cover Gatton’s time in bands The Fat Boys, Redneck Jazz Explosion, and Funhouse, and touch on his album with jazz players Joshua Redman, Bobby Watson, and Roy Hargrove. Quesada’s film will also address the medical issues that led Gatton to end his life: his depression and the strokes he reportedly had. Quesada says she hopes the documentary “helps with the healing” for family and fans. Since 1989, Quesada and her team have interviewed musicians, family, and others who knew the Telecaster slinger and continued to collect footage of Gatton. “We are honored by the many people who have shared their Danny material with us,” she says. “After 27 years, we have amassed an extraordinary archive.”