Of the many characters in Robert Altman’s Nashville, one that stands out for me is a minor player, a musician who turns up Zelig-like in band after band, all over town. The East End has its own ubiquitous musician, guitarist-pianist, singer-songwriter Dan Koontz of Sag Harbor. Koontz heads a few bands and is a sideman for others, recently playing three gigs with three groups in one day. And every Sunday morning, you can catch him playing organ at the Christ Episcopal Church, which, incidentally, is where his family band, Edna’s Kin, will be having its annual concert at 2 p.m. on Sunday November 12.
Danny Peary: You studied classical piano and composition at a music conservatory, yet here you are on the East End playing rock, country, funk, and New Orleans music.
Dan Koontz: My father taught me to play guitar when I was about five. He was a member of the Folk Music Society of Northern New Jersey and sometimes I’d join him on stage to play my grandmother’s half-guitar and sing something like “The Cat Came Back.” He later taught me “Old Dan Tucker” and Lead Belly’s “Black Girl.” I’d sit at home strumming my guitar and listening to Dad’s records all day long—Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson, the Beatles. As a teenager I got an electric guitar and, after my older brother Andrew switched from classical violin to bass guitar, we played a lot of rock ’n’ roll, sometimes at parties. I was always interested in folk music and rock, but I also took piano lessons and went to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. I got paid for the first time playing in rock bands, but I thought I’d become an academic composer and teach at a university. The further in the rearview mirror that gets, the less I think it would have been a good path for me. Because for a couple of years now, I’ve been enjoying being in various bands playing all types of music.
DP: Which bands?
DK: The Hoodoo Loungers plays New Orleans-style music. I also play keyboards doing rock with the Lynn Blue Band and Suzy on the Rocks. I’ve played with Nancy Atlas. The Rum Hill Rockers features the Hammond organ on Booker T. and the MGs, “Hush” by Deep Purple, Traffic, some Santana. The Complete Unknowns is a Dylan cover band. I’ve played with Joe Lauro’s handpicked ensembles–“The Last Waltz” at Bay Street Theater, “Sgt. Pepper’s” at the Patchogue Theatre. About once a year, I perform with my own unnamed band and do my own songs.
DP: Who is in Edna’s Kin?
DK: Andrew, me, and our father, Warren. The family band started about 10 years ago when my wife Stacy suggested we do a concert, not knowing we’d played together only a few times. She just knew my father played guitar—though he’d switch to bass about five years ago—Andrew played fiddle and bass, and I played guitar and piano, though with this band I stick to guitar.
DP: What will you play on November 12?
DK: Probably Hank Williams, Merle Travis’s version of “I Am a Pilgrim,” a couple of country gospel songs, bluegrass–Flatt & Scruggs, Bill Monroe, and a bluegrass version of a Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.” Also the Coasters, and songs I wrote—country slash blues.
DP: What comes across in your always clever, and often witty, lyrics is that you understand what a rock ’n’ roll song is and what a country music song is.
DK: I do have a sense of craft when it comes to writing those songs. My family dynamic when I was growing up was that we’d clown around with each other, and I’ve always wondered if that’s what set me up to be confined to writing songs that are witty and urbane rather than heart-felt and sincere. What I hope elevates these songs is my adherence to form.
DP: What can people expect at your concert?
DK: To have fun. Edna’s Kin is a cheerful band. We joke around and have guest performers join us and people can sing along. If you like music, you’ll feel like you’re at a party.
Edna’s Kin plays on Sunday, November 12 at 2 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church (CEC), 4 East Union Street, Sag Harbor. All tickets at the door $15. Profits benefit the CEC Pipe Organ Restoration Fund.