Danny Wilkerson has carried many titles: air-conditioner repairman, drummer in a regionally acclaimed pop-rock outfit, band manager, successful real estate broker, cancer survivor, and even the mayor of a small Texas town. He can look back on plenty of achievements, but he’s always been aware of one glaring hole. After a lifetime playing in bands, he had never recorded a solo album.
Finally, after working for five long years, applying the priceless input and tradecraft of top-tier music industry talent and taking advantage of his inexhaustible motivation and a sizeable budget, that album was finally released on Friday. Distributed by Arlington’s SpyderPop Records (Lannie Flowers, Chris Church), Wilkerson is a 10-song collection of Fab Four-inspired feel-good pop that features contributions from such heavy hitters as guitarist Pat Buchanan (Hall & Oates, Don Henley), The Voice winner Josh Kaufman, keyboardist/guitarist Roger Manning Jr. (Beck, Jellyfish), and multi-instrumentalist Joe Seiders (The New Pornographers), as well as the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s strings.
“Lyrically, musically, I wanted [the album] to be perfect,” he said over drinks at the Basement Lounge as electronic music blared. “I had a list of things I’d always wanted to do [on a record] – strings, horns, all of it. I also wanted it to be super-positive. There’s so much divisiveness right now in this country. I just wanted it to make sure everyone could feel good and enjoy it. Like I say on the opening track, ‘Everyone loves to love.’ ”
The sunny sentiment in Wilkerson’s words is reflected in his demeanor. His eyes are bright and animated, and his wide, toothy grin is ever-present as he speaks. His enthusiasm is infectious, and his warmth and charisma pull you into his stories as he reminisces. He fondly recounted his childhood and being obsessed with music.
“My friends and I had these homemade guitars strung with kite strings and a drumkit made out of hat boxes,” he said. “We would ‘play’ along with old Beatles records. After I saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, the course of my life was set. From that moment forward, there was no doubt that was what I wanted to do.”
The day after Wilkerson received his first real drumkit on his 13th birthday, he and his friends made the jump from miming the famous mop-tops to forming actual bands. From a popular high school band called Windswept, Wilkerson was recruited to replace the drummer for the Pengwins, a local Elvis Costello-style pop group, in 1978. The Pengwins toured extensively, opening for marquee acts like Cheap Trick, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and the Beach Boys.
Wilkerson was also married right out of high school. Eventually, the time away from his wife, the pull of domesticity, the meager income, and the scarcity of a good meal while on the road weighed heavily on him.
“I loved every second of it,” he said. “But you could count the ribs on my body. We basically survived by sharing packs of hot dogs that we rolled along the hood of the truck while it was running to warm them up.”
Wilkerson left the Pengwins but took over as their manager, a job he could perform closer to home.
He and his wife moved from Fort Worth to the town of Annetta North, just outside of Aledo, where he eventually served as a city councilman for 10 years and mayor for four.
“To me, you have to be involved to make changes and to make a difference,” he said. “I’m not one of those guys that sits back and says, ‘Somebody else will do it.’ I say, ‘Well, I’ll do it.’ ”
That same assertive attitude drove Wilkerson throughout the recording of his album. As with everything in his life, he said, he refused to settle. To craft the songs, he worked closely with celebrated songwriter William “Bleu” McAuley (Selena Gomez, Joe Jonas, Demi Lavato). The tracks, which were recorded half in Boston and half in Los Angeles, boast two separate Grammy-recognized engineers, David Spreng (Bob Dylan, Alice Cooper) and Ducky Carlisle (Buddy Guy, Demi Lovato). Perhaps most proudly, Wilkerson enlisted notable Abbey Road mastering engineer Miles Showell (Rolling Stones, The Police, Queen) to cut Wilkerson to vinyl using the same exact lathe as the 2017 re-issue of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
“I just hope this record makes people happy,” he said. “The whole thing was to be about love, to be uplifting and positive, and, man, I sure hope it is.”