Celebrating a local horn player
- Published: July 6, 2023
For village resident and lifelong saxophone player Danny Sauers, music is a communal experience.
Since March 2022, when the local music scene was still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, he and longtime musical partner Sharon Lane have hosted their “An Evening With…” performance series on Thursday nights at Trail Town Brewing.
Each week, the pair features a special musical guest — often from Yellow Springs or the Dayton areas — to join them on stage. To date, more than 50 musical artists and groups have performed with Sauers and Lane.
But a heart-related medical emergency earlier this year forced Sauers, 64, to take a short hiatus from performing and working at Ye Olde Trail Tavern.
Now, in true Yellow Springs spirit, the musical community Sauers and Lane have built, along with neighbors, friends and former bandmates, are all stepping in to help Sauers by scheduling two local benefit concerts: One is set for Monday, July 10, 6–11 p.m., at the Gulch Saloon here in Yellow Springs, and another on Sunday, July 30, noon–8 p.m., at Devil Wind Brewing in Xenia.
“I’m quite humbled and honored by the whole thing,” Sauers told the News this week. “A lot of people from the Miami Valley that I’ve known are coming together — and for that, I couldn’t be more thankful.”
With some apprehension, he went on to say: “I tried to say no at first, but people I know, love and respect reminded me of how many benefit shows I’ve played in my life. I was advised to put my pride in my back pocket.”
Beyond the many benefits Sauers has orchestrated for others, the man has led a storied music career. He’s spent nearly six decades blowing his horn all around the country, sharing stages and audiences with blues legends, friends and even small-town neighbors. His bluesy, sometimes funky, often soulful approach to wielding his tenor sax — “horn work,” as he described it — landed him in more bands over his life than he could count.
He comes by it honestly. Born in Trois-Rivières, Québec, to an Indigenous and French Canadian mother and a father who spent much of his life doing maintenance for dog racing tracks, Sauers said he first found a love for music from his grandfather who’d often play Québécois folk tunes on clarinet in liquor-laden barn parties.
What really sealed the musical deal was seeing The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 from his family’s black-and-white TV.
“I know a lot of musicians have told a similar story,” Sauers said, “But still, even at five years old, I was hooked. I said, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”
Sometime after Sauers and his family emigrated to Orrville in northeast Ohio, and when the budding musician hit adolescence, he gave up his clarinet when he heard his big-band-trained high school music teacher play saxophone at an assembly.
“When I heard Perry Hosmer play sax, something happened in me,” he said. “I don’t know what it was, but I was just a kid, so I didn’t analyze it too much. It hit me and I let it happen.”
By the time Sauers graduated and was well into his flirtations with his now-signature instrument, he was ready to hit the road. He began hitchhiking — “vagabonding around the country,” as he said — and as a result, gained new dimensions to his worldview and music making.
“The horn was a lot to carry,” Sauer said with a smile. “Plus, when you’re hitchhiking, you can get into some dodgy situations. You don’t want to be carrying an expensive instrument around. So, with my harmonica, I wouldn’t get mad whenever no cars were coming my way — I could just play the ‘ain’t got no ride blues’ on the harp on the side of the road.”
He wound up in New Mexico and spent five years around the “artsy outlaw” town of Madrid. For a while, he was looking after a cabin nestled in the remote Sandia mountain range, but soon, he settled down and started the work of making a family. He quit playing music for a while, but he said his horn was always close.
When Sauers and his new family returned to Ohio for good, they settled in Dayton — “of all places,” he said. It’d be the place he called home for the next 25 years, the place where he’d become a grandfather five times over, the place where he’d again pick up his saxophone and fall in love with a local music scene.
“The thing about Dayton, man, is it has a real rich heritage of music,” Sauers explained. “With all its factories and industries, so many people — white and Black — came here and brought their culture, their music with them when they came to work. There, you could hear bluegrass, blues, jazz — and even a jazz that grew into its own particular brand of funk that’s still unique to Dayton.”
Outside of his decade-long side gig of driving taxi cabs around Dayton, which Sauers said he could write a book about, he spent the next several decades working alongside musicians of all stripes and playing in a number of regionally beloved bands.
There was Snapper Mitchum and the Blues Invaders, Groove Therapy, Heavy Weather, Romeo Champagne (named after his grandfather), Subterranean and Seefari — just to name a few. He played in Yellow Springs, Nashville, New York, Chicago and elsewhere. But above anywhere else, he haunted the stages of Dayton’s Oregon District playing thousands of shows there, by his estimate.
“I’ve always considered myself in the minor leagues of music,” Sauers said. “But I’ve still been able to play and hang out with some big time cats, man.”
He recalled fondly sharing stages with Erykah Badu for a local Juke Joint event and earlier, Pee Wee Middlebrooks from the popular funk band, The Ohio Players.
Some time after Sauers came to Dayton and separated from his wife, he met his longtime domestic partner and soon-to-be musical co-conspirator Sharon Lane. Though never formally married, the two lived together in Dayton for 25 years. During much of that time, Sauers said, Lane was managing the music at Canal Street Tavern — giving musicians big and small a chance and a welcoming place to play.
Lane also hosted the Dayton-based Musicians Co-Op, where she brought more than 2,000 musicians from around the world to the Canal Street stage. Lane’s experiences as a professional music educator and at Canal Street, Sauers said, are really what helped the pair grow their musical communities beyond Dayton, and eventually into Yellow Springs.
On top of their individual friendships with thousands of regional and national musical outfits, it’s their chemistry on the small stage at Trail Town that makes for a good show, Sauers believes.
“She and I, man, we’ve now been playing music for something like 35 years now,” Sauers said. “It’s like second nature for us. We know when the other’s going to zig and zag. We know how to improvise — playing songs like a rubber band that you can stretch, and then boom, snap it back to the tune.”
On Thursday nights at the brewery, that improvisation takes on a whole new character as both Lane and Sauers play with hip hop artists, indie rock outfits, jazz aficionados and sometimes even musicians new to the stage.
“It’s different each and every week, and that’s why I love it so much,” Sauers said.
Out of that love, Sauers told the News he feels a certain responsibility towards his musical community when he stands on stage.
“Snapper Mitchum always said, ‘I don’t care if there’s two people in the audience or two thousand. I want you to play it like it’s the last note you’ll ever make,’” Sauers recalled. “So I owe it to those people. They could be doing a lot in this big wild world, but they chose to listen to me. Put on a good show.”
“‘And if you don’t, you’re getting fired,’ Mitchum would say,” Sauers said with a hearty laugh.
But fortunately for Lane and Sauers, there are often far more than just two audience members at their weekly shows at Trail Town Brewing. Some are regular music junkies who show up each and every week, but out-of-towners and casual villagers alike also populate the crowd.
Of the eclectic mix of both musicians and audience members he and Lane have brought to town via their weekly shows, Sauers said: “You know, I’m pretty proud of that.”
“This town has been really good to me, and I think in some way, we’re giving back and contributing to the community,” he continued. “We’ve been blessed to have so many people come through and play.”
Sauers said he knows many of his friends in his rotating audiences want to see him well enough to continue playing local music and bringing other artists to the village. To that end, Sauers — with admitted humility and reluctance — encouraged any and all to attend the benefit events in July. If anything, just to enjoy the music.
“And that’s what it’s all about, what it’s always been about: just having fun and listen to music,” Sauers said.
Two benefit shows to help local musician and villager Danny Sauers with medical expenses have been set. The first, on Monday, July 10, 6–11 p.m., will be held at the Gulch Saloon, at 128 Dayton St., in Yellow Springs. The second, on Sunday, July 30, noon–8 p.m., will be at Devil Wind Brewing, at 130 S. Detroit St., in Xenia. Both events will feature numerous bands, raffle drawings and more. They are free and open to 21-and-up attendees, though donations to benefit Sauers are encouraged.