Dan’s first exposure to the hammered dulcimer was during a backpacking trip through the New England states in 1982. Taking a break from his hiking journeys in Baxter State Park and avoiding the rambunctious moose and finishing his climb to the peak of Mt. Katadin, he was walking through the town of Bar Harbor, Maine when he heard a sound floating down the street and it was the prettiest sound he’d ever heard. Dan followed the sound into a little music store called Song of the Sea. There sat a fellow named Ed Damm striking strings with hammers in rapid succession. Dan had wanted to play music all his life but had never met with any success. He’d even been told by a music teacher in elementary school that he had no musical talent and would never be able to play anything. But watching Ed. Damm play this trapezoid shaped stringed percussion instrument, it just made mathematical sense to him. The music and the instrument spoke to him and he knew immediately that one day he would play the hammered dulcimer.
Dan, wanting to explore his Celtic heritage, continued on his journey with a backpacking trip through the emerald isle of Ireland. In the states he had the good fortune to meet an elderly lady named Annie Culhane Esser. While in passing conversation, Dan had expressed his plan to backpack through Ireland and Annie responded that she’d been there many times. As a matter of fact she said, she owned a cottage in Ireland. Annie handed Dan the keys to the cottage and wrote him letters of introduction to all of her friends. After hitchhiking to Kennedy airport and a three day wait on stand-by, Dan’s airplane descended through the clouds for his first view of the patchwork quilt of the 40 shades of green rolling across the Irish landscape.
Dan met some of Annie’s friends in the town of Finuge just outside of Tralee in County Kerry. Sean McCarthy was the first of these gentle folk and it was through Sean that Dan was introduced to many of the musical prodigies who were the benefactors and watch keepers of Irish culture. But Sean also introduced Dan to the traditional working Irish lifestyle. So Dan earned extra money helping the local farmers and learned to drive a donkey and cart while hauling turf out of the bog. Dan has always declared that one of his claims to fame is in being one of the very few Americans to have actually fallen into a bog hole. But it was in the pubs (short for Public House) where Dan was first exposed to the Celtic melodies and to the instrumentalists who played so miraculously that the tunes literally seemed to run in their blood. Dan continued his journeys helping the salmon and oyster fishermen in Tralee and even ventured up into Northern Ireland where he assisted striking Irish truckers with a food relief program.
Dan had not planned on touring anywhere else but Ireland but found that it would cost only a few dollars on the ferry to land in Scotland. Once there, he ventured into the northern areas and came across a new age community called Findhorn. Dan continued his hiking adventures through Wales, England and Holland.
On his travels, Dan had seen the need for trained medical experts so having always had an interest in medical studies he went to nursing school. After an accelerated program and 18 months later, Dan passed his state boards to obtain his nursing license. It was time to cross another goal from the list and Dan had always felt that he would like to live in the south. Dan had first been exposed to southern folk years earlier while on a backpacking trip on the north-
south route traversing the Smokey Mountains. Finishing this trip in North Carolina, he met southern folk for the first time and the impression of their genteel qualities had always stuck with him. So he decided he would move to Raleigh, North Carolina to begin his nursing career.
Dan’s was hired at Wake Medical Center in the cardio-thoracic unit and trained in the specialty of open heart recovery. In his 30 years of nursing Dan has worked in varied areas of nursing from the cardio-thoracic unit, trauma team in the recovery room, infusion chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant at Duke Medical Center and even did a stint as a camp nurse for Easter Seals. Dan developed a reputation as an advocate for patient rights and his work in this field was documented in the nationally publicized book ‘Nurses: The Human Touch’ by Michael Brown.
But it was in the south that Dan had his first real exposure to old-timey musicians and old-timey Carolina culture, traditions he helps to preserve and spread to this day. One day Dan knocked on the door of Toney and Karen Weatherman and in true southern fashion he has been treated like a member of their family ever since. Toney introduced Dan to many of the local Carolina old-timey musicians and they took him under their wing and taught him the traditional styles much like their fathers and grandfathers had taught them. Dan went on to four time hammered dulcimer champion at the North Carolina State Fair and at the old-timey music competition at Fiddlers Grove and at the Galax Fiddlers Convention.
So after learning the old timey style Dan had the idea of taking this group of back porch Carolina musicians into the recording studio and doing an album purely for the experience of saying that they had done it once. Local television newsman Bill Leslie heard this story about this registered nurse playing old timey music with the locals and he thought it would make a good feature news story. So Bill featured Dan on a news feature called The Spirit of Carolina and at the end of the story Bill made this statement. “Dulcimer Dan, he is the spirit of Carolina.” And that was how the Dulcimer Dan name was born. Bill was friends with Fiona Ritchie who was the host of the Thistle and Shamrock radio show which at the time was broadcast out of Charlotte, NC and covered about five states. Bill called Fiona and requested that she give the album a listen which she did and she loved it. Fiona started giving the album airplay and it was shortly thereafter that the Thistle and Shamrock radio show was picked up by National Public Radio. Overnight Dulcimer Dan and the Blue Skies Band was getting coast to coast airplay. Store owners heard the music and from the play list called Dan to get his product in their stores.
Dan started marketing his music at the Raleigh Flea Market while playing hammered dulcimer sitting on the gate of his truck. Later he started doing arts and crafts shows with Carolina Shows and the Christmas Made In The South shows. From there his marketing grew from the arts and crafts circuit to the national giftware shows in Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles. Sales now total over half a million cassettes and CD’s and now downloads have been added through iTunes, Amazon.com and CD Baby.
Dulcimer Dan and the Blue Skies Band were selected to represent the state of North Carolina on the QVC shopping channel where they sold 12,000 CD’s in under five minutes. Their music is also the theme music for the six time Emmy award winning PBS gardening show ‘Making It Grow’ and their music was featured on the Billy Graham radio show. Their music was even used as wake up music for the NASA space shuttle astronauts.
Dan continues his work in the nursing field in Raleigh, North Carolina and plays hammered dulcimer for nursing homes and gives entrepreneurial workshops in North Carolina’s prison system. He is also doing extensive work with the Raleigh Men’s Shelter and is working on a book about physician abuses in the prescribing of pharmaceuticals.