Feature Stories

Danny Diamonds Mines the Positives in Bleak, Beautiful Songwriting

I'm standing in Danny Rush's house in Denton sipping a beer, occasionally taking a swig from a bottle of Old Granddad and admiring a collection of country music star paintings he commissioned from local artist Clay Stinnett. There are Freddy Fender, Hank Snow, Hank Williams and Gary Stewart, all done in an absurdest pulp style. I'm about to tell a story about Freddy Fender when Rush asks me, "What time do you think we should leave for the club?"

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This talk about the new album from Danny Diamonds, the name Rush performs under, wasn't supposed to happen like this. Rush is a fervent Dallas Cowboys fan and we had planned to have a few beers while watching the final preseason game, but the day of, Rush was called into work. So we rescheduled, not to watch any sports but to make the drive from Denton to a cabaret in Fort Worth to watch a comedian perform between dancers. I couldn't say no.

Rush is a man who holds a master's degree and spends his days working with people with severe and persistent mental issues. He's toured internationally with the Paper Chase. His last group, Danny Rush & the Designated Drivers, won a lot of local acclaim. This month, he releases his eighth album, Danny Diamonds. The Danny Diamonds moniker comes from when he played keys and decided he'd be Liberace, adorning himself with garish rings onstage.

Soon we're sitting in Stars Cabaret in Fort Worth, waiting for the comic to perform, shooting the shit, when a dancer named Courtney walks up to our table. She immediately starts trying to angle for a lapdance by buttering up a friend of Rush's. Rush laughs, tears a napkin, and rolls it into a set of makeshift earplugs he wears to protect himself from the onslaught of music.

We ignore the show in front of us, and Rush tells me about the direction for the Diamonds project. After a few years away from Denton spent working and living in Central Texas, Rush moved back in a bad place. Being alone with your thoughts, working with people suffering from mental illness day in and day out can do a number on a man's psyche. Rush tells me it was during that time that he wrote many of the songs that are on the Danny Diamonds record.

There's an air of bleakness to the album: The subject matter is centered around loss, and with the exception of the almost poppy lead single, "Hot Summer," the instrumentation is rather sparse. But sitting at the table feet away from a half-naked woman vigorously twerking on a man, Rush tells me he only wants positivity with the project. His band members who quit the Designated Drivers were almost a blessing; he tells me the group had been toxic, no one wanted to practice, and the atmosphere caused the worst parts of his personality to surface.

Being free from that allowed Rush to concentrate on getting his album out, and if his goal is positivity through work, it's happening. Rush has spent countless hours filming promo vignettes for the album, along with three different takes of a music video he made with former Observer staffer Daniel Rodrigue. There's a collection of poster art he's put together for the release show, and at least two different slogans on shirts he's had printed. The comic we came to see bombs; during his set he's heckled endlessly by the crowd who just wants to see more of the dancers. Rush, in a fit of mischievousness, hands a dancer a stack of ones to toss at the comic in an effort to add to the show. She "makes it rain" on the comic and never has a man looked more defeated. The second set goes even worse. The comic, in an effort to fight back against the hecklers, goes on the attack: He talks down to the crowd, he makes light of the dancers' life choices. There's an air of tension in the room.

Later in the night, we find ourselves talking with a dancer. It turns out that she's 18 and studying writing at Tarrant County Community College; she intends to be a poet. Rush asks her who her favorite poet is. She says Edgar Allan Poe. Rush gives me a bemused look. We ask how it is she ended up working as a dancer, and without a trace of irony she tells us her mother works there, so she had no issue getting the job. I order a round of shots. The night loses us.

A week later Rush and I are sitting in a suburban Carrollton backyard, sipping PBR tallboys and mason jars filled with tequila. We're discussing the prospects of the Cowboys' season when the conversation turns to Rush's time close to Austin. He tells me a story about a tryout for a certain large indie act.

"The night before I had gone to a David Allan Coe show. Coe's son was a huge fan of the Paper Chase, and I made friends with him. Well, the night gets out of hand. I ended up having an incident with a bike cop on 6th Street -- nothing too bad, because it's 6th Street," Rush recalls. "So, I wake up the next morning, hungover as hell, with a jaywalking ticket in my pocket. I go directly to the Magnolia Cafe and eat four breakfast tacos, drink five cups of coffee and six glasses of water."

Thus prepared for battle, Rush made his way to the audition. "I killed it: nailed all my parts and out-sang the lead singer," he boasts. "Afterwards, we're all shooting the shit, and I mention I got the ticket, and it completely sours everything." The gig, predictably, fell through. But Rush recalls it all in stride: "I hate things like that. One incident isn't who I am, and it sucks when people think that it is."

Few stories could sum up Rush's approach to life much better. But those who know him well can also see a change in him these days. He's calmer, he's locked into his work and his music is going so well that it's become the creative outlet he's been searching for. He contributes some of that turnaround to a trip to West Texas last summer, where he stayed with Lift to Experience leader Josh T. Pearson. Having just come off a break-up, Pearson's penchant for clean living and calming influence helped Rush clear his head. And now he has Danny Diamonds as tangible evidence of all that progress.

As the sun starts to set, I ask Rush what he wants out of all his hard work. He turns, takes a pull from his drink, and smiles. "I hope that one day 'Grubes' [Dallas Stars arena DJ Michael Gruber] makes me the next local artist they play at the AAC who they conveniently never pay," he quips. That's the most Danny Rush thing I've ever heard him say, and it's goddamn perfect.

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Jaime-Paul Falcon