This is Danny Jessup with the flannel shirt and a bottle of beer, a man who listens carefully to what you say, and with a quick intake of air lets fly his rapid reply. There's no dead air in a conversation with Danny Jessup.
Tonight is Danny Jessup Presents at Tobacco Road, the same as it's been every Thursday night for the past three years. The upstairs room is filled with a crowd of local rockers, their friends, and fans, drinking and talking and eating and waiting for the next band to get its gear plugged in and guitars tuned. In the short interlude, Jessup steps up to the mike and gives the band a brief introduction and plugs the evening's long-time beer sponsor, adding the familiar line "so cheap you can't afford not to drink."
Jessup did not plan to be a local music impresario. Originally he started up do-it-yourself no-rent talk show style akin to Wayne's World on a Miami Springs cable program. Knowing nothing of the local music scene, he booked folkstress Magda Hiller based on the suggestion of a friend.
"It was the sixth or seventh Danny Jessup Show," he recalls, "and I didn't have a clue who [Magda Hiller] was, sitting at my $21.95 desk I had to put together myself. The look in her eye was, Where the hell am I? I'm in the back of a realtor's office? This is a studio?' But she started to play, and it blew me away. It was an epiphany."
From that point on, the Danny Jessup Show became a vehicle for local bands to play a few tunes and answer some questions from the enthusiastic host. And there was always room for the odd antic, like the time Timmy from Los Canadians did a weatherman skit wearing nothing but a wig and déjà vu panties. "The thing that Miami Springs didn't like was that he was enjoying it so much," laughs Jessup. "That was blasphemy. That was the beginning of the end."
No longer on the air, the energetic Jessup tries to make himself useful to his host establishment. He takes a quick pass through the room, picking up empty beer bottles and clearing a table of an abandoned, half-eaten plate of nachos. Asked about working the room, Jessup launches into the story of the time three years ago when he took over the reins from Steve "the Beast" Alvin, and how he gave a nervous Tobacco Road management his top-ten reasons why he should be the Thursday-night promoter.
"But I lettered them instead of numbering them," he grins. "Of course none of them ever got this, but there were only nine," says Jessup in near stream-of-consciousness. "Most of them were legitimate; some of them were funny. One of them I had on there was, Because I'll bus tables.'" He is losing the thread, but that doesn't slow him down. "I had a copy for [management] typed up," he continues, "and they were like, Huh?! Beast doesn't type, he puts his requests on the back of a matchbook cover, hands it in, and says, "Hurry up about it!'" They all laughed, but I bus [tables] all the time. My motto is: Whatever's good for the room.' And I haven't faltered from that once. It's still true today."
"Whatever's good for the room" is the king platitude in Jessup's stable of phrases and one-liners. "Each Thursday night to me is Woodstock," he is fond of saying. He explains his tireless, and mostly thankless, weekly effort to improve his night with fresh ideas and an ever-increasing number of warm bodies with a simple "Whatever it takes."
Jessup could be called a saint, or a martyr, for breathing a puff of life into the perpetually besieged local music scene -- for even trying in the first place. But he gets something in the deal: the chance to practice his own art, the art of entertaining.
"One reason the Beast wanted me to do it is because he thought I would keep it going the way he had it -- it' being the spirit of local original music on Thursday night," Jessup explains. "And if there's any difference between the Beast and I, it's that he saw music as the whole. I see entertainment as the whole and music a part of the whole, but heavy on the music. The entertainment is more small bits and doses here and there."
Like the ploy Jessup used to build a mailing list. He raffled off lunch for four, only to reveal after gathering names that the winner would receive only a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and jelly. "I didn't say it was from Tobacco Road," laughs Jessup. "But it was kind of fun and a little shtick there, kind of Huh? What the hell is he doing?' I was just trying to work a little mojo in there and Tobacco Road was scratching their head saying, Well, it's seamless, and the guy's not on time, he's here early.' And now, here, three years later, they're actually believers."
Jessup has kept himself entertained with head-scratching theme nights. By the Numbers Night starts out with a solo act, followed by a duo, trio, and so forth. There's the infamous Incest Fest, where the packed lineup plays covers of other local bands in a Chinese fire drill of ten-minute sets. Then there's the politically incorrect SPIC Night (Spanish People In Concert), balanced by the Red Neck White Trash Night. "My only regret was I could never find a sheep to have onstage," says Jessup, in all seriousness, "because I did have a couple bales of hay. But it was a small turnout for that. And one band declined to play that I thought would've fit in because they played Americana-type music. But they said, No, we decline because we don't like the name.' So I'm thinking I must have hit close to home on that one. Somebody's living in a trailer park."
To celebrate three years at Tobacco Road, Jessup hosts the Third Annual Danny Awards tonight. With a slew of Dannys to give out, almost anyone even remotely involved with the local music scene is likely to get one of Jessup's stone-crafted statues. Show up -- he might have an award for you. Whatever it takes.