You know Jeff Daniels from his Emmy-, Tony- and Golden Globe-winning roles, but did you know that in 2012, the Martin Guitar Co. began selling an OM Jeff Daniels Custom Artist Edition Guitar?
In 1976, a guitar was one of the last things a 21-year-old Daniels picked up before moving to New York City to chase acting as a career. He said in an phone interview, “It became this wonderful creative outlet I had while I was waiting for the phone to ring” about acting jobs.
Inspired by the playwrights he encountered and their “ongoing, living, breathing process,” he began writing his own songs. Since 2000, Daniels has been letting some of those songs out in public. Some are chuckle-inducing, like “Fifty Shades” and “Real People, Not Actors,” where Daniels mockingly calls Chevrolet out on their TV commercials. Another takes its lyrics from a poem by Pultizer-winning playwright Lanford Wilson, who cast Daniels in several of his plays. “Hard to Hear the Angels Sing” offers sociopolitical commentary inspired by a Washington Post editorial. “Good on the Bad Side of Town” was written after Daniels’ father passed away.
Profits that Daniels reaps from the music side of his career go to support The Purple Rose Theatre Co., which he founded in the early ’90s in his home state of Michigan. It’s a tradition that goes back to when Daniels — then riding high on the success of “Dumb and Dumber” — would perform concerts on stage during the theater’s inactive period at Christmas.
Following the model of one of his heroes, Arlo Guthrie, Daniels has taken to touring with members of his family. Daniels lightheartedly compares it to the von Trapp family. His son, Lucas, is his tour and lighting manager. He shares the stage with his oldest son and his band, The Ben Daniels Band, and he turns over the lead singer reins to his daughter-in-law, Amanda Daniels, for the song “Back When You Were Into Me.” That song was inspired by behind-the-scenes conversation on the set of Daniels’ HBO series “The Newsroom.”
Recalling the time his son told him that he wanted to learn to play guitar, Daniels said: “The first thing I did was weep openly. (My wife) Kathleen and I realized, ‘Oh, we’re raising an artist.’ He wasn’t interested in much else. To see him play in front of an audience is such a joy.”
Daniels acknowledged that acting remains his primary pursuit. His most recent big-screen appearance was this summer in “The Catcher was a Spy,” and he’s been nominated for the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie Emmy for his role in “Looming Tower.” In that Hulu series, Daniels plays John O’Neill, a counter-terrorism expert who attempted to warn the FBI and federal government about Osama bin Laden. O’Neill died in the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001.
After his tour with The Ben Daniels Band wraps up this month, his attention will turn to rehearsals for an upcoming Broadway adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Daniels will play the lead role of Atticus Finch.
“We’re looking forward to the Philly Folk Festival. It’s been there forever,” he said.