Born in 1961 in Exeter, NH; son of Hope Zanes Butterworth (a photographer and soup kitchen operator); married Paula Greif (a TV commercial director), 1987; children: Anna. Education: Attended Oberlin College. Addresses: Record company--Festival Five, 335 Court St. #61, Brooklyn, NY 11231, phone: (718) 222-2442, website:

Founder of the Boston-based country-rock band the Del Fuegos, which scored a hit in the 1980s with the single "Don't Run Wild," Dan Zanes has gone on to become a successful children's music artist. Zanes plays regular family-oriented gigs with his eclectic, ever-expanding Rocket Ship Revue and he also formed Festival Five Records to release his children's music CDs.

As he was traveling from smoky bar to smoky bar in a beat-up station wagon in the early 1980s, or later, when he was opening for Tom Petty and appearing in a commercial for Miller Beer, it is unlikely Zanes could have imagined the turn his career would take. Once the guitarist and singer for the critically acclaimed roots-rock outfit the Del Fuegos, whose star had faded by the end of the 1980s, Zanes reinvented himself in the new milennium as a down-home, adult-friendly children's artist. His weekly concerts in New York have been featured in a wide variety of media and are de rigueur events for local celebrities, both those with kids and those without.

Zanes was born in 1961 in Exeter, New Hampshire, and raised by his mother, a photographer who had also operated a number of soup kitchens. Zanes began playing guitar at the age of eight and developed an early love for legendary bluesman Leadbelly and rock and roll icon Chuck Berry. He formed a short-lived rock band of his own in Concord and another one in Andover, Massachussets, where he attended high school at the prestigious Phillips Academy on a scholarship. The seed for the Del Fuegos was planted on his first day at Oberlin College in Ohio, when he met future bandmate Tom Lloyd in the cafeteria breakfast line. Within a year, Zanes and Lloyd dropped out of Oberlin and moved to Boston, where they formed the Del Fuegos, with Zanes's brother Warren on guitar and Steve Morrell on drums. Lloyd played bass and sang.

The Del Fuegos became mainstays on the Boston club circuit, then branched out into East Coast tours and began recording an album for the well-loved local label Ace of Hearts. Before the album was completed, the band signed to Slash Records in Los Angeles, and recorded 1984's The Longest Day, produced by former Ronnie Montose keyboardist Mitchell Froom. Morrell had left the band by this time and was replaced by former Embarrassment percussionist Woody Giessmann. The album was a critical success, resulting in the group being named as Rolling Stone's Best New Band of 1984.

The End of the Del Fuegos

The band released their follow-up, Boston, Mass., the following year, amid expectations of widespread commercial success. While a single from the album, "Don't Run Wild," became a hit, and a second single, "I Still Want You," also received significant airplay, the album was by no means a smash hit. Boston, Mass. did garner the band wider recognition, however, culminating in a role in a Miller Beer commercial, much to some long-time fans' dismay. The band relocated to Hollywood and recorded 1987's Stand Up, which earned them an opening slot along with The Replacements on Tom Petty's tour that year, but they met with a tepid reception from audiences and critics alike. Following the tour, Warren Zanes and Giessmann both quit, and Slash dropped the band. Zanes, by this time a heavy drinker, tried to revive the Del Fuegos, along with Lloyd, guitarist Adam Roth and drummer Joe Donnelly, but following the release of 1989's Smoking in the Fields on RCA, the group fell apart for good.

In 1987 Zanes married Paula Grief, a TV commercial director who directed the video for "I Still Want You" and, after the breakup of the Del Fuegos, the couple moved to Cornwallville, New York, in the Catskill Mountains. Zanes gave up drinking, learned about the music recording process and recorded a solo album, Cool Down Time, in 1995. The album met with limited success, however, and the record label that released it, Private, folded soon after. After their daughter Anna was born that same year, Zanes and his wife moved to New York City. Zanes told the Boston Herald in 2000 that the album's mild reception turned out to be a blessing in disguise. "I thought it was a good record, but thank God it didn't do well," he said. "Nobody was bugging me to tour, so I got to spend a lot of time around the house. When I weigh the opportunity to be a parent against the opportunity to run around the country touring behind a pop record, well, gee, I think I'll try to be a parent. I'm really grateful for the way things worked out."

Recorded Intelligent Children's Music

As Anna grew older, Zanes found himself frustrated at the lack of intelligent musical options available for his daughter's listening enjoyment. "When my daughter was born I went to Tower Records thinking I would find an updated version of what I listened to as a kid: Pete Seeger, Leadbelly, Etta Jenkins," Zanes told the Boston Globe. "But I found myself in this dumpy little room where it seemed every CD was tied to a licensed product. It was all very clean and professional-sounding but I didn't really think it would matter to a 3-year-old if a song had the right reverb." So Zanes began playing children's music of his own, recording with an informal group of friends, and producing tapes that he distributed throughout his neighborhood. Zanes told Newsday in 2001 that he enjoyed the no-pressure environment in which he had begun to work. "I realized this might be my best idea that's come along in a while," he said. "It was so much fun making the tape because there were no expectations, no thought of 'Do we have a radio hit somewhere in here?' I like that I didn't really know what I was doing." The tapes became wildly popular, and Zanes added several women to the ensemble--including a group of West Indian babysitters who call themselves the Sandy Sisters--and formed the Rocket Ship Revue.

The ensemble, which performs live at locations ranging from weekly Sunday brunches at a hip restaurant in Chelsea to playgrounds and daycare centers, released their first CD, Rocket Ship Beach, in 2001 on Zanes's newly formed Festival Five Records, under the name Dan Zanes and Friends. In addition to local parents and caregivers, Zanes enlisted the help of Anna and her classmates, as well as several famous friends from his Del Fuegos' days, including Sheryl Crow, Suzanne Vega, and Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke. The album's equal appeal to children and adults earned Zanes and crew widespread media attention and acclaim. The New York Times Magazine noted that Zanes's "kids' music works because it's not kids' music; it's just music--music that's unsanitized, unpasteurized, that's organic, even."

Recorded with Friends

Dan Zanes and Friends have followed up with three more albums--Family Dance, Night Time, and House Party--all on Festival Five. More famous friends, including Roseanne Cash, Loudon Wainwright III, Lou Reed, and Aimee Mann, were brought into the mix as well. Zanes also released a collection of maritime music, Sea Music, on Festival Five in 2002 and the label reissued Widdecombe Fair, a collection of ballads by singers David Jones and Bill Shute with cover art by Andy Warhol, in 2003.

Zanes has said that reaction to his new profession has garnered mixed reactions from his own age group. "I tell people I'm a kids' musician and they either get excited or they feel sorry for me," he told the New York Times Magazine. But what counts is the reaction from the kids. "There's nothing I miss about pop music," he told Newsday in 2001. "I guess what I always wanted was to be loved by the people that I make music for, and I get much more appreciation now than I have had in a long time. You can't top this....When you get that feeling, it doesn't really matter where it is and who it's for. And the hours are better, and I don't come home smelling like smoke, and nobody spills beer on my shoes."

by Kristin Palm

Dan Zanes's Career

Began playing guitar at the age of eight; formed the Del Fuegos while still in college, 1983; Del Fuegos released debut album The Longest Day, 1984; group released several more albums before disbanding, 1990; recorded solo album Cool Down Time, 1995; formed the Rocket Ship Revue, released first album Rocket Ship Brunch, 2001; founded Festival Five Records, 2001; released children's music CDs, 2000s.

Famous Works

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