Glenn Danzig learned from the originators of rock, blues and country. It was Elvis Presley himself who first inspired him as a kid watching Jailhouse Rock for the first time while ditching school. In 2019, the punk-metal shouter from the bands Danzig, Samhain and the reunited Misfits expects to release his long-promised Danzig Sings Elvis album, but over the years he's already written songs for Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison, going deep into his obsessions with the roots of American music.
For 1992's Danzig III: How the Gods Kill, the bandleader also wrote "Heart of the Devil" as a duet for himself and blues legend Willie Dixon, the songwriter behind "Hoochie Coochie Man" and "Spoonful," though Dixon died before they could record the new track. But Danzig's connection to that musical history has never faded. In our final outtake from Revolver's recent cover story on the long arc of Danzig's career, the singer talks about how that music inspired him, and recalls the unexpected thrill of collaborating with some of his heroes.
ELVIS PRESLEY MEANS A LOT TO YOU.
GLENN DANZIG Yeah, of course. The reason that I ended up becoming a singer is, I was playing hooky, cutting school and I watched old movies all the time. And I'm watching Jailhouse Rock and was like, "This is what I want to do. This is cool."
SO THAT CHANGED YOUR LIFE?
You could say it really changed my life, yeah. I always say that Elvis and Black Sabbath are two big influences that probably define where I ended up going.
DID YOU GET A CHANCE TO SEE ELVIS PERFORM BEFORE HE DIED?
The only time he played Manhattan, I didn't have the money because I was a broke kid. He did three or four nights at The Garden and tickets sold out right away. I think concert tickets back then were between $5 and $10, and Elvis tickets were like $25. A friend of mine was like, "Someone just gave me two of his tickets. You want to buy one?" I'm like, "Don't sell it." And I scrambled and I almost got the money but I couldn't. And that was it. That was the only time he played The Garden, too.
ARE THERE OTHER ORIGINATORS YOU GOT TO SEE THAT MEANT SOMETHING SPECIAL TO YOU?
I really like Willie Dixon, so I wrote "Heart of the Devil" for Willie and I to do together. I went out to Glendale [California] and met with him in a little studio he had in the back. He was super cool. I played him "Heart of the Devil." He loved it. A lot of my phrasing, I got from old blues stuff, especially Willie Dixon. A lot of people don't give him the credit he deserves. He was one of the key figures for Chess Records. If he didn't produce a record, then he wrote the song. If he didn't write the song, then he played bass on it.
IT'S INTERESTING THAT YOU GOT TO WRITE SONGS FOR TWO OF ELVIS'S CONTEMPORARIES: CASH AND ORBISON.
Yeah, that's crazy.
ROY ORBISON WAS A VERY DIFFERENT KIND OF A SINGER, BUT HE WAS ALSO IMPORTANT TO YOU.
I've always liked Roy's stuff. Rick called me at one in the morning out of the blue and says, "Have you ever heard of Roy Orbison?" I'm like, "Yeah, of course. He's a big influence on a lot of punk bands," but I loved his stuff since I was a kid." He's like, "Well, I'm thinking of working with him. Would you write him a song?" And I was like, "Yeah, I'll write him a song!"
YOU WROTE HIM "LIFE FADES AWAY," WHICH FIT WITH WHO HE WAS.
Yeah, It wasn't a Danzig song, I wrote him a Roy Orbison song because I'm writing for Roy Orbison. I got to go out to his pad in Malibu a couple of times, teach him the song and then I was in the studio with him, Rick and [assistant producer] George Drakoulias. It was a really cool experience.
Years later, when Rick was doing the first record with Cash – Cash or his kids had heard the song that I wrote for Roy and they're like, "You should get this guy to write you a song." So they called me and again they asked me the stupidest question in the world: "Do you know who Johnny Cash is?" Of course I know who Johnny Cash is. They said, "You want to write him a song?" I go, "Fuck yeah, I'll write him a song," and I had it in 15 to 20 minutes. "Thirteen" was just my idea of Cash as a badass and cool and the Man in Black.
IT OBVIOUSLY CONNECTED WITH HIM OR HE WOULDN'T HAVE RECORDED IT.
I went down and taught it to him. He loved the song. Rick has a tape of me and him doing the song together in his living room – because he recorded a lot of that Cash record in Rick's living room. Cash was really cool because if he was in town, he would find out if I was in the studio and just come down to one of my sessions: "Hey, Glenn, what's up?" They asked me to write him some more songs, so I wrote him "Come to Silver" – which I never gave to him because I left American [Recordings]. But I played it for him and he's like, "I love it." And I remember getting a call in the studio: "Glenn, Johnny Cash is on the phone." I'm like, what? He's like, "Glenn, we're on the road and I've got a couple of friends who want to talk to you." And Kris Kristofferson gets on the phone telling me he loves the song, and would you write me one? And then Waylon Jennings gets on the phone and my mind is blown.
WHAT BLOWS MY MIND IS THAT ANYONE WOULD ASK YOU IF YOU EVER HEARD OF JOHNNY CASH OR ROY ORBISON.
That's Rick! You know, because I think a lot of that stuff was new to Rick. Of course it wasn't new to me. My dad was a big country music fan, but not all country. He only liked certain country artists, like Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves and Marty Robbins.
JERRY LEE LEWIS IS STILL AROUND. DID YOU EVER THINK OF DOING ANYTHING WITH HIM?
No, I was never a big Jerry Lee fan. I mean, I don't hate it. To me, it doesn't have the impact of Elvis or Cash or even Orbison. It was just more traditional kind of rock & roll. I'd rather listen to Bo Diddley than Chuck Berry. I love Bo Diddley. That man was just a game changer.
DO YOU LIKE MEETING YOUR HEROES?
A lot of times I don't like meeting people. More often than not, it's kind of a letdown. I've been lucky though. Johnny Cash or Roy Orbison ended up being even cooler than I thought they were gonna be. But I've met people over the years and I was just like, "Wow, what a fucking asshole." I never treat people like that. Usually, I try to be nice. If someone's an asshole to me, then they get the asshole back. I'll try to ignore them, but if not, then you get what you wanted.