Late musician Danny DeGennaro always had time for the “little guy,” reflected longtime friend John Austin Mulhern. “He would take time for the kids, for anybody that wanted to learn how to play better.”
Although the esteemed artist was tragically killed in his Levittown home in December 2011, DeGennaro’s legacy of lending his expertise to aspiring talent lives on.
The Danny DeGennaro Foundation (formed shortly after his death to award scholarships to music students at Bucks County Community College) recently announced the creation of DDF Jam Publishing LLC and Danny DeGennaro Foundation Record Label to record, release and promote songs of the scholarship winners and up-and-coming local artists. Mulhern, a Bristol resident who met DeGennaro when he was 14, serves as president.
“In this thing that we’re going through in the music business, there’s really nowhere to play. But there is the internet, and there is promotion, and there are ways of getting your songs out there. And that’s what we’re trying to do,” Mulhern said.
The label and publishing company provides artist development and ensures intellectual property rights are protected through Artist Rights Society, and royalties are paid through BMI or ASCAP. DDF also offers career guidance, booking/management, contract review and negotiations.
Currently, the label is working with about 20 Bucks County artists, including one of the 2020 scholarship recipients, Sarah Rue Laskey, who recorded her original folk song “Magic Rabbit” at Sonlight Productions LLC with the help of the foundation.
“It’s because of things like the Danny DeGennaro Foundation that gives students who are trying to explore their songwriting an outlet to do that, to record professionally, to connect with all these people and get advice,” she said. “John Mulhern’s No. 1 objective is to help young artists not make the common mistakes that artists make, and that’s invaluable to be around that kind of energy.”
Laskey, of Upper Southampton, is a jazz major at the college. Previously a member of a Grateful Dead cover band, she is preparing to launch the new project Twin Sines. This is separate from her work with the foundation.
“We’re a rock band that’s just teeming with these haunting vocal melodies and my jazz piano style. If you add on top of that this psychedelic mayhem that’s coming from Mike [Elliot] on guitar, that’s somehow complementing this jazz piano in a beautiful way. And then this rhythm section, the drum [by Justin King] and the bass [by Jay Stolnis] are exploring hip-hop and funk grooves. So, all these different elements are coming together to form something that’s really, really cool,” Laskey said. “This album [to be released in winter], it gets sultry. It gets dark and it gets heavy.”
In addition to Laskey, previous scholarship winner Katelyn Cryan, local singer/songwriter Cara Cartney and hip-hop artist Kenny “KB” Brown have recorded songs for the new label. Three of DeGennaro’s albums have also been recorded and released digitally.
Bucks County musician John Chaykin, another longtime DeGennaro friend and music collaborator, is leading the record label’s talent search as A&R director. For Chaykin, it’s an honor to keep DeGennaro’s name alive and introduce his work to younger generations.
“He was always my musical hero. That led me to being loyal to him forever and eventually working with him, with his band and being able to play with him as a drummer, which was a dream come true,” Chaykin said. “My fondest memories are being on stage with him.”
From 2000 until his death, DeGennaro played on four of Chaykin’s five albums. The record label recently released “Light Year” – one of their songs together.
“That particular song, the guitar work that he did on it, I always said people need to hear this,” Chaykin said.
As A&R director, Chaykin said he’s looking for a good song and overall star quality.
“The song is the most important part,” he explained. “And then the artist has to have some stage presence and a look. They don’t have to be gorgeous or handsome, but a cool look like Billie Eilish. They just have to have something about them. If one of these kids that we work with makes it in the next few years, that would be amazing.”
Chaykin is a prime example of DeGennaro’s selfless nature, especially when it came to Levittown musicians.
“He didn’t go out looking to help young people financially. I think he just inadvertently helped so many young artists,” said Chaykin, who received several unofficial guitar lessons from DeGennaro at the age of 15. “Danny definitely helped in his own way, and that was just by being himself.”
Mulhern, who collaborated with DeGennaro while living in Florida, shared Chaykin’s sentiment.
“We’d sit on the back porch, play and write. And I always come to that picture, even now,” Mulhern said. “That was Danny. He’d just take his guitar and go play, and amazing things would happen. The real Danny DeGennaro is the guy that’s on the rock singing for his friends.”
Up-and-coming artists in the area can reach out to Chaykin directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about DDF Jam Publishing, visit ddfjamsongwritingworkshops.org/record-label_publish.php.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com