Don't mess with a soprano  

Local musician a legend

Dyslexia can be a life-ruining problem, but for Danny McBride, it paved the way for international success as a musician and painter.

Dyslexia is a disorder caused by areas of the brain not processing language correctly.

He shares this trait with Steven Spielberg, Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill, Whoopi Goldberg, Henry Winkler, Richard Branson, and many others.

In the 1950s, Kids with dyslexia were often considered dumb and were marginalized in school. Danny was smart, but school was a struggle. He quit in Grade 9, but that didn’t stop him from becoming Canada’s premier guitarist and an innovative and eclectic acrylic artist.

Danny grew up in Toronto, His dad was an illustrator/cartographer. He shared, with brother Bob, a burning love of music

His brother, four years older, became the lead singer in Lighthouse, which won Best Canadian group at the Juno Awards 1972-74.

While Bob and Lighthouse were making history, Danny was putting his career together with his band, Transfusion, at The Rockpile.

The Rockpile, a stand or sit-on-the floor venue, was a favourite place in Toronto to perform. The music world’s Who’s Who played there:

  • Led Zeppelin
  • The Who
  • Rod Stewart
  • Alice Cooper
  • Frank Zappa. 

It was a great place for a talented 17-year-old to learn. He suffered from stage fright from the lack of self-confidence from dyslexia and school but his listeners weren’t aware. They just heard greatness.  

The music world has some great characters, perfect for Danny’s other love, caricatures. Danny has a wicked sense of humour. Mad Magazine, which he confessed he would have loved to have drawn for, helped develop his sarcasm and playfulness. 

He would find a quiet corner, observe the bigger-than-life performers and promoters around him, and draw.

He showed me a picture of an unsavoury promoter whose nose looked like a huge shark while off to the side, were members of a band quaking in fear. 

It was very funny and beautifully sketched.

“I was known as the Poison Pencil while on tour,” said Danny with a smile. 

In those days, Danny was making great money, signing record deals with CBS, composing music, and was even a co-owner of a clothing store in Toronto called Beach Sports. 

Life was fantastic when he started to tour Europe with Chris de Burgh. He did world tours with not only de Burgh, but with David Hasselhoff (Baywatch fame).  

The warm up bands for the tour had some interesting bands, too: U2, Bon Jovi, The Cure and Joe Crocker. Definitely, life in the fast lane.

His last tour, U.S. and Taiwan concert tour, was in 1996 with David Hasselhoff. U2, The Cure, Joe Cocker, and Bon Jovi were openers for their band.

He admitted to me that he made the mistake most people do — he thought it would last forever. It didn’t. It stopped suddenly when de Burgh changed career directions.

It stopped suddenly when de Burgh’s personal problems caused him to change directions, not let the band know that they were not going to be used in the future. They were blindsided and left with nothing for 12 years of loyalty.

Danny became depressed. A friend, writer and guitarist Chris Yost, suggested he start painting.

“I started painting women with hats and they started getting notoriety and I don’t know why,” he said.

Two things helped his painting career. 

The White Rock Gallery in White Rock has consistently supported him and has been instrumental in helping him become established in the art world. 

David Hasselhoff buying his second painting hasn’t hurt either.

The women in his paintings are based on his Grade 2 teacher, Miss Arnold. “She had kind eyes.” 

I suspect that she was a caring teacher that understood his difficulties.

In 2016, True North Gallery in Toronto invited him to be part of a collection of famous performers' paintings. He was given an entire section just for his works. 

He shared that exhibit with Andy Warhol, Miles Davis, Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Bob Dylan, to name a few other artists.

A full-sized Danny McBride painting will set you back more than $20,000. Not bad for a Grade 9 dropout.

Is he ready to retire? No! He is working with his partner, musician-composer Gary Cable, singer-songwriter Shauna Marshall, along with some world-class musicians to create a vinyl R&B record, and has written a sit-com.

Danny explains who he is in an 2016 interview with Bill King, of FYI Music News.

“I have the best conversations with a guitar. I’m having a conversation with somebody in a bar, I’d rather get up and play some blues and say, ‘This is what I’m trying to tell you.’”

The Danny I met had a cup of coffee instead of a guitar. He was a quiet man, warm, open, unforgettable eyes twinkled with kindness and interest. The man who has played with legends, is one himself, and now takes his artistic legacy to the canvas.

Success hasn’t spoiled him; it has made him the great man he is.


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About the Author

Sue Skinner is a singer of opera and musical theatre, a choral conductor and a teacher/coach of voice. 

She has travelled the world, learned many languages, seen every little town in Alberta and supported herself with music all her life.

She has sung at weddings, funerals, musicals, operettas, opera, with symphonies, guitars, jazz groups, rock bands and at play schools. 

Skinner has taken two choirs to Carnegie Hall, sung around the world, and teaches for Wentworth Music on Zoom.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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