Danny Gatton was not “the world’s greatest unknown guitar player,” although many national magazines and local television stations swore to it. Quite a few people knew exactly who he was. Many professional musicians (especially those with an ear to the ground) had heard — and heard about — Gatton long before he decided to take his own life on October 4, 1994.
There were, however, a lot of folks who called him the best guitar player in the world, and seems like this biography’s author, Ralph Heibutzki, would say that. So would most of Gatton’s longtime friends and collaborators. In fact, a doorman at the Crazy Horse, one of Gatton’s regular D.C.-area gigs, backed up the claim by offering a refund to everyone who said they’d ever seen anyone better. During Danny’s entire tenure at the club, only two people took the doorman’s money.
Extremely skilled players such as Arlen Roth, James Burton and the late Lowell George sang Danny’s praises, and judging from the quality of Gatton’s recorded material, I have no choice but to agree.
In many ways, this is the most obvious function of Heibutzki’s book: to testify to Gatton’s greatness, and to allow those who were around him to do the same. Most who will read Unfinished Business already have been convinced. Like most artists with a strong but relatively small cult following, Gatton had an audience that would always listen, would always be amazed and appreciative. It is possible Gatton was never aware of this; the author wisely never says for sure. Too many books are being written about creative people who commit suicide in which the writer tries to come up with a definitive reason for their sadly definitive action.
The Roy Buchanan comparisons are addressed, as they should be, with subtlety and little inference. Similarities between Gatton’s suicide and that of Kurt Cobain the same year are not discussed in any depth. That’s a good thing; the circumstances were very different.
Truth is, Danny Gatton seemed like someone who was pretty hard to understand, even when he was alive. This biography does an excellent job of providing details about his life and (perhaps more importantly) offers an exhaustive listing of the body of work he left behind. Listen and decide for yourself if you’ve ever heard anyone better.