In the 1980s, Dan Zanes was lead singer for the Indie garage-pop band the Del Fuegos. But in recent years, Zanes has become the hottest thing to hit children’s music since “Frere Jacques,” releasing a half-dozen critically acclaimed all-ages albums that reinvent American roots-rock.
On May 10, Dan Zanes & Friends will present a pair of shows at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. as part of Edison Theatre’s popular ovations! for young people series.
Born in Exeter, N.H., in 1961, Zanes began playing guitar at age 8, borrowing Leadbelly records from the public library as soon as he was old enough to get a library card. He met fellow musician Tom Lloyd on his first day at Oberlin College while waiting for breakfast in the cafeteria line. The two struck up a conversation and, later that day, formed a band. They soon left school for Boston, where they became known as the Del Fuegos and, in 1984, were named “Best New Band” by Rolling Stone magazine.
Zanes released four albums with the Del Fuegos — “The Longest Day” (1984), “Boston, Mass” (1985), “Stand Up” (1987) and “Smoking in the Fields” (1989) — and had a hit single with “Don’t Run Wild.” In 1987, he married Paula Grief, who directed the video for the Del Fuegos’ “I Still Want You.”
Shortly after releasing his first solo album, “Cool Down Time” (1994), Zanes and his wife moved to New York with their young daughter, Anna. There, on the playgrounds of the West Village, he met several other musician/fathers, including guitarist G.E. Smith, and they soon began performing folk classics as the Wonderland String Band.
In 2000, Zanes enlisted the talents of Smith, Sheryl Crow, Suzanne Vega and others for “Rocket Ship Beach,” a homemade all-ages CD that became an instant hit with both families and critics. “Zanes’ kids music works because it is not kids music,” noted The New York Times Magazine, “it’s just music — music that’s unsanitized, unpasteurized, that’s organic even.”
For his next CD, “Family Dance” (2001), Zanes was joined by Loudon Wainwright III and Rosanne Cash, while “Night Time!” (2002) featured collaborations with Aimee Mann and Lou Reed. The Grammy-nominated “House Party” (2003) featured Deborah Harry, Bob Weir and Philip Glass as well as the Rubi Theater Company and Rankin Don (aka Father Goose). His best-selling “Parades and Panoramas” (2004) paid homage to “The American Songbag” (1927), an in-fluential folk songbook compiled by poet Carl Sandburg.
“(Zanes’) albums are hip enough for Debbie Harry and Lou Reed to make cameos but accessible enough for the under-10 set to sing along,” an Esquire magazine review said. “This is good ol’ fashioned pop music for all ages.”
Zanes’ most recent release — the Grammy-winning “Catch That Train!” (2006) — brings together the Kronos Quartet, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Zanes’ mother-in-law and the children of South Africa’s Agape Orphanage. “Nueva York!” is Zanes’ “pro-immigration CD.” It comes out later this month and features songs from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and other parts of the Spanish-speaking Americas.
In addition to recording music, Zanes has co-authored two books — “Hello Hello” (2004) and “Jump Up!” (2005) — with artist Donald Saaf, and released a concert DVD, “All Around the Kitchen!” (2005), recorded at New York’s famed Knitting Factory.
Tickets are $8 and are available on a limited basis at the Edison Theatre Box Office and through all MetroTix outlets.
For more information, call 935-6543 or e-mail Edison@wustl.edu.