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Dan Sartain

An underground rock mainstay whose eclectic repertoire encompassed garage rock, rockabilly, blues, punk, pop, and electronics, Dan Sartain was a vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist whose music was rooted in a love of rock & roll's past while also reflecting a present-day mindset. Sartain first earned an audience as the garage rock revival of the 2000s was in full swing and his music appealed to garage fans, but he was never meant to be strictly confined to that genre. Everything from mariachi music, TV western theme songs, and kitschy jazz informed his music along with rock of the '50s and '60s, while the influence of Suicide and the Ramones would play a major role in his latter-day work. 2003's Dan Sartain vs. The Serpientes was his breakthrough album and a potent introduction to his approach, 2012's Too Tough to Live was a joyous, head-long dive into classic pogo punk, and 2016's Century Plaza found him experimenting with the cold, stark sounds of vintage synthesizers. Daniel Fredrick Sartain was born in Center Point, Alabama on August 31, 1981. He began writing songs when he was 14, and after leaving Center Point for Birmingham, he joined a hardcore band called Plate Six. During this period, Sartain supported himself working on a construction crew, making deliveries for a pizza joint, manning the cash register at a gas station, and studying to be a barber. In 2001, he decided to step out on his own as a musician and recorded and self-released his first album, Crimson Guard, followed a year later by Romance in Stereo. He was a serious fan of the band Rocket from the Crypt, and at an RFTC show, he handed guitarist and singer John Reis a copy of his latest demo tape. Reis liked Sartain's music and struck a deal for him to make an album for his Swami Records label. 2003's Dan Sartain vs. The Serpientes was his first album to gain wide distribution, and it fared well with critics, especially in the U.K., where he landed a British deal with the One Little Indian label. Sartain's next LP, 2006's Join Dan Sartain, found him further expanding his musical world view and exploring different studio environments; some of the sessions were recorded at London's Toe Rag Studio, an all-analog facility favored by Billy Childish. Two tracks from the album, "The Flight of the Finch" and "Replacement Man," hit the indie singles charts in the U.K. Fellow garage rock enthusiast Jack White gave Sartain his endorsement by inviting him to open a run of shows for the White Stripes in 2007, bringing him to arena audiences for the first time. (The Hives also tapped Sartain as their opening act for concerts that year.) White would also bring out a Sartain single through his Third Man label, 2009's "Bohemian Grove" b/w "Atheist Funeral." Both songs would later appear on 2010's Dan Sartain Lives, which was once again recorded at Toe Rag by Liam Watson. (A compilation of singles and rarities, Legacy of Hospitality, appeared in 2011.) By this time, Sartain was becoming increasingly weary of being described as a garage or rockabilly artist, and 2012's Too Tough to Live was a short, fast burst of old-school punk energy. Punk also informed 2014's Dudesblood, though the album also found room for dashes of country, pop, and synth pop. Sartain's interest in '70s synthesizer sounds peaked on 2016's Century Plaza, whose stark and forbidding sounds attested to his love of Suicide and other trail-blazing synth-punk groups. He began stepping away from a full-time musical career when he bought a barbershop in Birmingham and divided his time between writing songs and cutting hair. In 2020, he put down his scissors long enough to record Western Hills, a collection of covers dominated by songs from classic western movies. It would prove to be one of his last significant musical projects; Dan Sartain died on March 20, 2021 at the age of 39.
© Mark Deming /TiVo
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