Eddie Danger is no more. The longtime Viroqua-based folk singer (whose real last name is Lemar) has re-invented himself by releasing a new album under his grandfather’s name, Stanton West.
The album is titled “Songbird,” and Lemar and his band will perform it in its entirety on Sunday, Oct. 1, at Driftless Books in Viroqua.
The name change is something he has wanted to do for a long time, partly because the old name he performed under seemed too gimmicky. It also tended to confuse promoters.
When Lemar cold-called folk festival organizers in Canada and the United States, he’d have to brace himself for comments such as, “We’re a folk festival — we don’t need someone who rides a motorcycle and jumps over alligators.”
The new name, Lemar says, also symbolizes that he is now more serious about his music. “My middle name is Stanton, my mom’s maiden name is West, and my grandfather was a great guy,” Lemar said. “Instead of feeling like I’m becoming someone else, I feel like I’m becoming more me, more authentic,”
Although 11 self-produced albums were made under the Eddie Danger name, this new album has a world-class producer in Joe Craven, a multi-instrumentalist who made his name as percussionist with David Grisman and Jerry Garcia. Reflecting Craven’s interests and talents, it has elements of folk, jazz and world music.
“I’m so proud of this album!” Lemar said. “It sounds great, and it’s very easy to listen to. You don’t have to like any certain type of music to enjoy it. I think that’s what makes a great album.”
This new album is easy on the ears. It has a clean, pleasant sound, accompanied by some groove-driven musicianship that has echoes of the best David Grisman/Jerry Garcia collaborations. All this perfectly complements Lemar’s good-natured, upbeat vocals.
Craven, besides producing, played banjo, fiddle, mandolin and percussion. “He’s amazing — everything he touches turns to music,” Lemar said.
The unusual context in which this album got made no doubt contributed to its special qualities. Lemar started an online fundraising campaign after Craven agreed to produce it in a California studio near Sacramento. But then, only two days after the campaign started, Lemar was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. His doctors recommended immediate surgery.
Lemar has recovered, and the cancer is in remission. But in the days after the surgery he focused on healing himself, cancelling the Kickstarter campaign and any upcoming shows.
Later he called Craven to explain what had happened. “He said, ‘Well do you still want to do it?” and I said ‘Yeah, more than anything in the world,’” Lemar recalled.
Lemar then launched another funding campaign, but it failed to meet its goal by the time he left for California. “I kind of went out there as a test of faith,” Lemar said. “I knew if the campaign didn’t succeed, I’d be paying for everything.”
Roughly 95 percent of such funding campaigns are unsuccessful, so Lemar prepared himself for the worst. As it turned out, some last-minute donations put it over the top. The final donations actually came in as Lemar rode the train back to Wisconsin (an ear infection ruled out a flight home).
“It was like the fourth quarter of a basketball game,” Lemar said. “It was stressful but gratifying, and it definitely made me realize how grateful I am.”
Although the fundraising campaign reached its $8,000 goal, Lemar needed considerably more to finish the project. “To get the album to take flight I needed another $7,000, so I sold my truck, my bicycle, lawnmower, furniture, banjo, canoe and my hand-built wooden sailboat,” Lemar said.
While Songbird is a concept album that follows the migrations and return home of an injured bird, at the same time it’s a semi-autographical tale that has resonances with Lemar’s own journey. The aim is to encourage people to be fearless and to follow their dreams.
The album, Lemar said, was just a random collection of songs before the cancer diagnosis. “My struggle and fight for life definitely had an impact on it,” he said. For Craven, too, the recording process was a revelation.
“There are many ways to arrange and package a song or, in this case, a collection of songs that were consciously tied to one another to tell a story of movement, hardship, redemption and realization… As I arranged and created the landscapes of these stories of Stanton West’s,” Craven said, “I learned more about him and myself than I ever imagined.”
“Because it’s a concept album, it makes sense to play it from start to finish,” Lemar said. “For the Driftless show I’ll have a keyboardist, two percussionists and a bass player. We’ll try and recreate the essence of the album.”
Lemar, who is active in the Wisconsin Roots Music Cooperative, is particularly excited about playing before an audience at Driftless Books and Music.
“There’s something magical about being surrounded by 500,000 books — plus they make the best sound absorption,” he said. “People there (Viroqua) will come out to listen any night of the week — I really do think it’s the best listening room in the state.”