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Chris Daniels: Striving for excellence

Colorado music legend Chris Daniels can credit many things for his highly successful, nearly five-decade career: talent, drive, and being in the right place at the right time.

But the charismatic singer, songwriter, and leader of the band Chris Daniels & the Kings largely acknowledges family and Colorado Academy for enabling his life of musical feats.

A self-proclaimed “counter-culture” hippie at the time, Daniels joined his brother at CA after getting into a “little trouble” at the boarding school he was attending on the East Coast. “My brother loved it,” Daniels says of CA. “It seemed like the perfect place to come.”

Daniels signed up for the Kayaking Team at CA with his brother, built his own boat, and trained on the South Platte River for competitions across the state. “It was such a great program,” he remembers. Those experiences inspired a love for outdoor Colorado, the state he still calls home.

Although his time at CA was short, it cemented his love of music and performing because of the school’s emphasis on the arts. But more than anything, he says, CA taught him to strive for excellence.

Chris Daniels performing in 1975

Chris Daniels performing with Magic Music in 1975

The first three chords

Daniels had his first taste of his true calling when he was 10 years old, when his sister taught him three chords on the guitar. “I learned a Bob Dylan song and then a Beatles song,” he says. “And that’s all it took.”

At CA, Daniels befriended a saxophone-playing classmate, who introduced him to another talented musician named Will Luckey. “Will and I became best friends,” he says, “and I’m still working with him almost 50 years later.”

After playing together for a while, the young musicians separated. But in 1971, Daniels was lured back to Colorado to join Luckey’s band, “Magic Music,” often acknowledged as Colorado’s first true jam band. A recently-released movie—“Forty Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie”—chronicles the history of the wildly popular Boulder-based group that helped Daniels set his roots.

Musical pulse sets the hook

Chris Daniels performing in 2017

Chris Daniels performing with the Kings in 2017

“It was just the best music scene,” Daniels says of Colorado, and particularly Boulder, in that ‘70s era.  Stephen Stills, Joe Walsh, Firefall, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, just to name a few, were part of the talented pool that Daniels performed with. “I just loved it,” he says. “Colorado was where I had access to getting to play with the best musicians in the world.”

In 2010, after he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and recovered with the help of a bone-marrow transplant from his sister, Daniels’ drive for excellence became even more pronounced.

“What it did was make me realize that I wanted to achieve some things before I left the planet,” he says. Today, he’s fulfilled that bucket list—and then some.

Building a life of no regrets

Daniels, who plays guitar, banjo, mandolin, flute, percussion, and pedal steel guitar, was nominated for a Grammy with a group of co-directors for a children’s album, “Jumpin’ Jazz Kids,” in 2013. He was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame that same year. He has toured Europe multiple times and has played for three United States presidents.

He recently left a 14-year CU Denver teaching career (during which he earned two Excellence in Teaching Awards in addition to one he had already earned teaching at Arapahoe Community College) to take the helm of the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.

“It keeps me extremely busy. And it’s so fun. I’ve gotten to work with some of the most amazing people in the business, people who literally have shaped this industry,” Daniels says, noting Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, and Chuck Morris.

Chris, with son Cedar and two granddaughters

Chris, with son Cedar and granddaughters Ila and Men

Defining his own musical adventure

Despite his notable feats, Daniels is so passionate about his work that he describes the pinnacle of his career as: “Just the fact that I’ve been able to work and make a living as a musician for almost 50 years. To me, that’s a miracle.”

His happiness circles back to Colorado Academy, where he learned not only to strive for excellence, but to “define your own excellence and find your own definition of success.”

“CA was a really formative experience,” he says. “I’m still in Colorado because of going to school there.”

Daniels sent his son Cedar to CA, who graduated in 1992. Daniels’ brother, John Daniels, Jr., graduated in 1966.

Besides spending more time with his two granddaughters in New York, Daniels said future goals include soloing, traveling more, and exploring other music cultures. “Some people might call it retirement, but that’s not the way I look at it. I see it as a continuation of the adventure.”

Coda

Chris Daniels:

  • Did his undergraduate work at Berklee College of Music and then Macalester College, graduating cum laude from the latter in 1979.
  • Received a Master of Arts in History/Economic History from the University of Colorado Boulder in 1995.
  • Picks the Little Bear in Evergreen as his favorite small Colorado venue.
  • Calls: “Red Rocks, of course,” his favorite large venue.