by Marilyn Shelton
“I have musical ADHD,” said Peter Danzig, when describing his songwriting process and the 10 instruments he plays. He is one half of the Fair Park-based folk band, Otter Creek Duo. The other half of the duo is his wife, Mary Danzig.
“I might keep some lyrics in my head, sort of ADHD style, beginning this whole eclectic mess, and then something emerges out of it… hopefully. Some songwriters start with lyrics, I usually start with instruments,” Peter said. Instruments like the steel guitar, the banjo, a couple of mandolins, a bouzouki, a mountain dulcimer, and more.
Otter Creek Duo is currently touring their third album, “The Fiddle Preacher,” this summer, with scheduled appearances in Idaho, Montana, Illinois, Ohio, and Massachusetts.
The album’s title track song, “The Fiddle Preacher” reached #10 on the Folk DJ Charts. It is a fast-paced, rousing song written by Peter, evoking images of prairie campfire dances. Peter and Mary Danzig called “The Fiddle Preacher” a song about celebrating joy in life and embracing your authentic self.
They describe themselves as an “eclectic-folk-Americana-bluegrass band with Celtic influences,” and they draw inspiration from musicians such as Patty Larkin, John Gorka, David Wilcox, Simon and Garfunkel, and Peter, Paul and Mary.
Otter Creek Duo’s name was derived from Mary’s maiden name – Otterstrom. “One day Peter said, ‘If we change your maiden name, which is basically Swedish for ‘Otter Creek’ and just ‘bluegrassed’ it, that’s a good name,” said Mary. “I replied, ‘You know, when we got married I took your name and now you’re going to take mine.’”
The two were childhood sweethearts who first became acquainted in the first grade, as they grew up together in the same Avenues neighborhood. But it was while they both studied music at the University of Utah that they became reacquainted, and later married.
Mary has a master’s degree in violin performance and Peter, a bachelor’s degree in music composition. The two have backgrounds in classical music but became interested in forming a bluegrass band, after they attended a bluegrass festival. It was a pivotal, life-changing moment. Mary said that what she witnessed at the festival convinced her that bluegrass music was the type of music for her. Otter Creek Duo was formed in 2009.
The couple said that their music is often related to current events that inspire them and that their music is meant to carry on oral traditions.
“Folk musicians are historians. We’re bringing forward these stories that have been informing us about who we are in this society. And also, what things are going on that need a song?” said Peter.
“The theme of our music seems to really reflect what is going on at the time. I mean, all these different issues that we go through like the environment or immigration…,” said Mary.
“‘Sometimes You Just Know’ is written about a friend of ours. I got down to the courthouse the day that marriage equality arrived in Utah and I called a close friend of mine and said, ‘Get down here, you’re getting married today.’ They’d been together 17 years and had two kids together. So we went down there and did wedding music for everybody. And it was really exciting. I just wanted a song about equality,” said Peter.
Otter Creek Duo’s “Take The Climb” was inspired by the suicide of gay Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, after a roommate posted pictures of him kissing another man on a social media website. “It just hurt my heart to see that someone would feel ashamed of something that they had no reason to feel ashamed of,” said Mary, after channeling her emotions into a song about the incident.
She said that the song “Bidder 77” on The Fiddle Preacher album was written about environmental activist Tim DeChristoper’s protest of a Bureau of Land Management auction of 116 parcels of public land in 2008.
Sometimes they play and record music with their daughters, who also have their own band, called “The Three Muses.”
“We travel a lot during the summer and they always perform with us on the road. I think they enjoy the traveling and have good times,” said Mary.
Otter Creek Duo performed their version of “Down To The River To Pray” on the season 6 finale of “Sister Wives” on TLC.
Otter Creek’s previous two albums are called “Hunter’s Moon” and “Shiver Into Spark.” The band plans to release a fourth album by the end of 2019, called “American Jalopy,” which centers around themes of independence. Peter said, “My dad’s idea of car maintenance was that if it’s still moving, it’s probably worth driving. Why change the oil? It will just burn off,” he laughed. “So I grew up driving all these horrible cars and it struck me that there is something so loveable about American independence. Because it’s like, it’s broken, but we’re going to do it anyway!”
Otter Creek Duo’s music is available on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, CD Baby, and at www.ottercreekduo.com