In Arts and Culture, Peer Profiles, The Spin Magazine

Talent, technology and tenacity have allowed SCI BC peer Danny Sloan to become one of Vancouver’s most well-known street musicians.

Danny Sloan with his customized busking rig.

If you ask Danny Sloan about the perks of his workplace, it’s location first and foremost.

“I love playing music, whether it’s busking or not,” says the 49-year-old Vancouver guitar player, singer and songwriter who has been earning part of his living as a street performer for the past ten years. “If I were to list the things that make busking particularly special, I’d say this: your office window offers 360 degree views of the mountains, False Creek, Vancouver’s night lights. Such stunning, beautiful views. And the sunsets! I can’t tell you how many I have seen.” But the stellar views are just part of the story.

“I get multiple memorable moments a week,” adds Sloan, a T10 paraplegic. “Most of the time, they revolve around watching kids watch me. I keep timing with my head, as I can’t tap my feet, so that sometimes creates a very memorable scenario where the kids watch my head and start bobbing theirs. Then their parents’ phones come out. Honestly, I have had so many great moments, I can’t even count them. It’s probably the most underrated job I can imagine.”

He’s quick to point out that, like any job, busking isn’t without its challenges. “I often times finish playing my ass off and no one claps or notices,” he says. “It’s okay; it’s the nature of it, but it teaches you to not be so dependent on others for affirmation. It’s also a production-type job. I play four to six hours a day, five days a week, so you get sick of yourself, naturally. You have to do things to motivate yourself while playing; you have to reach deeper inside yourself.”

Although he started playing guitar when he was 20, it wasn’t until he was injured seven years later that music became vitally important in his life. “With the changes and extra time that my SCI brought me, at first music was a kind of soother,” Sloan told us a few years ago when we published a profile of SCI BC peers who are musicians. “The ball then just kept rolling faster and faster. Songwriting and singing exploded for me in university and, when I was at my lowest point emotionally, I turned to music.

Busker Dan, busking in Olympic Village.

It may very well have saved me when I made the conscious decision to dedicate myself to it as much as possible.” Over the years, Sloan has developed his own unique style that incorporates blues, rock, Latin and folk themes. He plays rhythm and lead guitars, both acoustic and electric. With his band Digger Dan & The Dirt Brigade, and via other collaborations, he’s played countless gigs in and around Vancouver—and continues to do so.

But over the years, he’s found himself busking more and more, to the point where it’s now become his own version of a regular 9 to 5—it’s a never-ending gig as there’s always somewhere to play, and someone to play for. “I came to busk while I was living in the Okanagan and had these melodies, but didn’t know how to sing. I felt self-conscious singing at home, but less so outside. So I started with a very simple acoustic guitar set up—some days I wish I went back to that!”

As for the pandemic, Sloan says he’s overcome his initial fears and now uses a common sense approach in order to continue busking—something he believes has become that much more popular given the current lack of more formal and indoor entertainment options.

“At first, I was freaked, like most people, and kept indoors. Then I lost my fear, and decided to go out. I just went to two places—Olympic Village and Harbour Green Park. It was kind of weird. It was like an open air pub in Olympic Village. Everyone carrying bags of booze. It didn’t feel a lot different though. I did begin interacting more with people during that time, and found people particularly appreciative because, of course, live music events were cancelled.”

Wondering how a musician with paraplegia gets himself and his gear to a location and set up? The answer is his rig—a power wheelchair that’s been amazingly outfitted so that he can move a ton of equipment to a location using public transit, set up with virtually no assistance from anyone around him, and play a full day of music.

“It allows me to be totally independent when I busk,” he says.“Occasionally I get someone to hang the bag on my back, but it’s pretty rare. I have several setups for the power and even the manual wheelchair in the event that I have a problem with my chairs.”

He adds that he’s always thinking of ways of improving the efficiency and usability of his rig, and he’s making small adaptations all the time, often with the help of those who helped him create it in the first place. “I’d like to send out a big thankyou to Ed Bell (Bell Tech), Doug Gayton (Vancouver Resource Society), Dave Joseph (CS Mounting Systems), and the Neil Squire Society for helping me with my rig,” he says.

To see and hear Sloan play online, or learn more about him, his rig, and his upcoming gigs, visit diggerdanmusic.com

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This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of The Spin. Read more stories from this issue, including:

  • The Joy of Walking?
  • Cannabis & Blood Pressure
  • The High Cost of Meds

And more!

Read the full Fall 2020 Issue of The Spin online!

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