Ben Daniels plays his path out of father’s shadow

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

Having built a recording studio, made two records and engineered an album for his dad, actor Jeff Daniels, Ben Daniels has had a busy 2016. But he’s not stopping there.

Ben Daniels is working on yet another new album with his rootsy musical group, the Ben Daniels Band, and anticipates releasing it before winter’s end.

“We’re constantly doing something,” says the Chelsea-based Ben Daniels, who will play the Jazz Café at Detroit Music Hall on Friday.

A dogged work ethic may be Daniels’ chief inheritance from his father, who is known for his work spanning film, TV and theater. But while the elder Daniels has been professionally recording and performing blues and roots music for over a decade, Ben Daniels ended up on that path by his own choice.

But not for Jeff Daniels’ lack of trying. Ben Daniels says his dad encouraged him to learn guitar throughout his childhood, but he was more interested in hip-hop. The younger Daniels initially wanted to be on the recording side of music, rather than performing or writing his own, and he attended audio engineering school in Arizona.

But while he was there he picked up the guitar and began recording himself playing and singing to practice his recording skills. And the music he found himself playing was the blues that his father had played constantly while he was growing up.

“It just turned into something I loved to be doing,” Ben Daniels says.

Since 2008, the Ben Daniels Band has released seven records, toured nationally and frequently collaborated onstage with Jeff Daniels. “Never Before Gone,” one of the band’s two releases this year, marks the group’s first recorded collaboration with the elder Daniels. Ben Daniels says that was an “easy” record to make because the band had just wrapped up a tour with Jeff Daniels, “so it was pretty much like playing the show.”

This year, Ben Daniels also engineered his father’s new record with fellow Michiganian Brian Vander Ark, and he may have more opportunities to do that kind of work soon. He just helped his brother, Lucas Daniels, build a structure in Lucas’ Chelsea backyard to house recording facilities for their family video and music production business, 2188 Studio.

Ben Daniels still has ample enthusiasm for creating music of his own, however. His band’s other 2016 release, “Travelusive,” is a slickly produced set of tunes spanning a variety of genres including country, pop and traditional folk. Ben Daniels says there was “no real direction” to the record, but he and his bandmates are self-imposing a bit more creative restraint for the album they’re working on now. The record will stick to a more stripped-down, acoustic sound.

“I just really like that sound right now that you can play in a living room,” Ben Daniels says. “It’s a down-home, living-in-the-woods kind of music that’s just good for the wintertime ... I’m just kind of bored with rock ‘n’ roll, I guess.”

Although Ben Daniels has now devoted his career to music, live performance is something he’s long struggled with. In recent years he says he’s made a special effort to learn from his father’s “commanding” relationship with an audience.

“I’ve learned that you have to go out and do it, even if you’re puking in buckets backstage,” he says. “I’ve not puked in buckets, but I’ve definitely been a little sick and gone back out. You’ve just got to get with it and not let it stop you.”

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

Ben Daniels Band

8 p.m. Friday

Jazz Café at Music Hall

350 Madison, Detroit

Tickets $10

(313) 887-8501