Dan Sullivan is rocking his way around the central Kenai Peninsula with acts in Kenai and Soldotna.
His Web site says it all Dan Sullivan rocks. On a Thursday night at Soldotna’s Maverick Saloon, he pleases the crowd with everything from Johnny Cash to Pink Floyd to “Gilligan’s Island,” with a few of his original compositions thrown in, as well.
No matter what the request, Sullivan knew the tune and the words, and never missed a beat. A table in the corner is reserved for “Dan’s Groupies,” occupied by several women who get up to dance for their favorite tunes.
“This is a good little crowd here,” Sullivan said of the Maverick, where he plays every Thursday night. “We all know each other and just kind of click.”
It is a welcoming place for Sullivan, who just returned to Alaska this April after 17 years Outside, most recently in the Florida Keys. Sullivan grew up in Soldotna and graduated from Kenai Central High School. He started playing guitar when he was 9.
“I wanted to be a rock ’n’ roller,” he said. “It was just in my blood to play.”
His family moved to the Lower 48, and still lives there, but Sullivan came back to Alaska in 1976 with a girl from Texas. They married, and “lived out in the woods like Grizzly Adams,” he said. The marriage didn’t last, but they had a son, who has since grown up to become a pediatric cardiologist.
“He’s wicked smart,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said that over the years he has done other work, “things that paid more,” but in the end he decided to follow his heart to be a full-time musician. He found inspiration and a mentor in another Soldotna musician, Turk Coury.
“I was young and starting out, and Turk took me under his wing and showed me how to be a good entertainer,” Sullivan said. “A lot of people can play music, but not everyone can entertain a crowd, too. You have to look like you belong there on the stage.”
Coury has since retired to Florida, but visited Alaska this summer. He and Sullivan played together again for a Fourth of July celebration in Soldotna.
Sullivan left Alaska again at the age of 29 to travel around the Lower 48, playing music in many different locations “Texas, Oklahoma, Las Vegas and all points in between,” as he puts it. “Traveling around playing music really honed my skills. It makes you get better; you have to be competitive.”
In his travels, he has entertained small groups in bars as well as larger crowds, all the way up to an audience of 15,000 at the Oklahoma state fair. He has rubbed shoulders with some big-name musicians along the way and played with a band that opened for Johnny Winter. He was a member of several bands in Florida but says he prefers playing solo.
Sullivan doesn’t read music. He plays entirely by ear with a remarkable ability to remember lyrics. He has a repertoire of over 500 songs and hands out a list of them for requests whenever he plays. He writes his own songs, too, and has recorded two CDs of his compositions, “Goin’ For Broke” and “Back To Basics,” available for sale on his Web site, www.dansullivanrocks.com. He says his songs are inspired by “heartache, funny situations and people I know just things that touch my heart.”
Sullivan returned to Alaska after a hurricane flooded his house in Florida last winter.
“I had been wanting to come back for a long time, and by the time I got that all fixed up everything just worked out and I was able to come back,” he said.
From here on, Sullivan plans to stay in Soldotna.
“I’m not used to being cold anymore,” he said, “but I was born here, so I should be able to get back in the groove.”
After all his traveling, Alaska still feels like home.
“It’s nice to come back after 17 years and people still know you all my high school buddies, people I grew up with. It’s a good feeling,” he said.
Sullivan is already an accomplished rock ’n’ roller, but he dreams of being a “local celebrity,” playing bigger venues and opening for big-name bands.
In the meantime, he says bars like the Maverick provide him with a decent living, and he’s doing what he enjoys.
“Music is something I have to do,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s 30 people or three thousand, I just love playing to them.”
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