April 2009

Dana Ashworth: The Electric Piano’s Unscripted S

Author: Craig Hysell | Photographer: John Brackett

Everybody has a story. We all have trials and triumphs in our lives which we regard as the foundation of why we are who are and why we do what we do. Dana Ashworth’s story is no different, it’s just that the “how” is a little bit more incredible. See, Dana Ashworth didn’t plan any of this. Not a single thing. And not having a reason is the exact reason why he’s become so successful.
It wasn’t the cumbersome philosophy of apathy that made him who he is. The virtues, enthusiasms and choices that brought him to this point in his life weren’t esoteric exactly, either. Maybe it’s more like Dana’s music—easier to explain than to pin down: the manifestation of his life’s journey.
Every Friday afternoon, Dana drives the three hours from Aiken, South Carolina, to play at The Electric Piano (EP) in Park Plaza on Friday and Saturday nights—a gig he kind of fell into. That’s how most of Dana’s career has been—a long trip and a gig as the result. At the EP, it was as simple as “looking for a place to settle down.”
The Electric Piano’s former entertainer and Hilton Head Island legend, Scott Morlock, had hit it off with Dana during a few shows in Savannah where Dana was playing. “Right at that time, Scott called me, said they needed someone here. Then Adam [EP’s owner] called me and we hooked it up.” Dana speaks softly; he’s humble. Grateful. It’s hard not to like him. Maybe that’s what a life spent wandering can teach a person.
Dana grew up in a little town just south of Boston. He had taken organ lessons when he was kid and hated it. “Absolutely, hated it,” he said. It wasn’t until he heard the new age, instrumental style of George Winston that he started tinkering with the piano. He was 15 and began teaching himself. “When I got to college, I got some more formal training,” said Dana. “I have a double degree in music and theater with a concentration in psychology.” (Quite a journey in and of itself right there…) But, Dana didn’t want to be a musician; he wanted to be an actor. It wasn’t until he got to Maine, played in some blues bands and toured with Buddy Guy that music started to become a viable option.
Yet, even for somebody who started with new age music, taught himself at age 15, didn’t receive formal musical training until college, started playing blues in Maine—about as far from Southern blues hubs like New Orleans and Memphis as possible—always wanted to be an actor instead of a musician, and toured with a blues legend like Buddy Guy, the rest of Dana’s path still wasn’t paved with yellow bricks. Or career commitment. Dana was still searching. In 2004, he was out of work and on vacation in Key West. He wandered into a piano bar, played a show on a whim and got hired the next day. He sold everything he had in Maine and moved three weeks later. In Key West he met his wife.
Again, no plan and no script had served Dana well.
“I would not be able to do this job unless everything else had happened,” said Dana. “For all the different types of music I have to play here, if I hadn’t been able to do any of those things, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. What I do here is so all-encompassing.” See, the Friday and Saturday shows at the Electric Piano are all-request events; and Dana knows about 500 songs off the top of his head, meaning he doesn’t use a book. From Beastie Boys, Limp Bizkit and Metallica, to Buddy Holly, rap, rock, reggae, country and a laundry list of the favorites, “You can’t be an effective performer with your head stuck in a book all the time,” he said.
Dana may not have had a plan for any of this, but you don’t learn 500 songs without working hard. So, what sees one through life more, having a plan or having character? Are the keys to success so black and white? Go to EP every Friday and Saturday night to judge for yourself. The bar opens at 8, shows start at 9:30. Call 785-KEYS for more information or visit myspace.com/electricpiano.
Dana’s show is, of course, completely unscripted.

  1. Great article & he is a great player! I love stopping in to see him at the Electric Piano.

    — Rick    Apr 29, 01:35 pm   

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