“Dangerous” Dan Toler, one of the most versatile and distinctive of southern rock guitarists, passed away on February 25 at his home in Sarasota, Florida. Toler had been battling Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He was 64.
Though ALS had robbed him of his ability to speak, Toler as alert to the end. His friend and fellow musician Chaz Trippy told reporter Wade Tatangelo of the Sarasota Herald-Tribute of a recent visit with the guitarist (“I was talking to him about the old days on the road and the stuff we used to do. He couldn’t speak but he squeezed my hand”), during which Toler made a motion as if breaking something in two, then pointed to his guitar, then to his heart.
“He was telling me it was breaking his heart that he couldn’t play guitar,” Trippy explained. “I didn’t cry in front of him but I sure did when I got back into my car.”
Vintage footage of Dan Toler and Dickey Betts in a hotel room jam during the Allmans years and on stage as Great Southern, performing ‘Southbound.’ Posted at YouTube by musiccuts.
Word of Toler’s condition became public in 2011 when Dickey Betts & Great Southern headlined the two-day Dan Toler ALS Support Benefit Concert Festival at Herschberger Ranch in Sarasota. The event found Toler restricted to a wheelchair but playing superb guitar nonetheless. Current Allman Brothers Band guitarist/singer Warren Haynes and legendary R&B singer-songwriter and actress Bonnie Bramlett also performed at the benefit. (See November 2011 issue of TheBluegrassSpecial.com for the benefit announcement.)
The Indiana-born (September 23, 1948), Toler emerged on the national scene dramatically in the late 1970s with his astonishing guitar work as a member of the Dickey Betts & Great Southern band. Toler appears on the classic Betts albums Dickey Betts & Great Southern and Atlanta’s Burning Down. When The Allman Brothers Band reformed in 1979, Betts brought Toler into the fold, reinstating the band’s twin guitar attack for the first time since Duane Allman’s death in 1971. Toler’s guitar work was featured on the three strong Allmans albums following the band’s return from a self-imposed hiatus: the acclaimed comeback album, Enlightened Rogues (1979); 1980’s Reach for the Sky; and ‘81’s Brothers of the Road. After the Allmans split for a second time in 1982, Toler and his drummer brother Dan aka “Frankie” (who had joined the Allmans after original drummer Jaimoe was dismissed) joined Gregg Allman’s solo band. They performed with Allman from 1982-1989, including on his hit 1986 record I’m No Angel and on 1988’s Just Before the Bullets Fly. Toler also participated in The Allman Brothers Band’s select mid-‘80s reunion shows. His final Allman Brothers Band show was the band’s one-off appearance at the Crackdown Against Crack concert at Madison Square Garden in 1986. When The Allman brothers Band reformed in 1989, Warren Haynes replaced Toler.
‘Queen of Hearts,’ The Gregg Allman Band, with Dan Toler, guitar; Frankie Toler, drums; Burt Engelsman, bass; Chaz Trippy, percussion; Jim Essery, harp; Bruce Waibel, guitar; Gregg Allman, vocals, B3. Posted at YouTube by luiggi1291.
After leaving Gregg Allman’s employ, Toler popped up in various band incarnations including an early ‘90s experimental project with jazz fusion multi-instrumentalist Mark Pettey in Sarasota, FL. Toler and Pettey recorded a demo and performed live shows in the Tampa Bay area with a lineup that included Dan’s brother Frankie, John Townsend (formerly of the Sandford-Townsend Band) and Bruce Waibel. Billing themselves the Townsend Toler Band, the group toured the the east coast.
In 2005, Toler was part of the “Renegades of Southern Rock” project, whose members included George McCorkle of The Marshall Tucker Band, John Townsend and Wet Willie’s Jack Hall. In 2008, Dan and his friends Ron Gary and Ed Zinner formed TGZ and released an acclaimed album on King Mojo Records. That same year he joined Great Southern and remained with Betts until 2008.
In a 2002 interview with Jambands.com, Betts praised Toler’s growth as an instrumentalist, noting: “His style has changed. He kind of had some secret years there. He was kind of below radar for a while but obviously he had been working on his playing all the while. He has really developed to where he is really more compatible with me now than in the days when we were together. When we were together with Great Southern back in the ’70s and ’80s and in The Allman Brothers, we played a lot the same. Now we don’t play so much the same. He has really developed kind of what I would call a Western Swing style. It’s got a lot of chord movements. It’s not New York jazz it’s got more of a Western influence. We are having a lot of fun and we fit like a glove.”
Bonnie Bramlett, ‘Wash Me Like the Rain,’ at a benefit for Dan Toler, featuring ‘Dangerous’ Dan playing the sweetest guitar solo… Posted at YouTube by Lukesfan.
In 2009 Toler reunited with John Townsend in the Toler Townsend Band, which released a self-titled album on the indie Garage Door Records label.
Frankie Toler passed away in 2011 after a prolonged illness that included two liver transplants. Dan Toler is survived by his wife Debbie, their daughter Danielle Franz, her husband Dan and his mother-in-law Louise Rose. Memorial arrangements are currently pending.
“His ability to make people laugh and feel good and happy was amazing,” Trippy said. “That smile of his is just a force of life and, God, how he loved playing that guitar.”
Bramlett became friends with the Tolers while performing with them in Great Southern and joining the band on the Atlanta’s Burning Down album. She also sang with the Allman Brothers Band during the Toler era. Her last time on stage with Toler was at the Sarasota benefit this past November.
“To see how Danny walked tall through that disease and play guitar so beautifully with his blue eyes burning that night,” she told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “What a hero. He really showed people how to live, and how to die. He really made you check yourself. What a great man and a great musician.”
UPDATE: “Celebration of Life,” a memorial service for Dan Toler, has been scheduled for March 9 at 1 p.m. at Faith Sarasota. located at 1201 N Beneva Road, Sarasota, Florida 34232. An event page will be posted soon on Faith Sarasota’s Facebook page.