It’s the first week in June and Dan McGuire is busy — he’s busy with weddings, private parties and gigs around the city, from Bushwaller’s to The Cellar Door. But he squeezes in time for me on the afternoon I call him because McGuire is an accommodating guy and I want to talk to him before he plays Alive @ 5 on Carroll Creek, which is one of his band’s biggest shows downtown.
When I interview the frontmen for cover bands, I’ve come to expect a certain amount of showboating, which I can appreciate, because it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to hear a song like “Hey Jude,” and think, “Yeah, I can do that.” But McGuire is not a showboater. He tells me that he didn’t start playing onstage until he was in college at Shippensburg University, which doesn’t have a music program — and he was already studying communications, anyway — so he has no formal instrumental training past high school. Tyler Buisch, the drummer for the Dan McGuire Group, has a bachelor’s degree in jazz drumming and piano and a master’s in jazz bass performance. McGuire, though, has mostly picked things up on his own.
“I’m not that well-versed in music theory,” he said. “I guess I’ve just always had good ears, so I’m able hear things and figure them out. That’s how I learned. But my band members are all very talented, well-studied musicians, so I like to surround myself with those people.”
The group isn’t his full-time job, but McGuire has still managed to become a fairly successful cover artist, squirreling away roughly $10,000 in savings to cover the costs if his band ever decides to tour. He prides himself on the group’s repertoire, which spans from the ‘60s and ‘70s to the current day and includes songs by the Beatles and Stevie Wonder, as well as more contemporary artists including Alanis Morissette, Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber.
There are plenty of artists that inspire him, but McGuire’s dream has always been to write music, he said. That goal is complicated by the fact that he’s already written five original songs but likes none of them — at least not enough to share them widely.
“He hasn’t even shown me and we’re good friends,” Buisch said. “I guess you’re opening up your heart, you’re opening yourself up to criticism, and that’s scary.”
“There was an open-mic night at The Cellar Door and I played them there,” McGuire said. “And I don’t know what it was, but I was just extremely critical of myself. And I pretty much stopped playing them. I just didn’t feel they were a good representation of what I was doing at the time.”
That was about four years ago, and the songs came easily to him then. He was in the middle of a relationship that was drifting apart, driven by his focus on growing the band on top of working a full-time job. His mother had recently been diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease — a degenerative illness that targets the nervous system. It was easy to find inspiration.
One of his songs, “Waited,” was about a girl he liked in college who had a serious boyfriend, who later came to Frederick — after that relationship ended — to ask for a chance with him (McGuire’s then-girlfriend didn’t like the song very much). Another song, “Proud of You,” was about his father’s struggles with addiction. Both took only a few minutes to write.
“I’ll never forget because I was in my friend’s basement, we recorded it that night, and I listened to a copy of it as loud as I possibly could on my way home,” McGuire said. “It brought tears to my eyes — it was just a sense of pride and accomplishment. And that’s why, at the time, I thought I would keep it going.”
Real life ended up getting in the way. His relationship ended and his mother passed away. His cover band was gaining traction, and he couldn’t slow down to experiment with original songs. Around the same time, he met the love of his life — a girl named Becca — and proposed to her last November. The two just bought a house downtown and have a wedding planned for November, with a ceremony at Sky Stage and reception at McClintock Distilling.
Plus, having the Dan McGuire Group pays the bills. He can save money and buy his own equipment and there’s a comfort that comes from knowing that bars and private groups will always want to hire a well-run cover band. He’s always booked — at the time of our interview, he had a gig scheduled every night this week.
“I do still want to do original music,” McGuire said. “I plan to do it. But I’ve also been telling myself that for a long time and I haven’t done it. Because right now, I have no reason to slow down doing what I’m doing. Right now, everything is good the way it is.”