The world largely knows Jeff Daniels as an actor with Golden Globe nominated film roles (Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo," "Something Wild," "The Squid and the Whale") and a Tony Award nomination for his Broadway run in "God of Carnage." But these days, Daniels can be found on the road, playing his first extensive U.S. tour as a singer-songwriter.
"I've wanted to do this for a long time," Daniels, who's been playing guitar and writing songs since the late '70s, tells Billboard.com. "The problem with [touring] is you have to book these dates six months out, and movies can happen with a phone call in and in two weeks I'm on a set somewhere and you're canceling 30 dates. I had to do that once and I vowed I wouldn't do it again." Doing "God of Carnage," however, allowed him to finally "carve out three months of my year" for the tour.
"When you do Broadway for a year and a half you really check out of the movie business," Daniels explains. "So I told the movie agents, who have been great about it, that I'm not available. I haven't been able to do that for a long time, and now I'm just doing it because I'm gonna do it. I'm old enough to do what I want know." There is one caveat, however: "I've always got it in the deal with the venues that if Spielberg calls and I'm starring in it with De Niro, sorry. But that ain't gonna happen."
Daniels began playing concerts in 2001 to help raise money for his Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, Mich., where he grew up and continues to reside. His first album, "Live and Unplugged" -- which includes the early composition "Kathy" for his wife as well as favorites such as "Recreational Vehicle" and "If William Shatner Can, I Can Too" -- came out in 2004. He notes that he's "not trying to be a rock star or anything like that" but has a good time surprising curious concert attendees who are expecting a casual hobbyist.
"I've found out that [listeners] don't want me to demand that they take me seriously as a musician or an artist and a rock 'n' roll star or something," says Daniels, who also peppers his live sets with occasional Motown, folk or blues covers. "They're not going to let me do that. But if I quietly lure them in with some behind-the-scenes stories and 'Here's what it's like' and then drop the guitar-playing on them, then the songwriting...By the end of it they're on their feet or buying CDs or at least going, 'Y'know, he's OK...' "
Daniels currently has no plans for a fifth album -- "I'm busy," he says -- but he continues to write songs. These days, however, they have a specific purpose. "Rarely will I just write something just to write something and put it in a notebook," Daniels says. "It's got to have a chance to get on the big master set list."
Daniels will be touring into early December and is already booking 2011 dates.