His name was Denny Dooley. A musician, he was an enigma; his meteoric rise in fame unexplained. Was he real, or simply the stuff of which legends are made? People certainly talked of him and what they said sounded like two-thirds urban legend, with a dash of musical folklore as old as the story of Robert Johnson to sweeten things. (Google it.)
People weren’t certain from where he came, although many agreed that he had come from the then rural areas north of Detroit, Michigan. This is what people agreed, no one knew for sure.
They weren’t certain of his age either. Some speculated that he was in his early to late twenties. This would depend on when in his musical career you are talking. Some argued that he first appeared in public in the late 1950s (again based on conjecture), and by the time he met his calamitous fate, in the 1970s, it seemed he hadn’t aged in appearance not one bit. There was scant little information ever found about Denny early beginnings. So, this was just part of his mystery.
Another bit of his mystery had to do with his ability to “make his guitar cry.” There was noone who could command more from a solid-state Stratocaster as he and make it deliver.
Those that remember first hearing him dismissed him as a poor imitation of Chuck Barry; his raw, untrained vocal stylings reminiscent of Elvis Presley in “the King’s” worst drunk, drugged induced state. But this changed, and it changed fast. Within a brief time Denny went from playing dingy, smoke-filled barrooms that stank of piss to filling auditoriums with screaming, adoring fans who would clamor to the stage to watch in adulation Denny’s showmanship. .
Was this the result of black magic, a haunted guitar, or as some would suggest, “a deal he made with the Devil”? No one knows for sure. The less one knows the more one reverts to consipiracy theory to fill in the black holes of knowledge. And Denny’s word-of-mouth publicity was rich in theory, speculation and conjecture.
Now director Aaron Herman Russman is going to attempt to fill in those holes of knowledge. After decades of chasing down blind alleys and talking with every one who has claimed to have known Denny Dooley, at least those who recall through the haze filled days of the 60s and ’70s having seen him, Russman is prepared to start assembling the pieces surrounding one of the greatest guitarists to have come from the Great Lakes area..
Aaron Herman Russman has written, produced and directed projects at A Picture Show Film Company for over 15 years. His work includes narrative feature and short films, documentaries, reality and scripted television pilots and music videos. In August 2011 he released his debut feature film, “Lost in the Future,” and in 2015 followed this with “Animus: The Tell-Tale Heart,” a re-imagining of Poe’s macabre masterpiece.
Russman consented to giving us this interview after a casting call in which he cast actors for his next feature film, “The Denny Dooley Story.”
How did your auditions for your next feature go?
I held an audition last Sunday, met some very good people, many of whom I believe I’ll find a place for in the film. I’m still casting leads and would love to have some more prospects, so this could help.
Audition was in Royal Oak on Sunday, had a good crowd. All kinds of actors. The film takes place 1960s/70s, a music film, the lead is Denny Dooley, an African American singer guitarist—grows up rural farm area but becomes a Detroit transplant as he makes his way through the 60s music biz. So I’m looking for African American actors 20s to 30s year old to play him, his parents, friends of his family.
Music ability a plus.
Think Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis when he begins…then he moves into a Jimi Hendrix kind of thing when he finds some success.
Okay, I am beginning to see the picture. And the roles which need to be filled. I grew up in the same era as did Denny. Is this based on a real character, with certain liberties taken. I could find nothing on Denny Dooley.
His character is inspired by all kinds of rock n roll legends. He has a number of crazy things happen to him while growing up, things that make him lose his way, but he comes back and perseveres, finding success—not on a huge scale, more of a “only made one amazing album—whatever happened to that guy?”
Although this will be a feature film, Denny Dooley and his story were introduced in your short “In the Death Car” (2017). This will be all about an artist’s rise to fame, voodoo, a guitar and Rock N’ Roll.
I took the character but not exactly following that storyline. No more voodoo or cursed guitar…or hand-eating 8-Track! I will say there is still a supernatural element to this feature drama.
I see. I thought the short was a pretty good premise, and it then would have been a good intro. But this is your baby. When do you start filming? Where?
You know, it was something I was toying with, even tried to write that short as a feature but Denny’s character led me in a more satisfying direction. There’s certainly a nod to the short, but I didn’t hold myself to having to make sure it fit. Denny is running from an inevitable end. One he brought on himself. The feature is much more character driven and a hell of a ride with all the music.
I’m looking to shoot mid-late July. Possibly August. Two-week shoot straight through, then a few long weekends sprinkled in August and Sept. that should get 75% of it shot. The “present” portion, which is mid 1970’s, takes place in more of a fall/winter kind of setting, so that will be a week later in the year, possible beginning of 2020.
Shooting mostly Detroit/Metro Detroit, could be some locations in central or west Michigan.
Would you be interested in staging a battle of the bands as such? I think it might lend well to your movie.
Probably the biggest issue will be getting crowd shots in various locations (for example, a high school gym, historic theatre, county fair grandstand) all in 60s/70s clothing. That could be a way to pull people together.
I’m writer, producer, director, cinematographer and editor, my way of keeping costs down. It’s ultra-low budget, still SAG if it needs to be. Most of the cast will be paid roles. As with all my films, my family and contacts are the way I get things accomplished.
My last film is on Amazon a Prime, and available on Blu-Ray in Brazil and Germany. Very cool, I love it, but this is not my goal with this picture. I want this to be Sundance, Cannes—major film fest quality, critically acclaimed art house kind of film. Like if the low budget music film “Once” has a Robert Rodriguez edge to it.