Dani Kerr wants to pick up where Janis Joplin, her biggest inspiration, left off. “She didn’t get to finish,” Dani says. “My motto is, I’m gonna bring southern rock back into play, try to keep that flame alive, keep it lit, keep it going forever.” In fact today, audiences often say her voice sounds a lot like Janis’s, when she sings classics like “Bobby McGee” and “Mercedes Benz”. Other early influencers were Hank Williams Jr., Waylon Jennings, Marshall Tucker Band, Stevie Nicks, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Dani knows her voice is the most compelling aspect of her artistry. People oftentell her they’re emotionally engaged by its earthy, raspy quality. “My voice is not technically perfect, nothing like that,” she says, “But I feel like it’s soulful, I can do soft or I can do rock, it’s just very diverse in that way. I’ve been overwhelmed by how people respond.”
The 19 year old Statesville, NC native got her first guitar at age 6, but didn’t have a proper instructor, so she taught herself how to play and sing. It was far from the only obstacle she faced. When Dani was born, the roof of her mouth was missing, requiring seven surgeries to correct. She couldn’t hear or talk normally
for years because her ears were blocked. She worked hard at speech therapy, but was teased relentlessly by “mean girls” in middle school.
“It kind of hampered my confidence when I was young,” she says, “But it didn’t stop me from singing, I was just scared to do it in front of people, even my family.” At one low point, Dani backed out of a school talent show because of debilitating stage fright. At 16, working at her aunt’s restaurant, she finally garnered the courage to step onto a karaoke stage. “It was like throwing myself out on a limb, which has pretty much been my career so far. Just throwing myself out to the world, and see what happens.”
The audience’s enthusiastic reception sparked new determination in Dani. “Being up there and having people clapping afterwards, that’s when I knew I
wanted to do it, all the time. My whole life I’ve kind of been the underdog. I knew I had to put in the work, I had to prove myself.”
As a teenager, Dani faced more personal woes. She was homeless the last couple years of high school, and lived mostly in her car with an abusive boyfriend. She decided to use the fear and pain in her music. “It gave me a lot of strength and power, having to go through that. It fueled a lot of drive in me, for sure, like how can I get out of that situation. It just gave me a drive that some people may not ever have because they’ve not had to fight through the things I’ve been through. I think that’s really helped my music. I feel thankful for all of it.”
Last year Dani started writing original songs, and including them in sets. “Cowboy’s Heart” is a traditional love ballad, “Gypsy Soul” is a poignant reflection of her young life, and “Playin’ for that Flame” speaks to her heartfelt dedication to southern rock.
So far, Dani has performed mostly at local venues around North Carolina as a solo act. She loves the guitar but would like to assemble a backup band, incorporating banjo, mandolin and fiddle. “A unique and beautiful sound comes from those instruments,” she says. “But right now, I just want to get comfortable.