Shardul Pandey Talks To Don Duvall, Keyboard Player, Vocalist & Songwriter


Shardul Pandey: I welcome you Don at, please tell our netizens about yourself.

Don Duvall: I grew up in a little town (well it was then, not so little anymore) called Laurel, Maryland. My mother was a self taught piano player who played by ear and could also sing very well. She wanted me to be musical too when I was a child, so at the age of 5, I started taking piano lessons to learn to read music and play the piano the right way. I hated it! I rebelled constantly whenever I had to study for my lesson every week. I had a piano teacher named Mrs. Oaks who was of foreign dissent (she was oriental and I don’t remember where exactly she was from, but sometimes I had a hard time understanding her). I remember once at her home, where I took the piano lessons, I was sitting next to her on the piano bench as she talked to my mother who usually wasn’t present during the lesson. My attention span veered off into boredom and I started tinkling around with the ivories playing something that was very easy and quite off subject you might say. Mrs. Oakes turned around suddenly and grabbed her knitting needle and whacked me across the knuckles asserting with a loud voice “NO CHOPPY STICKS!” My mom was quite in shock, but actually when she wasn’t there at the lesson, Mrs. Oakes would use the needle constantly to keep me from bending my fingers as I played, using the correct fingering technique. It didn’t really hurt, but it keep me in line. She was quite a teacher, and taught me a lot.

I went on several years later to a music school in Waco, Texas. My family moved there in 1963. We didn’t live there too long because at the time, jobs were scarce and income was very low. My mom couldn’t make a living so we moved back to Maryland again in 1965. While I was in Texas I advanced my skills tremendously and I actually played with a concert band at the age of 11 at an outdoor amphitheatre in front of over 1000 people. I remember (though not very clearly) being very frightened as I played “The Blue Danube Waltz” on a grand piano from start to finish .I believe it was that day that changed my life forever. You see, I had never had anyone show appreciation for my skills out loud until that day, and the roar of the applause motivated me to a much greater satisfaction of playing the piano and music in general.

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After we moved back to Maryland, my mom put me in the College Park Conservatory of Music near the University of Md. I studied there until I was14. I then stopped my studies and starting listening to the radio and learning songs by ear. I had always played from the books up until that point, and playing by ear was something that just came naturally to me. I soon became fascinated in other instruments and had my mom buy a Bass guitar. I started playing bass in a band in Junior High school and quickly realized I wasn’t any good at it and better get back to something I had experience on! So I bought a Combo Organ. It was then I understood that it was actually something that I was really good at and I could possibly make money doing something I loved if I stuck with it. So as I played at Pool Parties, Teen Club Dances and other social events I was toning my skills for later in life. However, I was no longer reading music and relied totally upon learning by ear. I played all through high school in several bands with my musical (and some not so musical) friends. Then, straight out of high school I went into the Music business Full Time in local groups in the DC/MD/VA area and spent the next 4 decades playing music, doing what I love best, sometimes on the road 25-30 weeks a year. I’ve played in several Las Vegas type show bands where I have done everything from being Dolly Pardon in a dress with big balloons on my chest, to being one of the Temptations in a Motown review. Singing lead vocals has always been something I enjoy, so I have always been in bands that were vocally strong with lots of harmonies. I still play today in bands but my main concentration today is dedicated to writing songs which has become a true passion for me.

Hope you liked my introduction. I attached a few early pictures. One of my Mom at the Piano and the other of me showing great displeasure at having to practice the piano!

Shardul Pandey: Tell our netizens something about Musical CD which you are planning to record with your best original tunes ?

Don Duvall: I have written songs that I’m proud of. I believe my tunes represent a solid foundation that results in a sale-able commodity. I have got to say that I have very high hopes for the songs that I am trying to put out there. They are the kind of tunes that appeal to many different listeners’ tastes. I have a record executive who is very excited about working with me and he has a full blown studio with studio musicians that are really top notch. A number of my songs can be heard on my website. Some of my tunes have been played on the radio here in North Carolina on a local station just from my home studio recording, and although they sounded great on the radio, I can imagine how good they could come across if they were recorded in a professional studio with the help of session musicians with a top flight engineer and producer. I have that waiting for me in NY when I can get funding together to make it happen.

Shardul Pandey: You have been a good musician since childhood and over the last 4 decades you’ve put a lot of time in composing songs so how do you see your journey has been? Tell us about your experiences as an artist ?

Don Duvall: My musical journey has been very fulfilling. When I was young, once I found out what it is like to play with very good musicians and know the satisfaction of learning songs as a group that sound “official” as I like to call cover songs that sound enough like the original song to receive applause and get paid at the same time, I couldn’t wait to be able to do it for a living. I realized that dream of being a full time musician at age 20. After playing locally in some of the areas nightclubs for a few months, I joined a band that had a very busy booking agency behind them that kept the group working all the time. I sometimes felt like the road was my home as we would sometimes be out of town 4-8 weeks at a time and 25-30 weeks a year. The only drawback was it was hard on my wife who stayed at home mostly with our newborn son in the early years. I regret that I missed a lot of his childhood being gone all those years, and there were times I was extremely homesick. But we all survived and today we are still a happy family. My son and I still enjoy a wonderful relationship and my wife and I have been married for 41 yrs. I have to say although it was tough, I’m not sure I would change a thing about the way my musical career unfolded. I’m not sure my wife would say the same thing! But I believe in our case absence Does make the heart grow fonder. I have written a ton of songs since I started writing in the late 60’s. Many I didn’t even keep in my memory. In the early days, recording equipment was very primitive to us traveling musicians who had very little time at home to own their own portable studio. The best tool I used to have was a small cassette recorder. I couldn’t tell you how many songs I composed on the one I had, all noisy and mono. You couldn’t go back and rewrite when you wanted to edit anything, because the buttons were play and record. No tracks to erase and insert. So it was always “start over again”! I don’t know how many tunes I would have kept out of the assortment of tunes I created, but I wish I would have kept a few of the best for later. I mainly wrote my songs for my own enjoyment, and rarely even shared them with my co-musicians. But occasionally I would let one be heard that I thought was really good. The first tune I wrote that exposed to my band was when I was in a group back in 1970 called “Ramp”(Kind of an odd name for a band but when found an old yellow highway sign laying on the side of the road that was behind replaced and the drummer brought it home. It said RAMP and underneath it had a line and it said “Exit 40 mph”. Well, we got some yellow paint and blanked out the exit and changed it to “TOP” So the sign, which was much larger than you might think, said RAMP/top 40….I always thought it was clever and we saved money from having to make a real sign!) Anyway, the song was Leaving Me Behind. I still have it on a cassette from Radio Shack. The band went into the Fine Arts building at the University of Maryland and a friend of the sax player was the audio visual tech there. We made a 10 song cassette of cover songs, but included my original song on it. Since the early days most of the bands I played in were Nightclub bands that played all top 40 radio music and they really weren’t venues to play your originals in. They usually called for recognizable music that people danced to. So although we threw a few in every now and then, I was never in a self promotion band that was trying to sell originals and get on the radio. It was more like a 9-5 job that was fulfilling, and doing what I loved to do. I used to say to my friends and when people asked what I did for a living, I told them “You work for a living. I PLAY for my living”. One of the more rewarding originals I recorded in my home studio in the 90’s was a song called “Homeless”. It was about the homeless situation and how it has escalated in the past few decades. The group I worked in at the time learned the song and we were invited to play for a huge homeless benefit in Washington, DC with my song as the theme for the gathering. Over 1200 people were cheering for my song when it ended. Quite rewarding and for a good cause too. I actually had the tune captured from my YouTube site and was on the cover page of a website called US News and World Report. My only regret is I never went into a studio and re recorded it so it sounded more like a professional recording. I could always picture the tune being picked up by a major artist and recording it in the same fashion as “We Are The World” with many different national and international artists singing lines. It’s actually still on You Tube. It sounds a bit dated by today’s standards now. But still translates well I think.

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Lately, I have been doing more writing than ever and I am starting to submit my tunes whenever I see an opportunity arise. I’ve a member of several websites that promote music and have a collaborator that sometimes writes lyrics and then I do the music. I really don’t think my journey is close to climaxing or being over as I am more inspired now than ever to get my songs out there. Hopefully I will be recording a new CD in the next few months of 12 of my best tunes to date done in a professional studio. I hope that then the journey will actually be just beginning!

Shardul Pandey: So do you own a domain name? Likewise Internet is distributed in to domain names. You must have one like as that would indeed be accommodating your fan-following independently to make some value for you. Weblog with integrated social networks to regularly keep on blogging about little things of life works wonderfully in show business. What do you think ?

Don Duvall: Yes I do have a Domain Name. should be active by week’s end. I also occasionally run an internet talk show on where I talk about the music business with call in guests and some other entertainers who send me their mp3 originals to play for my listeners to hear so they can get some exposure. I have activated a new artists page on Facebook at  (feel free to check it out and “like” me!)I just created it and made it separate from my personal Facebook account. I’m also on Twitter @ddpianoman.

I have a number of You Tube videos out there in cyber space. Here is a short one with me singing a tune recorded by The Eagles :

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Shardul Pandey: What is your ultimate message for netizens ?

Don Duvall: I’d like to say to all the netizens out there that I am someone who has lived a very full life although I have always been striving to find that ultimate utopia that exists somewhere. I’m not sure if I will find it, but I will never give up. I have been on the edge a few times in my life of not knowing what was coming next. Especially in the last year as my wife and I both lost our jobs within a two week period. We were absolutely not prepared and devastated. We just about sold everything we had, her car was repossessed, and I had to get rid of some of my musical gear that I didn’t want to get rid of just so we could buy groceries. We then moved out of state to live with relatives for a few months until we could find work. We finally did get jobs after a very hard struggle with one job application after another, and we once again have gotten a nice place to call home, but it will be a long time until we fully recover. HOWEVER the older I get the more determined I am to succeed. I have been through a lot in my lifetime, had many successes and about the same amount of disappointments or more, but you never succeed at anything until you give it a try. Nothing ventured nothing gained as they say. I am hoping people who find out about me will hopefully enjoy my musical journeys and share it with others. I live my life with a philosophy that many others should adapt. Expect nothing in life, and anything you get will be a bonus. That way it is harder to be upset when something doesn’t exactly go as planned. But never give up on your dreams. My music project is a dream I have been trying to capture but never knew quite how to do it because of limited funds, and a lack of knowing what to do to get it off the ground. I know have gotten at least part of the problem solved by getting a good solid foundation under me with my searching for someone to take interest in helping me record and produce my songs. The other part of the problem hopefully is only a short time away. My music project is on and can be viewed here.

You can help me with my project for contributions as low as $1.00 US Please give it a look and expect great things if this project gets off the ground. I am keeping my fingers crossed and as always hoping for the best. As Commander Peter Quincy Taggert (Tim Allen)in the movie Galaxy Quest said “Never Give Up, Never Surrender”. That’s my motto too.

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