So Block Island

Block Island's Man Behind the Curtain

Dan Cahill keeps Block Island rocking

So Rhode Island Magazine ·

Seriously, Dan Cahill is a little quirky. He hasn’t worn a matching pair of socks in decades, his Sunday best khaki’s are perpetually splattered with fading paint and he craves anything from LaSalle Bakery. In 1984, he visited Block Island but never left because, as he tells it, “I’d never been in a room with all left handed people, that’s why I stayed.” Growing up in Providence’s Elmhurst neighborhood, Dan’s mom gave him lots of grief, mostly for not following a straight path to the square world, but Dan knew there was music to hear and people to meet. “My mother said she must have taken the wrong baby. I never really had a real job until I quit drinking in ‘79.”

“I brought the blues to the beach,” he said, after tending bar at The Wreck in Misquamicut and starting his M.O.M. Productions, an apt acronym for Mayor of Misquamicut. Big stars like Willie Dixon, Little Walter Horton, Eight to the Bar, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Westerly hero Johnny Nicholas and Stevie Ray Vaughn, who he booked for $400 on a Tuesday night, all played his room. He once drove Roosevelt Sykes to a city gig because The Honeydripper told him, “I wouldn’t let just anybody drive me around. I heard you were the man, Dan, that’s why I’m trusting you.”

“It costs nothing to say hello. It costs nothing to be polite,” he believes, and his good nature was well received by islanders. At McGovern’s Yellow Kittens, Dan worked behind the scenes making things, as bluesman Chris Smither would say, “so the seams don’t seem to show.” He booked blues, cover and swing bands onto its tiny stage, then big names like Jonathan Edwards, Taj Mahal and James Cotton. Always long gone by dark, he remains dedicated, indispensable and back to work each day at dawn. In the old days, many wee hour imbibers heard Dan’s keys in the Kittens’ front door before making a fast exit out the back. “I always knew who was in there before I opened the door,” he says, laughing.

In 1992, he rode his bike from Seattle to San Francisco, mostly because he hadn’t done it yet. Right off, he met Neil Young but declined a lift on his tour bus. In San Francisco it was Jerry Garcia who asked what he was doing. “I said, riding my bike down the coast. He said, ‘That must have been a hard ride.’ I said it was a piece of cake.” Naturally Jerry said, “I’m playing a show, why don’t you come?” That’s so Dan.

After 30 years of being the man behind the curtain, there’s no going back to the beach or the old neighborhood because, “all the old people are gone, the old buildings are gone” but he still hands out a hundred left handed calendars every Christmas. Dan would love to book Cheryl Wheeler on the island; her ode “75 Septembers” is a favorite and as he approaches his own 75 this September, like her dad he remains that “child of changing times.” Each day still starts with two different socks, a fun nod to rebellion, to his youth, to his mom.

“When I see her in heaven,” he says, “I expect her to say ‘Dan, yer nothin but a horse’s ass!’” but there’ll be many more September’s until that show gets booked. 

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