Wearing a slightly discolored, worn out pac-man graphic tee, Dan Russell made his way through the Park at Manderson Landing – Riverwalk with his guitar hanging off his shoulder and amp in hand. With a cheerful, optimistic, yet very grounding and humble attitude, he began what would be Weekly Hangouts’ longest, most personal and fascinating interview.

With a compelling personality and refreshing sense of humor, Dan began to discuss his family, pro-wrestling days, work, faith, and music career.

“I was a pro wrestler for like 14 years, lying about my age, telling them I was a trained fighter.” Russell recalled. “‘Trained’ meant my friends put a ring in the backyard and we learned how to wrestle.”

After years of hard work, dedication, and commitment to wrestling, Dan found himself struggling to make ends meet. An industry in which he could no longer make money, not even enough to get him to his own fights, Dan began to slowly drift away from the world he had grown accustomed to.

“It began to wore on me man, I’d achieve something but then something else would happen and I’d just have to start all over again.” Russell said.

Starting over was something Russell was comfortable with, in fact, he discussed just how important it is to never give up on anything, always work for more, and never settle with what life gives out. It is his drive to succeed in anything he does that propelled him onto the musical journey he is on today.

“I started out doing open mic nights and oh man do you get booed.” Russell said. “It’s just a part of it and you kinda just have to bounce back, laugh it off, and say ‘well, I guess I won’t do that song again.’”

There’s an ease in his voice when he jokes about drunk people booing him at bars, confident in both his talent and charisma. Though, it used to not always be that way.

“I started out playing at local parks, slowly making my way closer to town,” Russell said. “It just genuinely frightened me man, but one day I did it — it just took one good gig.”

With family roots in Muscle Shoals, Alabama dating back generations, you can sense the passion and fervor in which he talks about music. His adoration for folk americana music is contagious, making those who surround him want to learn and hear more about the genre that inspires the man behind One Hand Dan.

“Watching people who have nothing, completely let go and embrace any form of music, it has as a special property to it, shows how much we really have.” Russell said.

Working long hours at a factory plant takes a toll on any working man but while Dan is bearing the physical consequences of working long hours with barely any sleep, it’s his wife — Lizzie Russell — that inspires him to continue on with his dream of being able to make a living out of music.

“She’s great, the best thing to happen to me.” Russell said. “I try to justify all my spending, especially now that we’re trying to move and have a kid but she’s just so understanding of it. She trusts that I know what I’m doing.”

Financially, it has not been easy for Russell. After a few failed experiences trying to buy guitars that were either too expensive or unplayable, he stumbled across Cigar Box Guitars a few years ago and hasn’t turned back since.

“I was at Bonnaroo selling them,” Russell said. “One thing lead to another and I began performing, I mean I wasn’t on the main stage but still people came out.”

It’s his ability to work a crowd, both individually and in a group setting, that attracted many to stop by his tent. Though he was not performing on the main stage, Russell was able to bring in more people than headliners at the Acoustic Stage.

“There were two guys even talking in front of me, they didn’t even realize I was there, asking each other what they thought of One Hand Dan. It was cool, I was sort of famous while there.” Russell said.

Russell’s unique and soulful sound aren’t the only things that make him stand out amongst other artists, his ability to personalize situations, make friends wherever he goes, and genuinely care for the well being of others are the qualities many appreciate about him. Though, Russell himself would not agree.

“I’m a bit of a sociopath,” he joked. “but no man, it’s good to do good for others. I’m a Christian man and so it’s important to act on your Christian values.”

As he looks ahead at what the future might hold for him, his ultimate goal is to help those younger than him realize that there’s more to folk music than what is being played on the radio today.

“I’m going to send you a Townes Van Zandt video in a bit,” Russell said. “Watch it, it’ll change your life forever.”

About The Author

Alejandra is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism with a minor in Spanish and Creative Writing at The University of Alabama. When she is not busy writing or in class, she can be found all around Tuscaloosa, exploring with her tiny blue nose pitbull named Cooper.

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