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Nashville’s Singing Chiropractor: Donny Van Slee

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Yep, you read that right.

Donny Van Slee was raised off the west coast of Florida and realized at a young age that music was more than just a passion – it was his life’s art. After graduating high school in 2011, Donny started to perform at local restaurants, tiki huts, and breweries. His music continued to grow, so one morning, he quit his day job and pursued his shows.

In 2018, Donny left his hometown to study at Palmer College of Chiropractic, located in Daytona Beach, Florida where he continued to perform live every weekend. Donny finally discovered Nashville, TN while road tripping from Florida to Colorado to start a chiropractic internship.

After hours of emails and phone calls, the “World-Famous Tootsies Orchid Lounge” decided to grant him an audition. So, while Donny was driving back from Colorado to Florida to graduate Chiropractor school, he auditioned and they hired him after performing his first cover song, “Good Direction” by Billy Currington.

He left Nashville the next morning, drove to Florida to receive his doctorate, kissed mom and dad goodbye, and went back Nashville. He was instantly enrolled in “Honky Tonk School” which involved front-man training for Tootsies, Honky Tonk Central, Kid Rocks, and Rippy’s.

We sat down with Donny recently to get to know Nashville’s “Singing Chiropractor” a little bit more…

Bridge: Tell our readers a bit about your music…

donny van slee - Nashville's singing chiropractor
Instagram @donnyvanslee

DVS: The earliest memories of my childhood involved riding in a car seat while my parents repeatedly played “Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits” on the cassette player in our van, on our way to Hollywood Beach, FL. We lived five minutes from the beach, so I listened to that same cassette every weekend for countless years. In fact, the first song I ever learned was “Free Falling” by Tom Petty. On top of that, my father constantly played classic rock on the radio station, always quizzing me on which band was playing.

My passion for creating music began in 6th grade, when Santa Claus left two guitars under the Christmas tree. He left an acoustic and electric, but the electric guitar broke right away, so I learned on the acoustic guitar. This blessing in disguise naturally led me to start singing, otherwise my focus would have been playing cool riffs on the electric guitar. Singing and playing guitar was just a hobby until I experienced my first paid performance after graduating high school in 2011. A few months after that show, I quit my day job and pursued music full time.

My continued passion for music creation is fueled by the constant absence of my family. Last year, I relocated from my hometown in Weeki Wachee, Florida to Nashville, Tennessee to further my music career. I love this place. However, I miss my family and would rather be home if I’m not grinding every day.

Bridge: Should we call you Donny or Doctor Donny?

DVS: If I make your spine crack, you can call me Dr. Don. Everybody else can just call me Donny. My buddies call me Dr. Don sometimes for fun, “It’s Dr. Donnnnnn!” On Broadway, most musicians and higher-ups just call me “doc” because they don’t know my name but they know I’m a chiropractor.

Bridge: The industry doesn’t typically see people from your field of work crossing over into the creative world. Do you think that there are more artists in the medical and business fields than people realize?

DVS: There are way more artists in the medical and business field than people realize. I used to perform regularly at this brewery back home called Marker 48. I played there twice a month, for four hours at a time. It’s a cool venue and still one of my favorite spots to hang out at when I’m back home in Florida. One day, I get this random phone call from a guy who saw me playing there and wanted to jam. He sounded like a pretty cool guy, so I decided to meet him at his place. I pulled into his driveway and couldn’t help noticing how nice his house was. Not to mention, it was in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in town. When he opened the door, I abruptly asked him what he did for a living, he said, “I’m a surgeon, come on in.” He turned out to be a kickass drummer and was looking for a new lead singer for his band called, “Teaching Spencer.” The bass player also happened to be a physician assistant, specializing in orthopedic surgery. These guys were awesome. They put on huge local shows a few times a year, inviting every nurse, doctor, and business partner from their hospital. You never know who’s singing and playing those instruments on stage.

Bridge: How do you balance your music and a full-time career in medicine? What is the hardest part of going back and forth between both worlds?

DVS: It took over a year to finally achieve some balance. Basically, I need to plan out my week the weekend before, otherwise, I won’t get much done. When I first moved to Nashville, it was a huge challenge balancing learning how to perform on Broadway and studying to pass my national chiropractic boards exam. But eventually, I passed my exam and learned enough songs to make a living downtown. Once I found my groove on Broadway, I found an associate chiropractic position to begin my journey as a doctor. That was a huge learning curve because the office had a ton of procedures I needed to learn. A year later, I’m finally trained to where my boss doesn’t have to hold my hand and I can confidently care for my patients. So now I’m cruising, working Monday through Thursday crackin’ necks and cashin’ checks (just kidding, I love my patients). Friday through Sunday, I’m grinding away with my music, cramming as much into those three days as I possibly can. However, as I just finished typing this, I got a text that one of my patients just got into a car accident. So now, I’m putting my doctor hat on and quickly heading into the office to care for her. Sometimes duty calls on the weekend.

Bridge: Tell us about your latest release, “Spencer’s Song”

DVS: I love covering Zach Bryan and figured creating a song in the same genre will make me want to play more original music. So, I’m just happy I finally wrote a song that I love to play. I’m able to express so much more emotion with it compared to the other songs I’ve released. The crazy part is, I actually met Zach Bryan a week after the song was released. He happened to be in Nashville for his concert, hanging out at his hotel bar. My buddy was playing a show that night at that bar and texted me about Zach. I drove there, met Zach, and told him I wrote a song based on his sound. He then told me that he wanted to hear the song. He ended up listening to the whole song and said it’s a “beautiful song” and even started singing the chorus in front of me. I can’t even begin to explain how amazing that felt.

@donnyvanslee

Bridge: Obviously we need to know the inspiration for the name…

DVS: I met Spencer through a mutual friend after a show on Broadway in downtown Nashville, TN. Spencer’s the member of this really cool duo 76th Street that has over 1-million followers on TikTok. One day, Spencer and I were hanging out and she was talking about her day job. I immediately started making fun of the fact she’s doing so well musically but still has a day job. While driving around in the truck, I started singing “Spencer’s got a day job” which got her laughing.

As an attempt to make her laugh a second time, I picked a random weekend and wrote up a draft for a song with the same words in it. That same day, I recorded it on my phone and picked her up to hangout again. I played the song through my truck speakers while we were driving to a coffee shop. She was actually working on her laptop when I played it which made the moment ten times better. The draft was nothing great, but it was enough to get her laughing again.

A few months later I tweaked some of the words, added a few more verses, and turned it into an actual song. Finally, I recorded the song with my producer and out came “Spencer’s Song.” I decided to call it “Spencer’s Song” because it’s Spencer’s song and wanted to keep it simple.

Bridge: Where can we see you perform this fall?

DVS: On the weekends, you can find me performing regularly on lower Broadway at Tootsies Orchid Lounge, Kid Rock’s, Honky Tonk Central, and Rippy’s. Moreover, I love bringing a battery-powered speaker on the pedestrian bridge (connecting Nissan Stadium to Downtown) and playing for tips. The show I’m most excited for is November 11th at The Bowery Vault in Nashville, TN. I’ll be opening for Spencer’s duo, 76th Street. Lastly, I know this isn’t a performance, but I’ll be officially releasing my five-song debut EP “Detective Pain” on Oct. 28th

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