Exclusive Interview: Danny ‘The Count’ Koker from Counting Cars
His name is The Count, and his game is one-of-a-kind, customized classic cars and motorcycles. Danny “The Count” Koker doesn’t just love hot rods and choppers. He lives for them. Whether it’s a ’63 Corvette, a classic Thunderbird, a muscle-bound Trans Am, or a yacht-sized Caddy, he knows these high-performance beauties inside and out. What’s more, he’ll do anything it takes to get his hands on those he likes – he’s known for pulling over cars he passes on the road and offering cash for them on the spot – and then “flip” them for a profit.
A self-taught mechanic, Danny currently owns 58 cars and another seven or eight motorcycles. His bottomless knowledge about anything on wheels made him the go-to restoration expert on the hit series Pawn Stars before History gave him his own series, Counting Cars.
Danny’s extensive knowledge of his favorite machines goes hand in hand with the sincere passion for his business. Every episode of Counting Cars features stories behind vintage vehicles, striking before-and-after transformations, and Danny’s relentless compulsion to find and flip the greatest rides of all time, at any cost.
Rock Confidential caught up with Danny ‘The Count’ Koker to talk about his passion for his business, the success of Counting Cars, and growing the Count brand.
Danny, I appreciate your time man. Why don’t we start by talking about the thing that started it all for you – the ’66 Mustang your dad bought when you were a kid.
Absolutely! You came out swingin’ on that one, man! That really is what got me going on this whole thing. My dad grew up in Detroit and I spent a large part of my youth there as well. Most of my family on my father’s side worked at Ford Motor Company at one time or another. It’s in the blood. As far back as I can remember I’ve been around cars and motorcycles. My father got me my first motorcycle when I was eight years old and I’ve been on two wheels ever since. He came home when I was nine with that ’66 GT 350. I still have her. As a matter of fact, where I’m sitting right now I can look out of my office and see her. That car has been with me since I was nine years old. It was dad’s car and he passed it on to me when the good Lord called him home. It’s been in my blood forever, as far back as I can remember man. That Mustang is probably one of the most significant vehicles in what I do. What an impression a car like that makes on a nine year old kid – going into the garage at night when no one’s around, opening things up and tinkering with things. It puts a lasting impression on you that never goes away. That, brother, is a good one. Boy oh boy oh boy is she important to me.
You realized early on how emotions can be attached to a vehicle.
Without a doubt. So many of my relatives grew up in the automotive industry. One of my father’s brothers was an executive with Ford Motor Company for years. One of his other brothers did all kinds of things. He was the biker of the family. He had the Indians and the Harleys and the hot rods back in the day. He ended up living out the rest of his years in Europe. He was a Formula 1 pit crew chief. These are things that are in my family’s blood that’s in my personal blood. I get it. People fall in love with vehicles. People fall in love with all kinds of stuff. Some people love jewelry. Some people love clothes. There’s a group of us nutcases out there that are absolutely in love with cars. When I run across another one like me I know where they’re coming from. I feel what they’re feelin! (laughs)
I love hot rods and seeing the restorations on Counting Cars, but I’m not what you’d call a motor head at all – and I really enjoy the show. You’ve connected with a huge audience that digs what you’re doing. What do you think is appealing about Counting Cars to someone that’s not really a car person?
I wish I knew. I think it’s the fact that we’re having a good time doing what we do. If we were building custom toilets it may not be as good, but I think people are entertained with the team, the whole show and the process of how these things happen and the business runs. We have to pay the bills, get vehicles in and out and keep things moving. In all honesty, I think another part of it is it’s good, clean, family entertainment. So many fans are families. It’s safe for your kids to watch without you and it’s fun to watch with your family. It’s kinda like old school entertainment. It’s the way it used to be and what I wish we could see more of.
You have a great reputation for just being a nice dude. Is it true that early on producers of your show tried to make you out to be more of a hard ass and it just didn’t work?
You’re right on the money, man! (laughs) When they first came in and we were shooting scenes for the pilot episode, we were shooting some things around the shop and they were getting to know us. They were really pushing me to be an asshole. They wanted more yelling and throwing things around. That’s just not me. The boys in my shop are like family. We’ve been together for years. They said to appease the producers back in New York I should try this or that. I was yelling at some of my guys and as soon as we stopped shooting I was hugging all my boys, ‘I love you guys. I’m so sorry.’ (laughs) We all started laughing about it. Thankfully we got the word back from the executive producers in New York after they watched some of the footage – ‘That is just not you.’ Thank you for noticing! What we’re blessed with now is an amazing director, Jonathan Wyche, who has literally become family. I love this guy. We’ve got amazing producers. Our executive producers are Shawn Witt and David George from Leftfield Pictures out of New York. Working with an incredible network like History and our executive producers there, Zachary Behr and Julian Hobbs. All of those cats are letting us do what we really do. They took the time to come out here and get to know us. They spent some time with us and saw what we do. We’re blessed with being able to keep it real in a world where nothing is real. (laughs) That might be another reason why people are so attracted to the show and are enjoying it so much. I think they’re done with so much of the fake stuff that happens all the time. It’s a blessing. I’m a thankful guy, man. I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have this happen. We build hot rods, we build motorcycles, we build toys. This is an unstable economy. So many guys I’ve known in the industry over the years have had to fold up their shop. It’s sad because a lot of talent has gone away. I find myself in a position where I’m so busy I don’t know what to do with it all. I’m straight up thankful.
And obviously you’re passionate about what you’re doing. It’s not just about Count’s Kustoms. You also have a night club, a tattoo shop, a recording studio, your own band…
It’s a crazy ride. These are all things I wanted to do over time and I’ve been given the opportunity to do them. This is a good city to do business in. There’s good tax structure here. I’ve been in this city about 26 years now and Vegas has been very good to me. I try to give back to the city as much as I can. I’ve set my roots here. Count’s Kustoms has been an official business approximately 15 years. It was a hobby shop for about five years prior. For about three years now I’ve had Count’s Tattoo Company over in Rio and it’s doing absolutely wonderful. On the west side of town I’ve got my rock club, Count’s Vamp’d. It’s a full restaurant and bar, but it’s also a full live venue. It’s like something you’d find on the Sunset Strip back in the day. I support the local rock scene and we run nationals through there all the time. It’s a big stage with a big PA, a real front of house, backline, and everything you need for national acts. I’ve got a recording studio here in town, Count’s Desert Moon. It’s in a building right next to my shop. The thing that really feeds my soul is my band, Count’s 77. We do all 70s hard rock. It’s a cover band although we do a couple of originals. We’re getting ready to go into the studio and put together a whole fistful of originals and put out a record. There’s five guys in the band, a fantastic group of musicians (Danny “Count” Koker, Stoney Curtis, John Zito, Barry Barnes and Paul Disibio). I’ve got a music background. People don’t know that about me. My father was a musician. I used to sing professionally 25 years ago. Here in the last couple of years these guys have got me singing again. We’re having a ball doing it. We do a lot of weekend dates, we’ll fly in to different cities and do shows and come back home so I can get my butt back to work! Other than that, I’m really not doing anything. (laughs)
Let’s dig a little more into your music background. You started out by singing gospel music, right?
Absolutely. I’m a gospel singer by trade. I used to sing southern gospel and a lot of black gospel as well. That’s in my blood, man. I love it.
In this crazy world of forcing God out of everything, especially in the entertainment world, it’s refreshing to hear you talk about it.
You bring up a really good point. It doesn’t matter what your denomination is or your belief. Just look at the facts. In my opinion, this nation was built by God loving, God fearing men. Our Constitution was based upon that. Look back at our history. When we kept God involved in things, things were better. As we move along in the way our nation is moving and we’re forcing Him out of everything, we’re seeing a whole lot of garbage. I try to keep it real. I am who I am and I’m not gonna try to BS anybody. I think it’s important that there’s some semblance of God in everything we do or else, what’s the point? People ask me all the time, ‘What do you attest your success to?’ I can’t attest it to an education because I barely got out of high school. I can’t attest it to me being some sort of genius because I don’t think test scores can go that low. (laughs) I say my prayers on a daily basis. I believe that the good Lord above is listening. Frankly, I can only give Him credit for anything good that’s happened in my world. There’s my sermon right there! Now I’m going to take up a collection! (laughs)
It was cool to see Jason Hook from Five Finger Death Punch and Rob Zombie on this season of Counting Cars. Will you be incorporating more musical guests into the show?
I would love to. The musical guests that have been involved so far have all been people that have come to me. I just kinda wait around and wait for the phone to ring and see who calls. I have got to say this about Rob Zombie. He is the nicest person you would ever want to meet. You’ve heard the saying, ‘You don’t want to meet your heroes because nine times out of ten you’re going to be disappointed.’ I’m a big fan of Rob Zombie. When his camp called and wanted his truck built – we built it, delivered it to him and hung out with him for the day. Rob Zombie set the bar on coolness so high that it’s just ridiculous. He is such a total gentleman. A nice guy all day long, an absolute blast. If anybody ever talks crap about that guy, they’re lying because they’ve never met him. Jason Hook is such a cool cat. He’s recently moved here since we ran into each other and we’ve become friends. He’s another really nice guy in the industry. Ozzy Osbourne is another cool cat. I built him a chopper years ago and that is a cool gentleman. Ziggy Marley is cool. We restored his father’s Mercedes for the family. I tell you what, the Marley family, that is some cool folks. I’d hang out with them all the time. I love ’em. Good people, man. I hope to do more of that. It seems my world crosses over into music so much that I’m meeting a lot of people in the music industry. Hopefully we’ll have some more artists on the show and pick into their brains and see what they wanna do.
Danny, I appreciate your time man. What would you like to say to your fans to wrap things up?
I want to say thank you for watching and supporting this show. We are a a group of guys in Vegas that are working very hard to do what we do. We love what we’re doing but it means the world to us that there is a group of people out there watching this show that appreciate it and enjoy it. I get some of the nicest emails, letters and comments from people that are truly enjoying this program around the world. That means the world to me. Thank you for watching and I promise we’ve got some more cool stuff headed your way!