30 YEARS OF GRISMAN'S DAWG MUSIC

By Kathy Foster-Patton


David Grisman
David Grisman hit a major milestone in October, celebrating the 30th anniversary of his famous quintet that makes "dawg" music — an intriguing blend of rhythm, blues, bluegrass, jazz, and South American strains. He marked the anniversary by releasing not one, but two new recordings, the first he made with the David Grisman Quintet, and the other with the Bluegrass Experience. Located in Northern California, the plain-spoken mandolinist discussed his music and career with JamBase, as well as the provenance of the current favored instrument that he is utilizing.

When asked to pin down the single biggest influence on his musical career, Grisman mulled over the question only for a moment. "Well, if I could name one person, it's hard to do. I guess I'd have to say it's Ralph Rinzler. Ralph Rinzler was my mentor; he was a mandolin player and a musicologist and a folklorist and an amazing human being who happened to come from the same town in New Jersey that I did. I met him when I was two years old, when he was in my mother's junior art school class. My mom was an art teacher. When I was about 15 years old and getting interested in folk music, there were three of us kids who wanted to start a folk music club. We went to my favorite teacher, and she recommended her cousin, Ralph, a professional folk musician, and he came to our junior high school English class with a mandolin, a guitar, and a five-string banjo and he kind of changed my life. He's the guy who discovered Doc Watson and ran the Newport Folk Festival and was head of the Smithsonian Folk Life Institute and engineered the purchase of Folkways Records for the Smithsonian and he did some amazing things. He was Bill Monroe's manager and helped promote Bill Monroe in the early 60's, and I was fortunate enough to be a kid hanging out while a lot of this stuff was going on. He was also a great mandolin player. He played with the Greenbriar Boys, which was the first bluegrass band from New York City. He did a lot of amazing things. If I had to name one influence, it would be him."


David Grisman :: 1954
Grisman named off the others who helped mold him into the musician that he is today. "My dad, who was a musician and unfortunately passed away when I was ten, but he got me started with piano lessons. My mom was a very artistic person as well. I guess your parents have got to figure into it somewhere. I don't know, there are so many musical influences — Bill Monroe, Frank Wakefield, the mandolin player that took me under his wing. I don't try to be not influenced by anything. I'm happy to be influenced by everything good I've ever encountered; it's so hard to single out. I've listened to a lot of music, I could start rattling off... Django Rheinhart, Stephane Grappelli, all the great bluegrass players. There are just too many to name."

After initially recording for several major and independent labels, Grisman founded his own company, Acoustic Disc, which he runs from his California studio. He launched the label in 1990 and has produced over 50 critically acclaimed acoustic music recordings and garnered five Grammy award nominations to date. Grisman's peers hold him in high regard for his eclectic sound, named "dawg" as it resembles no other genre except its own. He related his line of thinking in releasing two recordings at the same time. "They coincided time wise, and both were recorded roughly at the same time. It seemed like we could hopefully make a bigger splash with two of them, and at the same time, we could amortize promotional expenses, take out an ad for two of them. You sort of cut your expenses in half." The CDs differ not only in sound, but also in band members. The David Grisman Bluegrass Experience is oriented around more traditional melodies. The band features some well-known bluegrass names: Keith Little on banjo and vocals (formerly with Ricky Skaggs), Jim Nunally on guitar and vocals (currently with Due West and John Reichman and the Jaybirds), and Chad Manning on fiddle (also with Due West). David's son rounds out the group on bass. The second CD, Dawg's Groove, is the first recording for the David Grisman Quintet since Joe Craven left the group. Grisman is joined by drummer George Marsh, guitarist Enrique Coria, Matt Eakle on flute, and Jim Kerwin on bass.

 
I just can't relate to popular music. I don't listen to it. I don't like it. I don't see any value in it other than providing income for a bunch of people. The whole idea of technology in the past 50 years has gone nowhere except for making it easier and easier for people who have no talent to make records.
-David Grisman
 

The musical inclination toward playing obviously runs in the family. Grisman related, "It's great having my son play with me. It's great. He's been doing that since he was about four years old. A friend of ours sent him a bass when he was two — that was his first word, and he's a very good bass player. He's kind of got a natural ability with that. Beyond that, he's really passionate about music and a really good kid. My other kids play music too, especially my older kid, Monroe. In fact we did a cut for a Van Halen project earlier this past year where I did a song with both my sons. My daughter Jillian plays washtub bass every once in a while, too."


David Grisman
Grisman has been profiled in numerous publications, and it has been written that he started his quintet due to perhaps feeling that he was an outcast and didn't fit in anywhere else. He's outspoken in his opinions when questioned about the subject. "I don't know about an outcast, but we don't fit in if you turn on the T.V. and hear music. It's probably not going to be something that resembles anything I do. I don't particularly care. Early on you run into people in the music business who want you to conform to whatever is selling. Most musicians get steered in commercial directions. To me that's what's wrong with the — see I can't even call it 'the music business.' 'The entertainment business' is better. It's gotten so far away from musical values or artistic values. I find that abhorrent. I'm really turned off by that. I think that has nothing to do with creativity or expression. There are so many styles that are underneath this really bad façade of manufactured crap. Underneath it all, it's all supported by the foundation of — like the blues, country music, classical. All the real music of the world holds up this garbage. Usually they have to involve real musicians somewhere in the process, but it's gotten so distorted by the business people, that are just trying to make a buck, I just can't relate to popular music. I don't listen to it. I don't like it. I don't see any value in it other than providing income for a bunch of people. The whole idea of technology in the past 50 years has gone nowhere except for making it easier and easier for people who have no talent to make records. That's what the technology has been all about since the multi-track tape machine came. I'm not saying I'm a saint or anything, but I pretty much have avoided being influenced by contemporary musical trends because they are in themselves being manipulated by the business. I can't really believe that anyone was born to produce the stuff that you hear. Recordings are a recent phenomena. We've only had recordings for about 100 years. So this whole thing, the first 20 or 30 years of it was really just documenting music that people were making for artistic reasons or at least to dance to or whatever to entertain themselves — you know, the early country music, the various ethnic music, classical music. Not all had musical purposes. As soon as the companies started making records and then this one sold 200,000 and that one sold 25, and they started feeding that into the equation, it just all turned to kaka. I forget what the original question was... If that's what I'm an outcast from, I welcome it. I'm just doing my own thing. I kind of dropped out of the mainstream musical business. I've got my own CD company, I've got my own band. I've managed to have my own audience."


David Grisman by Jake Krolick
While many know him only as a mandolinist, he does play other instruments. "I started on piano, which I don't really mess with very much, other than figuring something out occasionally. I just spent a week recording with John Sebastian, an old friend of mine. I played four-string banjo, mandolin; I played octave mandolin. Sometimes I play five-string banjo, tenor banjo, guitar banjo, usually a related string instrument. I'm not really an expert on those, I just like it." When asked what instrument he might play as his main focus if he had not taken up the mandolin, he doesn't hesitate to answer. "Uh, you know, I think I love all the instruments. It worked out for me to be a mandolin player. That was my fate, I guess. I think I'd rather play... I mean I like composing music and arranging music. So I'd probably just opt to be an arranger or a composer. That interests me as much as playing an instrument. I don't know, it's kind of a hypothetical question — it has become less meaningful to me as the years go on. I would love to play a number of instruments, but I'm a mandolin player now so it doesn't matter. Anything I can excel at, I guess, not so much the instrument. You know people say, why do you have a flute in your band? I really wasn't looking for a flute player; I hire musicians. If they happen to play the flute and play my music well, then... If Matt Eakle, my flute player, had been an oboe player, he'd probably still be in the band. I'm into the music, wherever that goes. All the instruments have a contribution to make. I suppose the reason I'm a mandolin player is because it's the easiest thing for me to do and sound good. If I had that facility with a saxophone, I'd be a saxophone player."

 
I'm into the music, wherever that goes. All the instruments have a contribution to make. I suppose the reason I'm a mandolin player is because it's the easiest thing for me to do and sound good.

-David Grisman

 


David Grisman
Grisman waxes poetic about the mandolin that he enjoys playing right now. "I'm not much of one to play favorites. I have a large mandolin collection. I've played quite a few instruments over my career. Right now, I'm real excited about a new mandolin that I got in May that's built by a young man in Genoa, Italy by the name of Corrado Giacomel. It's real interesting because the mandolin originated in Italy and came to the United States, and in the United States, it kind of got reinvented by Orville Gibson who started the Gibson company in 1898 or something. Other American builders helped perfect its design through the mid 1920's. The mandolin was sort of reinvented into a sort of Gibson-style instrument, which incorporated a lot of violin principles. Finally the design went back to Italy and was reinterpreted by Mr. Giacomel, who has come up with a very fine permutation of that. It's not only different in its design, but it has a lot of really great properties that are evolutionary in the instrument's development. He somehow managed to, I think, improve the American design, at least in terms of volume and projection, and perhaps looks. It's like if Pablo Picasso made a Gibson F5. I met this guy through a friend. My girlfriend and I went to Paris in May, and we made a little side trip to Italy. A friend of mine, Beppe Gambetta, introduced me to this mandolin builder, and he gave me one of his instruments. I've been pretty much playing it ever since. My other mandolins that I for the most part play are vintage Gibson F-5s that were made in the early '20s — you know, 1922, 1923, 1924. I also have played and am friends with all the major mandolin builders, Steve Gilchrist from Australia, Mike Kemnitzer from Michigan. I've played all of their creations as well. Every instrument has got its own characteristics. I'm very interested in the instruments. I've done a number of projects that helped design what all of these instruments sound like. I've been a mandolin collector and a trader for 40 years. That's kind of an ancillary hobby of mine. There are so many different kinds of mandolins, and even within a certain kind, they're all different. You know, people always say, 'That mandolin sounds good, that mandolin sounds good.' I'd say, 'Funny, I don't hear anything.' In other words, they don't say, you sound good. I really think the player has a lot to do with it. Bill Monroe sounded like Bill Monroe no matter what he was playing. It's the same with anybody else. The instrument is a large factor but only in partnership with the musician."


Grisman & Garcia
One of the many things that the "Dawg" is known for is teaming with the late Jerry Garcia on a number of projects. Their relationship was captured in the 1999 documentary Grateful Dawg, and the Acoustic Disc label has released recordings from their jam sessions together — the final one is called Been All Around This World. Grisman remarked that if Garcia were still alive, they would do more of the same stuff. "Hopefully, which would be just anything and everything. We covered a lot of ground in I guess only about six years, and who knows..."

Every summer, Grisman hosts a week-long mandolin symposium that features the highest quality instruction. Those who attend regularly call it simply, "The Symposium." Mandolinists know immediately to what they are referring. His feelings about this instructional event are unequivocal. "The Symposium is something I'm very proud of. I think it's a great thing and something really worth developing. It's been very rewarding although it's the hardest thing I do every year. We're just getting into planning next year's right now. It's going to be hard to beat last year, but we'll do our best."


David Grisman by Jake Krolick
Grisman doesn't like questions about items like goals or his favorite songs or his favorite anything. When asked about any musical highlight he experienced over the last year, he was almost abrupt. "I have musical highlights every day." He appeared very comfortable with where he is and where he has been. Queried as to what ground he hopes to cover over the next ten years, for his 40th anniversary, he elaborated, "I try to kind of follow my path of just developing my own music, and just sort of keeping up with that. That's kind of it - more of the same. I've never really had any real specific goals. I don't like to repeat myself — I like to grow. I also realize that happens in small increments. At this point I just want to stay healthy. I've got a great band. These guys have been with me for years. That's a really special thing to be able to develop a group over a long period of time. The main ingredient in music is time. If you put in the time, it will pay you back. Years ago I used to have a file in my filing cabinet called "concepts," and I'd dream up these projects. But I learned over the years that when it comes down to reality, you can have a concept, but how it plays out in reality might be different. So I've kind of gotten off of that and just sort of taken it as it comes – plenty comes my way. I hope to keep writing music and playing music and arranging music and producing recordings, collaborating with other musicians, but I don't have real specific goals."

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Comments

Hotchkiss starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/9/2006 07:11PM
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Hotchkiss


i know all get shit for this but i truely believe it in my heart.

david grisman is one punk rock mother fucker!

m00ns starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/9/2006 07:23PM
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m00ns

god bless the dawg

Rebacreates starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/9/2006 07:41PM
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Saw the Dawg Last Thursday, the 4th of Nov i believe, and he blew me away!! What an amazing show. He truly is the man.

jammintomusic starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/9/2006 10:41PM
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jammintomusic

This man is amazing. Just saw him in Madison, WI. Blew my mind, played Superstition with Old School Freight Train, a sick randition of Shady Grove, and a whole bunch of his newer stuff. A must see if you get the chance.

Mikey

All Loving Liberal White Guy starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/9/2006 11:09PM
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All Loving Liberal White Guy

a lot of bluegrass and newgrass shit all sounds the same today (i.e. nickel creek, etc) but mumia is sopt on when saying that he is punk rock becasue in a way he challenged and defied a lot of the sonic formalities of bluegrass and took it to a whole nother level and if that's not punk rock, i don't know what is. cheers to the author and if anybody sees ms. foster patton and her crew at a show, please buy them a round.

breadloaf starstarstarstarstar Fri 11/10/2006 06:44AM
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I really like what he has to say about the pathetic current state of popular music. Luckily, there is great music going on all the time, if one dives beneath the surface, as most fans of this site certainly do. What Gris and Jerry did together, so casually, is an absolute treasure chest of gems.

Tan Fri 11/10/2006 09:52AM
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Tan

Question - best beard ever?

2Heavy starstarstarstarstar Fri 11/10/2006 10:05AM
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2Heavy

That was one of the best articles I read on jambase in quite sometime. Nice work. I totally agree with his views on today's popular music, it has totally gone down the toilet. I haven't had a chance to see the Dawg live yet, but I did have a chance to see his friend from Italy Bebbe Gambetta play. He has collaborated with the Dawg in the past on several projects and is like one of the greatest flat-pickers of today.

toestothenose starstarstarstarstar Fri 11/10/2006 10:54AM
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toestothenose

Answer - yep

I've caught David a handful of times and each time I find I notice something else I love about his music and style of play. Dawg Music has been sent down from the heavens to make the music fans smile!

blower starstarstarstarstar Fri 11/10/2006 01:49PM
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Great Article!

True musical genius in every sense! David & Jerry, quite possibly can take full responsibility for carrying the folk and bluegrass musical tradition from past generations to today. That is some serious shit.

Hats off to you Grisman!

EVILFUNK starstarstarstarstar Sat 11/11/2006 02:14PM
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EVILFUNK

tanner - DGQ is one of the best acoustic groups i have ever seen! last time i saw them i didnt see Joe Craven. i missed him. seek old DGQ with Tony Rice. sick! sick! sick!

SplinteredSunlight starstarstarstarstar Sat 11/11/2006 08:00PM
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What a class act. Every time I have had the pleasure of seeing Dawg it has been the most intimate, entertaining and special musical experience. I love how he tells a story about the next composition before they play it. I feel like that is so lacking in alot of music today. So many times I'll be seeing a band and wonder what the heck they're singing or what the songs about. To hear Gris say "this next one is written in memory of my sweet old grandmother", or " our bass player wrote this one for his daughter after she died", it is not just seeing a show, but like being invited into someones' personal story of their life history. It also feels like the one of the closest experiences to seeing Jerry as we can come these days, for which I am very grateful. One of my best musical moments was at Telluride '97 seeing Dawg play with Vassar Clements as the sun set on a sunday evening. Pure bliss. I hope the quintet is with us for a long time.

theorb419 Sat 11/11/2006 08:21PM
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theorb419

i love what he said about popular music

torn&treyed starstarstar Sun 11/12/2006 05:18PM
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what he said about pop is true and I would say that about the popular rock, but here's a thought. I don't really want to see 12-14 year old girls with braces at cheese or phil shows etc... I mean, yea pop sucks, and didn't always. I mean the Beatles used to be pop(ular) music so... who cares whats on MTV as long as it doesn't affect us, right. Whats good is good and what sucks well sucks, all those people think Phish suck so I say let them have their crap.

EVILFUNK starstarstarstarstar Mon 11/13/2006 12:42PM
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EVILFUNK

with all due respect - I think Daves comments on pop music and modern recording are a bit out of touch...in the last 50 years we have developed alot of high tech recording tools that have opened endless doors on a VERRY creative level. after all a recording rig of any kind is like a mandolin - you gotta put it in the right hands before you get magic! these items are art supplies - not art. without multitrack would Steevie Wonder been able to play all of the instruments on his records? Nope.

I think the problem with pop music (and some old farts in Marin - genious or not) is that people are restricted by other peoples ideas of how thier music should sound as well as what gear they should be recording on and where and how they should shop thier music. it sounds like Dave is telling me i need to gather acoustic musicians around a pair of vinage Noiman tube mics in order to make music. WHATEVER....listen to an old Duke Ellington recording from over 50 years ago some time and notice the quality of sound the horns have on the recording. than pop in David Byrne's Rio Momo and hear the difference in the way the horns sound! or better....pop in outkast's Speakerbox and hear the way the horns sound with an 'old' roland 808 drum machiene behind them....thats all recorded on the kind of programs we can run on the computers we are reading this on!

i have also seen ghristman play the 'jerry tune' card to the satisfaction of the audience he picked up working with the man who FINALLY made it big with his hit 'Touch of Grey'. if thats not playing along with whats popular than what is? how many times did Jerry have to 'punch in' to get his solo right on that track?...modern hi-tech recording gear at work! pop can be better than the industry demands! I swear it!

EVILFUNK Mon 11/13/2006 12:46PM
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EVILFUNK

typo - i am assuming that Rio Momo was made on anything but the sort of recording rig Outkast used for Speeker box - all modern anyway...more my point.

a22nz Mon 11/13/2006 02:42PM
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Tanner, thats a good question about his beard. My answer would be fuck yes! that is a good ass beard.

data starstarstarstarstar Mon 11/13/2006 03:30PM
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Is some one defending pop music? David you kick ass.

MelbaToast starstarstarstar Mon 11/13/2006 09:07PM
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MelbaToast

Right on EvilFunk! I don't like most new music myself, but it's such an old-person/boomer thing to insist that all new music sucks. Good music defies genre, and generations. There was good music before Lennon, and there was good music after he died (and Jerry too for that matter). And while 99% of the music on top 40 radio does indeed suck, it is dangerously narrow minded to try to group large chunks of music as "good" and other chunks as "sucking." For example Outkast was named one of the top 100 best lyricists of all type by Paste magazine (an INDIE music mag. thank you), and they are top 40.
As for having to look under the surface, that too is changing rapidly. With digital music taking over, the industry is turning into a niche market. Yes, it's true, you will never here Grisman on top 40 terrestial radio, but who even listens to that anymore? Most people I know listen to Sirius and XM, and they PLAY people like Grisman. It's really not under the radar anymore. In fact it's never been more accessable.
(p.s. don't confuse pop as a genre with top 40, there are many pop bands who are never played in top 40 radio).

calicheezer Mon 11/13/2006 09:57PM
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calicheezer

The Dude is a Legend . . . His style carries on ... More Free Shows on Santa Monica Peir Please !!!

nfenne starstarstarstarstar Tue 11/14/2006 08:30AM
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nfenne

I didn't percieve Grisman's comments as being against using technology in recording. What I took away from it was that today's recording technology can make someone sound better than they really are. Anybody familiar with ProTools can tell you that pitch correction and other digital editing tools really do wonders for a performer that needs them. Many musicans can use recording technolgy to create music that is new and innovative while many others use it to easily create a recording that sounds like everything else on the radio.

EVILFUNK starstarstarstarstar Wed 11/15/2006 12:46PM
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EVILFUNK

nffene has more intelegent shit to say about recording than dave.

protools is verry usefull but also a bit mucth...the idea that pro tools is 'the industry standard' bothers me....what does it say that on the side of the box? this 'garage band' thing is worse....

funkyriddims Thu 11/16/2006 09:42AM
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funkyriddims

The stuff Dawg did with Garcia will always be some of my favorite music ever

FormulaOBX Thu 11/16/2006 01:36PM
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Next Album "Punk Dawggy Style"

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstar Fri 11/17/2006 09:21AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

Dawg Music can never go wrong!! the new cds from Grisman, dawgs groove and bluegrass xperience are excellent!!!
Peace Ya'll

Native51 Sat 1/13/2007 05:51PM
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Native51

Grisman will always have my respect because of how he openned Jerry up. In the Grateful Dawg DVD I learned more about Jerry as a person than I had learned in 5 years of being a "Dead Head." I believe if it werent for Grisman Jerry would have stopped playing long before he did. Anyone who had a relationship with someone like Jerry learned a lot from him, but I think Garcia and Grisman learned from each other and openned up even more musical doors for each other. That is one of the reasons music is so dear to me. It taps into your sub conscience as well as your conscience, and to mesh like they meshed while playing I can only imagine how they felt about each other. You must respect where you came from to realize and enjoy where you are now.

gypsyjazz7 Fri 1/19/2007 09:20AM
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Technology is just a tool, it's what you make of it.
It's good in a way because almost anybody can record themselves and reach an audience thru the net, which is a very cool thing. The down side is that there's probably a lot of pretty pedestrian stuff around. I saw Grisman in Redwood city at the Djangofest, he was great, and he's recorded with my friend Stephane Wrembel recently.
As far as technology, the other part of it is that many of the pop acts sound pretty lame live. At this point almost anybody can sound great in a recording. I've heard too many sigers who just can't really sing in tune live for instance. They owe their careers to programs like pro tools!