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David Grissom: A Style that Takes No Prisoners

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Jazz Guitar Today sits down with Austin’s David Grissom.

Bob Bakert, Editor of Jazz Guitar Today: It was Austin City Limits well over a decade ago.  I can’t remember the act but what I do remember was this unbelievable young guitar player.  He was a sideman on the gig.  He did not steal the show but he added so much to it.  I can see why he gets hired over and over because he is tasty, deliberate, generous on the stage and an absolute killer player.  Fantastic tone, great choices… what can I say, I love this guys playing…

JGT:  There is a long tradition of singing guitarists who also write songs (Eric Clapton, Robben Ford, Jimi Hendrix, etc.).  Can you talk about your personal emphasis and how do you divide your time to each discipline?

The older I get, the more I place emphasis on songs…….which is why it’s taking me forever to finish a new record. And, I feel just as strongly about instrumentals as I do lyric based songs. I find it really challenging to write a great instrumental tune in the blues rock idiom without restating what’s been done a hundred times before. I’ve worked with so many great songwriters that I can have a hard time finishing a tune because I’m always comparing it to some of those great writers. I see myself as a guitar player first, songwriter second, and singer third. It’s hard to devote enough time to all 3 disciplines, and singing gets the least amount of attention in my routine lately……It’s so much easier to just be the guitar player in the band.

JGT:  You have been onstage with a variety of great artists.  Is there someone past or present that you (have not played with) would like to share the stage with?

At this point, I’m much more focused on my thing and sessions. I love being able to really stretch out with my band and I love making records. Going on the road has lost some of its charm after doing it for a good 25 years. I don’t sleep well on the bus. But……..I’d love to play with Clapton……… 

JGT:  Your style takes no prisoners…there is no doubt when you play that you have something to say.   Can you talk a little about your approach to live performance… The reason I ask is to encourage players to “speak up” musically.  

The 5 years I played with Joe Ely were invaluable. Joe never ever gave less than 110% regardless of how many people were there, or how tired he was, or if he had the flu. That made a huge impression on me. The artists that have influenced me the most as an improvisor all have a signature sound and fearlessness that I’m drawn to. Somewhere along the line I lost any inhibition I had about mixing up styles which I think led to a healthy disregard for “correctness” if you will. I try and use the full dynamic range of the instrument and that sometimes gets pretty aggressive.

JGT:  Are Jumbo 6100’s still your fret of choice.  What properties do they have that lends to your voice?

I like them on my PRS…..they are actually made by another company but are very similar in size. They allow me to use a heavier string gauge and still be able to do all the pedal steel type bends.

JGT:  You have played side man to some great artists.  What qualities does that take?

Experience and preparation…..take any and every gig you can get along the way……..practicing at home is obviously a must, but gigs are where you learn the intangibles. And, at the point where you’re being considered for good gigs, it’s given that you can play. From there it’s about attitude, checking your ego at the door, and versatility. 

JGT:  I have seen many YouTube videos of you playing. What is your approach to solos?  

The main thing for me is emptying my mind out…..having that blank canvas to allow something unique and fresh to happen. The more consistently I’m gigging and/or recording, the more I’m able to do that. From there it becomes a conversation. On a good night it’s very much a spiritual experience. In the studio doing sessions for other artists, I’m very focused on the lyric and melody, and find that informs my solos quite a bit.

JGT:  In regard to staying healthy… what is the key to surviving on the road?

The obvious things…….eat as well as you can, don’t drink too much…..in my case not at all, take a walk, try to sleep……..

JGT:  Do you have favorite tracks have you recorded either as leader or as sideman?  

Off the top of my head……..Joe Ely Live At Liberty Lunch, The first 2 James McMurtry CDs, the 4 Buddy Guy records I played on, every record I’ve done produced by RS Field, Robben Ford Mystic Mile, Storyville A Piece Of Your Soul,  John Mellencamp Whenever We Wanted, and a record that hasn’t come out yet by Hattie Webb. I don’t listen to my own records much after they are done.

JGT:  Who are you listening to now… and who is/has been your biggest influences?

I still listen to the stuff that inspired me as a teenager….Revolver, Wes, Bright Size Life, Who’s Next, and BB Live At the Regal to name a few. 

As far as new stuff goes, I really listen for great songs. I really try to avoid the Instagram comparison trap, which I think can stymie having an original voice. There are so many great players posting stuff daily that it’s sensory overload for me.

JGT:  Thanks for your time David!

David Grissom has toured and recorded with John Mellencamp, Joe Ely, StoryvilleThe Allman Brothers Band, The Dixie Chicks, Chris Isaak, Robben Ford, The FabulousThunderbirdsRingo Starr, Buddy Guy, Bob Schneider, and John Mayall among many others. For more on David.

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