When it comes to the blues, throughout his life David Grissom has been at all the right places at all the right times. From sharing the stage at Austin nightclub Antone’s with some of the giants of the genre in the 80s, or later while touring with the Allman Brothers, he has enjoyed a unique firsthand view of his own personal heroes doing what they do best. With his latest record, How It Feels To Fly, Grissom continues to pay homage to his blues roots and to the influences that have inspired him.
First Time I Met The Blues: David Grissom
Austin, Texas guitarist David Grissom on his roots, favourite blues artists and how one note played the right way will amaze him…
How did you first get into the blues?
My guitar teacher, Philippo Franchini, turned me on to B.B. King’s Live At The Regal, Magic Sam’s West Side Soul and the Butterfield Blues Band’s first record and he pretty much said, ‘We’re gonna start right here.’ That was a pretty fortunate break for me as those three records are seminal points in electric blues history. Live At The Regal in particular might be the greatest electric blues record ever recorded and I like it as much today as I did the first time I heard it.
On the song Bringing Sunday Mornin’ To Saturday Night from your new album, you name check Duane Allman. What kind of impact has he had on you?
A friend of mine from high school turned me on to the first two Allman Brothers records and I was just immediately drawn to what they were doing. Something about the way they were stretching the form of the blues to include improvisation and a jazz direction – combining the two things knocked me out. Then I got At Fillmore East and that record to me is a masterpiece in every way. The playing itself influenced me in a deep way, but also the electric guitar tones, on the original vinyl pressing especially; I chased those tones for a lot of years.
You played a couple of fill-in dates for Dickey Betts with the Allman Brothers back in the 90s. What was that experience like for you?
I really don’t know how to describe it. When I was in high school I played with a bunch of guys and we played all of those tunes. We were all so influenced by the Allman Brothers and we actually even had two drummers. The good news was that all the parts that I learned back then were all Dickey Betts’ parts, so when I got there Warren Haynes said, ‘Here are all the parts that I’m playing,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, thank you Jesus!’ If I had had to learn all the harmonies to those lines on a moment’s notice it would have been a disaster. It was just so surreal to play all those songs with them… It felt like stepping onto the holodeck in Star Trek or something. I’d been playing with John Mellencamp for three years, and when I got home after those three weeks playing with the Allman Brothers, I thought, ‘Yeah, now I remember why I do this,’ and decided to head into a different direction.
You moved to Austin in 1983 at a time when it became a real focal point for blues music in America. Can you describe what it was like to come up as a musician in that environment?
It was a great education; like magic on a nightly basis. When I moved here, within two weeks I was playing with Lucinda Williams and then she got another guitar player in her band, a guy named Derek O’Brien, who was in the house band at Antone’s, and then he got me into Lou Ann Barton’s band. By virtue of the fact I was in Lou Ann’s band and we were playing Antone’s all the time, I got in free and was there basically every single night. Clifford [Antone] was bringing in people like Otis Rush, Snooky Pryor, James Cotton, Jimmy Rogers, Albert Collins, Albert King… You name it! So night after night I got to see this incredible stuff. Stevie [Ray Vaughan] had kinda broken through at this point. I saw Stevie and Otis Rush go at it one night and it was literally the most intense thing I’ve ever heard.
What is it about the blues that touched you so deeply?
First, I think you need to distinguish between great blues and sub-par, average blues. I can’t just say that blues affects me that way but that the best blues certainly does. People like B.B. King, Albert King, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Robert Johnson or Buddy Guy, you know? It’s just the raw power and emotion. That depth of feeling, the depth of expression, and the economy of notes. I go through periods where I play a lot of notes but man, one note played the right way… I’ll take Albert King playing one note over – well, I’m not gonna name names but, if you’re a human being and you’ve lived life, you can’t not be touched by people that are of that depth.
How much does the blues inform what you do?
For me the blues is the jumping off point. Everything that I play is informed by blues. It’s hard to put into words, but things that are hard to put into words to me imply that there is a magic and a mystery to them. There’s not enough mystery in our lives any more. Everything is out there in black and white and comes at us so fast.