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Published: 2015/03/18
by Glenn H Roth

David Grisman: The Dawg Days of Spring

Can you describe the friendship that you shared with Jerry Garcia, as well as the musical language you shared?

Jerry and I had many common musical interests and were compatible in many ways. Of course bluegrass was a big thing for both of us and was what first brought us together when we both showed up in West Grove, Pa. on the same Sunday afternoon in 1964 to hear Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys. This love of bluegrass was what led to the formation of Old & in the Way in 1973 as well. We both listened to much of the same blues, old-time country and jazz through the years, which gave us both an extensive musical vocabulary by the time we reunited in 1989. But mostly, we had a lot of good times together in a relaxed environment.

Are there any other Old in the Way recordings that might come to life as a live album?

Perhaps. I have a pretty extensive archive of master recordings.

Do you still stay in touch with Peter Rowan? And is there any chance you guys might collaborate?

We do stay in touch and see each other occasionally. Anything is possible.

What type/make of mandolin do you play and what’s unique about it’s sound?

I play many types of mandolins (love ‘em all) but primarily I use my 1922 Gibson F-5 (dubbed “Crusher“by the great Australian mandolin builder, Steven Gilchrist). It’s the best old F5 I’ve ever played, rich and robust with a lot of penetration. I also use mandolins built by a very talented luthier from Genova, Italy, Corrado Giacomel. Mr. Giacomel has come up with several “modern” designs that are both beautiful, functional and very different from the old Gibsons. I like having different “voices.”

In the early 1990s, you started the Acoustic Disc label. How would you describe the current state of acoustic and instrumental music? And do you feel your commitment to this music has helped increase its popularity and help spawn current acts like the Punch Brothers.

There are a lot of young folks making acoustic music nowadays with all kinds of influences in play. I think it’s a very healthy environment. Hopefully I’ve made some contribution to this. Of course, to me there’s no such a thing as “current” art. That’s a myth perpetuated by businessmen. Great art and music are timeless.

What’s the key to making beautiful acoustic, instrumental music? And what’s the writing process like?

I think the key to making beautiful music is starting with a good composition — then add great playing and great sounding instruments. In my opinion, the acoustic route allows the greatest opportunity for individual expression, both musically and sonically. For me the composing process is part inspiration and part perspiration. It usually starts with a melodic idea or motif and then I flesh it out. Having written many pieces, I’m also very aware of not trying to repeat myself, but of course everyone has their own style which is usually recognizable.

Your son Samson was playing upright bass for the acoustic group Deadly Gentlemen. Is he the only one to follow in your musical footsteps?

Sam left the Deadly group over a year ago. He is now living in Nashville and has played gigs recently with Ricky Skaggs, Jesse McReynolds, Tim O’Brien and Bryan Sutton and just finished a European tour with Lee Ann Womack. He also plays with the DGBX and my FolkJazz Trio. He’s a fine bassist.

How did your children Monroe and Gillian get into directing and producing documentaries – Grateful Dead: Backstage Pass (1992) Grateful Dawg (2000) Village Music: Last of the Great Record Stores (2012) – and are there any projects in the work?

Gillian’s the film maker really. She’s working at it for quite a few years now, starting when she used to film various gigs. Recently she was head of video production at the Teaching Channel, and most recently started working for Lucas Films. Monroe has been actively involved in many facets of the music business for years. It was great to see them both collaborate on the Village Music project. Monroe now plays in Petty Theft, a most popular rock band in the North Bay. My wife, Tracy is a very talented artist and musician. She’s done some wonderful music portraiture which adorns quite a few of my recording projects, including Been All Around This World (with Jerry Garcia), Dawg Plays Big Mon and Old School Freight Train, among others. She has four grown kids (my step sons and daughter) and together we have five grandchildren! Keeps us busy.

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