David Grissom is a guitar geek's dream, an inventive player who combines power, finesse, theory and good taste into a disturbingly virile mix that straddles the line between beautiful abstraction and full-tilt boogie. Grissom is, for the most part, always turned up to 11.
Now coming up on 30 years in Austin, Grissom has released four albums of his own material, the most recent album being How It Feels To Fly, a half-studio, half-live recording that he releases Wednesday night at Under the Volcano.
Grissom is both virtuoso and journeyman, sideman and leader, merciless road dog and insouciant studio gun-for-hire. While he still takes gigs with Joe Ely and other artists, these days he's concentrating as much as possible on his own project. Over the past two years, with a regular gig at Austin's Saxon Pub, Grissom has put together a top-flight ensemble consisting of Stefan Intelisano on keys, Bryan Austin on drums and locked-down-tight bassist Scott Nelson, who also books time with Houston favorite Mike Barfield.
Grissom, who claims he never knows what the direction of one of his recording projects will take "until I'm about half way through it," tells Rocks Off that he's tried for something of a balancing act with his latest.
"At the end of the day, I tried to strike a balance between not making a record for just guitar players, yet having plenty of guitar on there," he says. "I still believe the parts have to serve the song, always have. I also didn't want to make another version of my last CD. I try to keep moving."
The album begins with "Bringin' Sunday Mornin' to Saturday Night," an ode to Lightnin' Hopkins and other venerable blues legends: "Lightnin' Hopkins lightin' up the Third Ward / Tellin' each story with a low-down chord."
It also includes two co-writes with Nashville heavyweight Chris Stapleton. Grissom was with Houstonian Frank Liddell's Carnival Publishing for a number of years and notes that Liddell hooked him up to write with Stapleton, whom Liddell describes as "the most talented guy in Nashville."
Grissom reveals that Stapleton, who has stepped away from bluegrass supergroup the Steeldrivers to go solo, is "my favorite singer and writer in Nashville."
"I didn't know who he was at the time and he has grown so much in the last ten years," he says. "We wrote well together because I've always got a million musical ideas running through my head, and he is blazing fast with a lyric when he hears music he digs. Some of the tunes worked out where we both wrote half the lyric and music, others he was so damn fast I barely got a word in after I played him an idea."
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The album contains two stellar live covers: the Allman Brothers' instrumental classic "Jessica" and ZZ Top growler "Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings."
"I played with the Allman Brothers filling in for Dicky Betts for three weeks in '93, which was kind of like stepping onto the holodeck for me," Grissom marvels. "I actually played in a band in high school that had two drummers, and we would do 'Elizabeth Reed' and stuff like that. 'Jessica' is deceptively simple and to get it right takes really getting inside the tune. I never heard anybody cover it before."
As for covering Billy Gibbons and crew -- Grissom was part of the house band for a televised ZZ Top tribute show back in the day -- Grissom notes he saw ZZ Top "every time they came through Louisville when I was in high school. Junior high, too. Billy G. was pedal to the floor all the time back then and 'Nasty Dogs' is just a badass song to play."
About his current ensemble, Grissom notes that bassist Nelson "really pushed me to put a band together," he says. "I owe him one for that.
"I'd played with Bryan [Austin, drummer] before and he in turn recommended Stefano," he adds. "We all have a little different musical background, but we've come to a place of understanding where I think we've learned from and really respect each other's individual strengths."David Grissom band working out on ZZ Top's "Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings"
Grissom took the somewhat unusual step of both producing and mixing How It Feels to Fly.
"I have always been fascinated by the recording process, and always pick the brain of the engineer on every session I do." he says. "I bought a bunch of nice vintage gear after the first Chicks tour I did, and I just decided to start making records at my house.
"It's a lot of work but I feel like each record sounds better than the last," continues Grissom. "I'd love to work with someone like R.S. Field on my next one. It would be fun to turn it over to somebody I trust, but it's also really damn expensive to hire a studio, an engineer, and a producer."
While Grissom says he loves making records, after two years the live shows are really starting to cook.
"These guys are so good we can improvise a lot," he explains. "Some of the tunes are more structured than others, but when we stretch out on instrumentals, it's really wide-open. Everyone in the band is a great listener and improviser, and there is an unspoken line of communication that has slowly developed over the last two years.
"So it's a blast."
David Grissom plays Under the Volcano, 2349 Bissonnnet, tonight at 8 p.m.
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