Texas Guitar Great David Grissom Digs Way Down Deep

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David Grissom has a résumé that most guitarists can only dream of. From his early days with Hank III in Killbilly, Grissom went on to playing, along with Jimmy Pettit and Davis McLarty, for Joe Ely from 1985 to 1991. A hell-for-leather band that could hang with the Clash or just about anyone else, for that matter, that ensemble is still one of the top acts ever to come out of Texas.

Grissom left Ely to work with John Mellencamp before forming Storyville, an all-star Austin blues-rock ensemble. Following the shelving of Storyville, Grissom toured with the Allman Brothers as well as the Dixie Chicks.

Grissom also is a seasoned session player and was signed to Houstonian Frank Liddell's Carnival Music in Nashville for some years as a songwriter. He recently released his third solo recording, Way Down Deep, that features the usual deep grooves and monster licks we've come to expect from the lanky guitar slinger.

He comes to town Sunday for a writers-in-the-round session with Lisa Morales and legendary Austin guitarist Casper Rawls. Rocks Off caught up with him at home in Dripping Springs.

Rocks Off: After years of hard touring with Joe Ely, Storyville and Dixie Chicks, what is the primary consumer of your playing time these days?

David Grissom: My own material and working to become a better musician on every level. I've done the Nashville publishing deal thing, tons of touring and lots of records. Aside from really missing all the studio work I was doing for a lot of years, I'm much more interested in pursuing my path as a player and writer.

Unfortunately, the fact that CD sales are down drastically has eliminated the bulk of the sessions I used to get called for.

RO: You're known for a unique style/approach. Who were your first teachers, what did you pick up from them that became part of your sonic signature?

DG: My first three teachers each introduced me to three distinct styles which became fundamental to me developing my own thing. My first teacher turned me on to Keith Richards and Hendrix, the second teacher steered me into blues, the three Kings and Magic Sam, and my third teacher was a jazz guy.

From him I discovered Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell and others. On top of that, my father listened to Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings every night, and I hit all the bluegrass festivals that came to Louisville, where I grew up. Norman Blake and Doc Watson were big influences.

RO. I remember David Holt talking about playing an acoustic part live in a TV performance by Carlene Carter and him saying the pressure was tremendous but, "That's the kind of playing that separates the men from the boys." What would be your top "I can't fuck this up," "men from boys" moment?

DG: Hmmm..., I don't know. I have felt that in sessions occasionally when I may play the intro and first verse by myself just backing up the artist. Knowing that all these great players are sitting there in a very expensive studio depending on you to get it right can add some pressure, but really, you just have to trust that those 10,000 hours paid off.

RO: You were on hand when the first Chris Knight recordings were made. What was your impression of him at that point? Did you think "he's really got it," or was he just another newbie in Nashville who might never be heard from again?

DG: I felt very strongly that he was an incredibly gifted artist. Very volatile at times, but really eloquent as well. I am always attracted to that contrast in writers, and I think it comes through in the depth and imagery in his songs.

I never thought he would be accepted by the Nashville mainstream machine, but really admired the guys that were behind him.

RO: You were an early endorser of Paul Reed Smith guitars. What was it that convinced you, 'This is the guitar for me'?

DG: Actually playing one convinced me, but I was as much intrigued by the fact that it was somewhat of a blank canvas, and saw possibilities in coming up with something different than the usual Gibson/Fender palette.

RO: Do you like/listen to jazz? Does that influence you, or is it just for listening pleasure?

DG: Yes! I listen to it as much as anything. I am very much influenced by the phrasing and sense of swing of people like Wes and Coltrane, but I'm definitely not anywhere near what I would call a legitimate jazz guy.

RO: Any young players you've seen that you really like? What is it they have that you like?

DG: How old is young? I think Chris Thile is amazing, groundbreaking. Derek Trucks is wonderful, an old soul. When I played with the Allman Brothers in '93, he came out and sat in in Toronto. The guitar was as big as he was, but he sounded exactly like Duane. It blew my mind.

RO: You've been in and around Austin a long time. Your favorite players in Austin?

DG: Derek O'Brien, Casper Rawls, Warren Hood and too many I can't think of.

RO: With the state of business, record sales, etc., it seems almost pointless to do CDs anymore. What was behind your putting out the new EP?

DG: It is an EP because I wanted to capture where I was at that moment without any filler. And with all bets off regarding the old model, I see no reason to put 14 songs on a CD anymore. It's 32 minutes, so album length and $5.99 at iTunes.

RO: You've got some new songs on the EP. Is songwriting a big thing for you, or just the occasional "I've got a good song idea" sort of thing?

DG: Songwriting is a big thing, but very fleeting lately. I went through a long co-writing phase, but I got really burned out on just churning out song after song, most of which I had no interest in doing.

I kind of feel like I'm ready to get on it again, from the perspective of where I am now in my life, which is certainly different even than where I was when I wrote the stuff for Way Down Deep.

RO: Are your instructional videos still available?

DG: The old ones are out of print, but I am shooting a new one at the end of May.

RO: I loved Storyville live, but never thought the records quite captured the full magic. Looking back, how have the albums stood the test of time to you?

DG: I think the live DVD/CD we did in 2005 is the only thing that really captures that band. I think A Piece of Your Soul still holds up, but live is where we really made it happen.

RO: I always like to ask guitar players: What's your favorite drummer joke?

DG: I've learned not to make jokes. They can make you or break you.

With Lisa Morales and Casper Rawls, 6 p.m., Sunday, April 22, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 713-528-5999

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