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Dawg Mail: David Grisman types about mandolin, family and Jerry Garcia 

A lot of words come to mind when someone mentions the name David
click to enlarge david_grisman2.jpg
Grisman, but "technologically advanced" likely wouldn't be near the top of the list. Or even on the list at all, for that matter. But when the mandolin master and bluegrass innovator received a list of questions via email (per his request) he fired back his thoughtful responses in a stunning two hours.

He must have one of those iPads or something, because that's impressive. And especially impressive for a guy who's known for preserving and promoting a style of music that harkens back to the earliest days of American music. As a young man in the early 1960s, Grisman began playing in jug bands and would soon meet, and heavily influence another young musician by the name of Jerry Garcia. The two would go onto collaborate for the years to come with Grisman playing on the Grateful Dead's iconic American Beauty. He might not get a ton of credit for it, but you know that gorgeous mandolin on "Ripple"? Well, that's Grisman.

Grisman has had a legendary career of his own to the point that his style of bluegrass mixed with jazz and other elements has been dubbed "Dawg music", referring to the mandolin virtuoso's nickname.

Here are the highlights of Grisman's speedy email responses:

The Source Weekly: There are several new younger bands in the indie rock/indie folk world (Mumford and Sons, etc.) that are taking cues from bluegrass music and several of them have referenced you as an influence. How does it feel to see bluegrass-influenced sounds appealing more to young people?

David Grisman: It's fine with me, as long as it produces good music. Bluegrass was a huge influence on me when I was younger. I agree with Duke Ellington, who maintained that there are only two kinds of music - good and bad!

You also see the mandolin more and more with younger acts. Is that nice to see for you?

Again, it ain't the meat, it's the motion.

Speaking of young people, your son, Samson, has been playing music with you for a while now. Did you draw him to bluegrass music or was it essentially in his blood?

Sam grew up listening to all kinds of music around our house, as did my other two older kids. He really took to this stuff at an early age and started playing bass (his first word was "bass") when he was very young. Since I could tell that he had a natural ability, I tried to foster that, but he came to this music naturally and really loves it. It's great to play with him anytime, on a stage or anywhere else.

You spent some time with your Folk Jazz Trio this year - will we be seeing more of that in the months and years to come?

Hopefully it will be an ongoing thing. Jim Hurst is a gas to play and sing with, as is Sam. We already have some bookings for next year .That project is available at, my latest venture in music distribution. We have 40 some odd titles now, most of which are only available there. Also there's a free tune everyday. Check it out!

Why do you think bluegrass music has survived all these years whereas other styles haven't had the same sort of longevity?

I'm a firm believer that great art, music and ideas will stand the test of time, because it becomes part of peoples lives - the good part.

You're a guy who's known to engage in plenty of collaborations. Are you working with anyone particular right now?

I have ongoing musical collaborations going on all the time with all three of my working ensembles, and other musical friends like Andy Statman, Martin Taylor, Frank Vignola and John Sebastian. I also play a lot at home with my talented wife, Tracy. We've even played several duo gigs together. She's also an incredible artist who specializes in musical portraiture.

Granted, you've built a hell of a reputation on your own, but does it ever irk you that most people would say "Oh yeah, he played with and influenced Jerry Garcia" upon hearing your name? Do you mind being essentially permanently linked to the legacy of Jerry Garcia?

I've been fortunate to have had many talented musical friends from all walks of musical life. I count my relationship with Jerry as a blessing on many levels. I've often said that if all I ever did was give Andy Statman his first mandolin lesson, that I'd consider my life a success. Same with Jerry. I appreciate every last note. It's not up to me what people appreciate. I'm glad they related to any of it!


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