You hear that familiar “click” as a tube amp turns on. Then, just a single A chord, followed by a simple blues lick. But that’s all it takes to make you think, “Tone, Man, TONE!”
There are very few players that elicit that sole reaction when you hear them. Even fewer can give you enough of their “signature” with just a few notes to make you know who they are. David Grissom is one of those.
David has honed his chops, along with his tone playing with a ton of “tone-centric” bands like the Allman Brothers, Joe Ely, and even a run as John Mellencamp’s guitarist. Of course he was the driving guitar force behind Storyville, which featured SRV’s Double Trouble rhythm section. All that touring along with being an in-demand session player helped him dial in a sound and style that sets him apart.
As a songwriter David has worked with a lot of top writers and artists, but he started out similar to the way many players start. “The first songs I learned were ‘House of the Rising Sun’, and of course artists like Hendrix, The Beatles and The Stones. I had better luck with the latter two at first! ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ was the 2nd song I learned.”
From there the similarities between David and the rest of us started to fade as David developed his own style. Was that something that he set out to do? “It just happened. I wish I could say I was smart enough to plan it all out, but it was just the natural progression of being drawn to a certain quality in music rather than specific genres.”
I asked David, if a player was actually setting their sights on developing their own sound and getting a better tone, what would be the best way to work on that? “Understand that the pickups in the guitar are basically microphones, so what you put into those pickups has everything to do with the sound you make. So, before plugging in, explore how you can vary the sound with just your hands. Your placement, attack, pick, fingers, everything changes the sound. The most common thing I see beginning and intermediate players do that I would change is using too much gain. Back off the gain, and you will have a lot more dynamic control at your fingertips, then you can use a pedal (or three) to get more overdriven tones.“
Of course once you have good tone, you need to be able to apply it in a unique way. One of David’s trademark playing characteristics is his creative rhythm approach. He can take a simple progression and turn it into a classic riff. How does he do that? “Probably the most recognizable thing I do in a Blues/Rock setting are chords with no thirds, especially if I’m the only rhythm (comping) instrument, but again it always depends on the setting. Is there another guitar player or keyboard player? Am I going to be layering parts on a record? In the studio I’m usually asked to do at least 2 rhythm parts, so I’m thinking ahead as soon as I hear the song. I’m usually expected to play that second part right after we get the take the producer likes. So, I’m always thinking about alternate tunings, capos, baritone guitars etc.”
It is that kind of thinking about “all” the parts that tends to make a player be a good fit in a band. David’s history of “getting the gig” speaks for itself. Many players aspire to land cool gigs and be “the guy,” so what advice would the man give to players trying to set themselves up for those opportunities? “Take every gig possible at first, even if you don’t like the music, just to get gigs under your belt. Be someone you’d want to hang out with. It’s a given that you can play, but how are you in a bus with 8 other people for a month at a time. And, background vocals are a huge plus.”
Being a consummate musician takes time. Often players miss out on other things in life due to being all absorbed in music. What else does David do besides music? “The two main things would be reading and hiking. I’m also fascinated by, and collect old analog stuff. Watches, vinyl, audio gear, and really all kinds of handmade things that have a level of craftsmanship that is not as common these days.”
Never one to slow down in the writing and gigging department, the next year is looking bright for Team Grissom. “I’m trying to finish writing my 5th CD… about halfway there on that. I have some cool sessions coming up, and may go back to Europe in early 2017.”
With David’s “storied” past and his incredible pedigree you would think there may be nothing left for him to want to tackle. But like most creative types, there are always new horizons to get to. “The beauty of the creative process is that it is always unfolding if you are open to it. So, I hope there are a thousand things I haven’t done yet that I’ll get to discover.”
The next time you hear a tube amp click on, remember, there are still songs that haven’t been written, and licks that haven’t been played. David is probably working on some of them right now with his signature style and tone.