Photos by Claire Hickox
Amid the excitement of their performance as a duo at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theatre on Friday, January 13, infamous mandolinist David Grisman and lauded guitarist Frank Vignola took time out of their set break to chat with JBO’s Kara Wilbeck.
The show was a special one — there are and were no other announced concerts that feature this combination of musicians.
Despite their lack of practice time, Grisman and Vignola melded expertly onstage, constantly challenging each other to step up their playing to the next level.
The show itself was quite traditional, and included several jazz standards along with Grisman originals, all played quietly on acoustic instruments. The volume level, in fact, prompted a rowdy couple in the back to continuously shout, “Turn it up!” even interrupting one of Grisman’s many between-song stories. Grisman, witty as he is, replied, “Just listen,” and the screamers were eventually escorted out of the Shakespeare play set-esque theater.
The show, all in all, was intimate, with Grisman and Vignola bantering with each other and relating their personal histories with each song they played.
And backstage, the conversation got even more intimate.
Jam Bands Online: My first question is: Which one of you can play faster?
Frank Vignola: Him.
David Grisman: No, no. He just proved it! I can’t play that fast. He keeps speeding it up on me!
FV: Speeding up on you?!
DG: Well, you weren’t slowing down!
JBO: So, this is the only show that you’re playing together?
DG: Well, this is the second show we’ve played together.
JBO: Do you plan on doing more, or is this just a fun thing for you guys?
FV: Both. We’ll see where this takes us. We did one show about two months ago…
FV: We got really exited about it, and then we booked another one. It’s a lot of fun playing these songs with a master melody musician and bandleader like David, so I hope we can do more.
DG: This guy is a lot of fun. Very challenging!
FV: And he’s very critical of my guitar playing — it’s very demanding.
FV: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a good thing… and it freaks me out a little bit!
JBO: So, Why here? Did it just work out for both of your schedules?
DG: Yes, it just worked out. Frank was on tour, and it fell together.
JBO: I know that you try to incorporate a bunch of different musical styles into your sound, so is there anything that’s going on, a new thing that you’re bringing into your sound?
DG: No, it’s all old!
JBO: What’s something in particular that you’re digging right now?
FV: You’re too humble!
DG: No, I’m just telling the truth —and we’re just trying to have fun with it.
FV: I like to think about it as “new olds.”
DG: You know, I play bluegrass — I try to play a bunch of different styles, and that’s kind of hard to do. It’s hard to be a jack of all trades. Usually you come from a certain point, and that’s where your roots are. I sort of come from a bluegrass mandolin background, but I love all things. Duke Ellington said there’s only two kinds of music: good and bad.
FV: Out of all the different styles, you’ve developed your own style. Out of 100 mandolin players, I can always pick out David.
DG: Yeah, cause I’m the one making the most mistakes!
FV: It’s just the great style of David Grisman!
DG: You know, Frank’s one of the great guys that I get to play with. And I’m very fortunate to be able to do that. I’ve worked with some great master musicians, Stephanie Grapelli, Jerry Garcia, Tony Rice, Ray Brown… It’s been a great ride for me. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel; I’m just trying to hang out!
DG: Actually, Frank hired me to play on a record, which was about 20 years ago… in 1990. He called me up, and I went down to the studio and met him, and we had a lot of mutual interests.
FV: It took 20 years of jamming together to play our first show together.
JBO: So this is the second show you’ve ever played together!
DG: Well, [Frank] was in my band for a couple of years… He’s a very busy guy, and he’s a hard guy to nail down. You know, he works 200 dates a year. And I don’t have that much work!
FV: You don’t have to have that much work.
DG: We’re discovering this duet. We made a recording project in one day in my studio a couple of years ago.
FV: Every time I was on the west coast—
DG: He’d come and visit!
DG: I didn’t really know the tunes.
FV: Neither did I, but we made it through!
DG: And so now we’re performing together as much as we can.
JBO: David, The way I was introduced to your music was through Old and In the Way and all of your work with Jerry Garcia. A lot of your fans know of you because of that. Do you see that as a positive thing?
DG: Yeah. Do you know about Acoustic Oasis? That’s my website that I developed for music that’s not available anywhere else. Are you familiar with the Pizza Tapes?
DG: Well we put out the Extra Large Pizza Tapes — a 170-minute Pizza Tapes. Our record, Melody Monsters, is on there, and a lot of projects that aren’t available anywhere else. We’re adding more all the time. Live shows, there’s all kinds of stuff. In fact, I’m working on reissuing all of the Garcia/Grisman projects in high definition format, which will be better than a CD — 24 bit, 96K audio files. In fact, I’m doing it album by album, and I just went through all the archives of recordings, and I’m putting out a whole alternate version of Jerry’s and my first album. Same tunes, but totally different.
I’ve been producing records since 1963, and I’ve kept every sliver of tape, so I have a lot of material. Thanks to technology, you don’t have to manufacture this stuff, necessarily. It’s just my time making it and putting graphics with it, and you just download it!
I’ve been putting out extended versions of certain things — do you know about Tone Poems? It’s an album I put out on Acoustic Disc with Tony Rice. In fact, the Pizza Tapes was made at that time. Well, I put out an extended version of that. It’s 200-some odd minutes. Because the download could be any length. It could be 15 minutes or 4 hours!
Random guy in room: So, the Pizza Tapes, were they actually conceived by someone who stole them from you guys?
JBO: Yeah, is that really what happened?
DG: I don’t really know how it happened, but one day I got a phone call…
JBO: Do you remember ordering pizza? The delivery guy stole the tape, is that the story?
DG: Well that was the story, and I thought that lent itself to packaging. I don’t really know! Tony Rice and I were making this album, Tone Poems, and it was about the sound of vintage guitars and mandolins. And we had like a bazillion guitars and mandolins at my studio. Jerry came by to meet Tony Rice, for two nights, and every night when he came over we just started jamming. And then, a year or two after that, I heard that 90 minutes of this stuff got played on WBAI inNew York. So for the next few years, it got bootlegged. People would come up to me with their bootlegs and ask me to sign them, and I was just upset about it, because unlike a show, it was from my recording studio. Finally, we hired a promotion man named Rob Bleetstein, who kept saying, “You gotta put this out!” And one day he brought over a copy of this bootleg. It sounded so terrible, and I knew I had really good sounding tapes, so I made an album out of it that was about 80 minutes long. But there was a lot more stuff, and when we started this download thing I started realizing that that’s where the business was heading. I realized I could put out anything. There are people who will buy the [Extra Large Pizza Tapes], so there it is for the people who want it.
Random guy: That’s really great you made the music available.
DG: Yeah, you know, guys like Jerry, they play totally different every time— totally different. Check it out — www.acousticoasis.com. There’s all kinds of stuff there. Every day, there’s a free track. So if you go there every day for a year, you’ll have about 23 CDs.
‘Til There Was You
I’ll See You in My Dreams
Hello Young Lovers
How High the Moon
We Kiss in a Shadow
Bye Bye Blues
E: Sweet Georgia Brown
EMD/Last Days on Earth