I made this video on my iPhone on the evening of December 4, 2015 when I went to lift the spirits of Jimmy Luttrell, my guitar mentor. I have long regarded Jimmy as a musical genius and value him and his presence in my life. This video has over 3 million views now after I posted it on facebook! I have the video on my YouTube channel now. We are all wishing for the best outcome for Jimmy. I have heard from people on every continent! Europe, Asia, Great Britain, it’s quite remarkable the reach and power of music. Thank you, this has been a George Cole minute…
Written by Dylan Muhlberg, Grateful Web posting 7/20/2015
Bluegrass music is deeply integrated into American musical culture and roots. Yet bluegrass isn’t a pure form. It’s an amalgamation of many preceding styles and individual root systems. None have revealed more about the instrumental beginnings of bluegrass than David “Dawg” Grisman. His mandolin virtuosity was simply too adventurous to not stray from the vein of Kentucky-born grass. Grisman studied and embraced the music of French violinist Stephane Grappelli and guitarist Django Reinhardt whose Hot Club De France band was one of the earliest string instrument only jazz bands. Grisman blended bluegrass, various Latin styles, and European string folk establishing his own new hybrid, which he coined “Dawg Music.” Decades later, so many brilliant ensembles with dozens of live and studio recordings are testament to Grisman’s valiant musical legacy. We can learn much about the past from this oddly contemporary string fusion music. Grisman’s Quintet began performing around 1975 and has continued playing Dawg Music every since.
Grisman’s core static lineup since the early 1990s is built up of fierce flautist Matt Eakle and bassist Jim Kerwin, with percussionist/drummer George Marsh around for most of the ride. Newest to the group is Bay Area acoustic guitar wiz George Cole and completing Grisman’s sextet is fiddler Chad Manning. While the Sextet has performed steadily for years this July was Grisman’s first fully focused mini-tour with the Sextet since he established his strictly traditional institution David Grisman’s Bluegrass Experience. While this lineup has gained plenty of recognition with some supporting accolades, the “Quintet” (aka. Sextet) is the source of pure Dawg music, the form that Grisman is deeply revered for. California fans were in freak frenzy when Sonoma State University announced they would host a triple headliner bluegrass afternoon at their gorgeous Green Music Center. The woodwork in the double-balcony venue is stunning. The pew style seating in the hall carries a warmly classic vibe and the outdoor lawn seating behind is well graded for perfect sightlines from the far back. The lineup of artists is diverse and exciting. California live music junkies should put this country venue on their bucket list.
Last Sunday Sonoma State hosted Dawg Day Afternoon. Supporting acts included the legendary Del McCoury Band and The Earls of Leicester. McCoury’s career spans more than half a century. As lead vocalist and guitarist of Bill Mornoe’s Bluegrass Boys he broke onto the scene. Grisman has collaborated frequently with McCoury in the since the seventies. Del & Dawg is always a special occasion.
Earls of Lecister is a Flatt/Scruggs acknowledgment and brainchild of resonator guitarist Jerry Douglas. The all-star prototype experiment turned renowned touring act recreates the musicality of Foggy Mountain Boys, the quintessential classic bluegrass band. While their opening set was short and sweet, it was packed full of Lester Flatts and Earl Scruggs staples such as “Till The End of the Worlds Rolls ‘Round,” and “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down.” The added bonus is the presence of Jerry Douglas’ howling Dobro licks and enchanting leadership. It’s been a few years since their first performance at Rockygrass in Lyons, Colorado and the Earls won’t be going anywhere.
Del McCoury Band’s exceptional follow up set felt soulful and purposed. Del’s legacy is so far spanning notwithstanding his exceedingly gifted family band of Robbie McCoury (banjo), Ronnie McCoury (mandolin), Jason Carter (fiddle), and Alan Bartrum (upright bass). Del’s vocals were as strong as his early days collaborating with Grisman. Particularly outstanding was a shimmering a capella “Working On A Building,” and the obligatorily requested “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” They played a distinct rendition of “I Need More Time,” off of their newest album The Streets of Baltimore. It partnered enjoyably with the other classics. Del’s sincere affection and interaction with the crowd exposed the seventy six year old as a timeless artifact of bluegrass. His sons and nephew uphold the musical legacy with their individual talents and heartfelt vigor alongside Del.
When David Grisman Sextet took the stage after a brief intermission the audience quickly reassembled as a seemingly impromptu shred-and-respond unfolded onstage. It was clear from there that those in attendance were in for some deep and dirty Dawg music. Grisman’s chemistry with these versatile virtuosos was clear as his newest Sextet worked through the nuanced genre fusion of his original compositions. Dawg music makes it unnecessary to play the genre compartmentalization game. Flautist Matt Eakle drew roars of applause regularly though he was noticeably lower in the mix than the string instruments. Grisman noted particularly his longstanding friendship with drummer/percussionist George Marsh who is additionally a Professor of Music at Sonoma State. Chad Manning’s youthful flair and musical robustness triggered an equaled response in his elder band mates. A Dawg alumnus is synonymous to expertise. George Cole’s multifaceted techniques made him a tremendous fit to follow in the footsteps of past Quintet/Sextet guitarists such as Grant Gordy or Enrique Coria. He exhibited flair and ease scaling through the vast stylistic demands of Grisman’s originals.
The centerpiece of the Sextet’s set came with their newest composition entitled “Dawg’s Bounce,” for which he broke out a mini banjo. It was a tad Euro-swingy while equally campy with Eakle breaking out a kazoo as his instrument of choice. The novelty of seeing Grisman rip a mandolin-sized banjo was a rarity indeed. The finale of Grisman’s set saw every musician from The Earls of Leicester, Del McCoury Band and the Sextet out onstage at once. It was a mighty moment as the banjoists, mandolinists, guitarists, and fiddlers all joined in their given orchestral sections. The encore was testament to the flexibility of string music and the talents that Grisman had gathered for his Dawg Day Afternoon.
While Grisman’s touring schedule sees him mostly with the Bluegrass Experience, it’s another bright project worth the devotion. Del McCoury and the boys perform more frequently than most and can be caught extensively on tour. The Earls of Leicster will be at Lyons Colorado’s Rockygrass Festival this coming weekend alongside Grisman and McCoury in case you missed Dawg Day Afternoon. Thanks to all three bands and to Sonoma State University for hosting this monstrous string orgy, something that Northern California fans don’t get so regularly all on one bill.
A Recap (lots of firsts for yours truly)…
Last month was an outstanding month for me, musically and otherwise.
A great time was had bay all at our third annual Esprit de Django et Stephane Festival! It was four nights of music, full houses of people and some firsts for yours truly. The first night of the festival Hot Club of Cowtown kicked things off in fine texas fashion. The Cowtown show sold out the Freight and Salvage and HCoC brought the house down with their own concoction of Western Swing meets Gypsy jazz.
The next night of the festival I performed my first concert as the new guitarist for the David Grisman Sextet. Playing “Dawg’s” music is a dream come true for me. What a great band we are bringing to the masses starting right about… now! Jim Kerwin on Bass, Matt Eakle on Flute, George Marsh on drums and Chad Manning on violin. It’s a powerful and precise band of true professionals. I’m truly honored to be playing David Grisman’s music with him. I could not be more happy and excited to be a part his band. Stepping in the metaphorical footprints of some of the greatest guitarists of all time is a joyful and humbling experience. Tony Rice, Jerry Garcia, Mark O’Connor and Frank Vignola have all taken us for a ride in the David Grisman Sextet and now it’s my turn to show what I can do. How cool is that!
I also played my first concert as guitarist in Mark O’Connor’s “Hot Swing Trio” last month… I can assure you that playing those tunes at mind boggling tempos was an “out of body experience” and one I am looking forward to again in the spring.
Back to the festival! On Saturday December 28th the unbelievable Turtle Island Quartet played some of the most electrifying music that has ever graced the stage of the Freight and Salvage. How four guys can sound like an entire Orchestra is something I am going to ponder for quite awhile.
On Sunday December 29th I played my first show with the new George Cole Quintet. Special guest David Grisman brought his “A” game to the table and blew people’s minds with his fierce and unmistakeable artistry. To hear “Dawg” play on Sheila’s Waltz was the coolest thing and a real highlight for the band and me. Mads Tolling on violin is much more than just our very own modern day Paganini, his sound and approach to the violin might be rooted in the past but the sound is so modern it plays tricks with the mind… at least it did with my mind! On clarinet Sheldon Brown‘s melody’s and lines created a musical palette that I cannot wait to sample again, the guy is simply the best in the business at this time and I had no idea how much I missed Clarinet since the great Jim Rothermel passed away a couple of years back. Kaeli Earle as always charmed the crowd and made quite a few new friends with her wonderful vocals and bass work. Last but not least is my good friend and partner in six-string crime the fantastic Javier Jimenez from Madrid Spain. Let me tell everybody that was not there at the fest a thing or two about Javi’s guitar playing, the guy is fantastic! I have heard them all but Javi is really one to watch and listen for!
So thanks to everybody that came to this wonderful festival and we look forward to seeing you all again next year. It might have been a lot of work but well worth it and so much musical fun!
As for me I am excited to hit the road with my new group. I am really looking forward to playing guitar for David Grisman and am really stoked about my new partnership with Eastman Guitars http://www.eastmanguitars.com/.
That’s all for now and frankly I think that’s more than enough as I need to go practice etc… Take care!
Bay Area arts news, Dec. 12
He was a rocker, whose associates includedJoe Walsh and Chris Isaak and who taught Green Day‘s Billie Joe Armstrong from a tender age. Then he went to hear Bireli Lagrene, the dazzling French Gypsy guitarist dubbed the heir apparent to his illustrious Romany predecessor, Django Reinhardt, atYoshi’s a decade ago.
“It had such an effect on me I couldn’t talk for a day and half. He was so good, and the music so fresh – to hear it live – I was left wondering and weeping,” Cole says. Equipoise regained, he immediately sold his electric guitars, amps and “gadgets” and purchased a 1934 Selmer D-hole steel string guitar of the sort master Reinhardt played in the originalHot Club of France with fiddler Stephane Grappelli (Wikipedia’s Selmer guitar entry has a photo of boyish Cole playing the instrument).
“I had a new purpose,” says Cole, 59, talking by handless cell the other morning while motoring to a rehearsal at the Petaluma home of the great mandolinist David Grisman, with whom Cole performs for the first time next month during the Esprit de Django et Stephane Festival at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, which Cole directs. Turtle Island Quartet and Hot Club of Cowtown are also on the bill.
On Wednesday, Cole returns to Yoshi’s with his band for the second annual “Holiday for Swingers” show, serving up a mix of seasonal tunes by Vince Guaraldi and the MJQ, “White Christmas,” “The One That Got Away” and Edith Piaf‘s well-roasted French chestnut “La Vie en Rose.”
“They’re both aces. It’s a lot of firepower,” Cole says.
As a kid growing up in Richmond, Cole dreamed of playing in a Beatles-like pop band. Instead, he found himself playing the funky music of James Brown and the Ohio Players with his African American neighbors. He cut his teeth playing rock ‘n’ roll in honky-tonky joints like the Top Hat Club in Vallejo and Mi Piaci Pizza in Pinole.
“I’m a musical mongrel,” says Cole, who never expected to specialize in the music of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. “I always liked the music my parents listened to. Now I’m out of the closet about it.”
For more information, go to www.yoshis.com.