Singer-guitarist pays the bills by singing the blues
By Gretchen Gould
Bob Grimm is probably one of the most accomplished singer-guitarists around, and yet he doesn't consider solo entertaining his forte.
"I feel I do my best working wearing the cloak of composer-arranger", confessed Grimm recently during a break from his Sunday night gig at the Holiday Inn in Kingston. "Entertaining is the way I pay the bills."
A family man (he's the father of three teen-age daughters), Grimm no longer has the luxury of wallowing in the creative atmosphere of the recording studio where he spent many of his formative years.
"Like so many others, I'm caught in the middle class crunch now", he lamented. "I find myself taking more gigs, which leaves me less time for composing."
Interested in hearing some originals, I requested that Grimm perform some, along with one of my favorites, Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle." I heard him sing that a year ago at Rocking Horse Ranch, and had enjoyed his rendition. His originals struck me immediately as having a non-conventional phrase structure, which left room for interludes from Grimm's facile fingers. His guitar playing is always tasteful, and yet it really can't be put in any particular category. Neither can his compositions.
As soon as I decided one song sounded like '70's folk rock, another would come along strewn with major seventh chords that gave it a jazz tinge. I especially liked this influence on "Sunshine's Workin'" and "Got to be a Reason." Although Grimm doesn't admit to being a jazz player, he's played with a lot of jazz musicians over the years and has picked up some of the feel. This was also apparent on a blues tune he did later.
"I guess you can't really put me into one category or style," he apologized.
I assured him there's nothing wrong with being able to cover it all. The most versatile lounge players often have the biggest following.
Grimm laughed. "The only thing I don't enjoy about entertaining is sometimes being the musical wallpaper in a room. I like to have an audience respond when I'm performing."
The Holiday Inn audience last Sunday night was small but appreciative. Grimm felt they were quiet; he prefers a more overt response from his listeners. It's difficult not to pay attention to his presentation, however. Grimm sings all his songs with a sincere intensity that makes you feel he's experienced the emotions expressed in the lyrics. His voice is in tune, well placed, and has a slight nasality that suits it best for the country/pop/rock genres. There was a lot of Neil Young in the repertoire I heard last Sunday night. He added some authentic bird sounds to his rendition of the Beatles "Blackbird." He teased the audience by playing the beginning phrases of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" as a break tune. Everyone wanted to hear the rest of it.
Grimm is happiest when he's off on one of his musical excursions, either playing, composing, arranging, or simply listening. " I like all kinds of music. I listen to jazz. I love Mozart, Bach, Grieg, and Vaughn Williams, especially his string pieces. I prefer acoustic over electric. Music is indispensable to my spirit. If you want me to be in seventh heaven, put me in a recording studio with a bunch of manuscript paper, and a group of fine musicians who know how to read, like bassist Charlie Knicely, one of my favorite people to work with. I'll take a nice full horn section, rhythm which includes acoustic bass, two or three female back-up singers and the hottest drummer around."
I asked the obvious question: "With all that going on, how will you be heard?"
"It doesn't matter if I'm playing," explained Grimm, "They'll be playing my music."
With all this obvious talent, why has Bob Grimm remained on the periphery of fame all these years? He was one of the Four Seasons, of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons fame. His former recording partner, Jaynie Trudell, went on to achieve fame in Nashville. In fact, Grimm has a recording session scheduled with her later this summer. In the recording studios of London, he was associated with Wil Malone, of the rock opera "Tommy."
"Well," answered Grimm, "I happen to believe that you get what you deserve in this life. Obviously, I haven't done enough yet to deserve a hit record. Maybe next year."
When you look at some of the people who get hit records, it makes you wonder about the validity of Grimm's theory. Maybe other lifetimes enter into it, too. Meanwhile, he's sure to keep working at it. And since he still has to pay the bills, you can catch him every Sunday night at the Holiday Inn in Kingston. Do yourself a favor.
Poughkeepsie resident Gretchen Gould is a professional musician and teacher. Her column appears weekly in Preview.