Eclectic is how David Grier describes himself as an artist. Eclectic is a perfect word since, as David explained, saying he is a bluegrass artist is too limiting for the wide range of musical styles that he plays and saying he is a guitar player is too generic a descriptor for the broad stylistic range in David's repertoire. Virtuosic, inventive, creative and improvisational also describe David's artistic ability on the guitar. Some will tell you, David is the greatest picker alive.
It is unusual to hear a guitarist perform solo but put aside your preconceived notions about sitting through a two hour concert of pure guitar music because two hours of David Grier flies by too quickly and leaves you craving for more. I had the opportunity to chat with David about his music. I found him to be quite engaging and very humble about his talent.
David was quick to correct me when I asked him if it was true that he had began playing guitar at the age of 5 under his dad's direction. He stated it "wasn't so much under his direction. I mean at first I had little plastic guitars which I played around with. My dad would show me things but let me go on my own. If he'd pushed, I would have rebelled." He did admit, his dad had suggested the guitar because of its versatility. David's dad, Lemar Grier, played banjo for Bill Monroe; thus, David was immersed in acoustic music by virtue of his heritage.
When I asked David to describe his playing style for me, he chuckled and simply said "Different." David uses a variety of techniques in his playing style. He often flat picks fiddle tunes but, he stated, "different songs require different styles." When he crosspicks, he is playing "three strings next to each other, played like a banjo roll; imitating the banjo sound. It's less work for the left hand and a little more work for the right." He is so adept at cross picking that you'd swear there were multiple guitars playing on the stage. David also explained his use of a drone string stating it's a "lower string ringing that makes it sound full. It helps to define the cord I'm playing"
I asked David about the use of two guitars during his solo performances. He explained he is currently using a 1946 Martin D18 and a newer Dana Bourgeois guitar. Getting back to the idea that each tune requires different sounds, he explained that each of the two instruments sound different because of the different woods used and the different tuning. He also stated that his Martin has a deeper sound because it is aged and has been played longer.
David credits several artists as having influence on his style including Roland and Clarence White, Doc Watson, Tony Rice and as a teenager he followed the music of Don Rick and others in the rock realm. At a performance, David had talked about never copying another player's style but rather finds his own variations. I asked David to give me his thoughts on this. He explained, "you have to copy to learn. You copy what you like while you are learning but it's like making soup, it becomes something different once you begin to explore variations. I work hard at trying to sound like myself." David has a reputation as a master of variations. This trait is clearly what makes David's work stand out above the rest.
David never learned to read music and plays strictly by ear. When he teaches at the Guitar camps, he is primarily working with adults helping them to advance in their skills. He teaches them how to learn by ear in a show and tell fashion. I asked him what advice he'd give a young musician who shows great promise. He said: "Keep practicing. Parents should leave the kid alone. Encourage them but don't force them."
David answered my question about what the highlights of his career have been. He cited three highlights. First, he mentioned the excitement of being nominated for an award and then the thrill of winning them. Next, he thought "Hanging out with other musicians" was cool and lastly, he said "being on stage is a great thrill because you get applause every 3 minutes."
Applause is exactly what David deserves. Don't pass up a chance to see David in a solo performance. It is not only musically exciting but David, himself, is quite entertaining as he transitions between each piece. You'll walk away with a smile on your face and with the memory of a masterful guitar player, David Grier.