Unsung Heroes of Americana – David Grissom, Guitarist

David Grissom is, generally, recognised as a guitarist’s guitarist, closely associated with what has become termed as “Heartland Rock”. A great player who has, mostly, been associated with other artists, though he does perform and record in his own right.

Interestingly, most online sources give Grissom’s year of birth as 1978, which would make him 7 years old when he joined Joe Ely’s band – Grissom’s good, but even he’s not that prodigious! It’s obviously a typo and 1958 would be a more likely date of birth; he was born in Louisville, Kentucky. There’s not a lot of information about him before he moved to Austin, Texas in 1983, but shortly after arriving there, he was working with up-and-coming, locally-based acts, such as a young Lucinda Williams. Grissom really starts to attract attention as soon as he joins Joe Ely’s band in 1985, touring and recording with the band for the next six years.

Grissom’s playing is blues-based, so he brings quite a muscular sound to any band he works with, making him a perfect fit for Ely’s rockier approach to country and roots music and a good choice for John Mellencamp when he was looking for a new guitarist, following his falling out with long term associate, Larry Crane. Grissom replaced Crane in Mellencamp’s band in 1991 and would tour and record with this outfit for the next three years, appearing on three Mellencamp albums, starting with the “Whenever We Wanted” album. Grissom left the Mellencamp band in 1994 to form something of an Austin “supergroup”, Storyville. The formation of the band followed a jam session at the well-known Austin venue, Antone’s. That session centred around the legendary rhythm section of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band, Double Trouble; Drummer, Chris Layton, and bass player, Tommy Shannon. Also included were Grissom himself, along with fellow guitarist, David Lee Holt, and vocalist Craig Ross. Ross was soon replaced by the soulful voice of Malford Milligan, and it was this lineup that would go on to release their most successful album, “A Piece of Your Soul”, which reached number 5 in the US Blues Charts in 1996. In all, the band released three albums, all to critical acclaim, before calling it a day, in 1999. The band have continued to come together on regular occasions following their official demise, and released an additional album in 2007, “Live at Antone’s”.

Following the break-up of Storyville, Grissom returned to what he does so well, making others sound good. He initially toured with the Allman Brothers Band and then spent a number of years working with The (Dixie) Chicks. Throughout his time working with other bands he would continue to work with Joe Ely, making regular guest appearances on a number of Ely albums. He would also tour with a wide range of artists, from Buddy Guy, to Chris Isaak, to Bob Dylan among others. Grissom is nothing if not eclectic! He released his first solo album, “Loud Music”, in 2007 and has gone on to make a further four albums in his own name, the latest being “Trio Live, 2020”.

Most recently he can be heard on James McMurtry’s outstanding new album, “The Horses and The Hounds”, where he significantly contributed to McMurtry’s back-to-basics approach, giving the album real grit and drive as well as co-writing the album title track with McMurtry. Of course, it’s not the first time David Grissom has played on McMurtry’s albums, having first appeared on the debut release, “Too Long in the Wastelands”, back in 1989, and he has contributed to other albums over the years.

In addition to being an outstanding player, Grissom is a musician who really understands his instrument, a reason why he is a popular point of reference for other players and a reason why he has been advising one of America’s most innovative guitar manufacturers for a number of years. Grissom has used PRS guitars, almost exclusively, throughout his career and started working with founder, Paul Reed Smith, virtually as soon as his instruments appeared on the market (PRS Guitars were founded in 1985), advising on design and improvements from a touring musician’s perspective. In 2007 this collaboration saw the release of his signature guitar, the PRS DGT (David Grissom, Tremelo) model. With pick-ups designed by Grissom himself, the DGT has become a popular model with touring musicians at every level and continues to be updated regularly. More recently, he has also designed signature model amplifiers for PRS, as they have diversified into this area of production, and the DG Custom Amp is proving to be almost as popular as his signature guitars.

David Grissom is a versatile and stylish player who, despite being a successful performer and songwriter in his own right, continues to work with other artists to ensure they get the guitar sound they’re looking for, whether it’s from the instruments and equipment he helps to design or from his own presence on their recordings and concerts. After a career that spans nearly five decades, Grissom continues to be in thrall to this music. If you’re ever in Austin, Texas, and David Grissom is not out on the road helping someone else to sound great, you’ll almost certainly find him fronting his own band at The Saxon Pub or one of the many other venues on the local circuit. A true Unsung Hero of Americana.


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About Rick Bayles 218 Articles
Now living the life of a political émigré in rural France and dreaming of the day I'll be able to sing those Cajun lyrics with an authentic accent!

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