Knows How To Pick 'Em
You might call Grier a hereditary picker - his father Lamar played banjo
for bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe right around the time John Sebastian
was extolling the musical prowess of those talented Tennesseans. The
elder Grier also played guitar, and, considering it more versatile than
the banjo, began giving his son pointers on the instrument when David
was 6. Grier had a country musician's dream childhood: hanging out
backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, riding on Bill Monroe's bus with his
dad, and getting underfoot at picking parties boasting the best players
in bluegrass. Now, at 44, his acclaimed flatpicking ranks with that of
acoustic icons Tony Rice, Doc Watson and Norman Blake. In addition to
performing solo, he also currently handles the guitar chores for the
WAMC's advance radio billing had described Grier as a bluegrass guitarist, but that proved somewhat misleading-he only played one actual bluegrass number, a medley of two Bill Monroe songs, all night. What the crowd got instead was a well-chosen offering of old-time fiddle tunes, pop hits, Americana, and his own unique if not idiosyncratic compositions. And his fleet, fluid playing couldn't have been better.
Dressed in a red-checkered shirt and jeans and playing a gorgeous sounding 1946 Martin D-28, the bespectacled, shaven-headed Grier introduced his opener, Have You Ever Been To England with a coffeehouse-style spiel in his twangy drawl. The uptempo tune started out like a minor-key reel, but soon went further afield as he bounced the melody in between the treble and bass and then embellished it with crosspicking, a technique in which a guitar imitates a banjo picking pattern (a famous example of this is the beginning of The Monkee's The Last Train to Clarksville).
Next was another original, a folky, lyrical waltz entitled High Top Princess Cove. For this, Grier used a technique known as hybrid picking or 'fake fingerpicking' in which the guitarist sounds the bass strings with the pick and plucks the treble strings with the his middle and ring fingers. This allows the player to mix passages that sound like fingerpicking with flatpicking runs. Grier would use this technique effectively later with other slow tunes.
After another self-penned piece he described as "moody" and marked by descending bass line reminiscent of a late-period Beatles song, he pulled out the first of several fiddle tunes, Black Mountain Rag. In his hands, a old Appalachian breakdown became akin to a jazz standard-he'd play the melody straight the first time through, and then conjure up variations using devices like playing bluegrass licks based on the harmonic progression, up-the-neck chords alternating with open bass strings, and even key changes.
Several more showpieces later, Grier closed with the Bill Monroe tunes, Crossing the Cumberlands and Old Ebenezer Scrooge. He then encored with a tranquil version the old-time tune Bonaparte's Retreat, followed by another fiddle tune, Little Rabbit, in which he sped up the tempo to warp drive, finishing on the Bonneville Salt Flats of gitpickin' glory.
Fortunately, WAMC taped what was as fine of an acoustic guitar show as you're likely to hear locally for some time. Stay tuned for it, because this David is a musical Goliath.
Index of Metroland
Articles by Glenn Weiser ©2006 by Glenn
Weiser. All rights reserved.
©2006 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.
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