David Grisman: I’ll Take A Melody

"I’d always seen the mandolin as a way to play melodies."

photocredit_JAYBLAKESBERG photo by Jay Blakesberg

It’s always a mystery why a person responds to one kind of music more than another. Often it’s a result of the time and place that someone went through during their teens and 20s, but some people just have a psychological affinity for certain sounds and styles.

David Grisman, for example, grew up on the early rock and roll of the mid-’50s and the folk revival of the early ‘60s like many of his fellow baby boomers. He liked it all, but nothing knocked him out the way bluegrass did when he discovered it hiding in a corner of the folk-music boom.

Whenever he could during his college years, Grisman would travel south to seek out bluegrass musicians at the early festivals in Virginia and at the outdoor country-music parks in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Something about the link to a pre-industrial America fascinated him, and something about the sound of hollow, wooden, stringed instruments resonated with him. He picked up the mandolin, because it was Bill Monroe’s instrument, and devoted himself to mastering it.

“Bluegrass is where I studied mandolin,” Grisman told me in 1996, “but I wasn’t formally taught; I’d just seek out mandolin players and bother them. Ralph Rinzler and Frank Wakefield helped me out a lot. But it got frustrating because all I could think of doing was imitate Bill Monroe; I didn’t see any way to improve on that. After four years of studying all the bluegrass mandolin players, I noticed they all wrote original mandolin tunes.

“So I... Sign In to Keep Reading

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