Michael Limnois March 24, 2014
Interview with multi-instrumentalist Steve Grandinetti - thrills his audience with humor and consummate music
Posted by Michalis Limnios BLUES @ GREECE on March 24, 2014 at 4:00pm
"Music is the language of the spheres, and lately popular music is just horrible in my opinion, void of emotion or talent. It has become a commodity, formulaic, derivative and entirely unoriginal or dangerous."
Steve Grandinetti: New York Gumbo
Steve Grandinetti is an internationally acclaimed recording & performing artist, multi-instrumentalist (Piano, Organ, Clavinet, Guitars, Bass, Drums, Harmonica, Melodica, Percussion) and BMI affiliated Singer-Songwriter, Producer, and Arranger with three releases "Jonjano’ Baro’" and "Heart Of Me", and "Only Love Is Real". Number 1 on the Reverbnation singer-songwriter charts, he is consummate performer, who never fails to thrill his audience with humor, stage antics, exceptional guitar & keyboard playing, soulful singing and amazing drumming.
He has performed with legends like The Neville Brothers, Lil Buck Senegal, Henry Gray, Paul Rishell & Annie Raines, and shared the stage with NRBQ, The Band, Willie Nelson, Rosie Ledet & the Zydeco Playboys, Walter Trout, Deborah Coleman, Ben Rice, and other Blues greats. He composed and performed music for the feature film “Johnny Suede”. He has and continues to record for several indie artists on piano, organ, clavinet, drums, percussion. He currently has a catalog of over 500 songs as well as a novel that has an original soundtrack and two screenplays he hopes to have published.
Steve played 160 shows in 2011, and 290 shows in 2012.He is presently well into 90+ shows in 2013. He is also an educator, teaching piano, drums, bass, guitar, vocals, theory & ear training, songwriting and band classes. He has taught and performed at Centrum’s Blues Workshop and School Of Rock. He studied music at Manhattan School Of Music Prep Division, Fordham University, Julliard School Of Music, graduating from Loyola University in New Orleans with a B.A. in psychology & music. He also holds a M.S.Ed from the University of Pennsylvania in Counseling Psychology. He also studied film at NYU Film School, Photography at The New School, acting at Tulane University, and attended Adelphi University, and Loyola Law School.
Interview by Michael Limnios
What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?
The Blues is the least pretentious form of music. This unique blend of African and European influences is the root of all modern music. To me it is pure emotion, where an individual expresses universal experiences of the human condition. What I learn from listening and playing the Blues is that there is no limit to the depth of emotion that can be expressed in this musical form, and the beauty of this music is that within this seemingly limited structure (12 bar or 8 bar) there are endless variations available if we learn to trust in the creativity of the moment.
How do you describe Steve Grandinetti sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?
In describing my own sound, I would have to say that even though I am primarily a singer- songwriter and musician who works in several musical genres, the Blues is at the root of all I do musically. My music is a veritable gumbo of all the musical influences and experiences I have had throughout my life. My progress has been a lifelong passion for music and is truly my way of honoring the life force. As a young child I first felt the rhythm and wanted to play drums. My mother was not ready for drums but she did get me a piano and some lessons. I was fortunate to learn how to read music and learn this most important instrument at age 7. Growing up in New York City I was exposed to all kinds of music and although my parents were not musicians they loved listening. I was primarily exposed to Blues, Jazz, standards and singers. Listening is essential to becoming a well rounded musician. Unfortunately my first teacher was not very nurturing, coming from the conservatory mentality and I did not stay with her for long. I attended Catholic school where there was no music program, but since I could read and play keyboards I was recruited to play the organ at church. My first memories of the power of music was going to Broadway musicals, and classical concerts where the music overwhelmed me emotionally.
Always interested in the drums I joined the CYO Drum & Bugle Corps when I was 11 hoping to play drums but ending up first on bugle then baritone horn, which I played for a year before finally getting to the drums. It was there that I learned rudimental drumming and quickly became the best snare drummer. I marched in all the major parades in NYC, and learned about esprit de corps. I continued to play snare drum in several different Drum Corps over my teen years and was captain of the drum line. At the same time I played piano and sang and started my first band at age 12 with my brother and some friends. We played dances and parties for our peers and adults, entered into talent shows and won many prizes. We also played for many charities and I began my professional career at that time performing live on the radio as well as for very large audiences. Attending Catholic High School that also had no music program I started a jazz band, began teaching drums and piano and taught myself guitar. Getting my first drum set I also began to play drums in different groups, jazz and rock. Since music was so important to me I also attended Manhattan School Of Music Prep Division on Saturdays, studying jazz drums, ear training and theory. I was finally in my element at this prestigious institute and surrounded by the best young musicians in New York City, it was highly competitive and college level. My life in music was full on. During this time I attended a CYO camp and learned to play the Steel Drums from a wonderful teacher- Jerry Lopatin- who also became the best piano teacher I ever had, and he is the one who taught me the blues form and how to voice chords and improve my sight reading. His passion and supportive teaching style has stuck with me all through my life. Once again I found my natural abilities led me to become the lead pan player in the ensemble and then I took over his position teaching at the camp during the rest of my high school years teaching many others to play steel drums.
My high school years were busy as I played in Drum & Bugle Corps, different bands and combos( jazz trio, 16 piece big band, rock bands, folk duos) on drums, piano, or acoustic guitar and vocals); Steel Drums and also teaching. I also was involved in musical theatre as a musical director, pianist and vocal coach. Upon graduation I attended Fordham University on a music scholarship, and after acing all the music classes available I got permission to attend Julliard School of Music at night taking 20 credits a semester during my second semester and sophomore year. I was also interested in Psychology and decided to transfer to Loyola University in New Orleans as a music major studying Music Therapy as a percussion major. New Orleans was my rebirth and immersion in Blues and Jazz in the very place where they were born. I absorbed the rhythms and sounds that are heard all over the city; Blues, Jazz, Funk, R&B, Rock & Roll, Creole, Reggae, Latin and the great second line tradition. I fell in love with the city and it's music. For the first time I found my lifelong influences-- Professor Longhair, Dr. John, The Neville Brothers, The Meters and many others. After college I attended graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia getting my Master's Degree in Counseling and during that time I played piano bars but did not have much time for more musical experiences.
After school I spent a decade as a sideman either on drums or keyboards playing in Rock, Jazz, Blues, Country, and Reggae bands touring and also getting to work on a major movie soundtrack. I honed my playing, performing, recording skills and singing, and wrote tons of songs. I learned from several front men and began my own band as well. The past decade I have been teaching a lot and focused on my own original music.
So as you can see my own musical progress parallels America—and my own music is a gumbo of all these influences, from the marching drum corps, to musical theatre, jazz, blues, rock etc.
As to my musical philosophy, I believe in the groove first and foremost. Without a solid rhythmic foundation there can be no music. I also strongly believe in improvisation rather than playing the same way every time. Music is spiritual for me and a way to honor the Creator. Listening is essential and I mean listening to each player as well as yourself in an ensemble. I am also a strong believer in stretching out beyond limitations and trusting the process.
"The Blues is the least pretentious form of music. This unique blend of African and European influences is the root of all modern music. To me it is pure emotion, where an individual expresses universal experiences of the human condition."
What experiences in your life have triggered your ideas for songs most frequently?
When it comes to writing songs my ideas come from all of my own experiences, and I feel that the personal reflects the universal. I write about our world today, and my songs come in many ways. Sometimes I will wake up from a dream with a song fully developed and just write it down. I am influenced by free flow and just seem to channel most of my songs. Sometimes I will write instrumentals and sit at the piano writing out the musical notation using my knowledge of harmony and counterpoint. Other times I will just have lyrical ideas and then write music to go with it. Often both music and lyrics come at once. A few years back my house was broken into and I was robbed. I immediately wrote a song about it( It Don't Matter To Me); when an ex was in a car wreck I immediately wrote a song about it (Blessing In Disguise). I have written songs about my mother, brother, girlfriends, one of my cats, political protest songs, humorous songs, instrumentals, and I like to write in several genres all of which I consider roots music.
What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from blues circuits?
I have not laughed about any blues per se but Frank Zappa gets me laughing often and he is also a huge influence on my music and work ethic. But emotionally I am always moved by the Blues- especially people like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, T Bone Walker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy and so many others. Most recently I was very moved by Jimmy Vaughan's song “Shackles On Me” which deals with the tyranny of our present government and their desire to put RFID chips in all of us. This is a brave and timely song.
"All western music comes from the Blues. Most recently my student band is learning the Blues but still struggling with it because they do not listen to the music." (Photo: Steve with The Off Balance Blues Band)
Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?
I would have to say my whole life has been interesting, but these past six years have been most interesting as the music industry goes through a total decline and everything is based on the internet now. Playing 290 shows in 2012 taught me more than any school ever could. In the real world there are all kinds of surprises, good and bad. Best moment of my career would be releasing 2 CDs in a six month period. The worst is playing solo gigs at restaurants where the owners expect background music and I am not background music, where they clamp down on my spirit and treat me with no respect. That is by far the worst. Also having flaky sidemen who show up late for a gig or play really poorly with no love in their hearts.
Why did you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?
The Blues will always survive because it is real music expressing real emotions, that express universal experiences. Blues fans are the best I know. They appreciate quality music.
What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?
Best jam ever was getting to sit in on drums with Henry Gray and Paul “Lil Buck” Sinegal during the Centrum Blues Festival 2002. My most memorable gigs have been Playing With Fire Blues Fest, and others which we will get to in question #11. I also enjoy playing our local Wooden Boat Festivals, always a great crowd.
Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?
Anytime there is a festival you get to talk with other musicians and some of the best advice came from Lil Buck Sinegal – he is typical of most great blues men, down to earth. It wasn't so much advice but rather a philosophy of life that extends to the music. He told me how he looks after his elderly neighbor and cuts her lawn for her. He talked about showing Jimi Hendrix some licks. A musician' life is not an easy one, traveling, always away from home etc. And what I have learned from the greats is having a life, being grounded and staying positive. Also taking care not to get lost in drugs and alcohol. I lost many good friends and players over the years to both.
Photo: Steve Grandinetti & Lil Buck Sinegal
Are there any memories from recording and show time which you’d like to share with us?
Recording music is always fun for me but also very intense. As Tom Waits said, “ Recording music is like putting the boat into the bottle; while playing live is like rowing a boat out in the ocean”. One of my greatest all time experiences was at WOMAD 2001 when I got to hang with and meet many of my musical heroes- Peter Gabriel, Steel Pulse, Gregg Allman, and playing with the Neville Brothers.
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?
Well in general I miss people learning to play their instruments, not using auto tune, teleprompters, and lip syncing. But the Blues stays pure because it is built in. What I miss is that most young players do not know the Blues. When I was coming up we would always play blues, it was a meeting ground. Let's play a 12 bar blues. I always teach my students the blues but I find the younger ones are not as interested in it. As to the future of music I feel music in general, especially popular music is reflecting the dumbing down of our society. I think all the technology has diminished the quality of music since people take the easy way, rather than learning how to read write and play. Music is the language of the spheres, and lately popular music is just horrible in my opinion, void of emotion or talent. It has become a commodity, formulaic, derivative and entirely unoriginal or dangerous. Of course there are always a few exceptional performers but nowhere near the level of what has come before. So many people seem to think music is acrobatics focused only on technique and speed rather than on form and emotion. Another issue has been the denigration of music in our society becoming background. People do not respect music anymore. We are losing venues and more and more amateurs and destroying the business by playing for free and lowering the standards. Club owners also do not pay well or at all. Musicians are now expected to do more work for less money; booking agents are disappearing as well. Everything is on the internet and social media now. This has been going on now for the past 30 years as arts and music education has been lost; people are uneducated as to what music is or what makes for good music. Attention spans are so short people do not listen to albums anymore, and can barely listen to even one song. My fans in Europe have commented on my videos saying that people are rude at my shows and do not really listen; this is true. People talk loudly, are on their cell phones, texting and do not know how to listen. Music teaches us how to listen. Without listeners we cannot have music. This is a subject I could pursue further but my hope is that things will come around.
Which memory from Neville Brothers, Lil Buck Senegal, Henry Gray, The Band, and Willie Nelson makes you smile?
All of my memories from the Neville Brothers, Lil Buck Sinegal, Henry Gray (Photo), The Band and Willie Nelson and others make me smile. These are my heroes, mentors and the people who I try to emulate. First of all the higher level musicians are always kind and humble people. I could tell some great stories but I think it is best that I don't. But let's just say I have had some really fun times with some of the aforementioned folks. In the end it is all about the music and that is all that matters. I must say that Lil Buck was the warmest and most accessible of all. He listened to me perform and when I came off stage he complimented me and was thrilled that we shared much of the same repertoire. I really connected with him personally. The Neville Brothers are probably my all time favorite band ever. They are just so deep and funky and intense, I love them so much. I remember Art saying he did not like playing the Northwest that much because of the cold rainy weather, and that show it did rain and was cold. Cyril and I go back and he is the brother I am closest too. These men have been through so much in their lives and it all comes out in the music. New Orleans is a tough place to live. The Band are another of my all time favorites and again they are all gentleman, total professionals. Levon was a hoot, so sorry he has passed.
You are also known as educator. What is the relation of new generation with the Blues music and culture?
As I mentioned earlier most of the younger generation are not familiar with nor have an interest in the Blues. I do my best to teach them the history of music and have taught a class on the History Of Rock which goes back to Blues (originally called race music) and Country (originally called Hillbilly) and is a mix of these two. All western music comes from the Blues. Most recently my student band is learning the Blues but still struggling with it because they do not listen to the music. As I stated earlier how can you authentically play a genre without listening to it and studying the greats? Again this is a problem with our present society where people do not do serious research and listening anymore. You must immerse yourself in it to get it.
"My music is a veritable gumbo of all the musical influences and experiences I have had throughout my life."
How is an Italian to play the blues in USA? What are the lines that connect the world legacy of Blues?
Well I am an American of Italian decent, but I am American through and through. And the Blues is an American original. It does not matter what country, sex, age, background you have regarding the blues. It is the feeling, the desire and love of the form that makes great blues players. It is universal in it's appeal.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?
If I could travel back in time I would want to play drums with Louis Armstrong during his early days in New Orleans. I was fortunate enough to meet him when I was a child and he was magical. He is one of my all time favorites.
In closing I would like to thank Mike for this great opportunity to explore these questions in depth, it has made me think more about the music. I love the Blues and have to say that not many Blues men play as many instruments as I do-- I spent many years as a drummer and pianist and in the past decade have really developed my guitar playing, especially slide and also harmonica. I love it all. And there is nothing better than belting out a tune. I hope more people will be turned on to the greats and take the time to study our rich American tradition of music.
Pooner Clark June 27, 2013
"This Week: Steve Grandinetti Steve Grandinetti is a multi-instrumentalist from Port Townsend. He plays guitar, keyboards, bass and drums and writes an occasional novel in his spare time. Born and educated in New York City, Grandinetti came to the Northwest with a broken heart and fell in love with the area. We’ll hear some of his multi-genre compositions and meet this hard working guy on this week’s Locals Only." - See more at:
- Pooner Clark, KISM (Jun 27, 2013)
Kiera Miller Hodik June 18, 2012
“He’s working hard to do what comes naturally. “I came out fully formed,” said local musician and songwriter Steve Grandinetti, referring to his musical instincts. “I work hard because music is my true calling. The more music I make, the more music I need to make, if that makes sense.” It does make sense, especially after talking to Grandinetti and catching his enthusiastic energy, or listening to his accessible and often danceable music, which ranges from funk to reggae to a classic rock ballad you’d swear you’ve heard before. It is clear that Grandinetti lives and breathes music. He spends most of his time on two things: 1) making music and 2) finding a place to play music live, which he recognizes is not always easy to do in a small town where venues are limited and there are so many other talented musicians. ”
- Kiera Miller Hodik, Port Townsend Leader (Jan 18, 2012)
Nathan Norgel January 28, 2014
"He has already played with the Neville Brothers and Blues musicians such as Paul Rishell & Annie Raines and shared the stage with The Band, Willie Nelson and Walter Trout. Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Steve Grandinetti's most recent album "Only Love Is Real " cannot be assigned to any one genre, because, as usual, it changes as needed between rock, pop, blues and soul Jamrock. And that is what always makes his records surprising.
Winter finally has arrived, gray and hazy. Steve Grandinetti sings "I Miss The Sun", slightly dreamy and seemingly without end. But nearly ten minutes is not enough to change the weather. After the song is over you want to hear and dream to more of those moody tracks on "Only Love Is Real".
But again and again the album pulls you out of melancholy. Grandinetti has once again filled the disc with everything from jazzy rock grooves ("Jake's Groove ") through dreamy pop melodies ("Julie") to funky excursions on the dance floor. Those who have been watching the songwriter for some time, know what I mean. Whereas the ones who are only now beginning to discover this musician can look forward to a musical roller coaster ride. Above all - and this is what holds together even the largest variety of styles - he is a songwriter with a lot of heart and warmth, who is a stranger to the prevailing cynicism and who is willing to stay positive over and over again, despite all adversities.
Unfortunately that has become very rare today."
WASSER-PRAWDA MAGAZIN NUMMER 5
Nathan Norgel May 16, 2013
“CD Review May 2013 Steve Grandinetti - Heart Of Me Blues, Jamrock, a little soul and pop tunes - songwriter Steve Grandinetti rather than the agreement to a single style always puts the songs in the foreground . So his new album "Heart Of Me" with 18 songs is a musical grab bag. Or should we say "Forrest Gump", a box of chocolates, you never know what you get before you try? "Down In New Orleans" and "Deaf Dumb And Blind" were the first songs I heard from Steve Grandinetti. Bluesy, with grooves from New Orleans and pretty much bite. And then this: "Heart of Me" is a pop song that comes along almost fragile, in love and restrained. This is another Grandinetti than I initially expected. And the second song, "Sweet Temptation" is at first very cautious, before you realize with how much power and sometimes indignation, is here in the matter. So it continues - alternating through the styles, mostly gently, but somehow in his human nature always winning favor for himself”
- Nathan Norgel, Wasser-Prawda Magazin Nummer (May 16, 2013)
Michael Demeter September 26, 2011
“A true musical chameleon, Port Townsend, Washington’s Steve Grandinetti has made a career of his versatile talents which continue to allow him to thrive within nearly any genre. Capable of picking up the guitar, bass, harmonica, and clarinet, or sitting down at a piano, drum kit, organ, or marimba, this singer/songwriter/musician/educator has turned into a true craftsman of the local music scene. Capable of jamming and soloing through rock, blues, and funk songs or slinking along R&B, Latin, or reggae tracks, Grandinetti is fearless when it comes to performing and executing within multiple genres. He remains incredibly active throughout the Port Townsend area, and has shared the stage with artists such as The Neville Brothers, The Band, Willie Nelson, and NRBQ. Contributing to his eclectic style are influences including Dr. John, Steely Dan, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, Bob Marley, and many more. http://www.reverbnation.com/stevegrandinetti ”
- Michael Demeter, www.indiemusicreviews.net (Sep 26, 2011)
Mick Skidmore May 22, 2011
“ Relix Magazine's Review Of Steve Grandinetti's album "Jonjano' Baro'" Another singer-songwriter that skits across musical boundaries with ease is Stephen Grandinetti. Jonjanó Baró (Gypsy Gumbo Music) is his first solo album. Grandinetti, who is backed by some excellent musicians throughout, shows himself to be a more than competent multi-instrumentalist and polished singer-songwriter. There's nothing pretentious or overblown about his R&B and jazzy blues songs. The soulful "Send Me An Angel," the Dr. John- influenced "Down In New Orleans" and the superb slide-driven "Dog House Blues" offer plenty of evidence of his skills. For the perceptive big-name musician, there's probably a hit or two on this disc. Relix Magazine On Line”
- Relix Magazine
Diane De La Paz December 28, 2012
“The bandleader is ready to do his 290th gig of this year. On Night No. 1 at a brand-new venue. This New Year's Eve, Steve Grandinetti will dish out four sets of funk, rhythm and blues, reggae, Latin, jazz and rock 'n' roll at The Loom, a nightclub upstairs at 118½ E. Front St. Monday night's party with Grandinetti and his band will introduce The Loom, with doors opening at 8 p.m. and revelry continuing till 2 a.m. Grandinetti, who is well-known to Port Townsend audiences, said he's ready to pull out the stops for his year-end gig. He's bringing Neal John Richter and John Sanders with him for a panoply of dance-friendly music; he estimates they will dish out about 50 songs during the night. “We're going to play some old-school R & B and funk like James Brown and Stevie Wonder, some blues by T-Bone Walker, some Bob Marley . . . and good, old rock 'n' roll,” from the Grateful Dead to Buddy Holly,” promised Grandinetti.”
- Diane De la Paz, Peninsula Daily News (Dec 28, 2012)
June 12, 2013
“2nd Friday Art Rock 2nd Friday Art Rock (2FAR) is like deliciously colorful jam. On Friday, June 14, 2013, at 8:00pm come to Bar N9NE for a tasty 2FAR event featuring Port Townsend's Steve Grandinetti Band and Port Angeles artist Jeff Tocher. Steve Grandinetti Band never fails to thrill the audience with humor, stage antics, exceptional musicianship, and soulful singing. Steve Grandinetti is a hard-working performer, playing more gigs in a year than Otis Redding and giving his all to engage the audience, get people dancing, and leave people smiling. Steve Grandinetti Band is Steve on guitar/vocals, Walter Harris on bass/vocals & Caleb Lowrey on drums. To hear some of their jams, check out http://www.reverbnation.com/stevegrandinetti. Kick start your weekend in Port Angeles by coming to Bar N9NE (229 West 1st Street, Port Angeles) for drinks, food, music, art, and great times on Friday, June 14th. Steve Grandinetti Band and Jeff Tocher will get the 2FAR dance-party going.”
- Peninsula Daily News (Jun 12, 2013)