A student of the Hill Country blues tradition, Jonny Grave has been performing professionally since age 15. Pulling from the playing of R.L. Burnside, Kenny Brown and Mississippi Fred McDowell, Grave plays a grooving, rhythmic blend of traditional blues and primitive rock’n’roll. He is joined by his band, the Tombstones (Nate Oliver, Rev. A.R. Pierce, and Jeff Stapleton) for a night of raucous, raunchy, loud and wild blues.
What is the the first gig you ever went to?
Apart from the odd coffee shop, talent show, or open mic from my high school days, the first gig I ever had by myself was five years ago at the Quarry House Tavern in Silver Spring. I was nineteen years old, and extraordinarily new to the music scene in DC. Actually, by that point, I hadn’t even begun to break into DC– I was still playing shows in my own neighborhood. I played from 9 to midnight on a Wednesday, and I was paid $50. That was the first time I remember thinking “this is actually kind of hard work.” It was also the first time I realized that I’m cut out for it.
Best gig you have ever played/performed at?
I’ve had a lot of really fantastic shows since that night at the Quarry House. I got to play a bona fide juke joint in Birmingham, Alabama opening for one of my heroes. I got to tour from the Midwest back to DC in ten days with a van full of strangers. Just this year alone, I’ve toured London, played the Kennedy Center, and I’m about to headline the Black Cat next week. It’s hard to pick the best. If I really had to pick just one, I think it might be the blues dance my band and I played at Glen Echo immediately after playing the Millennium Stage this past May. We played for three hours to a crowd of 120 dancers. It was perfect– we ended our night with inviting a few couples to dance on the stage with us.
Best gig you’ve ever been to?
The first big show I can remember seeing was the Rolling Stones on their 40 Licks tour, in 2002, at FedEx Field. We missed the opening band (the Strokes, still in their “Is This It?” era), but got there just in time for the lights to go off for the Stones. Big, fluorescent stadium bulbs make a noise when they all get cut off at once, and I’ll never forget hearing that for the first time. I was thirteen years old. All I can remember after the lights going off was hearing Mick Jagger’s voice from backstage saying “one-two, one-two,” and then the lights burst back on bright. Out comes Keith Richards doing a very
low, lizard-like strut with a Gibson Firebird around his shoulder, playing “Honky Tonk Women.” For the next two hours (not including the three encores), I was floored with pure and simple rock and roll. I knew then and there that I needed to be a part of what was happening on that stage.
What is the gig you would most like to play?
Ever since the Rolling Stones show, I’ve wanted to play stadiums. The blues, like most forms of folk music, is too often treated like an artifact. It was always my understanding that, while the blues is a very old kind of music, and that it has a significant place in the history of rock and roll, it is far from dead. It is a living, breathing, and ever-changing art form, and is as alive today as it was in the 20’s. I think it’s time people wake up to that. I want to bring the blues to stadiums. I’d like to play Nationals Park.
If you could put your dream lineup on a gig, who would it be?
My band, of course. Jeff, Nate, Rev and I have played pretty hard together for the past few years. There’s a sound that we’ve concocted that I can’t get with anyone else. Although… I’d probably hire Charlie Musselwhite to blow harp, ask Ry Cooder, Billy Gibbons, and Bonnie Raitt to sit in for a song or two, put Dr. John behind an organ, and play a couple of duets with my dad.
Catch Jonny Grave & The Tombstones, tomorrow, July 20th @ Black Cat