10 questions for Loyd Grossman: "I don’t really collect guitars; I like buying guitars that I can play"

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He’s a renowned gastronome, but not a lot of people know Loyd Grossman’s also a pretty tasty guitarist - so how will he digest the 10 questions we ask everyone?

1. What was your first guitar?

“The very first one was a pretty useless acoustic whose only merit was that it had a very nice painting of a Hawaiian hula girl on it. By the time I was 13 I was desperate to get an electric and I fancied a blue Strat that was in the window of one of the local music stores, but I was encouraged to get something that wouldn’t just limit me to playing rock ’n’ roll. The result was what I felt was not a very good compromise, a Gretsch Tennessean, which I got when I was about 15 or 16 years old.”

2. Suppose the building was burning down, which guitar from your collection would you save?

People who worry about their belt buckles scratching the guitars, to me it’s just crazy; if I can’t play it I don’t want it

“I would probably take my black, double-cutaway Gretsch Duo Jet. That was the first guitar that I bought that I totally fell in love with. I’d been to see Humble Pie and Frampton and Marriot were both playing Duo Jets and they looked so fabulous and they sounded so great that I said, ‘I have got to get one of those.’

“Then, about three or four months later I found this beautiful second-hand black Duo Jet in a music store in New York and I got it home and it sounded nothing like Frampton or Marriot!”

3. What’s the oldest guitar that you own?

“I’m not much of a geek in terms of checking the serial numbers, but it’s a late-'50s Les Paul Junior TV. It’s a single-cutaway one. The thing is I don’t really collect guitars; I like buying guitars that I can play.

“One of the things I always find kinda funny when I read guitar magazines is people who worry about their belt buckles scratching the guitars. It’s like not wanting to kiss your girlfriend because you might smear her lipstick. To me it’s just crazy; if I can’t play it I don’t want it.”

4. When was the last time you practised and what did you play?

“I practised yesterday because I knew I was going to be talking to you today. I did some pretty boring scales and finger exercises, then attempted - really badly - to play along to a couple of Buddy Guy tracks. That’s my idea of practice; and then, after about 12 minutes, it’s time to have a cup of tea. I’m not a very assiduous practiser.”

5. When was the last time you changed your own strings?

“Probably sometime in the late-'70s, I would think. Strings have been changed, but not by me, let’s put it that way. If I had started changing my strings yesterday I’d still be halfway through one of them.”

6. What are you doing five minutes before you go on stage and five minutes afterwards?

“Five minutes before I am checking my tuning, looking for the set sheet, checking my tuning again, trying to find the Grolsch beer bottle cap to put on the guitar as a strap lock, which I’ve always mislaid somewhere. So, fidgeting and making last-minute adjustments. Afterwards, feeling very relieved and usually having a drink.”

7. What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you on stage?

I had to tell 500 bikers that the concert had been cancelled and there were no refunds

“There’s quite a catalogue. I think, probably, just in terms of sheer horror, when I was in my early 20s my band was booked to play what, for us, was a relatively big gig in Salem, Massachusetts. About 500 people in the audience, all of whom, for some weird reason, were from the local biker gangs, and just as I was walking on stage the stage manager said to me, ‘You’ve got to tell the audience that the concert’s been cancelled because the promoter didn’t get a permit for it - and they can’t get their money back because the promoter’s just left...’ So I had to go on stage in front of 500 bikers and say, ‘Oh, guys and girls, I’m really sorry but the concert’s been cancelled and you can’t get a refund’. That’s when I learned that you can use a mic stand very effectively as a weapon.”

8. What song would you play on an acoustic around a campfire?

“I am the world’s worst acoustic player. I could only play two songs, so I’d probably play both: House Of The Rising Sun, because I can do a plausible version of that, and then about the first half of Malagueña. After that I run out of repertoire.”

9. What advice would you give your younger self about the guitar if you had the chance?

“I think I should have spent more time doing the really serious stuff, like getting my sight-reading really up to scratch. And I think, although I like thrashing away at punk-ish, blues-ish, whatever-ish, I wish I had more theoretical knowledge - just because I think it would be more fun. I wish I not only knew how to play a suspended chord, but what it actually meant.”

10. Is there a myth about you or your guitar playing that you’d like to set the record straight on?

“I don’t think I’ve reached mythological status yet...”

Loyd Grossman’s new album with his band The New Forbidden Songs From The Subway is available now on Cadiz Music.

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