Baltimore native discusses the John Scofield gig, designing basses, recording projects and more!
Baltimore native Gary Grainger taught himself to play the bass as a teenager and also experimented with the tuba and sousaphone while in high school. From 1978 to 1981, Gary played with the band Pockets, which toured as Earth, Wind & Fire’s opening act. Soon afterwards, Gary became a busy session player in Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and New York, playing for many major recording projects, including two albums with Eumir Deodato, Night Cruise and Happy Hour.
From 1986 to 1992, Gary toured and recorded with guitarist John Scofield and appeared on Scofield’s Blue Matter, Loud Jazz and Pick Hits Live albums. He has since performed and/or recorded with Lonnie Liston Smith, Nancy Wilson, Dennis Chambers, George Duke, Eric Marienthal, Ken Navarro and many others.
In 1993, Gary formed Hillview Studios, along with his brother Greg and partner Tony Bulluck, where they have created original jingles and music scores for ABC Sports, Umbro Sports and several other high-profile clients. The Grainger brothers have released two CDs, Grainger Phase I and Grainger Phase II, both to high critical acclaim. Currently, Gary tours with Acoustic Alchemy and the Meritxess Project and designs basses for Paul Reed Smith.
FBPO: Tell me about your upbringing. How did you end up as a musician and what made you choose the bass?
GG: I come from a family of six kids. We all had to take piano lessons from my father. I started out on drums at first, but my father brought home an old bass one day and I took one look at it and never looked back! My Brother Glenn had a group that used to practice in our basement. I remember sitting on the stairs listening to the bass player. I really loved the sound and feel of the bass. I was very good at art, drawing and painting and originally thought I would be going to college to become at art major. I also was very into music in school. I was in the marching band and stage band. We had a little neighborhood band called Charlie & Company. Also, I was starting to play bass in the jazz night clubs in Baltimore. By the time I got to college, the music just took over. I left college and went out on the road.
FBPO: I always enjoyed your work with John Scofield. How did that gig come about?
GG: I would say it was a blessing. A good friend of mine, Mark Cohen, called me and said, “You need to come up to New York and audition for this guitar player, John Scofield.” So I went to New York, played for John and got the gig. That’s pretty much all there was to it.
FBPO: I’d like to hear more about some of the other things you’ve done in your career, most notably your associations with Frank Gambale, George Duke and Verdine White.
GG: I got a chance to work with Frank on a tour with my drumming buddy, Larry Bright. It was amazing! I love his playing.
I was hired to play for the Clinton inauguration in 1993 and George was the musical director. It was great. Bill got up and played sax with us, which was very cool.
Verdine goes back to the beginning of my music career. He discovered and produced the group Pockets, which was a combination and a spin-off of two local bands from Baltimore, Charlie & Company and Inner-visions. We went from playing in small clubs to playing in large arenas with Earth, Wind & Fire. Now that was truly a blessing. Wow!
FBPO: Are still designing basses for Paul Reed Smith?
GG: Yes. We are in the process of designing a 4-string, along with the 5 that is in private stock now.
FBPO: How about the rest of your equipment: strings, amps, speakers, effects, etc.? What do you use?
GG: I use Dean Markley SR 2000 strings with custom gauges, Tecamp amps and speakers from Germany and a Radial direct box. For effects, I just use a Boss chorus. I use Levy straps and bass cases.
FBPO: What’s keeping you busiest these days?
GG: A lot — and that is a good thing! These days my brother and I go out on tour with the group Acoustic Alchemy. We are working on the Grainger Phase III CD. Also, we are starting to write for a second CD project for a vocalist from Barcelona, named Meritxell and her group, the Meritxell Project. I am in the process of booking a concert series in Silver Spring, so I guess that means I am becoming a promoter. I’m also starting to put together a reunion for the group Pockets.
FBPO: What do you like to do when you’re not making music?
GG: I like spending time with my family. I think I will start to get back to my art works, too. That should be fun.