A little more than a dozen years ago, I was first introduced to a tall, lanky fellow college kid from New Mexico. I was still living in San Marcos and attending Texas State, but Waco was home and I’d traveled back to town for a round of Big O’s at George’s with some old friends. Setting up at the far end of the newly renovated “Big O’ Deck” a band was setting up a ramschackle PA. The patio area was filled with a large amount of similarly aged and motivated young folks wearing Pat Green and Cory Morrow t-shirts. They’d come to drink, have a good time and jam to some live music. I casually asked my bartender, “who’s the band?”
Riverside was his reply. As the set began, the ruggedly loose rhthyms pouring out of the band were unmistakably catchy. The influences were all over the map. It was at that moment that I turned to my buddy and said “this is like Merle Haggard meets Dave Matthews Band”. It would only get wilder from there. Elements of jazz and heavy metal were sidled right alongside hardcore honky-tonk. The mix of covers ranged from George Jones to Pink Floyd, and the originals sometimes stretched to jam-band worthy lengths of ten minutes or more. Yet, the connection of the audience to the stage never wavered. It was obvious the band had some classical training, but just enough youthful verve and passion to be rough around the edges.
After the show I talked with the bass player, Seth Allen as he ambled around slinging cd’s out of a box for $10 a pop. My quick conversation with him garnered some background information on the band. Turns out the lead singer was a guy named Josh Grider. I chatted him up a bit and we exchanged info. Once when I asked him how he ended up in Waco, he responded, “You never know what a decision you make in life is going to do for you, but I know the man upstairs had His hand in leading me to Texas. I found my wife, a band and a career playing music. All in all, I’ve been pretty blessed.”
Cool dude, I thought. As we climbed into the truck for the ride home, we popped the cd in the player. It sounded like it had been recorded in a garage, but the energy of the liveshow was unmistakable. Over the course of the next couple years, I’d catch a Riveride show at Scruffy Murphy’s or George’s if I was in town. I’d jam the heck out of that cd I’d bought and keep loose tabs on what those guys were doing.
Pretty soon, I had moved back to Waco and was knocking around the same circles as Mr. Grider. We’d run into each other at the bar or out and about at a Pat Green gig and kick life and dreams around. Riverside had busted up, but Grider’s musical dreams endured. Allen recalls those early days thusly, “We were just kids- and we really didn’t know what we were doing. Our drummer thought heavy metal was the best thing ever, the lead singer was a library of knowledge of classic country, the lead guitarist was a jam-band-listening hippie type, the bass player thought he was the reincarnation of Johann Sebastian Bach, and the accomplished keyboardist could probably hold his own against rodeo competitors in roping competitions. ”
He would soon move to Austin, meet a guitar player named Kris Farrow and together they set about making a record. With a little help from Cody Braun and others, they strung together a nice collection of songs that helped catapult Grider from college band newbie, to Texas scene artist to watch. “As a Marine Officer, now, looking back at that situation, I respect the hell out of him that much more for having the passion and the guts to take things over, and really put his money where his mouth was. It was a bold move to reinvent the band and step out front in name too, ” recalls Allen. That first self-titled record garnered a nice review from me on this website that has been lost to a server crash years ago. The set led to a few radio spins off songs like “18 and Blonde” and “City of Crosses”. It also got him a spot at Greenfest ’05 and the attention of Walt Wilkins.
All that happened in the year 2005.
Over the next few years, Grider would undergo various transformations and career rollercoaster moments. Farrow relates the following regarding Grider’s musical journey, “Josh and I have had many, many talks about how in the hell you get anyone to care about your music or come to your shows. We used to play music that was more on the fringe, and not too many people got on board, and we went broke. Then he had another period with his Trio that was on the fringe in a different way, and the same thing happened. After that second crash he started writing music that was a little more streamlined and concise, and now he’s had three #1 songs in a row at Texas radio.”
The Wilkins’ produced “Crazy Like You” would become a signature song and radio hit. An invitation to play the Larry Joe Taylor Fest for the first time would provide a nice springboard. As a hungover, tent-dwelling Grider stumbled to the stage mere moments before he was due to hit the first note, prospects did not look good for a special show. However, that’s just what happened in a career defining set that found Drew Kennedy providing backing vocals and the merch tent sold out of Grider albums by the time he finished his last song.
The Josh Grider Band would soon become the Josh Grider Trio. A funky, jazzy grooving good time that found Grider playing lead guitar in addtion to using his booming baritone in fresh ways. Artistically stretching himself wowed old fans and serious Americana-music fans, yet alienated a large demographic of good-times chasers much like the ones Grider and I had been those few years earlier on the back patio of George’s.
Soon, Grider decided his music would be best served by a move to Nashville. He wanted to go all-in and prove to himself that he was as good as the best the country had to offer. The Nashville transition wasn’t easy. Aside from the daunting task of uprooting his career, Grider was faced with transplanting his native Texan wife and young son to a new city without knowing a soul. Times were tough. Ends hard to meet. Grider secured a blue-collar job in Memphis that required him to be away from Music City even more than he would’ve been as a touring musician. These long, gut-wrenching commutes away from his family solidified his resolve and reaffirmed his desire to take his music career to the next level. The miles and memories logged during this time inspired some of his most personal songwriting such as on “Price of a Dream”.
During this time, Grider toured Texas sporadically on the weekends and knocked on doors in Tennessee throughout the week. He found himself sitting through writing appointment after writing appointment seeking a path that both interested and satisfied his artistic urges. The trials and tribulations of this period forced Grider’s writing to become sharper and more focused. The college kid with jazzy jam band tendencies crammed into a country crooner was finding out how to refine his approach. “I think accessible is the best description, and truthfully the goal. I knew I could write songs and I wanted to make records full of good songs that could reach a lot of people,” says Grider.
As this refinement was taking place, the inaugural Live at Billy Bob’s contest was announced.Among the nominated artists, Grider could claim some of the greatest name recognition and most well-known catalog of songs. On the strength of his sizable online followings here at Galleywinter and over at Radio Free Texas, Grider claimed the grand prize and was able to record a Live at Billy Bob’s album and dvd. Joining the ranks of the legendary list of performers to cut a record there helped Grider climb one more rung on his winding career path. It brought him new fans, growing attention and some unforseen headaches such as the music biz legalese that tangled up the killer song “High Enough” which is just now seeing a proper release on Luck and Desire.
This intensely strong focus on Grider’s burgeoning creativity would prove to be immesnely beneficial to his career. After a decade of DIY, Grider now had a professional team of legitimate heavyweights around him. After years of banging around the nighclubs and dive bars of Texas, he finally had better bookings. His management team now had the venerable Tim Dubois on board. The pieces were finally coming together to take that next-level step he’d been chasing for years.
The largest piece came in the form of a new reality show titled Troubadour, TX. This show would follow singer/songwriters of various stature and renown across Texas. At home or on the road, nothing was off limits. The frenetic MTV style editing of the first season turned a few folks off. However, the show found its voice in the second season by focusing on longer form storytelling of the behind the music variety. Showcasing artists onstage and in the van. Grider became a focal point of the show alongside Zane Williams, Cody Johnson and Wade Bowen among others.
On the back of his newfound television celebrity, Grider released some of his new material on an official studio release for the first time. His new approach to songwriting enabled him to grab a foothold with radio folks that he’d previously only attained with “Crazy Like You”. Each successive song released to radio went progressively higher on the charts. The machinery put in place by his new team of advisers was finally allowing his music to reach audience numbers he once thought unattainable.
While those songs were still on the charts, Grider headed back into the studio to craft a strike while the iron’s hot follow-up. The project would come to be known as Luck and Desire. Two things Grider credits with getting his career to this point. Luck and Desire is Grider’s most well-rounded and complete record. The wild inclinations to jam and spontaneously funky rhythms have been reigned in enough to sound commercial without losing any original edge. It’s a focused record for a newly focused career. Grider sums it up thusly, “I hate the feeling that there has been this line drawn to where commercially viable means bad and artistic means not commercial. I don’t think that good and commercially viable are or should be mutually exclusive.”
It may have taken nearly 15 years to get to this point, but Grider has finally arrived. By striking just the right balance of artistry and appeal, the future looks brighter than ever. It is apparent that both luck and desire have played a role in getting him to this point, but Grider and fans should not discount the role played by talent and determination.