Grinder Blues are a hard rock blues trio featuring dUg Pinnick of King’s X on bass and vocals, guitarist and vocalist Jabo Bihlman, and Scot “Little” Bihlman on drums, percussion, and vocals. They offer a high-energy, bone-crushing sound and from-the-gut songwriting, putting a fresh, contemporary spin on the blues tradition. “El Dos” is like a shot of adrenaline to the heart of the genre. Its ten original, high-voltage songs sizzle with daredevil virtuosity and rock with unrestrained energy. Their new album “El Dos” will be released on September 24th via Metalville Records.
Correspondent Robert Cavuoto spoke to dUg about his new power trio Grinder Blues, the creation of their new album “El Dos”, how the blues influenced him from his youth, and how this album differs from anything he has done with Kings X or KXM. Check out their conversation transcript below, and remember that for more interviews and other daily content, make sure to follow Sonic Perspectives on Facebook, Flipboard and Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified about new content we publish on a daily basis.
You have been in so many great trio bands like Kings X, KXM, and now Grinder Blues. Tell me about the decision to stick with the power of three when it comes to bands?
There has never been a reason or a thought. It has never even been brought up. Everyone I hang out with plays either guitar, drums, or bass. There are very few keyboard players around, and the problem is they can’t just show up with their gear. You can drag your guitar or bass around, but keyboards are different. Three’s company; four is a crowd [laughing]. As much as I love four-piece bands, and many of my favorite bands have keyboard players, and the first few bands I played in had keyboard players. When I got into Kings X, that was the first time I was in a three-piece band as I never played without a keyboard player. I personally love being in a three-piece because you can hear my bass, and I can do what I want to do. When I was in other bands, the songs got cluttered; one guitar player is always too loud, and the bass is too far in the mix. You take one guy out, and you get all this clarity.
Growing up, I was always in a five-piece band, two guitars, singer, bass, and drums.
What I found out when I was in a band like that was that I could slack off. As soon as one of them was gone, it was all me holding the rhythm down. I remember a band I was in, the guitar player’s rig went down, and I locked into the rhythm with the drums. At that moment, I thought it would be fun to just go out as a three-piece. There was some personal gratification I would get when that happened.
Tell me about your decisions to peruse a full-tilt blues album.
I don’t think of anything as “full tilt” because there is so much music in my head from all the different genres I grew up with. I grew up evenly with just about everything from blues, jazz, rock, gospel, and so many other things. Being 70 years old, I experienced all of it. I found those types of music when it came out and how it changed everything for me. It seems like I play bass the same with whoever I’m playing with [laughing]. Just like John Entwistle or Chris Squire, whatever they played, it always sounds them, so I realize that aspect of it too.
Tell me the impact blues had on your playing and songwriting.
It’s one part of the larger picture. I was born in the 50s when the blues explosion happened where I grew up in a little town close to Chicago. I had relatives who lived in a black neighborhood who would buy the latest blues albums out of the trunk of a guy who would drive around selling them. I got to hear every Muddy Waters and whoever was out at the time when it came out on the front porch of my cousin’s house. I have cousins who were teenagers, and they listened to Chuck Berry and Little Richard in their house. I also had an aunt and uncle who listened to nothing but jazz like Duke Ellington. Then I went to school, and they taught me about big bands and show tunes. So, all of those influences were coming at me at once. Gospel music was also a big part of that. It seemed like all the singers that I liked had a gospel sound, whether it was jazz, rock, or whatever. There was this unique voice that I always gravitated towards. With Grinder Blues, we had to shut everything else off and go straight to the blues box because it was really important for me for this band to be straight up ZZ Top blues. To try and write some very creative songs just like them. Their “Tres Hombres” album was the most creative blues album I have ever heard. At the time, it was a re-invention of the traditional blues. That album was the greatest thing that ever happened to me for all the things I felt and the blues; it just all came together. I think that Grinder Blues is trying to carry on that “Tres Hombres” album vibe. I purposely try to play bass like Dusty Hill. When “Tres Hombres” came out, I was 22 years old and just starting to play bass, and I remember how simple he played just it fit so well.
It was very sad that he passed away. It was way too early.
Yes indeed. I have many friends who are 70 – 75 years old, and that’s when they start fading away. All the rock stars from the 70s are all around the same age. Another great who just passed was Charlie Watts; he was 80 years old. He has me by ten years and made it longer than most.
I believe being a Rock & Roller is a hard lifestyle.
Yeah, it’s all about lifestyle, and if you don’t take care of yourself, it is all going to fade on you. Look at Paul McCartney; he is going to outlive us all [laughing]. He looks great and can still hit all the notes! I always say life is what you make of it. What you put into it is what you get out of it. It doesn’t matter where you came from or what happened to you; you are still responsible for yourself.
Earlier on, you mentioned that regardless of what band you played in, your bass playing doesn’t change all that much. Tell me about the writing and recording of a blue album compared to Kings X or KXM.
That is what why we got together, in the first place. Grinder Blues wasn’t born from a blues conversation; it was born from talking about our influences in the blues. What we have done with our influences and how we impressed each other. I was very impressed that they played with Ray Charles and B.B. King. I was saying, these white boys really know how to play the blues and thought it was so cool. I grew up with the kinship from being from the Chicago area. We all felt this vibe. I remember someone said, let’s do a blues band and do some good-ole down-home blues – nothing but that! It was an immediate agreeance when I look back. There was never a conversation; we knew our boundaries. We know that we want to be within the boundaries of the ZZ Top “Tres Hombres” album. It was like kids imitating their big brothers [laughing].
Does it work the same way when you are playing with George Lynch and Ray Luzier in KXM?
It is the same way with those guys expect we don’t have genre or style. We just said to each other, “We have been doing this for a long time, and we like what each other does so let’s come up with a beat and go for it.” Nobody tells each other what to play. That is the law; you don’t tell someone to play a part. We wanted everyone to be completely on their own and be as organic as we possibly could. KXM is our collective influences. Ray is a very busy drummer, and you don’t tell him to slow it down [laughing]. George is out to lunch with his playing; we just let him go for it! We love what he is doing. When I come up with my bass lines, they just say, “that’s badass.” Everybody is like a bunch of kids and excited about the music, just like with Grinder Blues. With Kings X, we are a really complicated marriage of love, hate, jealousy, and everything you can think of wrapped up into one band [laughing]. We are who we are! We are a group of dysfunctional guys, any every sense of the words [laughing]. We are friends yet so opposite from each other in almost every way except for a couple of things. That’s what makes Kings X who we are, and we know that. It’s a payoff, and we have learned how to live with very difficult people. I think we are three highly difficult people; I know I am. I have learned a lot, but oh my God, we are three control freaks. It works for us, Jerry Gaskill takes the backseat, and he is the glue between us. When Ty Tabor and I are going in completely opposite directions, Jerry is in the middle to reel us in. There is something about his quietness that can help us finally help us get to that place we will do it. When I look back at everything, that is the way it is supposed to be and what the world loves. I’m happy to say that we haven’t had a problem in over ten years. We are three grumpy old guys, and when we get together, we bitch about politics.
My favorite song was “Who Wants a Spankin” can you share any insights into its creation, or is it self-explanatory?
People aren’t going to believe this, but it is the truth. If ZZ Top wrote it, they would come up with a crazy story because Billy Gibbons can do that [laughing]. This is the absolute truth. Out guitarist Jabo Bihlman has two young daughters, and he goes in the bedroom when they are supposed to be sleeping, but they aren’t. They are wide awake and jump on the beds. He starts yelling, “You need to get some sleep; you have school in the morning!” They still keep making noise, and he wakes up from a cold sleep and yells, “Who wants a spanking!” We thought it was a great story and I started singing it. I was trying to figure out want to say after the third line; Jabo looked up at me, and he says, “Well, I do!” We all busted out laughing, and that’s how we left it. So that song started with a chorus, and then went into the verse, “Jumping on the bed, making a lot of noise put away the toys,” and then the second line is “Let’s go Rock & Roll…” I don’t know how people are going to take this, but we are still laughing about that song, but this could be a big hit.
My mind went somewhere else with that song!
That’s what we want! Especially when I go “I do!” Before that, it wasn’t worth it, but when Jabo said, “I do!” It was exactly what it needed. I love working and writing with these guys. When I get stumped when coming up with lyrics, they are always right there to help me out by throwing something in. We don’t want to sound like cliche blues, but we want to sound blues-like with telling very simple stories. Nothing philosophical.
Will we see you on tour with the Grinder Blues?
I hope so; the record company has been talking to promoters about some upcoming festivals in Europe. Hopefully, we can do it because we can easily grab our guitars and go. That’s what I love about this band! With other bands, you need to rehearse, work out all the parts, and it’s a struggle. When I walk on stage with Kings X, there are vocal harmonies, complicated bass lines, multiple musical changes, and all this stuff going on. Then I have to work the crowd. After one song, I’m sweating. I love doing it, and it’s what I signed up for. With Grinder Blues, I don’t sweat; it’s all about putting your soul into the groove. I can’t wait until you see this band live; it’s organic and really emotional. What I love about Grinder Blues is we take a simple boogie shuffle and drive it into the ground. Just like AC/DC would drive a riff into the ground until your eyes roll back into your head.
In your career, you have accomplished so much within so many different styles of music across so many bands. Is there anything you haven’t done that you are interested in doing?
I have always wanted to do something with orchestration. I sang a song, “I Have the World on a String,” on a Frank Sinatra tribute album. It’s was a scary rock version, but before the vocals kick in, all these strings come in. It was something so new to me in what I do that I thought to myself, I wouldn’t mind doing more of that. I would also love to put together a band with a piano, upright bass, and small drum kit where I stand in front of those old blues-jazz microphone and sing in my natural voice. It would be done in a fun way where I’m not sweating, screaming, or yelling. Those are the two things that I would like to do. Thanks for asking about that, I forgot all about it. At my age, I need to start doing more!