Jonny Grave is a Washington D.C. based blues guitarist, singer and songwriter. Jonny is a true performer, gigging more days than he takes off. This year, Jonny Grave developed his first entirely instrumental album called “Impala”. The album includes five tracks, all of which were recorded live, straight to the board at Hill Country Bar-B-Q in Washington D.C. The show was mixed live on site, re-mixed for high fidelity, and then lovingly mastered by Anthony Fowler. Jonny loves to tap into venues like Hill Country and the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage due to the amazing sound equipment these venues have on hand. We can look forward to the release party for “Impala” at the Black Cat Mainstage on June 15th, 2019. The full lineup for the slow includes Pleasure Train and Maryjo Mattea. Tickets for the show can be purchased by clicking this link https://www.ticketfly.com/event/1865409-jonny-grave-quartet-washington/.
Jonny says, the making of this album was “exciting fun and a little bit daunting”. The album is rounded out with Scott Schoem on keys, Benjamin Rikhoff on bass and Marty Risemberg on drums.
Jonny wanted to do something different with his newest release, which is rawer than his eponymous album released in 2018. There are no overdubs or double tracking and plenty of room for some wicked tricks that Jonny wanted to share. This was a contrast to Jonny’s first self-titled album, where he took a conventional studio approach, with Ben Green of Ivakota in Southeast D.C. The dynamic collaboration with Ben Green was one of the most positive experiences Jonny has had to date in his career.
Instrumental songs leave a good deal of room for the listener to interpret and retrieve whatever message is meaningful to them. Jonny thinks dance will be an intriguing way to aide in the interpretation of the songs on stage but laughs, “I can’t dance. My rhythm stops at my elbows.”
Many of the new tracks have a cinematic feel to them and are largely inspired by Jonny’s travel. Throughout his adult life, Jonny visited some great places including Puerto Rico, Brazil, Ireland, England, South Africa and the Middle East. For his twenty-eighth birthday Jonny’s girlfriend Maryjo Mattea, who is another incredible local musician, rallied to send him on a trip to Berlin, Grenoble, and Paris. While in Europe Jonny took in the inspiration around him. While Jonny gigs constantly at home in D.C. and around the states, he intentionally keeps his guitar in the case while travelling abroad. Instead, he opens his ears and mind to be influenced by the cultures surrounding him. By doing so, Jonny picks up little bits and pieces along the way to incorporate into his own art. Jonny feels grateful and lucky that he has been able to see more of the world in the last three years than he ever imagined.
Jonny reminisces back to Puerto Rico, where one of the most common phrases on the street is “Una Medalla Por Favor”, which translates to “Another beer please”. Medalla is a common local brew. The phrase, “Una Medalla Por Favor”, became the title to one of his new tracks inspired by the all-night parties and constant dancing in the streets of Santurce.
The track “Golly, What a Dream!” is a salute to Danny Gatton, Bill Kirchen and G.E. Smith, who played on a rudimentary guitar called a telecaster. Jonny, also a guitar technician, built his own telecaster which is featured on this tune. During the set at Hill Country, Jonny decided not to tell the band that the song was being recorded for the album, so what they got was a fun, high energy and authentic track recorded in a great venue.
“Paris, 1947” was inspired by the stories told by WWII vets who stayed in Paris after the war and the notion that music provided a common language among the men. One listen of the song will tell a sobering story of how these folks got together and then ramps up to a fun party that gets the night rolling in a basement jazz club in Paris. Jonny loves the stories told by American musicians who played USO and underground shows in Paris with French jazz musicians who were in hiding due to their Jewish and Romany heritage. Jonny reflects that these events in the 1940s forged a new a new sound that went on to inform the future of R&B and rock in the States.
The album also features the title track “Impala”, where an entertaining conversation between lead guitar and organ gallop through the Serengeti and “The Gospel Holdover”, where the soulful sounds take listeners to church.
Jonny’s love of stories and fascination with anything old has fed his interest in music history. Jonny muses that the further back we go in history, our stories tend to repeat themselves. Jonny believes that history “offers several universal truths and lessons.” Consequently, he is really hooked on Blind Willie Johnson’s “God Moves on the Water”, which is a song about the sinking of the Titanic. Jonny reflects that the song is a “very haunting warning about careless ignorance and it sounds just as haunting today as the day it was recorded”.
Jonny tends to throwback to the tunes from past decades to shape and inspire him today. This is reflected in his own compositions, where he often hears from listeners, “My dad would love this”. Jonny finally gave into streaming music, but digs back to older sounds such as Jimmy Smith, the great jazz organist, cinematic sounds such as David Holmes’ soundtrack to Ocean’s Eleven and Twelve, and a bunch of Irish folk music such as the Chieftains and The Dubliners.
Jonny reflects that the last five years have been incredible. Jonny has created a steady music career for himself in Washington D.C. He averages about 165 shows per year and topped out at 185 shows in 2016. More than once, Jonny has played four gigs in a single day. Jonny laughs “I can do whatever you got with enough coffee.” He adds, “I love D.C. This is home. This is where my musical family is.”
Jonny tells us that he likes to live one day at a time just to see what unfolds. He finds that this approach has never failed him. Purposefully allowing himself to let go and live in the moment helps to ground him from a constant stream of worry that results from his struggle with anxiety. Jonny values patience and stillness more and more with age, further allowing him to enjoy the experiences life and travel has afforded him. He gets to reflect on the world and write songs from his 11th Street apartment, play with his pit bull, and contribute meaningfully to Washington D.C.’s thriving music scene every day. Jonny is truly grateful for every second of it.