David Grisman is a legend. During more than 40 years of perfecting his masterful touch on the mandolin, he's never really been in the limelight-rather, he's always been the smoldering dragon lying right below the surface. Amid an endless stream of albums, he most recently released Satisfied, a two-man collaboration with his long lost pal, John Sebastian of The Lovin' Spoonful. I called up the Dawg prepared to hear stories of lament from an old traditionalist getting lost in the digital age. Instead, I heard inspired words from a musician who is embracing the inevitable future, and fighting to maintain control in a new open-air market. Long in the game, he does worry about the new tricks, and whether new geniuses can truly arise in a music community where hard work is being thrown out the door. Fortunately, the enduring maestro still has some faith in the over-riding power of music.
Adam King: I was just looking over your discography and trying to add it up. In the last 30 or 40 years or so, between albums you've done and albums you've played on, I think you're up to around 185.
David Grisman: Oh yeah? There's a bunch in there you probably don't even know about.
AK: Right. So when's the last time you saw a baseball game?
DG: That's a good question. It's been a while. Every once in a while we go to see the Giants. Both of my boys are into baseball.
AK: So, you do have time to get out?
DG: Yeah. The season hasn't started yet, but I think I made it to a game or two last season. The Giants haven't been doing too well.
AK: So you are having some sort of existence outside of music?
DG: Yeah, oh yeah.
AK: Good. Is the Acoustic Disc studio still out of your house? Are you working on a lot of projects?
DG: Yeah. Actually, I'm working on a whole bunch of projects. We're shifting our entire focus towards downloading, and I'm working on about 16 projects. They'll all be completely downloadable off our Web site. Actually, we're building a new Web site called Acoustic Oasis. We're trying to get it launched by March 1st.
AK: Speaking of downloading, last year you were having some problems with YouTube, right?
DG: Getting ripped off is something that I'm familiar with, yeah. That doesn't necessarily have anything to do with downloading. Allegedly, you're not able to download off of YouTube, but of course every time they come up with a new technology there's all kinds of ways to crack it. You can get programs to do anything. The whole YouTube thing, I think it's been settled. That's part of a class action suit that I'm just a real small part of. Actually, I'm all for YouTube, but in this case it's the "MeTube"-I'm the guy that should be putting up my stuff. I would gladly give them stuff to put up, but everybody else can copy something off a DVD or anything else and put it up there.
Let's face it: their company got bought by Google for like two billion dollars. Who's going to buy something for two billion dollars if it isn't going to make money? So they're making money. Why can't they pay people that write things and own things [that are on their site]? People that earn their living with intellectual property are confronted with extinction right now. That's eroding my means of support and a lot of other people's too.
AK: But you allow recording at most of your shows right?
DG: I'm sort of rethinking that. I don't want to be hypocritical; I used to take around a tape machine when I was 18 years old, you know? I would go up to the artist and ask him if I could tape his show, and I never sold anything. I never put anything out there. I might have traded tapes, and maybe some of the tapes I made got around to maybe, I don't know, in 30 or 40 years maybe 25 or 50 people. But that's not the situation now, where you can go in and with your little camera make a video and put it up when you go home for the world, for whoever wants to check it out.
AK: It is true. I was reading that Tom Rush has some video up on YouTube that's an older song, one of these songs about getting older and forgetting everything. It got something like 2.5 million hits on YouTube from younger people who had never heard of Tom Rush being like, "Oh here's this funny song." And then Tom Rush wrote this thing…
DG: Did he put it up?
AK: No, he didn't put it up. His thing was like "Okay, 2.5 million people saw this song. How come I haven't sold one more album?"
DG: Because they can get it for free. It should be an artist's decision if he wants to share his thing. On the Acoustic Disc Web site, we give away a free song every day. If you go there every day, after a year you'll have about 23 CDs. My point is that I'd like to be in control of my stuff.
AK: Is that where this new downloading program is coming from? Wanting to be in control your work?