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Stefan Grossman

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  • Born: Brooklyn, NY
  • Years Active: 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s


Biography All Music GuideWikipedia

All Music Guide:

Guitarist, educator, and historian Stefan Grossman was a student of acoustic blues and gospel singer/guitarist Rev. Gary Davis. Beginning when he was 15, Grossman studied with Davis on weekends, spending eight to ten hours at his house in Harlem, absorbing all he could. After studying with Davis for eight years in high school and college, he learned and studied with other country blues guitarists: Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Skip James, Mance Lipscomb, and Fred McDowell. Other early influences for Grossman included Elizabeth Cotten, Sam McGee, Willie Brown, and Charley Patton.

In the early '60s, Grossman formed the Even Dozen Jug Band and worked with the political rock band the Fugs before moving to Great Britain. In 1968, he co-founded Kicking Mule Records with Ed Denson, a label that showcased idiosyncratic acoustic blues and folk guitar styles. The co-founders dissolved their partnership in the mid-'80s, but Kicking Mule's catalog was purchased by Fantasy Records. Some of the vinyl sides have seen the light of day on compact disc. From 1967 to the early '80s, Grossman lived in Great Britain, where he carved a reputation on the European blues and folk festival circuit, playing with British-raised acoustic guitarists like John Renbourn and John Fahey.

Grossman's solo discography goes all the way back to 1966, when he recorded How to Play Blues Guitar for Elektra Records; his sessionography also includes recordings with the Even Dozen Jug Band (which also included such future luminaries as John Sebastian, Maria Muldaur, and David Grisman) as well as albums by Paul Simon, John Fahey, Charlie Musselwhite, and Happy Traum. In the early '80s, Grossman began a long relationship with Shanachie Records of Newton, NJ, recording extensively and issuing such albums as Shining Shadows (1988), Guitar Landscapes (1990), Love, Devils & the Blues (1992), Northern Skies, Southern Blues (1997), and Shake That Thing: Fingerpicking Country Blues (1998) for the label. He also helped Shanachie launch their Guitar Artistry imprint series, showcasing such artists as himself, Renbourn, and Traum. While based in northwest New Jersey, Grossman toured infrequently and concentrated his efforts on running his Vestapol instructional video business, releasing videos (many of which are now available on DVD) by guitarists ranging from Merle Travis and Chet Atkins to Dave Van Ronk and Brownie McGhee.

During the 2000s, Grossman could be found recording in duo and trio settings (2007’s Bermuda Triangle Exit with Tokio Uchida and Played a Little Fiddle with Danny Kalb and Steve Katz) and releasing the results on his Guitar Workshop label -- which also issued albums by the likes of Davy Graham, Happy Traum, and David Laibman as well as archival recordings and a number of various-artist collections. In 2006 he began touring once again, making appearances in the U.S., England, Europe, and Japan. Grossman remains one of the world's foremost authorities on acoustic blues guitar.


Stefan Grossman (born April 16, 1945) is an American acoustic fingerstyle guitarist and singer, music producer and educator, and co-founder of Kicking Mule records. He is known for his instructional videos and Vestapol line of videos and DVDs.

Early life and influences[edit]

Born in Brooklyn, New York, to Herbert and Ruth Grossman. Grossman described his upbringing, in Queens, New York, as "lower middle-class", and his parents as "very leftist", valuing education and the arts. He began playing guitar at the age of nine, when his father bought him a Harmony f-hole acoustic guitar. Later he moved on to an archtop Gibson guitar which he played between the ages of nine and eleven, taking lessons and learning to read music. For a few years, he gave up playing but resumed again at the age of 15.

Grossman's interest in the Folk revival was sparked by attending the Washington Square Park "Hoots", and he started listening to old recordings of artists such as Elizabeth Cotten, Big Bill Broonzy, Lead Belly, Josh White, Lightnin' Hopkins, Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Boy Fuller, Son House, Charlie Patton, Skip James, Blind Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Woody Guthrie.

He took guitar lessons for several years from Rev. Gary Davis, whom he later described as "one of the greatest exponents of fingerstyle blues and gospel guitar playing" and "an incredible genius as a teacher". He spent countless hours learning and documenting Davis's music, recording much of it on a tape recorder, and developing a form of tablature to take down his teacher's instructions.

In the folk and country blues revival of the 1960s he was listening to Broonzy, Brownie McGhee and Lightnin' Hopkins and beginning to collect old 78 rpm records from the 1920s and 1930s. This brought him into contact with other collectors, including John Fahey, ED Denson, Bernie Klatzko, Tom Hoskins and Nick Perls. Collecting the 78s developed into searching for the artists who had recorded them, with many successes: during the mid-60s, Grossman met, befriended and studied guitar with Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Skip James, Mississippi Fred McDowell and other major blues artists.

^ Stefan Grossman (2004). Fingerpicking Guitar Techniques. Mel Bay Publications. pp. 2–5. ISBN 978-0-7866-7138-0. ^ Stefan Grossman (2007). Delta Blues Guitar. Alfred Music Publishing. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-7390-4280-9. 

Early career[edit]

In 1964, Grossman and a group of friends formed the Even Dozen Jug Band. Although they only recorded one LP on the Elektra Records label (long since out of print but available at iTunes), other members were also to have successful musical careers, including David Grisman, Steve Katz (Blood, Sweat & Tears), John Sebastian (The Lovin' Spoonful), Joshua Rifkin and Maria Muldaur. In the early summer of 1966 there was an effort by Elektra’s Paul Rothchild to put together a folk rock group (like The Mamas & the Papas) with Grossman, Taj Mahal, guitarist Steve Mann and a recently returned folk singer from Texas named Janis Joplin. They actually had a rehearsal in Berkeley, sometime in June (Joplin’s first show with Big Brother and the Holding Company was at the Avalon Ballroom June 10, 1966, but she had been in the Bay Area for about 10 days). However, Janis would not abandon her new band and the deal was scuttled. Subsequently Grossman spent about three months with The Fugs and a further four months with a band called Chicago Loop. At the same time, however, he was beginning his career as a guitar teacher. With his friend Rory Block and also Mike Cooper, he produced and released one of the earliest (if not the very first) guitar instructional LPs, How To Play Blues Guitar and began the publication of a five volume series of instructional books with Oak Publications called the Oak Anthology of Blues Guitar. These drew on his studies with Rev. Davis and the other older blues artists and on his obsessive listening to old 78s. The Country Blues Guitar, Delta Blues, Texas Blues, Ragtime Blues Guitar and Rev. Gary Davis/Blues Guitar have remained in print through various editions. They were well received by other guitarists seeking to learn the various styles of acoustic blues.

In the mid-1960s, Stefan Grossman recorded a number of cuts for Joe Bussard and his Frederick, Maryland-based Fonotone Records and performed at the Jabberwock coffeehouse in Berkeley under the nom du folk of "Kid Future". The origins of the name Kid Future date back in the 1930s where there were a number of country blues artists called Willie Brown, the best known of these, and a friend of Son House, recorded a song called Future Blues, using an open G tuning. The song was considered very difficult to master and puzzled many experienced blues players but Grossman, when still in his teens, figured out how to play it. Given Bussard's penchant for creating noms de plume, as he did famously for John Fahey when recording him as Blind Thomas in the 1950s, it seems likely that the origins of the name Kid Future lie in Federick, MD and a talented teenager who had mastered Future Blues. Grossman also played on Pat Kilroy's Light of Day album released in 1966.

In 1967, Grossman travelled to Europe as a first step on a planned journey to India which was not completed. In London he stayed at first with Eric Clapton whom he had met whilst in Chicago Loop and met guitarists and singers on the British folk scene including Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Davy Graham and Ralph McTell and The Young Tradition. He began playing in folk clubs around the country and made his first solo recordings for the Philips/Fontana label (Aunt Molly's Murray Farm and The Gramercy Park Sheikh) and then for Nathan Joseph's Transatlantic label, including Yazoo Basin Boogie and Ragtime Cowboy Jew (see discography). He also traveled widely in Europe and eventually settled in Italy, where he lived for seven years. Travelling around Europe for gigs brought him into contact with many other fine guitarists, but few of them had record deals; Grossman saw a niche in the market for solo acoustic guitar records which were accompanied by a tablature book to allow the buyer to try playing the arrangements and, with his friend Ed Denson taking care of the US side of business, founded Kicking Mule Records. Over the next few years KM released albums by such artists as John James, Happy Traum, Ton van Bergeyk, Dave Evans, Peter Finger and the late Sam Mitchell. Grossman also released his own original and instructional albums on KM, the latter including seminal works such as Fingerpicking Guitar Techniques, How To Play Ragtime Guitar and Famous Ragtime Guitar Solos which had a major influence on acoustic guitarists in Europe, the UK and the US. During these years Grossman was also touring as a solo artist and in partnership with John Renbourn and continuing to write and publish instructional books, often accompanied by the then new technology of a cassette tape.

Later career[edit]

In 1987 Grossman returned to live in the US. He toured much less – at least partly due to a painful back problem – and began to consolidate his various teaching and instructional materials under the roof of one company, Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop, working at first in cooperation with the Shanachie Records company . He was quick to see the potential of video as well as audio as an instructional tool: budding players could buy an instructional tape for the cost of a single 'real' lesson and have it constantly available. The material which had appeared on LPs such as How To Play Blues Guitar now became available to watch as well as hear. Nor was Grossman the only instructor: the Guitar Workshop 'faculty' included such artists as Chet Atkins, John Renbourn, Woody Mann, Ari Eisinger, John Miller, Larry Coryell, David Laibman, Ernie Hawkins and many others.

Grossman also began to acquire concert footage of the old blues and country artists who had been rediscovered in the 1960s and had often made TV appearances; this was the basis of Vestapol Videos, which edited and reissued this footage. It was a breakthrough for younger guitarists to be able to watch Big Bill Broonzy, Lightnin' Hopkins, Rev. Gary Davis and many others long after these players had died. Vestapol rapidly expanded to include concert footage from living artists too. Although originally issued as video tapes, almost all of this material (both instructional and concert) has in the last few years been re-issued on DVD. The Guitar Workshop mails worldwide from its bases in New Jersey and Yorkshire.

Much of the music which Grossman recorded on vinyl during his years in Europe has been reissued on CD, as have many of the Kicking Mule albums (although the vinyl LPs remain treasured collectors' items). One of the most significant recent CD reissues (2008) is of the original How To Play Blues Guitar LP from 1967, including outtakes and later recordings from subsequent editions of the album. The skills of the two young guitarists (Grossman was only 19 and Rory Block a mere 14 when the LP was recorded) remain remarkable after over forty years. The LP tracks are on the CD Country Blues Guitar: The Archival Recordings 1963–1971 (SGGW103) by Rory Block and Stefan Grossman.

Stefan Grossman resumed touring in 2006, since when he has appeared in Europe and Japan as well as the US. He is a frequent visitor to England (where he has family) and conducts well-attended guitar workshops as well as giving concerts. He remains a market leader in making instructional materials available in many formats, most recently online: the Guitar Workshop has its own YouTube channel where clients can sample the wares available. Music CDs and DVDs now come with a pdf file of the music and tablature instead of a booklet.

In 2008 C. F. Martin & Company honoured Stefan Grossman with a Custom Edition guitar, the HJ-38 Stefan Grossman Custom Signature Edition, adding his name to an illustrious list of guitarists who have been so honoured.

Guitars and guitar playing[edit]

Grossman's principal (acoustic) guitars are a 1930 Martin OM-45 that he sold decades ago. He uses mostly Franklin guitars made by Nick Kukich since the 70's and a custom Martin HJ-38 since 2008. He owns also numerous guitars from different builders, including John Greven, Tony Klassen, etc... He uses also an old Stella Jumbo 12-string guitar. In the past, he has also played a Martin OM-28, "Euphonon" and "Prairie State" guitars. He favours medium-gauge strings (.013, .017, .026, .036, .046, .056) for slide, and light-gauge strings (.12 – .53) for standard playing. Stefan has worked with the Martin Guitar Company to produce a Stefan Grossman Signature Model guitar, based on a Jumbo size the guitar has 14 frets to the body, Madagascar Rosewood back and sides and Sitka spruce top. This guitar appears to be his guitar of choice in 2010 [1]

Grossman also had a guitar custom made for him by Ed Foley of Foley Guitars.[2]

^ Video on YouTube^ Stefan Grossman (1981). Contemporary Fingerpicking Guitar Workshop. Almo Pubs. pp. 5–9.^ "Stefan's preferred strings? in The Woodshed Forum". Yuku. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 

Selected discography[edit]

1968 : Aunt Molly's Murray Farm1969 : Crosscurrents1969 : The Gramercy Park Sheik1970 : The Ragtime Cowboy Jew1970 : Yazoo Basin Boogie1971 : How to Play Blues1971 : Those Pleasant Days1972 : Hot Dogs1973 : Guitar Instrumentals1973 : Live!1973 : Memphis Jellyroll1974 : Finger Pickin'1975 : Bottleneck Serenade1975 : How To Play Ragtime Guitar1976 : Acoustic Music for Body and Soul1976 : My Creole Belle1977 : Country Blues Guitar1977 : Box Set ( 3 LPs compilation)1978 : Stefan Grossman and John Renbourn1978 : How To Play Blues Vol 21980 : Under The Volcano1980 : Thunder on the Run1988 : Shining Shadows1992 : Black Melodies on a Clear Afternoon2007 : Played a Little Fiddle (w/ Danny Kalb & Steve Katz)2007 : Bermuda Triangle Exit (w/ Tokio Uchida)2008 : Country Blues Guitar: Rare Archival Recording 1963–1971 (w/ Rory Block)



Music books written by Grossman[edit]
Grossman, Stefan (1972). The book of guitar tunings. New York: Amsco Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8256-2806-7. LCCN 74-170019. 
Music books edited by Grossman[edit]
Contemporary Fingerpicking Guitar Workshop (Almo Pubs, 1981).Fingerpicking Guitar Styles (Oak Pubs, 1991).Grossman, Stefan & Fuller, Blind Boy Stefan Grossman's early masters of American blues guitar: Blind Boy Fuller. Alfred Publishing, 1993 ISBN 0-7390-4331-5
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