Grant Dermody: Sun Might Shine on Me
After a lifetime spent traveling the backroads of American roots music, Seattle’s Buddhist blues harmonica master Grant Dermody knows there’s much more to the blues than the Mississippi Delta. On his new album, Sun Might Shine on Me, he shows the ties that bind the blues, from their Appalachian roots in old-time stringband music to Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole songs, from the farming blues of Virginia to blues in our nation’s capital. To assemble a crew of musicians that could interpret this far-ranging field of influences, Grant traveled down to Southwest Louisiana to record in the cypress-lined home studio of renowned master traditional artist Dirk Powell (Joan Baez, T-Bone Burnett, Balfa Toujours). Grant called in his friends from the area: young Creole fiddler Cedric Watson (Pine Leaf Boys), and Creole swamp-pop elder drummer Jockey Etienne (Slim Harpo); and flew in old friends like Seattle-based blues and folk guitar master Orville Johnson (Laura Love), and Texas-based blues mandolinist Rich Del Grosso (Howard “Louie Blouie” Armstrong). Though the songs and the musicians come from different places, Grant Dermody’s hard-rolling harmonica and powerful vocals tie this assemblage together perfectly. It takes a nuanced perspective to make music that rocks this hard, but also has something gentle and beautiful to say. Able to effortlessly move between traditions with his harmonica playing, Grant melds this instrument with his own voice and songwriting to create a strong original statement. As he says, ” Whatever emotion you have, you can get it out through the harmonica as long as you’re willing to go there. It’s the closest thing to the human voice.”
With his new album, Sun Might Shine On Me, Grant Dermody travels further down the twin spiritual paths of his life–music and Buddhism. Both paths have brought him to study for years at the feet of elders and great masters, and though American blues and Tibetan Buddhism may seem very different, Grant finds a fascinating commonality: both blues and Buddhism are focused on a deeper exploration of the hardships of life. As Grant explains it: “Mantra connects you with the energy of the Buddha that you’re praying to. You’re centering, and from as deep a place as you can, you’re trying to connect with that Buddha and that Buddha’s energy. Part of what happens with music is that you’re connecting with the energy of the song, and you’re serving the song on the deepest, most honest level that you can. And that changes song to song. What “Reuben’s Train” requires, isn’t at all what “Baby Please Don’t Go” requires. You have to be willing to go wherever the song requires you to go. And Dirk really gets that. And Orville and Rich, and Cedric and Jockey. It’s all about trying to dive deep, dig deep, be honest, bring power to it, bring humor to it when you need to.” The lessons Grant learned under the tutelage of elder blues masters like John Dee Holeman, John Cephas, or Honeyboy Edwards mesh with his studies today with his Tibetan Rinpoche. “To be fully present in a tune that’s about pain or hard times means that you dive underneath it… Not so it takes you over, but so it doesn’t have power over you anymore.” This mirrors what many blues artists have always said: that you don’t sing the blues because you’re sad; you sing the blues because it helps you feel better. Grant Dermody understands that deeply, and he’s gathered some of his best musical friends to create a testament to the enduring and transforming power of American roots music.