Q&A with Australian musician Mitch Grainger, high-energy stage show burst onto the blues & roots scene

"The blues has always in my experience been about bringing people together for a good time. The older generation remember this, and appreciate it for what it is and continue to keep enjoying the music and festivals, but if a little excitement is not brought back into this genre, then will loose the younger audience, and risk fading into the sunset."

Mitch Grainger: Down Under Blues & Roots

Mitch Grainger is the perfect paradox. A white guy from Australia, who infuses the Blues & Roots genre’s traditional styling’s with a confidence, and depth of spirit, that has seen him compared to the likes of Robert Johnson by American music critics. His sound, built on a talented configuration of vocals, harmonica and guitar, has quietly been maturing for over 25 years like a fine single malt whiskey while he’s been performing and recording (behind the scenes) with some of Australia and the world’s greatest artists; such as Malcolm Young (AC/DC) and Harry Vanda (The Easybeats) to name but two. When stepping into the light with his 2015 breakout solo acoustic release ‘The Blues’, Mitch Grainger and his high-energy stage show burst onto the blues & roots scene, like a field holler echoing from the deep dark south through a dusty 50’s tube amplifier.

He packed houses in the US, Australia and Scandinavia, performed at prestigious festivals, such as the American Folk Alliance in Kansas City, and earned standing ovations while opening for Tommy Emmanuel across the North East of the USA. Then in 2017, like the Sasquatch, he disappeared, turned recluse, and spent the next few years focusing on inventing and patenting a revolutionary new harmonica microphone called Dyna-Mic, which subsequently was used by Bob Dylan. Now, with his Dyna-mic and a growing global fan base that includes over 100,000 subscribers on various social media platforms. World-renowned Blues harmonica-player, vocalist, guitarist, and Australian roots-music troubadour, Mitch Grainger released his latest single “Honey Bee” (November 25th). The digital release includes two versions of the song, one recorded with Mitch Grainger’s Los Angeles based band and one solo acoustic version. “Honey Bee” is the third single of his new album entitled "Plug It In" scheduled for release in March 2023. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Roots music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I started playing harmonica at age 13 on a whim and the first music my harmonica teacher introduced me to was the blues. I’d never heard anything like it, and still remember being totally blown away by the best of Little Walter on Chess at that time. As it would turn out I was playing in my first teenage blues band professionally within a year, and my life was literally changed forever. I’ve been a professional musician ever since. Everything that has come in my life after that first harmonica lesson has been influenced by that day. So, the blues, changed everything for me.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

My sound is influenced heavily by southern American blues, roots and soul music. I’ve been involved in many projects over the years, on guitars or harmonica, and more lately vocals, but one common denominator is that it’s always been what I call ‘real’ music. Real people on acoustic or electric instruments playing with soul.

My own original music draws from these musical experiences along with my own life experiences and aims to be entertaining and authentic. With these new recordings for ‘plug it In’ I am looking forward to the end result blasting through people’s homes but equally to the live show. In recording I’m always thinking forward to how the songs are going to go down live. Some I’ve already road tested and know they will go down well, and some I am using my imagination. But, that’s my current drive. Creating a better and better live show.

"You need to take risks, be free and follow your heart in order to enjoy life. Stay connected to family and friends, and most of all look after your health. Those things have kept me going for over thirty years, and I look forward to the next 30 if I can keep it up." (Photo: Mitch Grainger with an early Dyna-Mic, 2017)

How did the idea of harmonica microphone Dyna-Mic, come about? What touched you from the sound of harmonica?

I’ve always played harmonica, and wanted to include it in my electric (band) stage show but In 2015 when I ‘went solo’ there was simply no product on the market that would allow me to do it. For this reason, I recorded an acoustic album where I could really feature the harmonica. Yet, in the back of my mind I started to think of ways I could plug in a harp electrically and get the sound I wanted. That’s when my odyssey into inventing Dyna-mic began.

The sound of the harmonica is only one step away from a voice in my opinion. If you are really feeling the music, the emotion will come through in your harmonica playing, just the same as it would with a voice. In the same way it can be lacking... but when a harmonica is played with real soul and feeling, it connects across all language barriers.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I used to play in a group back in Australia called Papa Lips, it was a great band full of individual stars, everyone sang, and we were starting to get on some big festivals. I remember the first time we played east coast blues and roots festival in Byron Bay. We had an opening spot, about 2pm on the Sunday and everyone was chilling on the hill watching us.

I was doing a lot for yoga and had recently been dared to stand on my head while playing harmonica. I decided to do it… we played don’t loose your cool, an up-tempo shuffle by Albert Collins, and I went for it. It was surreal, I remember seeing everyone running in from the hill to the front of stage while I’m standing on my head playing harp with my mouth, Sonny Boy Style. By the time I got up and finished my harp solo the entire tent was packed, and we rocked the crowd. That was special. If the time and place is right, I’ll do it again...

"My sound is influenced heavily by southern American blues, roots and soul music. I’ve been involved in many projects over the years, on guitars or harmonica, and more lately vocals, but one common denominator is that it’s always been what I call ‘real’ music. Real people on acoustic or electric instruments playing with soul." (Mitch Grainger & Tommy Emmanuel, 2017 / Photo by Jan Anderson)

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I think the quality of blues music is still there if you know where to go, but the entertainment space has changed so much that the spirit of the crowd has changed. We used to pack in like sardines to see great music, get sweaty, meet girls have a drink and party, all while the band played some great blues. Now there’s just so many choices for everyone on where to go and what to do, how to meet people of the opposite sex etc.... so the younger generation has not been able to connect with blues in the same way they used too.

The blues has always in my experience been about bringing people together for a good time. The older generation remember this, and appreciate it for what it is and continue to keep enjoying the music and festivals, but if a little excitement is not brought back into this genre, then will loose the younger audience, and risk fading into the sunset.

Why was the Blues never a part of the pop/popular music? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

The blues is an incredibly simple medium if you think about it, just 3 chords and 12 bars most of the time. This is its blessing and its curse. Having such a simple musical form allows for individual expression more than any other music, and when you have a master like Buddy Guy or B.B King at their prime there’s nothing better, but equally if the music is played with no feeling or soul, there is nothing more boring. Again, these days, a lot of people get the wrong idea about blues because it’s being played too often without real soul and that gives the entire genre a bad name.

As for pop, the blues was a huge part of popular music in the 1950’s and arguably there would be no rock and roll if not for the blues. Think Chuck Berry, Little Richard… of course there were many many more great blues artists who had the same talent, but they did not make it into popular music. So, I think in answer to your question pop is at least 50% about entertainment. You must be entertaining to watch as much as you must be talented. I think there is scope for blues sung with soul that’s entertaining to watch being popular again.

"I think the quality of blues music is still there if you know where to go, but the entertainment space has changed so much that the spirit of the crowd has changed. We used to pack in like sardines to see great music, get sweaty, meet girls have a drink and party, all while the band played some great blues. Now there’s just so many choices for everyone on where to go and what to do, how to meet people of the opposite sex etc.... so the younger generation has not been able to connect with blues in the same way they used too." (Photo: Mitch Grainger, 2022)

What is the impact of Blues on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

I simply want people to have a good time, and unite in that one idea. Have a good time. Enjoy the music.

On a socio-cultural level, well, I’m a white guy from Australia who is expressing himself through a simple musical medium that was used by repressed people over the course of 20th century to do the same. I come to this space with a huge reverence for those that went before me and my complaints, thoughts, expression is very different.

However, by my music and the odd circumstances that bring me to it, If I can somehow demonstrate to more people that we are all connected no matter of skin color or creed, then that would be very cool.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

You need to take risks, be free and follow your heart in order to enjoy life. Stay connected to family and friends, and most of all look after your health. Those things have kept me going for over thirty years, and I look forward to the next 30 if I can keep it up.

Mitch Grainger - Home

(Photo: Mitch Grainger, 2022)

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