- The following first appeared in The Floyd Press on May 7, 2015.
When it comes to music CDs, Bob Grubel has a perfect dozen, although some of those releases were done in the 80s and recorded on tape cassettes. Grubel, a Floyd County vocalist, lyricist and keyboardist, has recently released his newest CD, Stay Above the Radar.
Recorded at Dave Fason’s Windfall Studio in Floyd, the 12 track collection features Grubel’s richly layered lyrics and arrangements, his baritone voice and a range of musical influences that includes everything from rock, blues, and reggae to soft jazz, new age and even some hints of 40s crooner music.
Growing up in upstate New York, Grubel started singing at the age of four. He took piano lessons at six, sang in school choruses from elementary school and beyond, and wrote his first song when he was 18. Although he says that first song wasn’t very good, a few years later he wrote one that has been included in one of his early recordings.
Grubel, who lives at Zephyr Community with his partner Sandy Jahmi Burg, is also a certified massage therapist and an avid gardener. He’s lived in Floyd for more than 30 years and was a founding member of Grace Note, a local trio that performed (mostly) Grubel’s songs for 25 years. For 15 of those years, Grubel and his fellow original members – Tom Williams on acoustic guitar and flute and Martin Scudder on electric violin – played gigs all over the mid-Atlantic and frequently performed in Unity Churches. “Comraderie and creativity” are the words that come to mind when Grubel reflects on those times.
After Grace Note’s long run, which included an incarnation of Grace Note XL, Grubel began performing acoustic duos with other musicians (guitarists). First he paired up with guitarist Sharon Feury and then it was Cliff Dumais (Second Sight). Currently, he performs with lead guitarist Bob Dillard in a duo called 2 Bobs 4 U.
Dillard and Grubel met when Grubel joined Reptile DysFUNKshen, a psychedelic progressive rock band that performs original songs primarily written by Ralph Brown, Dillard and Grubel. “The band jams a lot, and we get songs out of our jams. It’s a real co-creative experience and a lot of fun,” Grubel says. Along with Grubel, Dillard, and Brown on sax, banjo and flute, other Reptile DysFUNKshen band mates are Jeff Dowd on bass guitar and Brad Miller on percussion.
Grubel’s skills have been sharpened since his first recording, a 1986 fundraiser cassette for Blue Mountain School called Celebration Space That recording featured a song by Blacksburg singer/actor Elizabeth McCommon and many of Grubel’s songs, some of which were sung by the Celebration Singers, a community chorus that he founded. After three decades of performing, writing and producing music, Grubel says, “I just do the best I can. “I’m more patient with letting the lyrics evolve and hearing where the keys want to go,” he said.
Describing his songwriting process, Grubel notes, “I write what comes through.” And sometimes what comes is through dreams. He’s written about 15 or 20 songs that have come through dreams, including the title song from Stay Above the Radar. “I woke up at six in the morning and heard this crazy line – stay above the radar. It kept coming and was real catchy, so I went to keyboard and it sort of wrote itself in the next 45 minutes.” My baby’s got a fast car / We like to drive it real far / into the night / Sometimes we hit the back roads / and places no one else goes / out of sight.
That song, a foot stomping rocker, was the impetus to the new CD. Not long after writing it, he woke up one morning (last June) knowing that another CD was coming. He started contacting people to work with, and first on the list was Dave Fason of Windfall Recording Studio in Floyd. While playing the songs for Fason, Grubel expressed his concern that the songs were all so different. “That just shows how diverse and capable a writer you are,” Fason told him.
“Working with Dave turned out to be fantastic,” Grubel says, expressing his appreciation for Fason’s patience, his arrangement ideas and for the ability to work locally, after years of going to Roanoke to record. Fason, listed as a co-producer on the CD, played pedal steel guitar on one song. Grubel was happy to line up drummer Janiah Allen for the project. Brown plays sax on several songs and Dillard’s lead guitar is a key contribution to the whole CD.
The majority of Grubel’s lyrics can stand on their own as poetry. They embody a poet’s truth telling and are frequently accompanied with a good dose of fun and hopeful resolution. The songs on Stay Above the Radar explore themes of love, loss and celebration, along with questions like “What are We Here For?” a bluesy number in which Grubel’s voice takes on raspy quality to match the smoky nightclub feel of the song. … Putting down roots, standing in the sun / Stopped looking for trouble, cause trouble’s no fun / Vibrating like Eden, is the coast clear / Can’t see over Jordon, cause Jordon’s not here.
Former Grace Note band member Martin Scudder plays violin on Free with Wings, an almost classical song that Grubel wrote in tribute to his mother, who passed away last year. It’s followed by the upbeat River of Song, which was written for his daughters … Look out your window / Look at the dawn / So much redemption coming on / It’s like a river / a river of song / This one’s for you after I’m gone …
Riding the Design is the only older song incorporated into the new collection. “I like it and Bob and I have been performing it,” Grubel says about reggae-flavored song with fun lyrics. … Every single day people want to say “I love you.” Stupid little fears creep into our ears instead.
A listener may not be sure who the friends in need of a home are on My Friends, until they start hearing howling and barking on the track and realize it’s a song about man’s best friend. The song is creating a buzz among animal lovers and members of the Floyd Humane Society. For every CD sold (at $15), Grubel donates one dollar to the organization.
Mountain and Valleys is an anti-pipeline song that hits close to home for Grubel for more than one reason. … Who are the lawyers who prop up destroyers of lifetimes of blood sweat and tears? … Not only are Floyd Countians fighting a proposed gas pipeline through-out the region, after Grubel wrote the song, he found out that his grandfather’s farm in New Hampshire is being impacted by a proposed pipeline. “When I see pictures of men already surveying through that beautiful valley, it makes me sick,” Grubel says.
Never Done … The doorway swung open / with no effort at all / like a waterfall … was written for Grubel’s partner, Burg. It plays like the turning point in a love scene of a Broadway play and is lifted by the sweet voices of Abby Bowen and Kari Kovick.
Grubel likes to include an instrumental on his CD recordings. Needle and Thread, song #9 on Stay Above the Radar, is a space jam that could be part of a rock opera and came out of a jam session for another band that Dillard and Grubel are in (too new to have a name yet). “I had the riff progression and we worked off of that … It takes you to a different place,” says Grubel about the Vollenwieder meets Pink Floyd jam that was the last song to come together.
The best place to listen to and buy Grubel’s music is Amazon, iTunes, and CDbaby.com. When asked if there might be a 13th CD in the future, he answers that he has already written as many as six new songs since Stay Above the Radar. “It’s been a blessing to be able to do this,” Grubel says. “I hope I can do three or four more. One at time.”
Post Notes: Reptile DysFUNKshen will be playing at Dogtown Roadhouse on May 23rd. 2 Bobs 4U (pictured in the last photo) can be heard at Villa Appalaccia every second Saturday June through September. Visit Grubel’s Facbook page“Bob Grubel’s Music” to learn more about his music and to hear some songs. Hardcopies can be purchased in Floyd at noteBooks, Republic of Floyd and Floyd Computing.