Bluegrass guitarist Del McCoury and mandolin master David “Dawg” Grisman, who will perform together at the South Orange Performing Arts Center on March 20, first met 56 years ago. Grisman was a student at NYU, and McCoury, who is seven years older than Grisman, came to the university to do a show with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys.
Grisman “was playing some folk festivals” at the time, McCoury recently told Bob O’Donnell and Don Grossinger of the “Morning Dew” program on WFDU (89.1 FM). “This was before there was a bluegrass festival. The first one of those came in in 1965 (The Blue Grass Festival in Fincastle, Va.). I was in California, then; I didn’t even know about the festival. But anyway, I went, then, in ’66, and I played it in ’66. In fact, Dawg played it with me. He just happened to be there. And we were just there as fans. I had already worked for Bill Monroe, but I had my own band by this time. Not doing much. But I went to this festival with a fiddle player friend of mine, Billy Baker.”
Throughout the ’60s and the ’70s, McCoury said, “I was traveling all over, playing mainly bluegrass festivals. And he was, too. He had a bluegrass band. One time I met him in Warrenton, Va., and he said, ‘I want you to meet my new banjo player.’ A real black-headed guy … he had a thick head of black hair. And his name was Jerry Garcia.” Grisman and Garcia were playing together, at the time, in the group Old & In the Way.
McCoury, who leads his own Del McCoury Band, and Grisman have continued to perform together, occasionally, over the years, and released an album together, Hardcore Bluegrass, in 2012, as well as Del & Dawg Live!, in 2016.
Their show at the South Orange Performing Arts Center is at 7:30 p.m. March 20. Visit sopacnow.org.
You can listen to the complete “Morning Dew” interview with McCoury here: