Guitar enthusiasts represent a particularly zealous category of music fans, one more likely than most to search out a great player, no matter the genre.
Expect plenty of such fans in Mendocino County this weekend to catch Alex de Grassi and Mimi Fox sharing the stage. The duo performs Friday at North Coast Brewing in Fort Bragg and Saturday at the Solar Living Institute/Harvest Moon Festival in Hopland.
I have been a de Grassi fan going back to my college days, when I picked up on his timeless Windham Hill recordings “Turning: Turning Back” (1978), “Slow Circle" (1979),"Southern Exposure" (1980) and "Deep at Night" (1983). He told me in an interview a few years back that he never expected to make a career out of a fingerstyle guitar playing that blends folk with jazz and classical influences.
"I sort of stumbled into the business," de Grassi told me. “It was just like, let's do this for fun and see what happens. I was as surprised as anyone. I just kind of stayed with it. I feel lucky to have been able to do this.”
Born in Yokosuka, Japan, and raised in Northern California, de Grassi grew up amid classical music. His grandfather led a string quartet and played with the San Francisco Symphony; his father was a trained pianist.
De Grassi's mother, however, loved jazz and he initially took up the trumpet before switching to guitar at 13. His timing could scarcely have been better, with innovators Bert Jansch, Leo Kottke, John Fahey and John Renbourn at the height of their influence. Largely self-taught, de Grassi studied some music at University of California, Santa Barbara, and at Berkeley, but he majored in economic geography.
"I was lucky to come in at a time when this little label Windham Hill seemed to appeal to people,” de Grassi said. “After a few years (I said), 'I'm making a living and this is the career.’”
Fox is an equally adept player and also boasts influences that begin with jazz but extend far afield, as she told me in an interview a few years ago.
Question: The influence of jazz masters like Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass is evident in your music. Who do you see as your prime non-jazz influences?
Fox: When I was a little girl and first started playing music (drums at 9, guitar at 10), I listened to everyone I could because my family loved music and exposed me to all genres. I am a human sponge as a musician and I picked up things from watching/listening to everyone from Glen Campbell to Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein to Michael Nesmith. On guitar, my non-jazz influences included Julian Bream, Paul Simon and all funk players from the ‘70s.
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