Having a Coffee with …… Daniel Grindstaff

In this is fun series we ask bluegrass music personalities, some famous, some not so famous, about some of their interests, as well as about the music that they love.  

Daniel Grindstaff is an accomplished musician who is considered to be among the elite of today’s banjo players. Born and raised in Elizabethton, in east Tennessee, he has travelled all over the United States and Canada with some of the best in the bluegrass, acoustic, and country music genres. 

These include performances and recordings with such bands as David Peterson and 1946; Jim & Jesse McReynolds; Jesse McReynolds; The Osborne Brothers; David Davis and the Warrior River Boys; Rhonda Vincent; Marty Raybon and Full Circle; Wildfire; James Alan Shelton; Bobby Osborne; Luke McKnight & Thunder Road; and Tim Graves & Cherokee. 

As well as making many concert appearances, Grindstaff has graced the coveted stage of the Grand Ole Opry; performed during the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and the CMA Music Fest; and appeared on national television’s Fox News morning show, Fox & Friends. 

He first took an interest in bluegrass music as a 12-year-old, finding an old Harmony banjo and a box of records around the house. He put the two together, and with a little help from his father – Randy, who played banjo for Carl Story for a few years when he was younger – he graduated to a Frank Neat banjo, bought for Daniel by his grandmother. 

He began his professional music career at the young age of 18, performing at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, with bluegrass legends Jim & Jesse. At the age of 21, not only was he performing with Jesse McReynolds, but had also been called upon to take the stage with the legendary Osborne Brothers.  

In the fall of 2006, Grindstaff began touring with Grammy Award winning artist Marty Raybon, and for the following five years he remained an important part of Raybon’s touring band and studio recordings. 

During the following year Grindstaff released a well-received studio album April’s Fool (no label), which included Grand Ole Opry members Jesse McReynolds, Sonny Osborne (the composer of the title tune), and Bobby Osborne; ace Nashville bass player, Kent “Superman” Blanton; award-winning mandolin player, Adam Steffy; and legendary fiddlers Buddy Spicher and Steve Thomas. 

In 2018, building on his past accomplishments, Grindstaff teamed up with Tim Raybon, to form Merle Monroe, a band with a distinct personality, showcasing a traditional country/bluegrass music hybrid with Raybon’s excellent lead vocals harnessed to Grindstaff’s dynamic, yet carefully considered banjo picking – not forgetting his harmony vocals. 

Earlier this year (June 2109) Merle Monroe released its well-received debut album, the aptly titled Back to the Country (for Pinecastle Records). 

Grindstaff works at an insurance agency in Elizabethton, Tennessee. 

What would you like to drink?

It’s a bit of a drive for me but, since you asked, I would like to have a frozen Mocha from Lorraine’s Coffee and Music over in Garner, North Carolina!! We played a show over there recently and it was absolutely the best coffee I have had… Had a great show as well. We hope to be back. I will be getting a cup (or more) to go this time. As for now, I will have a cup of my normal hot fresh coffee.  

Do you want anything to eat as well?

No thank you, friend. I usually start my day with just a cup of coffee. I really enjoy that time of the morning where the sun is coming up and you have a cup of coffee. I tend to read a few minutes or catch a little of the news as well.

What’s your favorite food? 

My favorite foods are predictable for an east Tennessee guy. I love all the home cooking. Biscuits, cornbread, a good pot of beans. Much like my friend Joe Mullins I too like some ‘Bacon in my Beans’ (check out his video if you haven’t, it’s cool). I enjoy a good grilled steak or cheeseburger as well. Anything my wife Kristen cooks, by default it’s my favorite. She can really do some baking! Especially around the holidays!

And what would you have to drink with that?

Half and half tea now would be great, or a Coke!

What’s the nicest meal that you have ever had? 

Traveling around I have been fortunate to enjoy some good food, however some of the nicest meals I have had come from the company I enjoy the food with more so than anything else. There is just something about enjoying a good meal with family and friends. I look forward to dinner with my wife and boys every day, or a friend I haven’t seen in a while. However, one of our favorite places we have been is the Peddler up in Gatlinburg, Tennesssee. They bring the steaks around to each table and you pick the one you would like. Wonderful place!

Let’s talk bluegrass….. Where/when did you first hear bluegrass music? 

My dad, Randy, is actually a banjo player as well. He had a good collection of vinyl albums at home when I was young. Around the age of 11-12 I got into those albums. One In particular was the project he Osborne Brothers had recorded on CMH with Mac Wiseman. The opening song was that version of Midnight Flyer… man was I hooked after that! From there I dug into Flatt & Scruggs, Jim and Jesse McReynolds, Monroe, JD Crowe, Jimmy Martin, and the Country Gentlemen. 

Which of your own songs / tunes do you have a particular liking for?

Tim Raybon and myself just released our debut album from our band Merle Monroe on Pinecastle Records, entitled Back to the Country. There is a song entitled Dad on the album, and it really means a lot to me. I have two boys, Finn and Owen. When I am driving Finn to school most mornings, he will say “Daddy play the song about me and you,” and that absolutely means the world to me. I really enjoy the bond that music creates. Pinecastle put a nice video together to go along with the song and there are photos throughout of us with our boys. Very special.

Movin’ On is another one, it was the first song we really worked on as a band, and happens to be our current single from the album. He Will Roll You Over the Tide is another favorite. Tim brought that one to the album and I am happy with the way it turned out.

What about a song/tune written by someone else? 

The country artist John Berry released a song this year I have really enjoyed, entitled The Richest Man, and my friend Marty Raybon has a song from a few years ago entitled I’ve Seen What He Can Do. It’s a great song. As far as bluegrass, I really like Georgia Slammer, done recently by Joe Mullins, and Please by Rhonda Vincent and Dolly. All are wonderful new songs in my opinion. I love a lot of the classics written by Jimmy Webb that Glenn Campbell did, and the writing and songs of Merle Haggard. Goodness what songs! 

Which particular albums do you like best and why? 

I have several. A few that come to mind are The Osborne Brothers, Voices in Bluegrass, the Essential Bluegrass Album, and their album with Mac Wiseman on CMH. Jim and Jesse McReynolds, In the Tradition and Bluegrass Special. Doyle Lawson, Rock My Soul; The Country Gentlemen with Doyle Lawson and Bill Emerson on Vanguard; Glen Campbell, Live in South Dakota; Shenandoah, The Road Not Taken; JD Crowe & the New South, 0044, and all the Early Flatt & Scruggs albums. 

As far as more recent releases (in the last 15 years); Dailey & Vincent, Brothers of the Highway; Rhonda Vincent, Good Thing Going;  Blue Highway; Still Climbing Mountains. I really enjoy the Primitive Quartet as well. I know I am leaving some out but those come to mind. The common thing for each album is the songs and the delivery, just great songs, singing, and music. The one (in particular) from the list that would be my favorite is the Osborne Brothers with Mac Wiseman. Namely because it is one of the first albums I heard that made me want to be a banjo player!

You play a banjo …. …

I do

What model is it? 

I have a few banjos, but two that are very special; a 2004 Osborne Chief built by Frank Neat in Russell Springs, Kentucky. I got this banjo from Sonny in April of 2004, and it really has been a lot of miles with me, including many shows at the Opry, and several albums. I also have a banjo I’ve owned since I was 12 built by Frank Neat. It’s the first banjo I played on the Opry with Jim and Jesse. The funny thing is my Dad had Frank build the banjo many years ago, and I was able to purchase it when I started playing from the guy my Dad had sold it to.

What’s your favorite bluegrass memory? 

If I had to name one that I always go back to, it is the first time I worked with Sonny and Bobby Osborne. As I had mentioned previously, they were the first bluegrass sounds I had heard, and what made me want to play banjo. In August of 2004, Sonny called and wanted to know if I could be in Nashville on Tuesday night to play banjo for them on the Grand Ole Opry. Eddie Stubbs was handling the announcing at the Opry that night. I stood there listening to the accomplishments they had achieved; members of the Grand Ole Opry, the state songs, CMA awards, Hall of Fame inductions, White House appearances, and thought back to the time I was just a boy, hearing the first sounds of the Osborne Brothers, and what this moment meant to me. It was very special to stand on stage playing banjo with both Sonny and Bobby, the fabulous Osborne Brothers. Wonderful memory for me. 

How do you keep fit and healthy when you spend so much time on the road? 

Ha ha… I haven’t done as well at that in recent years as I used to. However, I do make it a point to try my best to eat as healthily as possible, and walk as much as I can. Tim and myself both enjoy walking, and when we are out on the road I like to get up in the morning, have a little coffee, and walk-jog a couple of miles. That is a huge help.

Are you a sports fan? Who do you follow? 

I actually do not watch any sports on a regular basis other than my son Finn, who plays soccer and T-Ball. I do enjoy going to his games.

What hobbies do you have?

I don’t have any hobbies in particular. In my free time I enjoy projects I get into around the house, events we have at our Church, spending time with my wife and family, and going somewhere nice for a good dinner. The area we live in here in East Tennessee is beautiful, so a nice ride around the lake or walk outside is enjoyable. I’m fairly simple when it comes to all of that. Seems to me the more time goes along, the less time we have for the simple things, so I try and make it a point to keep that a priority.

What is the last movie film that you watched? 

As far as something in the theatre it has been a long time. I have watched the latest Ken Burns series on Country Music, really enjoyed it too, and I recently watched the Disney version of Robin Hood with my boy. You know the one Roger Miller did the music for back in 1973. For those who haven’t seen it, check it out!

What is your favorite film and why?

I really love the old Indiana Jones movies, they don’t make them like that now! Adventure, action, and a good story line without all the language, etc. Our fiddler, Derek Deakins… those happen to be his favorites as well. I’m not saying it has helped his fiddlin’, but I wouldn’t rule it out, ha ha! 

Do you get much time to watch TV?

I really don’t. My wife and I have two boys, Finn who is 6 and Owen who is 4 months old. You can imagine if the TV is on, we are tuned into Mickey or something along those lines, ha ha ha ha. If I get to watch TV I really enjoy a few of the music shows: Dailey & Vincent, Marty Stuart, Opry Encore, Song of the Mountains, Bluegrass Underground, and things along those lines.  

What’s your favorite show? 

I enjoy a few things on the history channel, there is one in particular called Mysteries at the Museum I catch every now and then.. I enjoy Charles Stanley as well, but I really don’t watch any show all that regular. My wife loves the current popular show called This Is Us. I catch it by default most weeks.

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in bluegrass music?

I really don’t know. Music has been in my life for about as long as I can remember. I have played banjo since I was 12, went on the road at 18. I have never thought about not being involved with music somehow. I would like to think that whatever I would be involved in would be something that brings joy to folks the way music does. 

Daniel Grindstaff lives with his wife, Kristen, and their two boys in Elizabethton, Tennessee. 

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.