Fresh Fish, by Shelton Clark
from Acoustic Guitar magazine
Guitarist Ezra Idlet and Bassist Keith Grimwood have played together as the duo Trout Fishing in America for 22 years. They’re an anachronism in many ways. They play contemporary, acoustic-based music, but they are a throwback to buskers, vaudeville, and even old-fashioned medicine shows. Their material ranges from introspective folk and country-tinged songs, to wildly energetic rock tunes, to Stan Freberg-style comedy. “It’s a balance,” says Grimwood. “We do play a lot of funny songs, but you’re not funny all the time in life; there are serious thoughts that go on.”
The duo’s roots are as varied as its set lists. “We come from different backgrounds,” says Grimwood. “In 1976, Ezra was in a band called St. Elmo’s Fire, and I was in a group called the Houston Symphony.” That year, the symphony went on strike, and Grimwood joined St. Elmo’s Fire. “Ezra and I were immediate friends,” he recalls. “A tour of California [in 1977] just fell to pieces,” Idlet says, “and we had the reality of trying to feed ourselves. We started performing on the street in Santa Cruz. We learned a valuable lesson. People will stop if they’re entertained, but if you’re singing these sad introspective songs, people will walk away as fast as they can.”
Although Trout Fishing in America at times works as a four- and five-piece band, Grimwood and Idlet continue to base their sounds-and all but a few of their live shows-on the acoustic guitar and bass. “The acoustic guitar is a very percussive instrument, especially the way Ezra plays it,” says Grimwood.
Idlet switched from drums to guitar at the age of 14. “Drums are really boring to practice by yourself,” he says, “so guitar was a really good thing for me.” He taught himself to play and in a few months landed a job as a strolling musician at a Houston dinner theater. “From early on, I’ve known what I wanted to do. I had a basketball scholarship to college, but I gave it up when I was offered a job in the Virgin Islands playing music.”
While he doesn’t go for “guitar heroes” per se, Idlet does admire the aggressive playing of Stephen Stills and the all-around supportive playing of John Leventhal (Shawn Colvin, Rosanne Cash). His Gordon Lightfoot/James Taylor/style fingerpicking on slower songs provides a nice contrast to the duo’s frenetic rock numbers.
Both Idlet and Grimwood have children, which naturally led them to writing music for kids. “Our music is sophisticated,” says Idlet. “It doesn’t play down to kids or adults. Kids are moved by the lyrics or the rhythm. They know right off the bat if you’re faking it musically.”
A 1992 Indie Award for “Pop Album of the Year” for Over the Limit led to national distribution for the group’s own Trout Records (PO Box 914, Prairie Grove, AR 72753-0914; 439-8342; troutmusic.wpengine.com). Since then, the two musicians have won two more Indies for their children’s albums Mine! (1994) and My World (1997), as well as a Hall of Fame induction from the Kerrville Folk Festival. Their most recent recording, Family Music Party, has also been released as a performance video that was shown by many PBS stations. It features the achingly beautiful ballads “Lullaby,” “Back When I Could Fly” and “Count on Me.”
The variety of styles makes Trout Fishing in America’s music hard to classify. “If you go into a music store and try to find our CDs, you find them in different parts of the store,” say Grimwood. “In Nashville, we’re country. Someplace else, we’re in kids’ music. Some other place, we show up in the pop section. They don’t know quite what to do with us, which may not be the best marketing strategy, but at the same time it’s-” “-allowed us to stay together happily for 22 years!” Idlet interjects.