A version of this story appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
Trout Fishing in America tries to snag great songs
The long-running duo, known for playing children’s music as well as folk-rock for adults, is making its debut at the Blue Door Friday night.
Just as novelists often talk about their characters guiding their storytelling, musicians Keith Grimwood and Ezra Idlet describe their songs in similar anthropomorphic language.
“We’re songwriters. I remember as a kid hearing fiction writers saying that their characters appeared to them, that the characters spoke for themselves, developed themselves. As songwriters, you write music to fit the song. If the music honors the lyric, then it works,” Idlet said in a recent phone interview.
Appropriately enough, their long-running duo, known as Trout Fishing in America, takes its name from Richard Brautigan’s abstract 1967 novella. Even more fitting, the four-time Grammy nominees are known for crafting catchy children’s songs that draw from an array of musical genres and as well as folk-rock music for grown-ups.
In either case, Grimwood said, the songs sort of shape themselves.
“You find an idea for a song, you start working on it, and then you have to almost listen to the song and hear what the song is telling you,” the vocalist/bassist said in a joint interview from the “Trout House” in Prairie Grove, Ark., where he and Idlet are working on a new album.
After playing together in a band called St. Elmo’s Fire, Grimwood and Idlet founded Trout Fishing in America in 1979 and quickly turned their divergent musical backgrounds into an asset.
“We originated in Houston, Texas, and it was just a real melting pot when we grew up. There’s so many music styles going on there. You had folk music and Zydeco, and you had Tejano music, you had the rock ’n’ roll. I’m from the classical background; Ezra’s more from a folk background,” Grimwood said.
“It’s just all over the map. We had great blues going on down there. I played in a lot of different kinds of bands and so did Ezra. Once we started writing together, we threw in a lot of those elements of the different styles we’ve played and just try to make it appropriate for whatever subject we’re singing about.”
Despite their roots in neighboring states, the pair hasn’t played many Oklahoma shows in recent years. But they will make their debut at Oklahoma City’s Blue Door on Friday, and they are already planning a return trip for July at Okemah’s Woody Guthrie Folk Festival.
“We played Oklahoma City way, way in the past. VZD’s back maybe ’80s, ’90s. It’s been a long career so it’s really hard to figure out what part of the career we were there. But it’s been a long time. We played Oklahoma City back at a place called the Prairie Lady. That’s an old name,” Grimwood said.
“And the Long Branch,” added vocalist/guitarist Idlet with a laugh. “These are clubs that were probably there before you were born.”
The duo also has been crafting children’s songs since before their own now-grown progeny were born, putting them well ahead of the current kindie-rock trend of making cool music for youngsters.
“Isn’t that great? Because when we started doing this, there was really saccharine sweet little music going on — and very little of it,” Grimwood said. “The reason we started playing music for kids originally was that a teacher asked us to come into her classroom. She wanted her kids to see that music came from people, not just the radio and not just the TV or something. So we brought our instruments into a classroom … and played Beatles music for ‘em and folk music and stuff like that. They loved it. We didn’t know any kids’ music at all.”
Last year, Trout Fishing collaborated with fellow kindie rockers Sugar Free Allstars for the funky title track of the Oklahoma City-based duo’s latest album, “All on a Sunday Afternoon.”
“The first time I heard the Sugar Free Allstars I was at a bar in Fayetteville, Ark., called George’s Majestic Lounge,” Idlet said.
“I was walking through the … room on my way to my car and I’m listening to Dr. Rock and Chris Wiser laying down some funky stuff. And, listen, they’re not playing any kids’ music at all, they’re just playing funk. And I just stopped in my tracks, and my wife and I pulled up a chair and sat and listened to ‘em. Did not have a clue they played kids’ music. I just liked their sound as a duo.”
Blue Door proprietor Greg Johnson said Friday night’s Trout Fishing show is ostensibly for adults but since it’s an all-ages venue, he wouldn’t be surprised to see younger music fans in the house.
No matter the audience, Grimwood and Idlet promised to play well-crafted, tuneful music born out of decades of playing and teaching songwriting workshops together.
“My dad is a writer — was a writer — and he told me a long time ago … ‘If you want to learn how to do something, teach it.’ That really rang true because when you teach something, you have to know the subject, inside out,” Grimwood said.
“We’re still learning, too,” Idlet added, laughing. “We’re still pushing it. We’re still fascinated by and interested in the things that we do. We love to travel. We love to perform. Love to write. It’s a good life.”
Trout Fishing in America
When: 8 p.m. Friday. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Where: Blue Door, 2805 N McKinley.
Information: 524-0738 or www.bluedoorokc.com.