How old were you when you started playing guitar? What was your first guitar? Did you buy it yourself? Do you still have it?
I was maybe around 12 when I first picked up a guitar. A few years prior, my Mom had picked up a new '67 Harmony at Tom Pickett's Music Store in Columbus, IN (he's still there!). I still have this guitar and about 4-5 years ago I had luthier Scott Baxendale, do a "Harmony conversion"--replacing all the interior bracing, neck & fretwork, etc. It transformed the sound and it's one of my go-to guitars these days. All Birch.
Did your parents or grandparents play any instruments? If so, what did they play? Did you ever get a chance to play with them?
My mother played the flute, and parents were great lovers of music.
What are the guitars that you play? Do you have a favorite? If so, why is it your favorite?
I have the aforementioned Harmony. I have a '58 Gibson LG1 (also Baxendale conversion).
I have three guitars that were made for me. A walnut-spruce top dreadnaught made by Lymon Monroe--the man who built my parent's house. My Mom commissioned it. Lymon probably made 10-15 guitars in his later years. A solid cherry small-bodied guitar made by noted dulcimer-builder, Bill Berg (Nashville, IN). A medium-body guitar made for me with my Grandfather's walnut, by Clint Bear (O.C. Bear Guitars). 100 yr. old Adirondack top, and 125 yr. walnut from Grandpa's farm. This is my main instrument. I know where the wood comes from and I know where those boards were stored for decades, and I know the man who built it.... It's a small body, but it fits me well. It has a deep body, which gives it a warmth in the lower-mids. Plays like butter.
I love all of these instruments. I know who made three of them and they are special. The other two--first guitar and the Gibson--I got to do the Grapes of Wrath stageplay, which I ended up doing in Indiana, New York and Florida.
What strings do you use (brands and gauges)? How often do you change your strings?
I use Curt Mangan strings. Phosphor bronze 12.5-55 (half size set). I love their tone new--they're not too bright, but they have a warm punch. I change usually after every two shows.
Do you use a pick? If so, what brand and thickness?
I use a pick occasionally. Orange Tortex .60, I think. I finger pick 50% or more, and use my index nail as a pick across the strings--which I feel is a richer, more organic sound. Just gotta watch out for that nail.
Do you use any effect pedals? If so, what are your favorites?
No Pedals. Cowboy-acoustic guitar.
Do you work on your own guitars or do you bring them to a guitar tech? Are there any guitar techs that you would like to recommend?
I take my guitars to Clint Bear--who built me one. He's kind enough to look at my other instruments when necessary.
Do you have a favorite guitar shop? What makes it a good shop?
No regular guitar shop.
At what age did you start writing songs?
I wrote 2-3 songs in high school. Started writing seriously in '89 and did 2 quick albums of urban folk in Chicago...then, 10 years off and got really serious with release of Heart Land in '99.
What is your songwriting process? Is it the music or the lyrics that usually come to you first? Do you write old school on paper, or electronically?
I don't have a songwriting process per-se. I often write in batches--when I need songs, or when songs need me. They can come from anywhere and you've go to be ready for them. I can write from playing (guitar) and I can write phrases-stories that become lyrics.... I write on paper with a pen. Any kind of paper, any kind of pen. Anywhere.
Photo credit: Alissa Branch
Who are the top three musicians or bands that have had a major influence on you?
If you could jam with one person, living or dead, who would it be?
I don't really jam. I just know songs--mostly my own...probably a number of trad songs and a few remarkable 'covers' that I learned via osmosis. I'm no use to guys/gals that love to jam. I'll join in and sing and--if the others are good, I might enjoy myself.
What are your top three “desert island” albums?
Covenant - Greg Brown
Buddy and Julie Miller - Buddy and Julie Miller
Jack Elliot - Ramblin' Jack
What was the first concert you attended? What was the last concert you attended?
First concert - Janis Joplin at Golden Gate Park (1969). I was 9.
Most recent concert - Sam Baker.
The Beatles or the Stones?
Beatles. I don't mind the Stones. But the Beatles had everything.
Where and when was your first paid gig? How much did you make?
Featured performer at Old-Town School of Folk Music (Chicago) open-mic. Got the tip-jar...$40-50??
What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?
Eric Taylor recorded my song - Cover These Bones on his very last record (Studio 10) in 2013.
What has been your worst gig so far and why? (You don’t have to name names).
Baltimore. Upstairs room. No one to run sound or set up...and no one showed up.
What are some of the venues you enjoy performing at the most? What things make the venue enjoyable for the performer (location, equipment, setup, organizers)?
I love The Cafe Carpe in Ft. Atkinson, WI. Perfect size and vibe. Wonderful hosts - Bill and Kitty and Satchel. Front room a homestyle room with good, simple food and small bar...a backroom thru swinging doors for the ticketed concerts. Great sound and audiences who love it too.
Photo credit: John Connell
How do you work out your setlist?
I'll write up a set-list before the show, on a tiny piece of off-white paper and tape it gently onto the side of the guitar facing me. I think about where I am--who I'm playing for--what's going on in the world--what's going on in my life--what new songs are ready...?--what old songs need to be brought back.... I think of tempos more than keys, and how I can balance a show with energy and a slow beating heart. Where people might be ready to smile and laugh and where I can take my time and breath....
Is there any advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out in the music business?
I think I got decent advice early. Write GOOD songs.
Do you have any suggestions for a guitarist or songwriter who might be stuck in a musical rut?
To get out of a musical rut....get out. Into the world, down the block, across the street, another country. Write in a different voice....listen to everyone's story. The best ones aren't always yours.... Embrace the broken heart when it passes your way--it's the broken heart that bears the depths of all emotions....
If you weren’t a singer-songwriter, what would you be doing for work?
If not a singer-songwriter, I fall back on my acting--speaking someone else's words. Been doing that a long-time too.
Scene from 1994's Clear and Present Danger with Tim as Dan Murray.
Also, I have a tour company in Scotland - SCOTLAND FOLK TOURS - where American musicians take 15 fans-friends on a 10- or 14-day tour with music and remarkable sights in one of my favorite countries.
Please list some of your upcoming shows, plug your music and provide links to your merchandise.
New album in March - The Little In Between.
Putting together dates now: timgrimm.com
Photo credit: Alissa Branch