Las Vegas Sun

October 1, 2014

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A soul of the South

Michael Grimm started playing country music in bars at age 12. On his way to a career in Vegas, his heart was broken, and he found the music he’s performing now.

Image

Leila Navidi

Michael Grimm plays in Henderson in January. Grimm, who grew up on the Gulf shore of Mississippi, playing in bars long before he was old enough to drink, has changed what he plays from “positive country Christian” to a broader repertoire based on soul music.

Audio Clip

  • Michael Grimm Live: Proud Mary

Audio Clip

  • Michael Grimm Live: I've Got Dreams To Remember

Grimm's Schedule

  • Feb. 25-27: 6 p.m. at Hank’s Steakhouse (Green Valley Ranch)
  • Feb. 29: 6 p.m. at Lucille’s (The District)
  • March 1: 9 p.m. at Fiesta Henderson
  • March 3-4: 6 p.m. at Hank’s Steakhouse
  • March 5: 9 p.m. at House of Blues
  • March 7: 7 p.m. at Louis’s Fish Camp (Town Square)
  • March 8: 9 p.m. at Fiesta Henderson
  • March 10-12: 6 p.m. at Hank’s Steakhouse
  • March 14: 7 p.m. at Louis’s Fish Camp
  • March 15: 10 p.m. at RUB BBQ at the Rio
  • March 20-22: 6 p.m. at Hank’s Steakhouse

Beyond the Sun

As a 12-year-old, Michael Grimm was singing in bars in the swamplands of southern Mississippi. His grandmother, who played piano at a Baptist church, escorted him to the joints where he performed the songs of George Jones, Travis Tritt and other country artists.

“She’d sit there in the bars and watch over me because she loved to listen to me sing, and she thought that was the way to get my career started,” Grimm says.

In the 17 years since, his tastes have evolved from country to Southern soul — while moving from the swamps of Mississippi to the desert of Las Vegas, where he keeps a busy schedule playing in clubs from one end of the valley to the other. Fans appreciate that he reaches into his heart.

On Friday night Grimm — who has toured with the likes of B.B. King and The Doobie Brothers — will perform in the biggest venue of his burgeoning career, leaving Las Vegas to play the 6,000-seat Gibson Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, opening for the rock group Heart.

The theater can seat half the population of the twin Gulf communities where Grimm grew up — Bay St. Louis and Waverly, Miss., between Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans.

“They made us go to church a lot,” he says of his grandparents, who watched over Grimm and his sister after their parents’ divorce. And that’s when he turned to music, as a 5-year-old.

His grandmother played piano in a church built by her father, who was a preacher.

But outside of church, his grandparents were country music fans. He blended the two genres, writing music and playing guitar as a 15-year-old and signing a recording contract at 16.

“Most of the songs would be considered positive country Christian, because I came from that background,” Grimm says.

One cut on the album, “John Wayne and Jesus,” earned him the Christian Country Music Association’s star of tomorrow award in 1997.

Still, his Nashville career didn’t take off. Christian country music wasn’t big.

He returned home — and his high school sweetheart left him.

“I learned what heartache was for the first time in my life.”

He says he spent two years in Mississippi, heartbroken, drinking in bars.

“That’s when I got turned on to Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin,” Grimm says. “After I heard them I never went back to country. I went through a little transition there. I became a soul singer, which happened so naturally I really didn’t see it coming. I just started doing it more and more and wound up doing it full time.”

He was singing soul on the Gulf Coast when folks from Las Vegas invited him here to perform. That was in 2000, and he’s been busy ever since.

He’s on the verge of fulfilling his grandmother’s dream of success, the one she had when she was chaperoning him to bars when he was an adolescent:

• In addition to opening for some of the top headliners in the country, he has been able to work steadily in a town where gigs are scarce.

• He’s working on an album he made with Tom Petty’s band, The Heartbreakers.

• He recently released a CD, “Michael Grimm Live,” available in record stores and at michaelgrimmmusic.com.

He puts out his own CDs, rather than going with a label.

“Labels are in such a turmoil right now,” Grimm says. “I’ve tried it.”

In fact, outside of Las Vegas, live music in general is in turmoil.

Los Angeles, San Francisco and other former music Meccas don’t have as much to offer.

“Even Nashville,” Grimm says. “Some places, if you want to play in bars you have to work for tips, and in some places the band has to pay the bar.”

But Grimm is determined to keep the music alive.

It’s what his grandmother wants.

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