Joe Grass is the king of the string.
I first heard about Joe through Pietro Amato, horn player with The Luyas and Belle Orchestre, formerly 1/14th of Arcade Fire. His praise was high, and the legend of his multi-instrumentation was mighty. I went down to Barfly in Montreal’s Mile End to listen for myself and was blown away by his playing. One boyish, blond upstart ripping his mandolin apart in the middle of a group of seasoned, 40-something bluegrass veterans to the delight of a tightly-packed house.
The session with Joe happened as a surprise. Packing up for a trip back to Toronto from Montreal, I called him as an afterthought, knowing he had been on the road, and conveniently he had time late in the evening.
Jessie grabbed the pedal steel, Joe the 6-string and an amp wheeled out on a dolly and we headed into the heart of the Van Horne alleys. She, intrepid as always, pokes her head over a fence and inquires, en francais, the likelihood of stealing some power from a pantsless man who had been sitting at his window, wondering about our intent. Power is achieved, and Joe regales the neighborhood with a haunting and familiar melody.
We continue on to the only flower shop in the city open until late enough for our adventures and, earlier in the week, close enough to dawn to surprise Arlene with birthday daisies. Now, Joe treats us to a barely born song amidst the fragrant lilies, roses and lilacs that, throughout the shoot, many purchase with smiles for Joe’s confident finger-picking and simple words.
- Derrick Belcham