Daniel Grindstaff’s Solo Project, Heroes & Friends

Donna Block
9 min readMay 17, 2024

Native of east Tennessee. Come from a musical family. Your grandmother played, sang, and encouraged you to get involved in music. She purchased your first good banjo when you had become a serious musician. What songs were her favorites to play with you growing up?

The first songs I learned to play were old standards like Cripple Creek, John Henry and classic old-time instrumentals that my Dad showed me. During those years, I was really engulfed in the music of Flatt & Scruggs, The Osborne Brothers, Jimmy Martin, JD Crowe and Jim and Jesse McReynolds. I loved their music and still do.

Your dad played banjo and helped you get started. Around age 12, you spent time learning to play with his record collection — which included Flatt & Scruggs, The Osborne Brothers, Jimmy Martin, Bill Monroe, and J.D. Crowe. For new banjo players, which songs would you recommend they start with?

For anyone wanting to learn to play banjo I recommend learning the basics like chord patterns and rolls. Start simple, start slow, and build from there. Really pay attention to good form and developing a good sense of timing. I always recommend the Foggy Mountain Banjo album by Flatt & Scruggs. In my opinion, Earl Scruggs was at the peak of his playing on that album. It set the standard!

Began music career at 18, performing at the Opry with Bluegrass legends Jim and Jesse McReynolds.

Three years later joined the iconic Osborne Brothers (“Rocky Top”) on the same stage. One of the first songs of theirs you had learned was “Midnight Flyer.” You played it with them on stage at age 21. Can you describe how it felt to perform it with them that night?

It was very surreal, for that moment on stage I drifted back in my mind to when I was 12 listening to the Osborne Brothers and knowing that was all I wanted to do, was play the stage of my heroes and there I stood with them. I’ll never forget that experience.

2006, started a five-year touring run with Grammy Award winning artist Marty Raybon. You love performing for fans. Which stages are on your bucket list to play in the next five years?

I love being back at the Grand Ole Opry. I’ve been fortunate to have played there recently with Grand Ole Opry members Dailey & Vincent. Even though I have played there hundreds of times in the past, the Opry stage is always on my bucket list. I would like to play the Smithsonian Folklife Festival again and I would love to do something at the Earl Scruggs Center!

Solo project, Heroes & Friends. What inspired you to put together this collection?

I have been playing music since I was 12 years-old, and I have been involved in music on a professional level for over two decades now. Music is a huge part of who I am. All the influences I’ve had playing professionally are the reason I was able to do this album. The knowledge I gained from working around some of the very best, is what I hope I can represent with this project. I had been planning this project for well over a year and felt the time was right for me to record an album under my own name, with my own ideas, select the musicians I wanted to record with and feature a couple of songs I had written as well.

“Three Arrows,” “I wrote this song for my boys, Owen and Finn, and it happens to be the first instrumental I’ve written that I have recorded. The talented friends who joined me in the studio are Trey Hensley, Andy Leftwich, Stephen Burwell, and Kent Blanton. Making the song even more special is that a portion of the proceeds will go to the FRIENDS Down Syndrome support group in East Tennessee, a non-profit organization very close to my heart. Music can lift spirits and bring a smile; I hope that’s what this tune does while also embracing this wonderful organization.” The organization promotes community understanding and acceptance of people with Down syndrome. In what other ways can fans help the support group?

The FRIENDS group accepts donations year-round and can be supported through donations on their website.

“The timeless lyrics contained in ‘Forever Young’ have always touched my heart. I often think about how quickly time passes as our children grow into adults and yet for us as parents, they remain ‘Forever Young.’” Your cover of Rod Stewart’s 1988 classic (which originally started with Bob Dylan) features Dolly Parton and Paul Brewster. It charted number one on the Bluegrass Unlimited National Airplay Survey. How did Dolly and Paul come to join you on the song?

I had this song on my mind to record for a few years now. The person I thought of to be a guest vocalist on this song was Paul Brewster. I remember talking with the engineer, Stephen Burwell, and my friend, Derek Deakins, and telling them my idea — If I can get Paul to sing this, I believe it will work. I have listened to recordings of Paul since his time with the Osborne Brothers and of course his many years with Ricky Skaggs, and we became friends over the many times our paths crossed at the Grand Ole Opry and other venues. In my opinion, Paul Brewster, is one of the greatest high lead vocalists of our lifetime and he was the perfect fit for revisiting this classic. Through the process of recording, we were able to get the song to Dolly to give it a listen. At that point she agreed to sing on the song! Dolly agreeing to add her iconic vocal to the song along with Paul is one of the greatest experiences I have had happen in my career. I am very thankful for them both, and all the guys that played on the track helped make my vision for this song come true! It truly is an honor.

“Finnland,” featuring Andy Leftwich, topped the Bluegrass Today Monthly Airplay Chart. “I wrote ‘Finnland’ with the goal of representing my love for how a banjo and fiddle have paired together through the history of string music to what we now consider modern day Bluegrass. It’s an honor to have the great Andy Leftwich join in and bring his superb fiddle work to make this song what I envisioned while writing it. The title and upbeat tempo of ‘Finnland’ is inspired by the sweet, innocent spirit of my oldest boy, Finn. The intricate patterns between banjo and fiddle reflect the beautiful mind of his that’s always thinking, always spinning and always inspiring.” Besides writing songs, how have your sons inspired you as a musician?

My oldest son is very musically talented. He plays piano and can read music and play by ear as well. My youngest son loves music as well. Their love for music keeps my love going and growing. I enjoy sharing music with them. Throughout the entire recording process for this album, my boys and wife have listened to the album probably more than I have, and tuned into interviews I’ve done with radio and television as well — sharing my love of music with them makes this very special.

“Child of the King,” a collaboration with Primitive Road’s Jeff Tolbert, showcases your affinity for gospel themes. “Child of the King is a very special song to me and my family. It is a staple song at our church, and I love the message. It’s a true honor to have my friend and brother Jeff Tolbert sing this track. My hope is that his heartfelt vocals are a blessing to those who hear this song just as they were to me.” What makes this song’s message so special for your family?

My wife and I have always loved the lyrics and melody in this song. It was very special to us during some tough times we faced together. We are very active at our home church and strong in our faith in the Lord, and thankful to be children of the King. I also felt this song was a good way to represent that in this project and it felt it would also be something that would fit my friend Jeff Tolbert perfectly. I have always loved his singing and I am very thankful to have him on this project. He is a friend and like a brother to me.

A recut of a Del Reeves classic, “Looking at the World Through a Windshield,” featuring Trey Hensley.

I’ve always been a big fan of classic country and Del Reeves. I felt this song would be a great tune to showcase some fun picking and singing. The first person that came to mind was my friend, Trey Hensley. I’ve known him for many years, as we’re both from here in east Tennessee. He is one of the most versatile, studied, and soulful vocalists and guitarists I’ve worked with. Trey has a great balance in tipping his hat to the pioneers while also making his own distinctive mark. I think the listeners will hear that shine through on this track!

Which other Del Reeves songs do you enjoy playing live?

As of right now this is the only Del Reeves song we are doing live. I would like to work in a few more! I love a lot of his music. He had another song entitled “This Must Be The Bottom”- I heard a re-cut of it a few years back by a great Bluegrass singer/guitarist, Randy Kohrs, that was just killer. The Steep Canyon Rangers also cut Del Reeves’ “A Dime At A Time,” which is another great song. It goes to show how great songs will stand the test of time!

Other artists featured on the collection include Jimmy Fortune, Kevin Richardson, Doyle Lawson, Darrin Vincent, Rhonda Vincent, Rickey Wasson, and several others. What can fans look forward to hearing on these collaborations?

I hope they hear the heart of the project in each song because there is so much of me that is still that kid wanting to be like his heroes, and still loving music just as much. That spirit is what I want to extend. My goal is for something I do to encourage another generation, maybe keep something alive that lit the fire in me for the love of Bluegrass and Acoustic music. I also want the kindness of each singer and musician on the project to extend. I am so blessed to be surrounded by some of the most talented musicians anyone could ever dream of. It seriously has been such a dream come true. I want to thank everyone involved and thank my great friend and engineer Stephen Burwell for his part in making it all happen. He is one of the very best and such a talented person.

What’s ahead?

I still have a lot of goals, plans and dreams ahead. I have guys, who all played on this project, that will be joining me for select live concerts supporting the release of the project. I am really looking forward to playing live with these fine musicians. I am also planning another album as a band effort under my name in the future!

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