Tradition with a Future

One step further

“When I first saw Pete Townshend on TV doing his windmill guitar strum and the power behind it, I knew: that was what I wanted to do,” says Timo Gross. And then there’s Eric Clapton, who captivated the teenager. He whispers from the TV: Timo, your heart belongs to the blues, and that’s exactly how you want to play guitar. For Gross, blues primarily has “depth and weight, which I don’t hear in other things.” However, Gross is not a purist; he’s more of a cautious innovator, infusing rugged rock with carefully chosen accessories with blues, and vice versa. He doesn’t dwell long on the question of genre boundaries. Blues is whenever it sounds genuine. He sometimes calls it “blues-infected music” if a label must be drawn. In that category, you’ll find intensely rocking tunes alongside Americana and very classic, swinging shuffles, pure blues next to Southern rock. A metallic riff might slide in or a song that sounds like Keith Richards whispered it to the Palatinate musician.

It took a while for Timo Gross to implement his very personal idea of blues. For 25 years, he worked as a service provider playing everything from country to hip hop and Schlager, produced a boy band, worked as a studio guitarist, and composed music for commercials. This came to an end when in 2005, “Down to the Delta” was released, his first own blues record. He started from scratch, first checking if there were any performance opportunities. The renowned magazine Blues News crowned his debut album of the month, opening many doors. It worked – nearly 100 performances by the end of the year were encouraging. England, Scotland, France soon appeared on the tour plan, as did major German blues festivals like Gaildorf and Lahnstein.

Timo Gross lets his music arise directly from a spontaneous feeling. “I wake up in the morning, drink a coffee, jot down some thoughts to clear my head and usually, after 5 to 10 minutes, I start getting bored. And write a song,” he says, and you believe it instantly. Blues is fueled by the stories that life writes. He has plenty of those to share. “I try to keep an open mind. You can sit here at the table and look into your coffee cup, you’ll find something. Or I’ll sit there with someone who tells me an interesting story. Anything can be the starting point for a song.” From the first album, he sings his songs himself. One feels that no voice other than this rough one, matured in the storms of life, can convincingly transpose their blues stories.

Guitar show-off is not his thing. “It has always annoyed me when people play ultra-long solos,” he says. Gross’ solos are often more lurking. A theme is played around, danced around. Now and then, the notes flutter completely freely out of the rhythm foundation. The big tugging and plucking, the moments when musician and audience usually open their mouths wide, only come after careful preparation.

Timo Gross has recorded a dozen albums by now, including joint ventures with colleagues. Three of his works have been nominated for the German Record Critics’ Award, and “Fallen from Grace” (2012) finally wins it. In 2013, he releases “Landmarks,” a cover album that proves he can breathe his own, unmistakable sound into compositions by others.

Over the years, he increasingly earns the status of an “Independent Artist” in business: His 2016 album “Heavy Soul” is released for the first time on his own label, Grand Cru Records, and he even designs the artwork himself.

And it continues: Gross does not stand still – and with his new band Leadbelly Calls, along with Adax Dörsam, pays homage to the songs of blues giant Huddie Ledbetter. Tradition with a future.