He’s leaving home
Longtime Sacramento roots rocker Grub Dog is headed for Austin’s city limits. Shall we raise a final toast?
People pass through this town all the time. Some stay awhile; some don’t. Not everyone is remembered fondly once they leave.
Chances are that singer-songwriter-guitarist-drummer Greg Mitchell, 34, better known as Grub Dog, will be talked about, in a very nice way, around these parts for a long time.
Grub Dog and his partner, Mo Stoycoff, will hit the road at the end of this month, headed in the direction of Austin, Texas. They won’t be going on vacation; Austin will be their new home.
They follow hot on the heels of California’s erstwhile high-tech industry, along with former SN&R food reviewer Liz Kellar, who recently moved to Kerrville, a town located a few counties west of Austin.
Granted, it is Texas, the kind of place where the governor asks the federal Department of Homeland Security to help round up fleeing Democratic legislators who won’t participate in a forced congressional redistricting plan. But Austin—a state capital that feels like Sacramento with better food, as long as barbecue and Tex-Mex is your thing, and nightlife—is the most progressive city in the state. And Grub seems to know what he’s getting into.
“We just went down for five days in May,” he said. “I was out there once with Forever Goldrush once for about three days, and I liked it then; I liked the way the nightlife moved.”
The couple will move into what Grub described as a “generic apartment complex” in southwest Austin, not far from the Broken Spoke, a well-known country joint. “We got the sense that it was the best of both worlds, Davis and Sacto,” Grub explained. “It’s urban enough to be interesting and to have stuff to do, but yet there were pockets that were very small-towny—a little bit hippie-ish with overgrown yards.”
Austin’s gain will be our loss.
And our gain was Salinas’ loss when Grub Dog found his way to Davis in the latter part of 1991, just as summer began to slip into fall. It was a season of rebirth for rock ’n’ roll; Nirvana’s album Nevermind had just served notice on a generation of 1980s rock bands—Poison, Ratt, Winger and even Guns N’ Roses—that Sunset Boulevard was no longer the center of the rock universe.
Nirvana not only made the Pixies and Killing Joke safe for American teen consumption, but also was a classic case of a band showing up at exactly the right time. A huge underground layer of rock bands had developed in college towns across the country, and Nirvana happened to be the one riding the wave when it broke. And one of those towns known around the state for having a healthy band scene was Davis. “A friend of mine was going to UC Davis, and he needed a roommate,” Grub recalled, “and I wanted to get the hell out of Salinas.”
That he did. After hooking up with the town’s Aggie Hotel scene, where Grub met future Magnolia Thunderfinger star Skid Jones, who has described himself as Grub’s biggest fan, Grub got himself in a band called the Jarmigos, which lasted for a few years—until the other members moved away or got married.
Stranded, Grub moved across the causeway in 1996 and in with his girlfriend, Mo, who then was living in Carmichael. He started hitting the open-mic nights—Kevin Seconds was hosting one at Café Paris, and the Fox & Goose had one. It didn’t take him long to find people to play with.
“It was just a time where everybody was forming bands, and everything was at its nucleus,” Grub remembered. “Go National, the Pilgrims with Ben Morsss and Her 6 Daughters were getting started; everybody was just starting something. It was really cool. It was a fun time.”
Grub had been sending Jarmigos demos to then SN&R music editor Rachel Leibrock, and once he got something together with his new band, he sent her some music. “She picked it up that day, and she listened to it,” Grub said, “and she wrote about us for the next weekend’s show. And she called me. Suddenly, it was a breakthrough. We were playing Old Ironsides on like some Thursday night show, and she wrote about it, and it kind of kicked off a lot of things for us.”
Grub also hooked his band’s hitch to the burgeoning alt-country movement. “I knew it was a songwriters’ movement,” he explained. “I wasn’t so much into the hokey, ‘Let’s all dress in overalls and put on big hats and pretend like we’re from Alabama’ aspect of it, which a lot of bands were. I really liked that the movement was aligned with punk rock; in a lot of ways, it was aligned with the Replacements. [Hank] Williams and Westerberg—that’s what alt-country was to a lot of people.”
The beautiful loser is a longtime archetype in rock music, which isn’t to say that Grub is a loser loser because that clearly isn’t the case. Rock’s beautiful losers range from Roy Orbison through Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen to guys like Paul Westerberg, the songwriting frontman for the 1980s Minneapolis band the Replacements. And Grub’s music has always been reminiscent of Westerberg, whose hand-on-bottle/boot-on-throttle style of heartbreak and hell-raising made for some truly excellent rock ’n’ roll.
If anything, Grub’s persona is that heart-on-sleeve guy who cares too much, who shows up at his ex-girlfriend’s wedding, knocks back a few beers at the reception and has to bite his tongue during the toast to keep from shouting any snarky insults.
What Grub leaves us with is a pair of CDs and a four-song Christmas EP. Grub Dog & the Amazing Sweethearts, released through Kevin Seconds’ Poprockit label in 1998, is uneven in places. It starts off with guest vocals by Damon Wyckoff and Josh Lacey of Forever Goldrush and finishes with vocals by Natalie Cortez, and there’s a who’s who of local musicians on it, but Grub wrote all the songs. The Christmas EP Live at Times Square contains a curiously upbeat cover of Westerberg’s alcoholic anthem “Here Comes a Regular” plus three originals.
But it’s the woefully under-distributed God Damn Rock and Roll, released last fall after sitting in the can for two years, that makes a case for putting a Denver Boot on Grub’s tires before he leaves town, or at least trying to sweet talk him into staying. The record kicks ass. The Amazing Sweethearts (Grub on guitar and vocals, with Steve Randall and Joe Kojima Gray on guitars, Rob Meyer on bass and Brent Gee on drums) sound like a real rock ’n’ roll band that reeks of cigarette smoke, whiskey and gasoline, and there are some interesting textures on some of the quieter cuts. And in the title track, Grub sings wetly, with a lot of passion, like Westerberg did on Pleased to Meet Me—a record that God Damn Rock and Roll resembles, sonically and emotionally.
Damn, we’re gonna miss this guy.
Still, you can’t blame him for leaving. Last December, the night before Christmas Eve, a fire swept through Grub and Mo’s Midtown apartment. It destroyed all their “house stuff” and one guitar Grub admitted was on its last legs, and it killed their beloved dog George and one of their two cats.
“Really, that was the impetus for us to move,” Grub said. “We’d been talking about it before, but after the fire, we were like, ‘We’re really light right now; we don’t own anything that we don’t need.’ And there’s no better time to do this.”
If anything, Austin should be a better fit for Grub the musician. The town has a long history of embracing renegade songwriters, and even if he can’t jump into fronting a new band, he can always jump behind a drum kit and hold down a beat until people have time to warm to his other attributes. But he knows it won’t be easy.
“I think it’s even gonna be worse in Austin,” he admitted, “because you not only get the good songwriters; you get the people who are careerists—who really think they’re good songwriters, and they moved to Austin because it’s a hot scene. It’s this music capital, so you’re gonna get a lot of that mediocrity there, too. The same kind of people who go to Nashville, I think, either start out or end up in Austin, trying to salvage whatever musical dreams they have.”
Still, Grub Dog has hopes that the move to a place that’s revered, in Americana music circles at least, as a mecca, will shake his creative faculties up a bit.
“I moved out of Davis for a reason—because I was complacent there,” he said. “And I feel, after living here almost the same amount of time, that I’ve become complacent here.”
Grub Dog’s final local show, as a Sacramento resident, is this Friday at Old Ironsides, the downtown bar where, until recently, he hosted a Wednesday-night open mic. Pick up a copy of God Damn Rock and Roll while you’re there. And thank him for all the beautiful noise.