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Dennis Gruenling

A Leading Light in the Harmonica & Blues World

Dennis Gruenling grew up with music in his household, but no other musicians. Between the old-school country music his father loved and the 1950's music his mother was fond of, the common ground was Rhythm & Blues.

It wasn't until his teens when he discovered that the Little Richard and Fats Domino 45's that he loved so much were actually "Blues" records and that sound was the common thread in all of the music he loved. Rock & Roll from the New York Dolls, AC/DC, and Chuck Berry were already part of his record collection before he really uncovered the magic of the original Rhythm & Blues Artists that inspired all of them.

Having heard his first Blues album ("Harp Attack" with James Cotton, Junior Wells, Carey Bell & Billy Branch) the same day he got his first harmonica, everything immediately changed. Now, instead of buying more Rock & Roll records, he sought out all the originators of American Rhythm & Blues that he could find...going to record shops and record shows all over the NY/NJ metro area and literally spending money every weekend to listen, learn and study this music. 

Within a year of picking up harmonica, Dennis learned enough to not only start jamming on the local scene (while still underage) but also to start collecting and rebuilding vintage bullet microphones. Soon he was being asked to come back to blues jams, sit in with local bands, start teaching other players, and repair bullet microphones on the local scene. 

 
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Dennis Gruenling & Steve Guyger

Dennis has performed with Philadelphia blues legend Steve Guyger for many years when not on the road. Anyone who has witnessed some of these performances can attest not only to their mastery, but also to their camaraderie and respect for each other and the music.

 

After years of experience performing locally, Dennis would start performing with several acts and back up some Blues legends while they passed through town...players such as Snooky Pryor, Homesick James, Pinetop Perkins, A.C. Reed, and others. At the same time, he would start to befriend and gather some advice and accolades from Harp Legends such as Snooky Pryor, James Cotton, Sam Myers, Steve Guyger. 

In the late 1990's, Dennis formed his first band Jump Time, and recorded his first (self-titled) album with them in 1998. This was an all-star group of hand-picked musicians from the local NJ talent pool and other bands he knew, and even more importantly, helped get his new musical vision into focus. With Jump Time, Dennis started using many more low-tuned harps within the context of his jump-blues band, and started a new trend using custom-made low key harmonicas to get a new amplified harmonica sound. This was a time before low key harmonicas were common, and (more importantly of note) before they were used much for amplified blues playing.


As Winslow Yerxa (who published HIP/Harmonica Information Publication newsletter) noted on the first Jump Time release - "A musician of unique powers and promise, Dennis Gruenling places his formidable instrumental command at the service of a fresh vision...Dennis has developed a huge sound and flawless technique...Gruenling has achieved a sound that promises to re-define the role of the harmonica..."

 
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Dennis Gruenling & Jump Time!

Dennis paved a new way and sound for amplified harmonica when he formed his band "Jump Time". Pulling most of the direction for the band from his love of Jump Blues, Swing and early Rock & Roll, he often employed low-tuned harmonicas and played them with an approach and sound reminiscent of swing and R&B saxophone players from the 1940's & 50's.

 

After performing heavily in the NY/NJ and East Coast region for years, Dennis started branching out more on the road with more frequent tours and recording sessions with Jump Time and with other touring East Coast Blues & Roots acts such as Dave Gross, Gina Sicilia, and Peter Karp. In 2008 he got back in the studio for a very well received Tribute to Little Walter album with an all-star cast of blues talent including Kim Wilson, Rick Estrin, Steve Guyger and Rusty Zinn (one of the first sessions produced at Greaseland Studios with the help of Kid Andersen). 

Around this time, Dennis Gruenling started touring and forming a musical partnership with Detroit native Doug Deming. After almost 9 years of touring together (and several recordings), Dennis & Doug parted ways, and as fate would have it another musical door would open up almost immediately to pave the road even further for Dennis and his musical talents.

 
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The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling...

When Nick & Dennis joined forces, not only did they sign with Alligator Records, but several Blues Music Awards followed as a result of their Alligator recordings...including "Harmonica Player of the Year" (Dennis 2019), "Traditional Male Artist of the Year" (Nick 2019), "Blues Band of the Year" (2020) and "Traditional Blues Album of the Year" (2020).

 

Dennis met Nick Moss in the mid-1990's when Nick was touring with Kim Wilson, and the two of them had kept in touch over the years, occasionally jamming and performing together as time would allow. In the months following Dennis' "Ready Or Not" album (and shortly after he parted ways with Doug Deming), Nick Moss was changing the lineup and focus of his band and the two of them did a few tours together to see how the vibe would be making music together on a regular basis. Nick immediately felt at home changing his focus back to a more Chicago-style sound similar to how he started out musically, and Dennis found an outfit that really knew how to back up his harp skills, whether it be more west-coast style swinging grooves, early Rock & Roll or that classic Chicago Blues sound. 

Since teaming up and forming the Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling, the band has been in demand on festivals and Blues Cruises worldwide, has signed with Alligator Records, and has been winning multiple Blues Music Awards without any sign of slowing down!

 
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