Embracing the music is smooth sailin’


    Marty Grebb was born to play music. The Chicago-born master of keyboard, sax and guitar grew up in a musical family of working teachers and professionals. He has performed in studio or on stage with such stars as Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks, Rosanne Cash, Leon Russell, Paul Butterfield, Etta James and the list goes on.

    Grebb, who lives in Malibu with his wife and family, never really had any doubts that music would be his life. His first record deal came to him playing in a band called “The Exceptions” while still in high school. The direction of his future looked rather obvious at the time with Grebb’s band playing gigs on school nights. “It was obvious to my English teacher too, because I kept falling asleep in class, and he called my dad and my dad told him that I already knew what I was going to do so lay off.” To Grebb’s surprise the English teacher, with musicians in his own family, responded with encouragement rather than discipline. From The Exceptions Grebb went on to play with The Buckinghams, and later the band Chicago.

    Aside from the instruments Grebb plays with versatility and authority is his vocal appeal. There is evidence of blues in the salty quality he expresses that often resides in a heritage other than his own. “I listened to Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, Freddy King and Albert King. And last year I got to be a guide singer for B.B. King when he was sick. I got called in to do a session while B.B. King sat there and watched me sing a song that he was eventually going to sing on his own album.”

    The span of Grebb’s career as session player and sideman to name talent has taken him to the top of the line and state-of-the-art venues. What’s the highlight for him? “Mainly being blessed to work with all the musicians and singers and people I have worked with because they are all my teachers and I’ve learned something from everybody.”

    Grebb is now in his 50s and will release his own CD of original material in June on Telarc. The focus is finally his own. And the talents of Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal, players from Little Feat and countless others appear to enhance this debut. It’s called Smooth Sailin’ — a phrase that might readily apply to Grebb’s unbroken musical life. The fact that this musician comes into his own as a late-blooming featured artist doesn’t rock his boat at all. “I can be like a 14-year-old kid when I’m going to play music and be so jazzed about it. I find that there’s some kind of childlike thing that makes it easier for me to be a musician, and being in contact with that and knowing about that has helped me to embrace whatever it is.”