When they signed him up for piano lessons at age eight, Keith Grimwood’s parents never could have imagined the result – development of a lifelong passion and a 30-plus year musical career that includes four Grammy nominations and countless other awards.
Grimwood, one half of the musical duo Trout Fishing in America, and a proud University of Houston graduate, hasn’t stopped performing since those early piano lessons.
“My parents felt that everybody should have one year of piano lessons to be a well-rounded human being,” he said. “When it came time to end that first year, my parents said, ‘It’s time to quit.’ I couldn’t quit. I just kept playing.”
Grimwood moved onto the string bass at age 11 or 12, when a teacher at Houston’s Johnston Junior High School asked for volunteers. By age 15, Grimwood was playing at clubs and bars throughout the Houston region, sitting in with jazz orchestras at places like the Moody Center or the Balinese Room in Galveston.
By 1970, Grimwood enrolled at the University of Houston, determined to give up music. It was there, on campus, that he met Keith Robinson, then the string-bass instructor at the university, and the person Grimwood credits as most influencing his later path in life.
“He saw me walking around campus and he said, ‘I didn’t see you signed up for any of my classes. What are you doing?’” Grimwood said. “I said, ‘Well, I have decided to give up the bass.’ He said, ‘You are a bass player. Don’t ever let anybody tell you you are not a bass player.’ There is nothing like having somebody believe in you to make you start believing in yourself.”
At UH, Grimwood thrived. He took classes of every sort, exploring musical theory, and a variety of different musical genres that still are reflected in his work today. Between classes, he would explore the UH campus, hanging out at the student union, or spending hours in the practice rooms at the Moores School of Music.
“I took any [class] I wanted and I had a great time,” he said. “I could have spent my whole life there. I could have just stayed in college forever.”
Like many UH students, Grimwood put himself through school by working. He played six nights a week at clubs throughout the Houston region, reveling in the opportunity to gain real-world experience while attending college.
“Houston was a great city. You can go to another university out in some little, tiny town, and not get what you can in a city like Houston,” Grimwood said. “In Houston, I was able to work, I was able to experience the arts … that is all part of attending college there.”
By 1975, the University of Houston trained him so well, he landed a position playing bass for the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Though thrilled with the opportunity to perform with such high caliber musicians, Grimwood was determined to finish his degree. He was amused when the registrar told him he only needed one more class to graduate- a semester of P.E.
“The only time I could go, they offered two classes, basketball – remember, I’m 5’5” – and weightlifting,” Grimwood said. “I’m going to tell you, that weightlifting class was one of the best classes I ever took out there. It got me used to carrying heavy amplifiers, and really trained me for my career as a musician.”
After two years with the symphony, a union lockout opened up a new opportunity for Grimwood. He went on tour with the Houston rock band, St. Elmo’s Fire, where he met Ezra Idlet. In 1979, when St. Elmo’s Fire broke up in the middle of a tour in California, the two began playing on the streets in Santa Cruz, California, under the name Trout Fishing in America.
“I went from a major symphony orchestra to a street corner in one year’s time, and I was having a blast,” Grimwood said.
The duo has continued to play together for 33 years, becoming one of the first bands to own their own record label and successfully record and market their own music.
“With St. Elmo’s Fire, we kept thinking the record company – this great hand from the sky – would reach down and take us to the studio and record us, and send us on to this big national tour and stuff. It never happened,” Grimwood said. “So once that band broke up, Ezra and I looked at each other and said, ‘How hard could it be?’”
In 1980, they released their first album, and sold it off the stage. They made enough money from that album to make another album, and their popularity continued to grow. Today their unique blend of folk, pop and kids music has garnered critical recognition, including three national indie awards, numerous Parents’ Choice Awards, and four Grammy nominations.
In addition to their albums, Trout Fishing in America also hosts songwriting workshops to teach children how to write their own music. In 2009, the duo released their first children’s book, “My Name is Chicken Joe,” based on one of their songs.
Much of Grimwood’s success can be traced back to those dedicated hours spent in UH practice rooms, and the determination he learned while a student at the university.
“There was a quote written on a lot of my music – set a higher standard for yourself,” he said. “That was the whole deal.”