Spotlight – Granite Chief
When you go down a black diamond ski run called Granite Chief between your dad’s legs when you’re four years old, you might acquire a nickname, maybe even named after the run, and when you’re a Benziger from Sonoma Valley, you might just end up being a winemaker, but only the first one is true.
Grant Benziger, known his whole life as the “Granite Chief,” didn’t hear the call of the grapes, but he did hear the call of the wild and the call of music, both of which he has managed to pair nicely with his new EP release simply called “Granite Chief.” The Glen Ellen native grew up next door to Jack London State Park and spent his youth traversing the trails and property, as well as reading London’s books, and with a place that powerful and spiritual immersed in your thoughts, it’s bound to have an affect on you and how you see life. The story for the lead track on the EP, “Haunt You (Charmain)” came to him as he was showing his girlfriend around the park and telling her the story of Jack London. “It was like the park spoke to me and the words to the song just came out” said Benziger..
Benziger attributes his love for music to his older brother Buck, who would take him to shows, to the underground scene for Bay Area rap, hip-hop and Sonoma Valley punk rock. His first punk show was seeing the Bodies at the Phoenix Theatre in Petaluma when he was just eight years old, and then off to explore other genres with his brother. “Here I am this eight year old kid and my older brother is bringing me to shows. Probably not the thing to do to if you’re trying to act cool, but I sure appreciated him letting me tag along” remembered Benziger. Soon after that he saw how all the genres all tied together with one another. “You don’t have to choose just one, you can like them all and that’s OK” and it was then that he knew music was what he wanted to do, forever.
His family was very supportive of his dream, and after a stint at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, he started playing in bands in Southern California, where he still lives today. His main act is the Curly Wolf, and the band plays what you would call “honky-punk and psychobilly” along the lines of Hank Williams III, but there was more that Benziger wanted to say, and the new solo project allowed him to branch out from that style into a style, well, that sounds uniquely like him. “Writing some of these songs and laying them down has been kind of scary, I’ve really put some of my soul out there” as Benziger describes how the songs came about. The music was all recorded at his house, with Benziger laying down most of the tracks and doing most of the writing as well, with his writing partner Jason Mater. He uses a mix of acoustic and electronic instruments, which include his banjo, that you have to try hard to even sort out what kind of instrument is being used, layered over beats with a slow, almost funk-like groove with lots of back and forth vocals. The project is strictly a studio one for now, but Benziger is making plans with others to bring the sounds to the live stage. “I know we can do it” says Benziger, “we just have to find the time to get to it.”
But Benziger has never been one afraid to take risks, as even the photo shoot for the EP burned his derriere and arms with the flames used for effects. “No, that picture isn’t Photoshopped, those flames are real, I can tell you that for a fact!”
The EP is out now, and can be purchased at iTunes, Spotify and Amazon. There is also rumor of an appearance by the Curly Wolf in the Valley in September of this year. For more about Benziger, point your browser to instagram.com/curlygrits
Set List – The Rundown
Annex Wine Bar, 865 W. Napa St. Sonoma, 938-7779
Tonight, July 21: the Smart Fellers. 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 22: Full Circle. 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 23: Voices in my Head. 4 p.m.
B. R. Cohn Winery, 15000 Sonoma Hwy. Glen Ellen, 800-330-4064
Sunday, July 23: Falcon Christopher. 2 p.m.
Friday Farmers Market, Depot Park, 270 First St W. Sonoma
Today, July 21: Stewart Degner. 9:30 a.m.
Hood Mansion Lawn, 389 Casa Manana Rd. Santa Rosa, 833-6288
Tonight, July 21: Funky Fridays with Soul Fuse. 7 p.m.
HopMonk Tavern, 691 Broadway Sonoma, 935-9100
Tonight, July 21: Gary Blackburn. 5 p.m. Clay Bell. 8 p.m.
Saturday, July 22: Aaron Redner. 1 p.m. Charley Paul 8 p.m.
Sunday, July 23: Anthony Presti. 1 p.m.
Larson Park, 329 DeChene Avenue, Sonoma, 539-8092
Sunday, July 23: Springs Farmers Market with Benjamin Glasgow. 4 p.m.
Madrone Estate Winery, 777 Madrone Rd. Glen Ellen, 939-4500
Sunday, July 23: Danilo. 1 p.m.
Murphy’s Irish Pub, 464 First St. E. Sonoma, 935-0660
Tonight, July 21: the Cork Pullers. 8 p.m.
Saturday, July 22: Dominic Bianco and Soulshake. 8 p.m.
Muscardini Cellars, 9380 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood, 933-9305
Saturday, July 22: “Simmer Down Saturday” with the Cork Pullers. 6 p.m.
Nicholson Ranch Winery, 4200 Napa Rd, Sonoma, 938-8822.
Saturday, July 22: the Mayra Project. 1 p.m.
Olde Sonoma Public House, 18615 Sonoma Hwy. Boyes Hot Springs, 938-7587
Tonight, July 21: Ryan Tatarian and Matt Silva. 6:30 p.m. Reggae Night with Byron Borges. 8 p.m.
The Reel Fish Shop and Grill, 401 Grove St. El Verano, 343-0044
Tonight, July 21: the Blues Defenders. 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 22: the Poyntlyss Sistars. 8:30 p.m.
Schug Carneros Winery, 602 Bonneau Road, Carneros, 939-9363
Saturday, July 22: Jaydub and Dino. 1 p.m.
Sebastiani Winery and Vineyards, 389 Fourth St. E. Sonoma, 933-3230
Tonight, July 21: the Poyntlyss Sistars. 6 p.m.
Sonoma Speakeasy and American Music Hall, 452 First St. E. ste. G. Sonoma, 996-1364
Tonight, July 21: O and the Riots. 6:30 p.m. Dorian Mode. 8 p.m.
Saturday, July 22: the Marks Brothers. 5 p.m. Marina Crouse. 8 p.m.
Sunday, July 23: Brandon Eardley 5 p.m. Acoustic Blues Jam. 8:30 p.m.
Sonoma Valley Woman’s Club, 574 First St. E., 938-8313
Saturday, July 22: Hawaiian Jam Session. 2 p.m.
Viansa Winery, 25200 Arnold Drive, Carneros, 995-4740
Saturday, July 22: Rhyme and Reason. 12 p.m.
Sunday, July 23: Jay Messer. 12 p.m.
If your gig isn’t in my column, you didn’t tell me about it. firstname.lastname@example.org