An hour-long interview with revered musician and former Mankatoan Steve Grams began with an unexpected but welcomed literary discussion. He was reading a Richard Price novel when the call from The Free Press beckoned, and mutually admired authors were bandied about.
"Can I tell you my Elmore Leonard story?" Grams said, citing the acclaimed novelist who'd died a few days earlier.
He received no objections.
"Well, every year for the last 14 years when Elmore Leonard would get a book finished," Grams said, "he'd send a manuscript to his youngest son, Chris. And when Chris got done with it — he's a very good friend of mine — I'd read it. Elmore's my favorite writer of all time."
That's Steve Grams, the man and hall of fame bassist. He seems to find himself among the right company in the right place and time. Except when the time arrived to meet his literary idol.
"You want to know the really (crappy) part?" Grams said from his home in Tucson, Ariz. "Every time Elmore was in town, I was on tour somewhere. Every single time."
It’s 10 minutes into the interview before we plumb the depths of Grams' trade, a music career spanning many idioms, bands and instruments, decades and time zones.
Born in Huron, S.D., and a Sioux City, Iowa, high school graduate, Grams grew accustomed to the traveling life at a young age.
"It was like every five years you were either going up or down the ladder," he said. "But by golly you were going to move."
He first took piano lessons in second grade, then dabbled with the trombone and guitar.
"When my sister got a guitar for Christmas one year," he said, "she came down to my room a couple days later, and said, 'You really want this guitar, don't you?' I said yes. She said, 'Well, I don't.'"