In the late 1990s, shortly before Bob Green, aka Grassy Knoll, moved back to Austin, I spent an afternoon in the stark San Francisco apartment where he’d been residing. I spoke with him about his final major label album, III, while he played me what he was then working on, what he called his un-commercial work. Not un-commercial because it wouldn’t be popular. Popularity wasn’t Green’s concern in the first place. The Knoll had created its own space, somewhere between prog rock and jazz fusion, in that it eked out the improvisatory opportunities in beat-driven music that wasn’t afraid of tunes. Still, he sublimated those tunes, often below the hearing range of a general audience.
No, by un-commercial, Green simply meant that what he was working on was virtually impossible to release commercially. Why? At the time, the term “mashup” wan’t yet in general circulation, but Green was taking banks of samples, drawn from radio staples, rarities and found sounds, and working them into inspired collages. Imagine a rockist DJ Z-Trip and you’ve got a sense of what he was after. The sample clearances would have been impossible to obtain, thus relegating this new Grassy Knoll stage to, in essence, performance art.
While in Austin, Green started a new record label, Sixty One Sixty Eight, which released a Grassy Knoll album, Short Stories (2002), plus work by a small number of other artists. Up on the label’s website (sixtyonesixtyeight.com) is a six-track live Grassy Knoll show recorded in 2001 at SOBs, the New York club, just a month after 9/11. Particularly recommended is a hazy confection titled “Bucky Fuller” (MP3). It’s considerably more artful, more subtle, than what he’d auditioned for me in his apartment. What Green played on October 10, 2001, included sourced material, from an Aerosmith cue to jazz snippets to spoken word, but for the most part the ingredients don’t speak more loudly than the recipe. Highly recommended.