Dennis Gruenling

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Dennis Gruenling
BornNew Jersey, United States
GenresElectric blues[1]
Occupation(s)Harmonicist, songwriter, record producer, radio DJ
Years active1990s–present
LabelsBack Bender Records, CD Baby, Vizztone
WebsiteOfficial website

Dennis Gruenling is an American electric blues harmonicist, songwriter, record producer and radio DJ. He has released seven albums since 1999, with his most recent being 2016's Ready or Not. His contributions to other musician's albums has included stints playing the harmonica, audio engineering and mixing, production and album sleeve artwork. Gruenling has also been employed for over a decade as a DJ on WFDU college radio. His dynamic harmonica playing style has been inspired variously by Little Walter, Lester Young and Illinois Jacquet.[2]

Gruenling, who plays both chromatic and diatonic harmonica, has been awarded the title of 'Best Modern Blues Harmonica Player' three years in a row by Real Blues magazine.[2]

In 2007, Adam Gussow described Gruenling as having "limitless potential".[3] In 2019, he won a Blues Music Award for 'Instrumentalist - Harmonica'.[4]


Early days[edit]

Gruenling was born in New Jersey, United States.[5] He acquired his first harmonica in his teenage years as a Christmas present from a family friend.[6] With an earlier healthy interest in music,[7] Gruenling then heard Harp Attack! (1990), an album featuring the harmonica playing of James Cotton, Junior Wells, Carey Bell, and Billy Branch. Gruenling later stated "I made my uncle play the record for me and I was blown away by what I heard. I hadn’t heard real blues players before – or real blues music in general. I was knocked out by the music and the harmonica playing."[8] Further inspired by records he purchased by Cotton, Wells, Little Walter, George "Harmonica" Smith and Big Walter Horton, Gruenling set about teaching himself to play to an accomplished standard. Having dropped out of school and moved with his then girlfriend to New Orleans, he continued to practice and largely self-learn the instrument before returning to New Jersey in 1994.[8] He worked in a number of local bands around New Brunswick, New Jersey, before forming his own outfit in 1998, and then recording his debut album, Dennis Gruenling and Jump Time (1999).[6] It was released by Back Bender Records, Gruenling's own label.[9][10]

Mid career[edit]

At that time, Gruenling alternated between his Jump Time line-up that played mainly jump blues and boogie-woogie, and a smaller unit that favored a Chicago blues styling. He heard both Rod Piazza and William Clarke on blues radio, and regularly frequented both of their shows when they played locally. He gave Piazza a copy of his recording which led to a friendship that lasts to this day.[8] Up All Night (2000) and That's Right (2001) followed, the latter featuring Kenny Davern on clarinet on a couple of the tracks.[11] In 2000, Gruenling appeared at the Chicago Blues Festival.[12]

However, Gruenling found it harder to sustain his own band and he moved towards working on other musician's material for a number of years. He contributed to albums by Gina Sicilia and Cartel in this period.[8] In 2007, David Malachowski played at the Lake George Blues Blast, and assembled a band featuring Gruenling.[13] The same year, Gruenling commenced on a project to record a tribute album to Little Walter, and ended up working alongside Kim Wilson, Rick Estrin and Steve Guyger, plus Rusty Zinn on guitar, to record I Just Keep Lovin' Him : A Tribute to Little Walter (2008).[8] Gruenling and Guyger were described as "two youthful, white virtuosos" of the harmonica.[14] The album included a cover version of Little Walter's "If You Were Mine", with the vocals supplied by Gruenling's wife, Gina Fox.[15]

In putting together a band to support the album, Gruenling turned to the Detroit-based guitarist Doug Deming, which led to them and Deming's backing ensemble, the Jewel Tones, collaborating on various recordings.[8] These included, Rockin' All Day (2012), with Gruenling featuring Doug Deming & the Jewel Tones on an album that was recorded in Sarasota, Florida by Ed Kinder, and in Glen Ridge, New Jersey by Dave Gross. In August that year, the combination toured the East Coast undertaking 28 shows in 26 days.[2]

Teaching blues harmonica playing has been part of Gruenling's passion, and he has assisted at workshops and conventions including Jon Gindick's Harmonica Jam Camps, David Barrett's Harmonica Masterclass, and Joe Filisko's class at the Old Town School of Folk Music.[7] He also undertakes private lessons both online and locally.[8] He has participated in other projects such as David Malachowski & the Woodstock All-Stars.[7]

In 2010, the History of the Blues Harmonica Concert featuring David Barrett, Joe Filisko, Kinya Pollard, John Garcia, Rusty Zinn, and Gruenling was another Back Bender Records release. As a hobby, Gruenling collects and trades vintage harp microphones.[8]

Gruenling featuring Doug Deming & the Jewel Tones played at the 2014 Bradenton Blues Festival.[16]

His latest release, Ready or Not (2016), is Gruenling's first with all original material, and follows a three year long touring schedule.[17]

Radio work[edit]

On the WFDU college radio station based in Teaneck, New Jersey, Gruenling is the weekly host of Blues & the Beat.[18][19]



Year of release Album title Record label Accreditation
1999 Dennis Gruenling and Jump Time! Back Bender Records / CD Baby Dennis Gruenling and Jump Time
2000 Up All Night Back Bender Records / CD Baby Dennis Gruenling featuring Sandy Mack
2001 That's Right! Back Bender Records / CD Baby Dennis Gruenling and Jump Time
2006 Volume 1 Back Bender Records / CD Baby Dennis Gruenling and Richard Sleigh
2008 I Just Keep Lovin' Him: A Tribute to Little Walter Back Bender Records / CD Baby Dennis Gruenling
2012 Rockin' All Day Back Bender Records / VizzTone Dennis Gruenling featuring Doug Deming & the Jewel Tones
2016 Ready or Not Back Bender Records / VizzTone Dennis Gruenling featuring Doug Deming & the Jewel Tones
2018 The High Cost of Low Living Alligator Records Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling
2019 Lucky Guy! Alligator Records Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling


Guest work[edit]

Year of release Album title Accreditation Contribution
2001 That's What I'm Talkin' About Sandy Mack Audio Engineer, Mixing
2003 Rhumba Lee Jumpin' Jack Harmonica
2006 Take the Gamble Dave Gross Harmonica
2007 Allow Me to Confess Gina Sicilia Harmonica
2007 Cartel Cartel Harmonica
2007 Shadows and Cracks Peter Karp Harmonica
2008 Crawling the Walls Dave Gross Harmonica
2008 Hey Sugar Gina Sicilia Harmonica
2009 Falling Through the Cracks Doug Deming & the Jewel Tones Harmonica
2010 On the Floor Matt Hill Harmonica
2010 Manifestation Rusty Artwork, Design
2010 Painted Blue Shayna Goldstein Harmonica
2012 What's It Gonna Take Doug Deming & the Jewel Tones Harmonica, Co-Producer, Mixing, Artwork Assistance, Composer: "Bella's Boogie"
2013 It Wasn't Real Gina Sicilia Harmonica
2015 Excuses Plenty Hank Mowery Harmonica
2016 The Arson's Match: Peter Karp, Live in NYC with Special Guest, Mick Taylor Peter Karp Harmonica


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Dennis Gruenling | Album Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-07-31.
  2. ^ a b c "Dennis Gruenling : Vizztone label group". Retrieved 2016-07-31.
  3. ^ Adam Gussow (1920-08-03). Journeyman's Road: Modern Blues Lives from Faulkner's Mississippi to Post-9 ... p. 185. Retrieved 2016-07-31.
  4. ^ "2019 Blues Music Awards Winners Announced". Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  5. ^ "Dennis Gruenling | PALLADIUM Theater Inc". Retrieved 2016-07-31.
  6. ^ a b "Doug Deming & Dennis Gruenling w/The Jewel Tones EPK". Retrieved 2016-07-31.
  7. ^ a b c "Dennis Gruenling's Biography — Free listening, videos, concerts, stats and photos at". Retrieved 2016-07-31.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "Dennis Gruenling, one of the world's best harp players, hits the Side Door on Saturday night - The Palladium - St. Petersburg, Florida". 2013-11-29. Retrieved 2016-07-31.
  9. ^ "WFDU-FM 89.1". Retrieved 2016-07-31.
  10. ^ "Dennis Gruenling & Jump Time ! - Dennis Gruenling & Jump Time ! (CD, Album)". Retrieved 2016-07-31.
  11. ^ Edward N. Meyer (2001-05-27). The Life and Music of Kenny Davern: Just Four Bars. p. 309. Retrieved 2016-07-31.
  12. ^ Adler, Tony. "Chicago Blues Festival 2000 | Festival". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2016-07-31.
  13. ^ "David Malachowski & The Woodstock Allstars". Archived from the original on 2016-08-05. Retrieved 2016-07-31.
  14. ^ Clay Cole. Sh-Boom!: The Explosion of Rock 'n' Roll (1953-1968). p. 269. Retrieved 2016-07-31.
  15. ^ "CD review - Dennis Gruenling - I Just Keep Lovin' Him-a Tribute to Little Walter - Have a great 2016!". Retrieved 2016-07-31.
  16. ^ "Line Up". The Bradenton Blues Festival. Retrieved 2016-01-13.
  17. ^ "Join Dennis Gruenling As He Produces His 7th CD!". Retrieved 2016-07-31.
  18. ^ Harris, L. "WFDU 89.1 FM Radio : Voice of FDU". Retrieved 2016-07-31.
  19. ^ ""Blues & the Beat" — streaming Blues Radio online!". Retrieved 2016-07-31.
  20. ^ "Dennis Gruenling | Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-07-31.

External links[edit]