Musical duo who hail from the Ozarks travel the world to bring a little joy to audiences
The musical duo Trout Fishing in America has lived in Northwest Arkansas since 1992. As a youngster, Ezra Idlet was not a good student and often in trouble and in his room. Coming from a family with diverse musical tastes of classical, folk and rock combined with wanting to make those hours pleasant rather than torturous, Ezra taught himself to play guitar. He, however, does not read music. Keith Grimwood, on the other hand, was a good student and “pretty much a good kid” who earned a degree in music and played in the Houston Symphony. Differences between the two abounded, especially their difference in height, with Ezra being 6 feet 8 inches, and Keith Grimwood at 5 feet 4 inches.
What tied them together forever was a passionate and intimate relationship with music.
In 1976, Keith played double bass for the Houston Symphony when his favored musical group, St. Elmo’s Fire, came to Houston to perform the Shakespearean Tempest-based rock ballet Caliban, a composition they had commissioned to write. One day Keith and Ezra’s paths crossed while rehearsing in the same location. Keith was thrilled, and an instant friendship blossomed. Then a few months later, the symphony had a union lockout and fired Keith. Coincidentally, St. Elmo’s Fire’s bass player had just quit, and Keith knew what he needed to do. He went on the road with the band and planned to return to the Houston Symphony. However, he readily admits he “never went back to work.”
In a sense, Keith and Ezra traveled very different roads that intersected with Robert Frost’s and thereafter went down the road less traveled by. Even though they were nominated for four Grammys, they never joined a record label but did create their own – Trout Recordes.
St. Elmo’s Fire always traveled in two vehicles, with Keith and Ezra leaving days earlier than necessary because Ezra wanted to go fishing and Keith wanted to get out of the house and see the world, with both enjoying the companionship. During that time, the two began playing as a duo on their nights off and sometimes opened for St. Elmo’s Fire under the name Trout Fishing in America, a nod to a novel of the same name. Then they started a career of their own traveling throughout this country and Canada.
Very early on, a music teacher asked the duo to play for a classroom in order to teach the students that music came from real people. At the time, they didn’t know any “kids’ songs” but played the Beatles and blues in addition to the song “Short People Got No Reason to Live” by Randy Newman, a highly respected, humorous and popular song writer. They still go to schools and will use their songwriting workshop in both Bryant and Hot Springs in January.
“Whether on stage or in the classroom, we are an exaggeration of what we really are,” Ezra explained. “It’s good for kids to see and know they don’t have to be good at everything.”
“Onstage he really is a big kid, and I have to keep him under control because I’m the adult,” Keith quipped.
At the heart of their unique relationship are respect and an eagerness to take advantage of their huge differences. Keith is attributed with coming up with most of the lyrics and Ezra with most of the music. The truth is far more complex. Keith is in tuned to language and constantly writes down phrases or thoughts that cross his mind. An example is a new phrase, “sad gladiolus” with the sound similarity between sad and glad. Keith recognizes the tension between the two words and their potential. As soon as a phrase or a thought is expressed, Ezra hears their rhythm and sound. In working together, Keith loves his lyrics to be finished by Ezra, and Ezra craves Keith’s input and adding elements from his musical background to deepen the instrumental impact. Ezra and Keith have a mind meld Star Trek’s Spock can only admire.
In 1992, Ezra and Keith moved to Northwest Arkansas with their families. The common-sense reasons for picking Arkansas were that it was in the center of the country, making traveling distances much shorter, and that land was affordable. Not surprisingly, their reasons were very different. Ezra was captivated by the friendliness of the people, including local artists and the beauty of the land with endless fishing opportunities on easily assessable lakes and rivers. Keith, on the other hand, wanted town life and culture and was drawn to Fayetteville because it was the home of the University of Arkansas.
“I love going to town, sometimes without any real reason, and the arrival of Olive Garden was a really big deal for me,” Keith admitted while grinning.
Today, categorizing performers by a type of music is becoming difficult because they cross genres with a western singer singing gospel and a gospel singer singing blues. However, Ezra and Keith don’t cross lines. They don’t even see them. Their music ranges freely among styles and generations. Perhaps the most frequent commonality is quirkiness, rather like Burl Ives but with their own instrumental superiority. Children love “My Hair Had a Party Last Night” and “Big Trouble,” while adults, after laughing and enjoying the children’s songs, are drawn to songs like “Someone Your Age” and “Safe House” from the newest album of the same name.
Keith’s favorite song is always the last one they have created, while Ezra is most moved seeing five generations of a family in an audience and an adult child leaning close to a parent as the duo plays “Lullaby” and memories of hearing that song surround them with their love for each other. The simple fact is everything Ezra and Keith do is entertainment at its best, and tear is only a heartbeat away from a laugh.
Trout Fishing in America travels the country and Canada for formal and informal concerts, festivals and school visits where they educate youngsters through joy and music and entertainment.