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.
Gruenling was born in New Jersey, United States. He acquired his first harmonica in his teenage years as a Christmas present from a family friend. With an earlier healthy interest in music, 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." 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. 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). It was released by Back Bender Records, Gruenling's own label.
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.Up All Night (2000) and That's Right (2001) followed, the latter featuring Kenny Davern on clarinet on a couple of the tracks. In 2000, Gruenling appeared at the Chicago Blues Festival.
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. In 2007, David Malachowski played at the Lake George Blues Blast, and assembled a band featuring Gruenling. 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). Gruenling and Guyger were described as "two youthful, white virtuosos" of the harmonica. The album included a cover version of Little Walter's "If You Were Mine", with the vocals supplied by Gruenling's wife, Gina Fox.
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. 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.
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. He also undertakes private lessons both online and locally. He has participated in other projects such as David Malachowski & the Woodstock All-Stars.
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.
His latest release, Ready or Not (2016), is Gruenling's first with all original material, and follows a three year long touring schedule.
|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|
|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||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||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|