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Tucson Weekly Musical Anglers

Trout Fishing in America sings fun songs for future adults.

By Dave Irwin

MARCH 23, 1998:  IF YOU WANT profound meaning from Trout Fishing In America, the goofy Arkansas duo of Keith Grimwood and Ezra Idlet, don't look at them.

Instead, look at their audience during a performance, the smiles and wide-eyed wonder on the faces of children and adults alike. Then you'll see what these two see night after night. Why they've been criss-crossing America relentlessly for more than 20 years, playing small venues and selling CDs in the hallway after a performance will be perfectly clear.

How dedicated is this family-oriented team? Consider that they recently retired their old Ford truck. TFIA had racked up 532,000 miles in the tour vehicle. At 60 miles an hour, that's more than 8,800 hours together. Needless to say, Grimwood and Idlet are good friends.

The truck's name was Robert redFord. It's that kind of humor.

IT'S 20 DEGREES above zero in Arkansas, and going down to five. Grimwood says he's looking forward to coming to Tucson. "I'm ready for spring," he declares. In the background, a rooster crows from the front porch. Grimwood says that at 5-foot-5, his height is "average." But he always looks small beside the towering blond-maned Idlet, who's 6-foot-9.

They highlight their visual contrast at every turn. Idlet is literally head and shoulders taller. "Ezra is one giant child," Grimwood says. "He relates to kids so easily. They love to play with him. Most of the kids go to him. I'm more reserved. The shy ones seem to come up and talk to me."

The two are well matched complements. They tell a story of painting a house together where Idlet did the ceilings while Grimwood painted the baseboards.

"In music and everything else, that's the way it's always gone for us," Grimwood says. The two have played as TFIA since 1977. Idlet handles the guitar chores; Grimwood plays electric and bowed bass. Both sing, trading off lead vocals and harmonizing. Grimwood has a formal musical education, and played with the Houston Symphony.

"I was always an A-B student," Grimwood says. "Ezra made terrible grades. He was even kicked out of school. But he's a very smart guy."

They live 30 minutes from each other down rural dirt roads. Even when they aren't touring, "We see a lot of each other," Grimwood admits. "We do the business stuff and then we play some music."

They have their own label, Trout Records, on which they've released seven albums; and they sell TFIA merchandise via phone on the Trout Line. The decision to move towards the children's market was not calculated.

"It just evolved," Grimwood says. "We were playing and teachers would see us and ask if we could come and play in their classroom. So we did, and pretty soon we were playing assemblies and (from there) it grew."

TFIA recently won it's fourth consecutive "Outstanding Children's Entertainer" nod from the annual Kerrville Music Awards. They're featured on a PBS special, Family Music Party, being broadcast as a fund-raiser by many stations this month. Their songs include the morning-after dishevelment of "My Hair Had A Party Last Night," the giddy "When I Was a Dinosaur," and the hellish vision of "The Day the Bass Players Took Over the World."

Although unabashedly funny, they keep a rein on the humor. "It is possible to get too silly," Grimwood notes. "If you're silly all the time, the serious music isn't taken seriously.

"We try to play to all segments of the audience. It's like the old Rocky and Bullwinkle Show--there are some jokes that only the adults will get."

TFIA plays 125 to 150 concerts a year. Both performers are married with kids at home.

"We have lives and family," Grimwood says. "We go out for four days and then come back home for three or four days. The longest we've been out was 15 days, and then we came home for a week. We don't go out for a month at a time."

Increased success has brought some measure of comfort. They can now afford to fly to more distant venues. After flying into Tucson and playing Friday evening and Saturday morning, they'll drive up to Flagstaff for a Saturday evening concert at the Old Post Office.

The band has fond memories of Tucson. "The last time we were in Tucson," Grimwood says, "we debuted what became the title song of our current CD, My World. Then on the drive from Tucson to Flagstaff, we wrote the song, 'Back When I Could Fly,' "a classic TFIA tune. Kids enjoy it at face value, but the song also carries a poignancy that only an adult looking back can appreciate.

So what's the TFIA secret for being able to spend years together, driving to the next gig?

"Books on tape," Grimwood confides. "They're great. We go through a bunch of them."

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