Roaring out of Knoxville, Tennessee with all the force of a turbo-charged hot-rod, the rock’n’soul imbued Gran Torino leave a memorable mark on all who have had the pleasure of seeing them perform. A stylish, rhythmically enhanced machine, this nine-member, horn-driven ensemble is clearly cruising down the right road. Unquestionably a sure thing when it comes to live performance, this multi-ethnic crew has delighted sold-out crowds for the past four years all over the East Coast and their home turf of the South playing upwards of 200 shows annually.
Gran Torino released their first studio album, Gran Torino One, in October 1997 and immediately captured attention by selling 15,000 copies. Now, they prepare to break through and conquer new territory, hitting on all nine cylinders with the pending release of their much anticipated second studio album, the aptly titled, Gran Torino Two.
“It’s been a really busy year,” says lead singer/frontman and Knoxville native Chris Ford. “We made Gran Torino Two, which took a long time – we had to work hard to fit the studio time around all the touring we do.”
Ford cites a wealth of influences as inspiration. “As a writer, old Springsteen and Stevie Wonder are big influences of mine,” Ford says. “As a whole, I would say the people in this band are influenced by R&B and a lot of the guys have major jazz influences.”
“I played with those guys (GT’s horn players) in the University of Tennessee marching band,” recalls Dexter Murphy, keyboardist and trombonist. “I’m more of an R&B guy and I’ve brought the gospel and R&B thing to the band. Marvin Gaye and Tower of Power got us started in the right direction.”
Gran Torino also features Stephen Decker on guitar, Todd Overstreet on bass, Pee Jay Alexander on trumpet, Scott Pederson on trumpet and saxophone, Whit Pfohl on drums, Jason Thompson on sax and the newly added David Heyer, also on drums. The crew came together in Knoxville on and around the campus of the University of Tennessee. “This year, we hired David, our ninth member and second drummer,” explains Ford. “He has a full drum set, and a half-synthesized drum kit. There are a lot of drum loops and samples on the new record, so that’s mainly his job – to sort of recreate a lot of the loops and stuff.”
Known for its combustible live shows, Gran Torino has attracted legions of loyal fans from New England to Texas. “We play the South two-to-one compared to everywhere else,” says Ford. Having sold more than 20,000 copies of their first two albums, Gran Torino One and their 1996 EP Live at the Chameleon Club, mostly at their concerts, there has to be some kind of description of their magical chemistry on stage–and between band and audience.
“I think the connection with our listeners is our number one thing,” emphasizes Ford, “We want our fans to come out to the show and for a couple of hours forget their troubles.”
Although the group’s moniker speaks of a classic automobile, the band has been hitting the road in whatever they could get their hands on. “We had a school bus that blew up,” relates Ford, “we watched our van burn to the ground on the side of the highway. It was right after Christmas and we lost a lot of presents. That was rough. Right now, we have a shuttle bus – the Red Rocket. It’s our seventh vehicle.”
In the new millennium, Gran Torino will be bringing their music to the masses.
“I’m really proud of the record that we’ve made,” says Ford. “Our whole thing for 2000 is Gran Torino Two and turning more people onto our music. A lot of our hopes are wrapped up in the success of this record. Obviously, we’ve sold a ton of CDs on our own and we sell out shows, but we really want Gran Torino Two to be the breakthrough.”