L-R: Greg Koch, his son Dylan Koch, and Toby Lee Marshall. Photo by Kristin Shafel.
To the uninitiated, a show Sept. 22 at the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton was likely a revelation.
The Koch Marshall Trio performed, featuring guitarist/vocalist Greg Koch (www.gregkoch.com), son Dylan Koch on drums, and Hammond organist/vocalist Toby Lee Marshall. A near-capacity crowd sauntered in, mostly musicians in general and guitarists in particular because the elder Koch is the trio’s best-known quantity.
Yet the 6-foot-7 Wisconsin product’s performance stood even taller than his stature, with guitar histrionics and ample humor, including between-song verbal banter, original instrumental hijinks (“Sin Repent Repeat”) and lyrical content (“Daddy Long Legs”).
With two new releases, “Orange Roominations” and “Sweet Gristle,” Koch’s trio is performing new original material that straddles rock, blues, funk and jazz/fusion under the banner of “Greg Koch featuring the Koch Marshall Trio.”
The October performance included cover tunes by guitar heroes. On an instrumental version of Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” Koch not only updated Jimmy Page’s titanic solo, but also mimicked Robert Plant’s lead vocal. Then there was “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers,” the instrumental ballad Stevie Wonder gifted in 1975 to guitar icon Jeff Beck, who died recently, for his album “Blow By Blow.” The Koch trio now opens most shows with that track.
“Jeff saw us play when I first met him, so we got to hang out with him, and he said some really nice things,” Koch says by phone from his home in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. “That’s one guy who I think everyone just universally accepts as one of the best there will ever be.”
In that company, why has the jazz-trained Fender aficionado Koch (who also plays Gibsons and has Reverend Guitars Greg Koch Signature Gristlemaster models) been named one of the venerable guitar manufacturer’s Top 10 “unsung guitarists”?
And why does he advertise that status on his conversational, guitaristic podcast, “Chewing the Gristle!,” by referring to himself as “one of the most famous unknown guitar players in the world”?
“It’s been a weird kind of course I’ve taken careerwise,” Koch says. “My goal was always going out and playing primarily my original music. But before the internet, everything was more categorized. You were in a blues band, a rock band, a funk band or a jazz band. We say yes to all those things.”
The price of such dexterity is often relative anonymity beyond musicians’ circles. For Koch, breaking out of the Milwaukee-area scene involved becoming an educator.
His long list of instructional books started in the mid-1990s; his latest YouTube videos center on “hybrid picking.” High in degree of difficulty, it involves playing traditionally with a guitar pick held between the index finger and thumb while simultaneously using the remaining digits to finger-pick independently.
“I found such alternate musical routes helped, like being a clinician for Fender,” Koch says. “Then I broke into the internet doing these product videos, starting my podcast during the pandemic and eventually gaining a worldwide audience over 20-something years. So guitar players, for the most part, now know who I am. And by doing live streams from the house during the pandemic, people who aren’t necessarily guitarists seemed to be cueing in.”
For good reason. Dylan, also 6-foot-7, studied with Tom Brechtlein, whose drumming credits include Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter. And Marshall concocts the bottom-dwelling left-hand bass patterns and swirling solos that have made him integral to the success of what’s now a 6-year-old unit.
Greg Koch featuring the Koch Marshall Trio recently played at the Funky Biscuit and is playing in Ormand Beach on March 18.