A mere five dollars turned the career of Lloyd “Tiny” Grimes around completely. The singer and sometime pianist in his early twenties was playing semi-professionally in New York City in 1937 when he saw a four string guitar in a pawnshop window. The five dollars it cost was money well spent as within a few months he was widely acknowledged to be among the best guitarists around.

He spent 1941 recording with Cats N’ The Fiddle, a highly respected jive group, then joined Art Tatum and Slam Stewart in a trio that was further expanding the possibilities of small jazz ensembles. But the iconoclastic, restless musician wasn’t as enamored with the innovations of bop as some of his compatriots were, despite his early forays into the style alongside alto sax legend Charlie Parker, and soon he was looking elsewhere for musical inspiration.

Signed to fledgling Atlantic Records in 1947 Grimes charted his own idiosyncratic course, largely forsaking jazz for rock ‘n’ roll, albeit a highly refined technically proficient version of rock. The next fall he scored Atlantic’s first official hit and put together an eclectic band of musicians he dubbed The Rockin’ Highlanders, which would at various points include such luminaries as sax star Red Prysock and pianist/singer Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. In addition to his own work he may (or may not – details are sketchy at times) have appeared on many other notable tracks by artists through the years which further shaped the rock sound.

Grimes own musical directions were always far-flung and he veered between styles incessantly, cutting jazz, blues, pop and rock (often a combination of them within the same performance) with little premeditated planning, making his catalog frustrating for those seeking a singular sound, but also illuminating for those interested in seeing how it all could be tied together under the leadership of a brilliant non-conformist. When Prysock went out on his own and took most of Grimes’ other musicians with him in the mid-1950’s, Tiny retreated to jazz where his skills complimented the likes of Coleman Hawkins and others in small combos on record, well-respected by other musicians and the more astute fans of the idiom.

Because his musical choices were so eccentric over the years his legacy in any one area, including rock, has been viewed as historically notable mostly for those he played with, but the unifying factor between the extremes of Charlie Parker and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was Grimes, an artist who followed his own peculiar muse wherever it led. For awhile at least it led to rock ‘n’ roll where some of his best work was done.
TINY GRIMES DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):
(Atlantic 854; February, 1948)
An early foray into rock as performance art rather than a participation sport with its audience, highlighted by a sparse tango between Grimes guitar and Badman Hardee’s sensuous saxophone, both played with a detached air, yet killer precision. (5)

(Atlantic 858; April, 1948)
A mood piece caught between two worlds, evocative and atmospheric in the first half before losing its way down the stretch, charming in a way but schizophrenic. (3)

(Atlantic 865; October, 1948)
A leering, menacing groove that creates an unshakable mood that’s perfect for the late night atmosphere it conjures up, Grimes and his fellow hep-cats weave their magic over the course of the record, the rest is left to your own seedy imagination. (7)

(Atlantic 865; October, 1948)
Hit and miss on this ancient material that starts off exquisitely with Grimes and new sax star Red Prysock laying down the beautiful melody with a flourish before the group’s lingering jazzier inclinations come into play, dousing the fire somewhat. (5)

(Gotham 167; November, 1948)
As songwriter and sideman… for The Dixieaires

(Atlantic 869; January, 1949)
Alluring duel between Grimes’ guitar and Red Prysock’s rough and tumble sax, well played and well thought-out, aligning itself with (if not quite defining) the growing rock marketplace. (7)

(Atlantic 869; January, 1949)
A throwaway song positioned uncomfortably between rock and blues, but as sung by saxophonist Red Prysock it has no legs in either realm, as even instrumentally it’s dull and monotonous. (2)

(Atlantic 880; August, 1949)
As a sideman… for Frank Culley

(Gotham 198; September, 1949)
A scintillating duel between two of the best musicians on their instruments rock has ever seen, Grimes and Red Prysock deliver an instrumental that is the textbook definition of explosive impact and maximum efficiency. (8)

(Gotham 198; September, 1949)
Grimes completely reinvents this venerated jazz standard, muscling it up with a pounding beat, slashing guitar and Red Prysock’s lusty sax, all of which perfectly illustrates the essential difference between rock and the music that preceded it. (7)

(Atlantic 886; October, 1949)
Effective as mood music for rock at times but once the spell is broken to make it more rousing in the bridge it’s hard to get back in the trance even though it’s a nice melody well played all around. (5)

(Gotham 203; November, 1949)
As songwriter and sideman… for J. B. Summers

(Atlantic 894; January, 1950)
The most definitive statement made yet by Grimes as to his allegiance to rock featuring brilliant byplay with Red Prysock’s saxophone and an arrangement, including energetic vocal chants, that is tight and vibrant, only hampered slightly by keeping the rhythm section too low in the mix. (8)

(Atlantic 894; January, 1950)
A fair, but non-essential vocal version of their earlier hit Midnight Special, cut at the same session with Red Prysock doing the singing, it would’ve made for a more interesting contrast if it had been released as the B-side of that rather than waiting 15 months to issue it alone. (4)

(Atlantic 920; September, 1950)
A futuristic record, one cut in 1948 but held back two years where it was still ahead of its time as it features an epic throw-down between Grimes and Red Prysock with drummer Jerry Potter adding to the cacophony while somehow retaining its musical structure. (9)

(United 109; February, 1952)
With the structure of a loose jam session this isn’t tight enough to make for a hit instrumental, but as a display of Grimes’s skills on guitar it will more than suffice as the back half in particular shows how advanced he was compared to his contemporaries. (6)