Greg Koch (www.gregkoch.com) refers to himself as “one of the most famous unknown guitar players in the world” on his website. After his show last September at the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton, and the recent one there March 11, it may be time for a rewrite.
Last year’s performance by the singing guitarist, whose trio is rounded out by his son Dylan Koch on drums and Toby Lee Marshall on Hammond organ, attracted a near-capacity crowd. This year’s was completely sold out except for standing room only. And each displayed Koch’s world-class technique, taste and tone on feels ranging from rock to funk, blues to jazz and beyond, proving that modern fusion often goes beyond just your father’s blend of jazz and rock.
The Wisconsin-born and based bandleader opened the trio’s most recent Funky Biscuit show with “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers,” the instrumental ballad that Stevie Wonder wrote for recently departed 78-year-old guitar icon Jeff Beck for his 1975 masterpiece Blow by Blow. And Koch honored one of his heroes with exquisite delicacy, creativity and upper-register notes in a banner performance that would prove hard to equal for the next half-hour.
Yet with two new releases, Orange Roominations and Sweet Gristle, the trio had plenty of original instrumentals to follow up with. “The Ripper,” “Rex Charmer,” “Chief’s Blues” and “Funk of a Different Nature” ranged from rock to gospel, blues to funk, with compelling soloing by Marshall, plus Koch’s unique use of a wah-wah pedal and signature phrasing on his own breaks.
“We’re happy to be back here at the Funky Biscuit,” Koch said, “because we love funk and we love biscuits. We go from here to Miami for Joe Bonamassa’s ‘Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea’ cruise. And we’re taking part in an Allman Brothers Band tribute he has planned.”
Koch then turned up the fire. “Daddy Long Legs,” from the trio’s 2021 release From the Up’Nuh, was one of the evening’s rare vocal tunes, including harmonies by the ever-animated Marshall. The guitarist then reached for the skies with an ethereal, abstract intro leading into “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” his nod to guitarist Jimmy Page. From Led Zeppelin’s 1970 third album, the slow blues vehicle featured Koch mimicking not only its stratospheric guitar solo but also Robert Plant’s lead vocal, with Marshall deftly covering the deep bass end with his left hand and pedals.
Dylan Koch, whose massive kick drum helped craft the booming bottom all night with Marshall, was suitably featured next. His orange see-through Ludwig Vistalite drum kit is a replica of Zeppelin drummer John Bonham’s from the concert film The Song Remains the Same, and his unaccompanied solo included all things Bonzo, from funk to marching patterns and a thunderous finale.
“Sin Repent Repeat,” from the trio’s 2018 album Toby Arrives, then closed the hour-plus opening set. With its bluesy feel, funky bridge and Koch’s slide guitar playing, the piece teased with Allman Brothers Band undertones, which would eventually become more overt.
Set two was likewise highlighted by originals and covers; instrumentals and vocal tunes. Koch reached back to his career preceding the six-year-old trio to sing and play searing slide guitar on the Frank Zappa-esque “Nubby the Hoarder Man,” written about an eccentric Wisconsin neighbor, and also for the loping instrumental “Welchz Grape,” which featured excellent solos by both the guitarist and Marshall.
In between, Koch sang blues master Muddy Waters’ strutting album track “Can’t Be Satisfied,” and the trio torched the Allman Brothers Band’s 6/8-timed instrumental “Hot ‘Lanta.” Marshall’s solo echoed the late Gregg Allman’s, and the keyboardist’s harmonic lines with Koch mimicked the Southern rock institution’s influential guitar tandem of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts.
Dylan Koch likewise blended the parts of ABB double-drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe as both an accompanist and soloist, further proving Bonamassa’s tribute on the blues cruise to be in very capable hands.
Near the end of the 90-minute second set, Koch unearthed another gem in a three-song original medley he said included some of his wife’s favorite instrumentals. “Unrepentant” started the proceedings with a New Orleans-by-way-of-Little Feat funk vibe, which blended into the roaring “Luna Girl,” which featured frenetic picking by Koch that showed the influence of the Dixie Dregs and their stellar guitarist, Steve Morse. The slow blues of “Sweet Tea” completed a trilogy of pieces with vastly different feels.
A Funky Biscuit favorite and friend of the trio’s, singing guitarist Matt Schofield, sat in on a couple late pieces, repeating a theme from last September. The bluesy shuffle feel of “Toby Arrives” proved the best vehicle for the two guitarists with very different styles to trade and play off of each other — Schofield more melodic and traditional; Koch the ever-adventurous player coloring outside standard lines — yet each played similar phrases whenever the other inspired and energized them. Which was often.
The 6-foot-7 Koch has a popular podcast called Chewing the Gristle! on which he jokes and talks shop with fellow musicians, mostly guitarists and even some of his few six-string peers like Mike Keneally (Frank Zappa, Steve Vai) and Jimmy Herring (Col. Bruce Hampton’s Aquarium Rescue Unit, Widespread Panic). He also has a Greg Koch Signature Gristlemaster made by Reverend Guitars, and popular instructional books and YouTube videos that likewise stand tall.
With ample humor evident in his songwriting and playing, Koch’s profile is rising slowly — mostly because he’s hard to categorize and primarily plays instrumentals. But with an instrumentalist this advanced, actions inevitably speak louder than words.