Treading the boards

If it wasn’t for a shattered kneecap, Duluth singer-songwriter Julie Gribble might never have picked up the guitar. Anyone who’s heard her perform (her stunning vocals are nearly identical to Natalie Merchant’s) should thank her for tripping on those loose tiles in Los Angeles years ago.

Born and raised in Sandy Springs, Julie was a theater rat throughout school. “I loved theater. After I graduated high school I went to New York and auditioned at Juilliard, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and Marymount in Manhattan. I wanted to go to Broadway, that was my dream.”

She accepted a scholarship to Marymount Manhattan College, studying theater and liberal arts for two years before moving to London for a year to study, and then finishing up her final year in Manhattan. In 1998 she moved back to Atlanta and began auditioning for student films, landing a lucrative commercial as a featured extra for the soon-to-be-open Mall of Georgia. “I’ve never seen it,” she says with a smile. “I was just holding an Old Navy or Gap bag. I was an extra but they kept running the commercial for a year.” She made a huge paycheck.

Booked later for a feature in Florida that got shelved halfway through filming was a major disappointment.

“It was my first big opportunity and I was pissed. But it gave me the itch to go to L.A., and a month later I packed up my car and moved there. I didn’t know where I was going to live or anything, just packed up and left.”

With the commercial money to sustain her for a while, she found a place, finished writing a novel in three months, attended acting workshops and found a part-time catering job.

When one door closes, another one opens

Carrying a load of champagne bottles on a Sunday afternoon, she tripped on some loose floor tiles, flipped over and landed hard on her knee, shattering it. Stuck at home for six weeks, she needed something to do. “I decided to go buy a mandolin and learn it.” Not as easy as she imagined, she traded it for an acoustic guitar. “My friend Brett knew guitar very well so we just jammed for those six weeks. After I got well, I started going to open mic nights and drawing on napkins, watching what [performers] were doing with their fingers on guitar.”

After months of drawing, figuring out chords and practicing for hours every day, she learned to play what sounded good to her. “We didn’t have YouTube back then. Kids today don’t know how lucky they are.”

She got good enough to play gigs at Molly Malone’s in L.A. and started hanging out after hours learning from other guitarists around town. She recorded her first small-label CD, So Typical, while waiting tables at Kings Road Cafe in West Hollywood where she would meet Craig Ferguson, host of The Late Late Show at the time. After a friend gave Ferguson a copy of the CD, he booked her on the show, informing her in an odd way. “His assistant called me and said ‘Hey, I need you to watch the show tonight.’ So, Craig holds up my CD after his monologue and says, ‘We’re gonna have this waitress at a cafe on the show soon.’ I was like, what?”

Julie would appear on the show three times.

Full-fledged recording artist

With five albums under her belt since 2005, What If was released in November 2017. Recorded in Nashville with a stellar lineup of musicians, the album is a gorgeous mix of songs capturing a  strong sense of place and of lost possibilities, yet with a shining hopefulness of new adventures just over the next horizon. The music expertly reflects her warm and engaging personality.

“I got really blessed,” she says of her time in L.A. “I know because I was in the right areas to meet the people I needed to meet. I put the energy forward and did the work I was supposed to be doing.”

She spent ten years in L.A. before coming back to Duluth after an uncle died. Her family is here so she decided to stay. Gwinnett is lucky to have her back.

“My favorite female singer is Nina Simone. She made me want to sing for real, because I grew up doing musical theater. When I was acting, it’s not honesty — rather, it’s honesty in another character’s shoes. I started playing music because I wanted to be me for a change. I vowed to myself to always be honest with my audience.”

Julie plays locally and all over the southeast. Read her bio, listen to her music and check her touring schedule at JulieGribble.net.