Roots-Rocking Jackie Greene Strips Down His Sound

From the Black Crowes to Phil Lesh to his solo albums, the California guitarist jams across genres

May 19, 2014 10:25 AM ET
Jackie Greene
Jackie Greene
Chris McKay/Getty Images

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WHO: Last year, Jackie Greene was drafted into the reactivated Black Crowes, where he assumed the rotating lead guitar slot most recently held by North Mississippi Allstar Luther Dickinson. Greene has also played with Phil Lesh, Gov't Mule and the late Levon Helm, but he is hardly a mere sideman for hire – over the past decade, the 32-year-old has released six full albums of his own rootsy material. On his most recent, 2010's Till the Light Comes, Greene sings in a honeyed tenor over music that synthesizes elements of classic rock, folk, soul, blues, country, psychedelia and A.M. pop – think the Band, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty after soaking up a few Seventies So-Cal rays.

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NO CHEAP TRICKS: Greene's upcoming album, scheduled for release later this year on Yep Roc, is slated to sound more stripped-down than the decidedly expansive Till the Light Comes. "There are a lot of serious, emotionally-charged songs, and quite a few ballads," Greene says. "So my goal is to keep the arrangements simple and present the songs in a very honest way. I want to avoid any trickery. That's what I call it when a record sounds a little too fancy."

NEVER TOO MUCH: Greene has been performing since his teens, when he began gigging steadily at bars, clubs and coffeehouses around Sacramento, California. He often booked multiple shows in a single day, playing happy hours with only an acoustic guitar and harmonica (a setup that led to his being slapped early on in his career with a "New Dylan" tag) and then rocking late into the night at a different venue with a full band. "Artists have this thing where they go, 'I don't want to oversaturate the market,'" Greene says. "But I don't buy into that. If people like what you do, then you should saturate the fuck out of your market."

BRINGING OUT THE DEAD: In addition to his own solo career, his gig with the Crowes and an ongoing side-project, the Joan Osborne-fronted "raw country-soul band" Trigger Hippy, Greene also currently sings and plays guitar in Phil Lesh & Friends. Surprisingly, when he was first tapped to join – after the former Grateful Dead bassist heard his original song, "I'm So Gone," on the radio – Greene wasn't much of a Deadhead. "I knew American Beauty, 'Casey Jones,' the stuff everyone knows, but that was about it," he admits. "But Phil told me, 'You don't have to play everything exactly like Jerry (Garcia) did. Just let 'er rip.' And I think that's made it cool for some fans. Because when I get up there and we do 'Sugaree,' I approach it like it's new. I'm not thinking about how the Dead played it in, like, '77, because I don't know. All there is for me is the song. And those are fucking amazing songs."

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