Sacramento is known for a lot of things, but music is not really one of them. San Francisco? Absolutely. Los Angeles? Sure. Sacramento? Nope. But that’s the town singer-songwriter Jackie Greene called home as a kid. When he was a teen, Greene hit the bars and open-mics, eventually moving over to San Francisco to launch himself a full-fledged career. In the years since, Greene has issued seven LPs and two EPs, with a new record, the roots rock-flavored Back to Birth, on the way in August. He’s also toured as a member of Phil Lesh & Friends and the Black Crowes, and last year joined Trigger Hippy, a fairly new supergroup that finds him sharing vocal duties with Joan Osborne. No matter what the setup, Greene’s work always weaves threads of blues, soul and rock into a hearty patchwork that sounds more like Nola than Sacto. He spoke with VCReporter in advance of his appearance at Discovery Ventura.
How does it feel to be called “the Prince of Americana” or an heir to the Gram Parsons tradition and to be, basically, an honorary member of the Grateful Dead? How do you get your head around things like that?
Jackie Greene: Well, that’s overstating it a little bit! It’s certainly very flattering to be considered along with such legendary names, and I feel nothing but gratitude for it. I try not to think about it too much, though. It makes me really nervous to think about all that stuff. I just try and do my thing.
You’ve said that Back to Birth is about the cyclical nature of life. Unpack that a little.
It’s a reference to the notion that life goes in a circular motion. Something dies, another thing is being born and vice versa. Ad infinitum. The song is specifically about a dying man telling his children to not worry because he is simply being born again. Actually, it’s a pretty heavy topic. Probably better to just listen to the album.
You’ve also said that you’d been trying to write a song like “Trust Somebody” for a while. Had you taken shots at it before that didn’t pan out? What made it work this time?
Right place in my life, I suppose. It’s not that I was actively trying to write that particular song for a long time. It’s more that I was striving to find a way to distill fairly complex emotions into a simple ballad. Which, more or less, is what I’m always trying to do. Sometimes with more success than other times.
You were going for a real listen-through, listen-deep experience on this one. Usually, starker productions lend themselves better to that, though, so the listener doesn’t get distracted. Are the rootsy grooves and bigger sounds just part of your musical DNA?
I was only trying to let the songs dictate what the instrumentation and production should be. There are times when it’s very clear what the production should be. Other times, not so clear. It’s important to find a balance between the obvious choice and the interesting choice. Sometimes they are the same. Sometimes the gap is very wide.
Who’s in your band this summer? And what can folks expect at the shows?
We are a down-and-dirty rock band at heart. Two guitars, bass and drums: myself and Nathan Dale on guitars, Brian Filosa on bass and Fitz Harris on the drums — all California guys. I think people can expect to have a good time. We’ll be playing a lot of the new material and of course the older stuff, as well. Throw in a couple choice covers and it makes for a fun show.
How difficult or easy is it to switch gears between Trigger Hippy and the solo stuff? Because your tour goes back and forth between the two all summer.
It’s very easy, other than the logistics. Mentally, it’s the same thing for me, just different songs. The dynamics of the bands are much different, but I treat my job the same.
What do you get from the solo projects that you don’t get from Trigger Hippy and vice versa?
Well, my solo records are my main focus, or at least ought to be. I have musical ADD, though. I tend to wander off and play with whomever. I suppose all the projects I become involved in do something to satisfy my appetite for playing in different scenarios and with different people. It’s all just fun and games, really.
So B.B. King, no doubt he was an influence on you. What did he mean to you and your music?
Absolutely. He means the world to me — me and thousands of other guitar players. It’s amazing how wide-reaching his influence was. I can honestly say I’m a better person for being a B.B. King fan. Seriously.
This article originally appeared in the VC Reporter.