Jackie Greene Restores Southern Harmony
Photo by Tamara Lee
You are on the road with The Black Crowes. How did you first get involved with The Crowes and find yourself becoming a touring member of the band?
Well, they called me. Steve Gorman called me and asked me if I would be interested in playing guitar for their tour this year. And my first thought was, like, well – I was just super flattered that they’d even consider me. And then I went from going, “Oh God, I can’t do it” to “Yes, I can do it. It’d be so awesome,” to finally realizing that it’s another challenge for me, just the same way when I was playing with Phil, and that it’s only going to make me a better musician and I’m just going to go for it. And here we are. We had a couple rehearsals and I spent about a month learning some songs. And…and we’re out. Out on the road. So far, it’s been really awesome. The band is super hot.
During The Crowes’ hiatus, you actually found yourself playing steadily with two of the three remaining founding members of the band…
Yeah, totally. I’ve known Chris [Robinson] for several years, now. I met Chris through Phil. And Steve and I have a band together called Trigger Hippy, which includes Joan Osborne. And [new keyboardist] Adam [MacDougall] had just recently started playing with Phil, as well. So, I’ve played with all of them. In some form or another, we’ve known each other for a long time, so it really isn’t that far-fetched…
How familiar were you with The Black Crowes’ catalog before you got the call and jumped in it?
I mean I grew up on Shake Your Money Maker and Southern Harmony – I think I was twelve when it came out. You know I loved The Black Crowes when I was a kid because back at that time, there weren’t as many straight-up rock bands. And boy bands had just started to take off. Music just started to go one direction or the other, and I went in the rock-and-roll direction.
In terms of different challenges for your own playing, it’s interesting that in The Crowes, you’re playing lead guitar. In a lot of the other projects you’re involved in, a lot of the times it’s focused on your voice as a singer. Have you felt that you’ve really had to practice sick guitar solo licks that maybe you haven’t done as much in some of these more folk settings that you’ve been playing in recently?
Um, no. I wouldn’t practice. It’s one thing to practice a motif of a song – those I’ll get. But in terms of, like, somebody’s solo on a record – I wouldn’t copy that. And I never have, because there’s no reason to do that. For one thing, it’s too much work. And the other thing is it’s certainly not necessary. Real organic music changes every time you play it live. There’s really no sense in doing the exact same solo, you know what I mean?
The motif of a song – a lick or a riff – yeah, fine. Phil would say, “Hey, Jerry used to play this little lick here. Can somebody play that?” And we’d go, “Okay” – we’d figure it out. And it’s the same with The Crowes: there are some things that are sort of specific and some things – most solo sections are not specific. And that’s rock music, you know?
For you as a fan of their music, how does it feel to be in the guitar seat for this band you grew up with? And now you have a chance to be on the road with and make your own?
Well it’s great, man. This band is a true rock and roll band, you know. It’s loud and it’s got a lot of electric guitars and when you’re a kid and you learn how to play guitar, that’s everything you want to be. So it feels really good for me. I’m still really very flattered that they even thought about me in that light. So I’m just doing the best I can, you know.
Shifting focus a little bit, is Trigger Hippy working on anything now?
As a matter of fact, we just – God, what was it – February or January, we just recorded. And we’re planning on releasing something for Record Store Day in November, providing we can finish it up in time.
And can you talk a little bit about those live recordings? Where were they recorded?
Let me make sure I get this right, because I’m not sure which ones we actually used. They were both recorded in the Bay Area – that much I know. I think one of them is an acoustic track from a run I did at the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco – we recorded all those shows, and they came out fantastically. At some point, we’re going to use all of them. And I think the other is from Sweetwater.
Being that you started playing with these people in your 20s and now you’ve crossed the line into your 30s, have you felt that there was a time when you’ve gone from being the young guy to just a member of the band in some of these situations, or does it not really matter?
I guess, I don’t know – all of these situations, The Crowes and Phil – you know, even in my band, I’m the youngest. Actually, no, our drummer is younger than me. But, you know, I mean I’ve always been the youngest, which is weird to me, because now I’m 32 and I feel like I’m getting old but, you know, I’ll always be younger than Chris and those guys, and I’ll always be younger than Phil. You know, I have to say, in those situations – particularly with Phil – there doesn’t really feel like there’s any weird age thing, because it’s more like there is a brotherhood that’s sort of really apparent there. I mean Phil’s a big kid, you know. I mean, he acts like an adult. But Bob acts like he’s 25. There’s definitely a brotherhood. It doesn’t feel like they’re your parents or anything. You’re all making music, it’s all very – [there’s] a lot of mutual respect.
I don’t know, I never really noticed. You know, until they start talking about something that happened in ‘72.
You’re like, “I was, uh, negative 10…”
Yeah, I don’t remember 1972 – I could read about it on Wikipedia, though.
You know, it’s funny, if you look at all these legendary bands – like The Allman Brothers and the Dead – they were making this music when they were 25, and you’re 32, but yet somehow 32 feels young now for rock music even though back in the day that felt old.
Yeah, that’s true. Back then, you know, bands could put out two records per year. Any person who puts out a CD this year, that’s a double album, [in the ‘60s and ‘70s] albums were thirty-something minutes. So people felt the need to fill up the CD. And I don’t necessarily agree with that. I kind of still like to think in terms of albums. I mean, you know, album-albums: vinyl albums. But yeah, there’s a whole business. There used to be one way to do it. Now there’s a million ways and they’re all either wrong or right.
This relates to my last question. One of the ways you’ve been able to maneuver the business is by playing with so many different people. Obviously you have your own solo career with your own band and you have all these other projects and your own studio, so for you, I’m sure it’s like a divide-and-conquer approach for lack of a better way of saying it…
Yeah, and that’s not even by design. That’s just by circumstance. I’ve sort of learned to, you know, when opportunities present themselves – particularly with this business – if it seems right, you ought to take it. The worst that can happen is that you become a better musician, a better songwriter, [get] better at your craft. And that’s all I ever really set out to do to begin with. You know, when I started, it wasn’t like I necessarily wanted to be famous.
It’s different now, because you don’t have to go playing big. You know, like, YouTube is everybody’s best promoter. So you don’t have to put in all the work, anymore. And I’m still into putting in the work because the people that I like, and the bands that I like, and the music that I really love – there’s a lot of fucking effort put into just being able to be like that. There’s a quick fix for every walk of life and I just don’t subscribe to it.