Q&A with trombonist and horn arranger Greg Boyer, who everybody calls when they want to bring the full bells and whistles to their sound

"Technology had made making music much easier than in the past. The bad part of that is ANYBODY can do it! You don't need any instrumental proficiency, just an idea and some buttons!  I'm looking forward to the return of the days when actually PLAYING an instrument is cool. Then music will have a "soul" again."

Greg Boyer: Soul Cool Music

Greg Boyer is a trombonist known for performing with many successful R&B and funk bands. Born in Washington, DC, Boyer grew up in Bryans Road, Maryland. An avid music lover at an early age, his first steps into the world of playing music were on alto saxophone at the age of 10. By the time he graduated from Lackey High School, he could play any and every instrument in the band. Although his primary focus was classical tuba, he was already playing gigs on tenor saxophone with local R&B and funk bands. Switching to trombone in his freshman year at St. Mary's College (Maryland) for his off-campus engagements, he left school after his third semester and joined Parliament/Funkadelic in 1978. He played with them until his retirement from the group in 1996, along the way also playing with Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers between tours.

After a couple of years playing and arranging for local Washington, DC groups, he hit the road again with funky sax legend Maceo Parker. In 2002 after being recommended to Prince by Maceo, he got a call from Prince to join his NPG Band, with whom he served for several years as trombonist/horn arranger. Along with the aforementioned, the list of artists/groups he has recorded and played with includes: Sheila E, Bootsy Collins, Gap Band, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, David Sanborn, Eric Benét, David Murray, Hank Williams, Jr, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kid Rock, Alex Bugnon, Buddy Guy, Brian Culbertson, Maysa, Steve Tyler, Mike Phillips, RAD. Richard Smallwood, Third World, Israel Vibration, Patra, Crystal Waters, Dog Eat Dog and Naif Herin.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Afro-American music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Black music is what I was raised on, it's what I am. So, as it has influenced me, it has influenced the world. It's the musical pulse of nature, an undeniable force. And everybody wants a piece of it.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? What touched (emotionally) you from trombone?

I think the real question is what about MUSIC touched me. Allow me a few words to describe music to me: rhythm, dance, party, expression, "cool" (there's that word again!). It wasn't just trombone; it was ALL the instruments - most of which I taught myself how to play before I graduated from high school.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Charles Armstrong - my middle and high school band director. A lot of things people learn when they're young don't mean anything until later in life. Mr. Armstrong had a way of teaching students that made us apply those lessons immediately. And I learned a lot! George Clinton - my first real gig. I was 19 when I joined Parliament/Funkadelic. The things I learned from almost 20 years in that band I couldn't have learned at any university or institution! Prince - upper echelon situations come with a different set of rules - and Prince added even more rules on top of that! I got to watch a LEGEND up close and daily. My biggest regret was treating the seven years I played with him as a job. I didn't see that he could have really used a FRIEND until after I was gone... As for advice, no one really 'gave' me advice. I learned from watching people what to do and what not to do.

"At the risk of sounding "overly honest", Black music was nothing but a societal skid mark until Europeans figured out how to copy and mass market it. Let the genre Rock'n'Roll be a prime example - what was originally referred to as the degeneration of youth by way of "race music" somehow over time became white.  Without Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, there could be no Beatles, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin." (Photo: Greg Boyer & George Clinton)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Prince was going to debut his latest single on Jay Leno. When I landed in LA at noon, I was asked to arrange orchestral woodwinds to accompany him on the show. The only thing was I had to have the arrangements ready by 8pm the next day AND find musicians to pull it off in a city where I know very few people. If you google Prince on Jay Leno playing "Somewhere Here on Earth", you can see the end result. I felt like I had pulled the caper of the century!

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Technology had made making music much easier than in the past. The bad part of that is ANYBODY can do it! You don't need any instrumental proficiency, just an idea and some buttons!  I'm looking forward to the return of the days when actually PLAYING an instrument is cool. Then music will have a "soul" again.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

That the history of music would be a part of the curriculum, as well as instrumental and choral classes. Even if you don't pursue music as a career, you'd have enough understanding of it that you'll know good shit from bull shit!! One of the biggest reasons why substandard music is OK for the public at large is because they don't know any better! AND the payout system needs vast improvement. How can anyone make a living as a musician when 15,000 streams is the equivalent of selling ONE CD? And all these streaming services that give the music away without suitable royalties only make it next to impossible for musicians to put out new product.

"Black music is what I was raised on, it's what I am. So, as it has influenced me, it has influenced the world. It's the musical pulse of nature, an undeniable force. And everybody wants a piece of it." (Photo: Greg Boyer & Maceo Parker)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?

1) always BE ready, and you'll never have to GET ready. 2) a working musician should always have a decent black suit. 3) character goes a long way; being on time, knowing your music, don't be the boss if you're not the boss, get along with everybody (possible), most of these gigs don't require a top 5 caliber player, but good ethic always gets a call back! 4) don't be afraid to ask questions! Be smart enough not to know everything!

What is the impact of Soul, Funk, Blues and Jazz on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

At the risk of sounding "overly honest", Black music was nothing but a societal skid mark until Europeans figured out how to copy and mass market it. Let the genre Rock'n'Roll be a prime example - what was originally referred to as the degeneration of youth by way of "race music" somehow over time became white.  Without Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, there could be no Beatles, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin.

How has Kerouac, the Beats and Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I cannot say that Kerouac influenced me at all. Although I remember beatniks as a kid, thinking my parents would never let me get away with such irresponsibility (I called it "cool"!)

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

A 40's or 50's jazz jam session, where you either played or watched. Listening to the masters, gathering inspiration to "sharpen your axe" that you might be the one inspiring another "up'n'coming"! Think of all the monster players they were products of those sessions....

Greg Boyer - Home

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