Q&A with California-based guitarist/singer Alastair Greene, ridden his Blues-soaked rock into the 21st century

"I’d never claim to understand the meaning of life, but I am sure it has something to do with loving and respecting one another and trying to leave the world a better place than we found it. Trying to bring joy to the world is so important. That may seem simple and cliche’. I truly believe in the power of music to make the world a better place."

Alastair Greene: Alive In The New World

As Alastair Greene’s prolific and acclaimed career rounds the corner into a third decade, Greene arrives at a new, yet familiar destination.  A native of Santa Barbara, Calif., Greene has ridden his Blues-soaked rock into the 21st century, traversing a constantly changing global (and musical) landscape. He received a scholarship to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he studied for two years, before returning in the early ‘90s to Southern California. Greene formed the Alastair Greene Band in 1997 and subsequently released eight solo albums (including two live sets and a compilation record) over nearly 20 years.  2017’s studio effort, Dream Team, landed a four-star review and Best Album of the Year nod in DownBeat; 2018’s Live from the 805 was nominated for Rock Blues Album of the Year by Blues Blast Magazine, garnering inclusion on many ‘Best of 2018’ lists.                                                (Photo: Alastair Greene)

A much in-demand guitarist and vocalist, Greene traveled the world, touring with the legendary Alan Parsons Live Project from 2010 – 2017, as well as stints with Starship featuring Mickey Thomas and, most recently, Blues Music Award-winner Sugaray Rayford. His work with Parsons, in particular, sparked a conversation with renowned multi-instrumentalist and producer Tab Benoit at a Las Vegas blues festival. In 2019, Greene signed with Benoit’s Whiskey Bayou Records label. Whiskey Bayou Records released his new album Alive In The New World (January 2023), produced by Tab Benoit, this new live record was recorded at the City Winery in May of 2021, during a six night sold-out “Chicago Takeover”. This live set features Greene on guitar and vocals, Benoit on drums, and Corey Duplechin on bass. 

Interview by Michael Limnios             Alastair Greene, 2017 interview @ blues.gr

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?

AG - I feel I’ve grown most as a songwriter and storyteller. I’ve been making music for the majority of my life, and I’ve been playing blues influenced rock and roll sing the late 80s. Since the time I released my first record as a solo artist in 2001 I’d like to think I’ve grown a lot in various ways. As far as what has remained the same, I still usually start writing songs on the guitar with some sort of riff.

What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome as a person and as an artist and has this helped you become a better blues musician?

AG - The hardest obstacle for most professional musicians I know including myself is making a decent living from playing music alone. That in and of itself is a challenge. As a person it keeps an air of uncertainty and stress not far from our minds. I can’t say whether it’s helped me as a musician or not. I endeavor to play the blues as a rock musician who loves and respects blues music so very much.         (Photo: Alastair Greene)

"I personally feel that the blues has influenced so much of popular music and at various points in time has been a very large part of popular music. People may not know it by name but blues music is an incredibly important part of everything that had been and is popular in some way or another."

What moment changed your music life the most? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

AG - I’ve had a lot of moments that changed my life. If I had to pick one, it was when a friend of my dads loaded me a stack of blues and blues rock records when I was in high school. The music of Johnny Winter, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, and The Allman Brothers Band changed my life forever.

I believe technique is important to express your thoughts and feelings on any given instrument. Technique in my opinion doesn’t always necessarily mean playing fast. It means being able to express yourself with authority and conviction on an instrument. Whether it’s Muddy Waters playing some sort of slow blues intro on slide guitar or Eric Gales playing some impossibly fast melody,…they are both using their technique to express the music inside of them and then we feel the soulfulness in what they’re doing.

How do you want the music to affect people? Why was the Blues never a part of the pop/popular music?

AG - I think has the ability to make people happy and hopeful. It can help them escape everyday life for a little bit and let go of their problems and challenges. Sometimes music is actually able to help people solve and overcome problems and challenges in their lives either through listening or performing it.

I personally feel that the blues has influenced so much of popular music and at various points in time has been a very large part of popular music. People may not know it by name but blues music is an incredibly important part of everything that had been and is popular in some way or another.

New release by Whiskey Bayou Records & Tab Benoit. How did that relationship come about? Do you have any interesting stories about the making of album ALIVE IN THE NEW WORLD?            (Alastair Greene, Tab Benoit & Jimmy Hall / Photos by Marilyn Stringer)

AG - I met Tab around 2016 or 2017 in Las Vegas at the Big Blues Bender festival and we became friends. In 2019 he asked if I wanted to come make a record for his label Whiskey Bayou Records. We released THE NEW WORLD BLUES in October of 2020. I went on tour with Tab opening some shows for him in May of 2021. We played 5 nights in a row in Chicago at the City Winery and the shows were recorded. The songs on ALIVE IN THE NEW WORLD were taken from those shows and they are all live versions of songs from THE NEW WORLD BLUES. You can really hear how much the songs changed on tour. It’s a very fun record with Tab on drums and Corey Duplechin on bass, the same line up that's on the studio record. It was great being set up to pay 5 nights in a row and getting into the groove night after night. Chicago is such great city with an important music history. I’m thrilled this live record was recorded there. It’s being released on January 20th, 2023, and I’m excited as it will be my 10th record, I’ve put out since 2001.

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

AG - That’s going to be a long list, but I’ll keep it short. I have had the unique experience of being in a band where it’s all for one and one for all, being side man where I’m hired to play someone else’s music and respect and honor what they are paying me to do, and I’ve been a band leader where I hire musicians to come along with me on my journey. All of those experiences have really added up to learning the “golden rule”. Treat others the way you would like to be treated. Have respect for everyone and also stand up for what you believe.

Are there any specific memories or highlights of your years at the Berklee College of Music that you would like to tell us about?!

AG - The main thing I’m grateful for from the 2 years I was at Berklee was simply being surrounded by so many incredible musicians which pushed me to be the best I could be. It was very humbling and inspiring. I remember once jamming in one of the big rehearsal rooms with 5 or 6 guitar players and a drummer and bass player. We all took turns playing solos on the Jimi Hendrix song Little Wing. I remember being nervous when it came around to my turn because everyone was so good. It pushed me to step up and play my best. Since then I’ve cherished every time I’ve been the youngest or least experienced musician in the room because that is where you’re going to learn and grow the most.

John Coltrane said "My music is the spiritual expression of what I am...". How do you understand the spirit, music, and the meaning of life?

AG - I’d never claim to understand the meaning of life, but I am sure it has something to do with loving and respecting one another and trying to leave the world a better place than we found it. Trying to bring joy to the world is so important. That may seem simple and cliche’. I truly believe in the power of music to make the world a better place.

Alastair Greene - Home

(Photo: Alastair Greene)

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