Q&A with Piper & the Hard Times (Al "Piper" Green & Steve Eagon), an eclectic and entertaining roots music group

"Man, I think music can help people heal and get through the ups and downs of life, and bring people together. We’ve all seen music bring about social change and impact the world. I truly hope our music is able to touch people."

Piper & the Hard Times: Fun & Passion!

The eclectic and entertaining roots music group Piper & the Hard Times deliver intense, rhythmically dynamic music. Each member enjoys a wide array of musical genres, and they bring those diverse influences into their performances. The blues are one of the foundations that buttress their work, along with an instrumental prowess that enables them to improvise with flair, while still creating music that has a melodic appeal and can immediately connect with audiences that want both a high degree of musical competence and songs with a strong groove, familiarity and sensibility. Piper & the Hard Times enjoy doing original music, but also are comfortable with established blues, R&B, rock and soul standards. Their shows mix contemporary and classic influences and material, and the band is known to improvise for the crowd, but never so that they become self-indulgent. Each principal member has an interesting and intriguing personal story to tell. Al "Piper" Green's lead vocals combine the flamboyance and earthiness of blues with the power and authority of gospel and represent the two biggest influences in his life.                             (Photo: Nashville based band of Piper & the Hard Times)

Growing up in a very musically inclined family in Bolivar, Tennessee, he sang in a gospel choir growing up while also hearing the best of soul, pop and rock on radio. But Green remembers perhaps his biggest influence, as well as mentor from a sensibility/style approach, was his uncle. Green contributes to the band's original songs with lyrics based on personal stories and experience. Guitarist Steve Eagon grew up in Northern Ohio and has been playing guitar since his teen years. Unlike Green, Eagon did not grow up in a musical family but was drawn to the guitar because of its “coolness factor.” A multitude of artists have served as influences from Muddy Waters' blend of electrified Delta blues to B.B. King's more urban stylings and the dynamic, power approaches of Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Stevie Ray Vaughan. As the band's principal composer, his writing style meshes multiple elements into an engaging and captivating personal group sound. That collective firepower is also indicative of the closeness shared by Eagon, Green, and drummer Dave Colella. Piper & the Hard Times take the 1st place in 2024 International Blues Challenge, Memphis TN! The band just finished their recording for a new album, will be release this summer. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues music influenced your views of the world ? What does the blues mean to you? 

Steve: As a guitarist, songwriter, and performer, blues has shaped my life by showing me that storytelling and playing an instrument is about passion, emotion and simplicity. As a young guitarist I thought playing revolved around a lot of notes and flash. The same with songwriting. I thought you had to write like McCartney, Lennon, and Dylan. The blues taught me differently. It’s a perfect form of music to communicate passion, sadness, happiness, and social messages in a direct heartfelt way for ALL to connect. The blues has influenced my views of the world by being respectful and empathetic of its heritage, and accepting and open to its evolution over time.

How has the Blues and Gospel influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken? What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

Piper: For me, all music is therapy for my soul. It truly helps me through the bad times and allows to celebrate the good times. Blues music takes a person through one’s life and draws you in through relatable stories.

"I absolutely believe there is an audience for the blues in its current state, but I believe people need to push the boundaries to reach younger audiences to keep it alive. Today’s blues audiences are predominantly older and that’s not sustainable. Who’s to say you can’t take the sound and feel of Muddy Waters and combine it with rap or non-traditional instruments." (Photo: Piper & the Hard Times)

How do you describe band’s sound, music philosophy and songbook? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

Steve: Piper & The Hard Times sound can be described as emotional, energetic, relatable, and full of love and passion. Our sound is guitar and groove driven with lyrics that tell heartfelt and fun stories. We have a deep admiration and respect for the blues, yet we approach it with hooks, twists and turns to keep it fresh and exciting. Our influences cover gospel, traditional blues of all styles, rock, and soul. Piper & The Hard Times is so lucky to have incredibly competent players who are able to use technique to enhance the soul and passion of our music. The soul of the band’s music never takes a backseat to technique or egos.

Piper: The band’s sound is one of energy, emotion, while keeping it focused on the history of the blues. We try and create different ideas to keep things fresh. My creativity in writing lyrics comes from keeping it real about what I’m living.

What moment changed your music life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

Steve: While in college playing a festival, a local respected blues and jazz guitarist approached me after a gig, paid me a compliment, and asked me to meet him at his record shop the next day to chat. The next day he told me, “Steve, you’ve got tons of technique and flash but you’re not playing with any passion. You need to slow down and say more with less.” He then gave me two albums, told me to dig into them, and then wanted to get together and mentor me about finding soul and passion in my playing. Those two albums were Muddy Waters’ “Fathers and Sons” and B.B. King’s “Live at the Regal.” Listening to those records were life-changing for me.

Career and life highlights have been numerous. Marrying my wife, Ellen, and raising our two beautiful kids are at the top. I would not have begun playing the guitar if not for the support and encouragement of my parents. From there the number of memorable gigs have been too many to mention. That being said, the past year with Piper & The Hard Times have seen the band grow into a fine oiled groove machine. Winning the 2024 IBCs with this group was beyond memorable!

"In my opinion, the blues has lost some of it’s original essence over time. I yearn for the authentic and unadulterated blues music of the past characterized by its raw and soulful nature. While I want our band to push the boundaries to define our sound, I don’t want to lose that sense of heritage." (Photo: Piper & the Hard Times, the band take the 1st place in 2024 International Blues Challenge, Memphis TN)

What moment changed your music life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

Piper: My music career started in Nashville many years ago. I was sitting in a blues club close to the stage and singing out loud to the band. The singer liked what he heard, called me up on stage to sing with him, and I got the bug. That’s also how I met Steve Eagon, our guitar player. The highlight of my career was winning the IBC this year with the band.

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

Steve: When listening to old blues records, I love how raw everything sounds and how they’re not “perfect”. The limited technology, especially recording equipment, didn’t allow for everything to be dissected and perfected. I hope that the future embraces all types of blues. Like everything I believe we need to allow the blues to evolve and experiment while keeping the key pillars of the music intact.

Piper: In my opinion, the blues has lost some of it’s original essence over time. I yearn for the authentic and unadulterated blues music of the past characterized by its raw and soulful nature. While I want our band to push the boundaries to define our sound, I don’t want to lose that sense of heritage.

Why is it important to we preserve and spread the blues? How do you want the music to affect people?

Steve: I believe it’s important to preserve the history of the blues to understand its roots and essence, and then use it as a launching pad to grow its appeal. Here’s an example of how we want our music to affect people. Piper & The Hard Times recently had a show in which a woman came to tears after we played our original, “Preacher Blues.” Shortly after that moment we had people dancing on tables. A recent show at a college frat party had students hanging on everything we did and shouting at Piper’s stories. That’s what the blues should do – elicit emotions and appeal to all ages!

"Piper & The Hard Times sound can be described as emotional, energetic, relatable, and full of love and passion. Our sound is guitar and groove driven with lyrics that tell heartfelt and fun stories. We have a deep admiration and respect for the blues, yet we approach it with hooks, twists and turns to keep it fresh and exciting. Our influences cover gospel, traditional blues of all styles, rock, and soul. Piper & The Hard Times is so lucky to have incredibly competent players who are able to use technique to enhance the soul and passion of our music. The soul of the band’s music never takes a backseat to technique or egos." (Photo: Al "Piper" Green & Steve Eagon of Piper & the Hard Times)

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications?  How do you want the music to affect people?

Piper: Man, I think music can help people heal and get through the ups and downs of life, and bring people together. We’ve all seen music bring about social change and impact the world. I truly hope our music is able to touch people.

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

Steve: First, have fun! Music is supposed to elicit various emotions and you don’t have to master an instrument to get there. Do what moves you! Second, when playing in a band surround yourself with people you like and respect. A great band checks their egos at the door, listens to each other, and plays to the song. Third, not gigging during Covid taught me to play every show as if it were possibly my last.

Piper: Just be true to yourself and what you believe in. It’s as simple as that.

Do you think there is an audience for blues music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

Steve: I absolutely believe there is an audience for the blues in its current state, but I believe people need to push the boundaries to reach younger audiences to keep it alive. Today’s blues audiences are predominantly older and that’s not sustainable. Who’s to say you can’t take the sound and feel of Muddy Waters and combine it with rap or non-traditional instruments.

Piper: Yes. I believe there is an audience for the blues, but we have to make an effort to educate people, especially the younger audience.

Piper & the Hard - Home

(Photo: Al "Piper" Green of Piper & the Hard Times)

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