By Michael Lester
With career-catapulting stints performing as a member of Phil Lesh & Friends and the Black Crowes, it would seem logical to label Sacramento singer-songwriter Jackie Greene a young West Coast Deadhead who grew up on the psychedelic music scene with aspirations of becoming a star on the jam band festival circuit.
While he sounds grateful for his career-shaping collaborations with jam band royalty that have made him a quick-rising household name on that scene, the 33-year-old says the musical influences coursing through his veins are more Motown than Haight-Ashbury.
“What interests me is Ike and Tina Turner. Soul music. Stuff I’ve always loved. Otis Redding. R&B music,” Greene said during a recent phone interview with Highway 81. “I think people who know me know that.”
When Greene’s latest collaboration, Trigger Hippy, takes the Mushroom Stage at 2 p.m. Friday at Peach Festival on Montage Mountain in Scranton, the quintet co-founded by Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman will deliver what the band describes as “soul-infused rock and roll.”
And the Peach crowd can expect Tina and Ike-like duets from Greene and fellow singer-songwriter and Dead family alum Joan Osborne of “(What if God was) One of Us?” fame. Osborne toured with The Dead — the post-Garcia, pre-Furthur incarnation of the Grateful Dead— as a vocalist in 2003.
“Joan and I can sing proper duets together like Marvin and Tammy,” said Greene, referring to Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell. “Or whatever your favorite duet is. It’s something we both like. If Joan is the front person, it doesn’t matter to me.”
Greene, who plays both guitar and keyboards, first met Osborne at a 2007 gig during his stint on a Phil Lesh and Friends tour. Greene was just 26 years old at the time.
He and Osborne hit it off immediately.
His meeting with Osborne was one step on Greene’s path toward eventually joining Trigger Hippy, a gig born out of collaborations with a wide web of musicians, including Gorman, Phil Lesh and Chris Robinson.
Lesh, the Grateful Dead bassist, discovered the Dylan-esque Greene at Bonnaroo in 2005, was impressed, and contacted Greene, asking him if he’d be interested in joining Phil Lesh and Friends at some point.
While meeting with Lesh clearly opened doors for Greene’s career, Greene doesn’t necessarily consider the Lesh encounter his career’s turning point.
“I’ve seen my career as a bunch of a little breaks,” said Greene, who has recorded seven solo albums and built a personal catalog of about 100 songs. “I started out when I was 21, playing coffee shops in Sacramento. Susan Tedeschi took me on tour when I was 22.
“Playing with Phil opened me up to an incredible audience. It opened me up to music I hadn’t played before.
“I love Deadheads. Whatever the jam band scene has become or whatever it may become beyond the Grateful Dead … it’s about the band. I see them as a band with great fucking songs. Like the Stones.”
Greene, who counts Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard as song-writing influences, noted he once performed as the opening act for Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame on Knopfler’s 2005 tour.
Greene first met Crowes drummer Gorman through guitarist Audley Freed, who spent stints in both the Crowes and as a founding member of Trigger Hippy. Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule introduced Greene to Freed, currently a member of Sheryl Crow’s touring band, Big Hat.
Greene first got together with members of Trigger Hippy to jam in Nashville in 2010.
“We did a little riffing, and things turned into songs,” Greene recalled. “The next thing you know, we had a half dozen songs. It all happened very organically, without any preconceived notions.”
Greene toured as a member of Trigger Hippy in 2011. The band released its self-titled EP in conjunction with Record Store Day’s Back To Black Friday promotion last fall.
Another career-altering event soon followed for Greene, putting Trigger Hippy on hold.
In 2012, he received a call from the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson, whom he had met years earlier through Lesh, and Rich Robinson. The brothers Robinson asked Greene to replace Luther Dickinson in the Crowes lineup.
“I don’t know what happened with Luther,” Greene said. “The Robinson brothers called in 2012 and asked if I would want to be one of their guitar players.
“It was a pretty big commitment. I went back and forth. I finally said, ‘Fuck it.’ And it was a really good thing. I got to be a rock ’n’ roll player. It was a nice thing to live out a boyhood dream. It keeps me sane not to have to do just one thing the whole time.”
Ho-hum. Just another ambitious career move for a self-described “incredibly impulsive” musician. This is a guy who changed his birth name, Chris Nelson, to Jackie Greene, after reaching age 22.
“I just made it up,” he said when asked to explain the change. “I was born incredibly impulsive.”