Our California Guest: Alastair Greene by Monica Yasher

Posted on 4/25/2010 by Monica Yasher

Alastair Greene, being a second generation musician, is an artist that is proud of his family's musical roots.  You can typically catch Alastair in the California area, primarily San Diego and Los Angeles.  However, he has recently toured as far as Russia, Israel and Poland with the Alan Parsons Live Project.   And, working with Alan has allowed Alastair to rethink and redo some of his guitar playing.  Alastair shares there are times to be a guitar artist, and there are times to respect the original versions of a song.  It is important to wear both hats-artist and interpeter. 

As all musicians, Alastair shares the difficulties of having his music heard and competing amongst the many artists that are assessible to the very large internet fan base.   For those of you looking for a rocking blues guitarist, Alastair would be a recommended artist for your music collection.  Perhaps you can catch him in the California area or traveling the globe with Mr. Alan Parsons?  Either way, you will be experiencing a great show!

Monica:  How was your first international tour? What was a cool thing, scary thing, awesome thing?

Alastair:  It was amazing! I had a wonderful time seeing incredible places such as Israel, Poland, and Russia and getting to meet and work with some great people. There was nothing all that scary, other than a plane flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg in a really old airplane. Getting to see Jerusalem was a once in a lifetime experience. Walking through Red Square was pretty incredible as well. Some of the venues were breathtaking, and all the audiences at the shows were great. Having an opportunity to play to a few thousand people a night was awesome.

M:  Tell me a bit about the band you toured with?

A:  I recently accepted the job as guitarist for the Alan Parsons Live Project. Alan released a lot of great progressive rock and pop records under the name, The Alan Parsons Project. He got started in his music career as a recording studio engineer at Abbey Road Studios and worked with The Beatles, Paul McCartney’s Wings, and perhaps most famously with Pink Floyd for their “Dark Side of the Moon” record.

I was asked to play electric and acoustic guitar and sing lead on a couple of songs. The rest of the band members are all great players, singers, and amazing musicians as well, as being really cool guys. The live set includes hits and classics from The Alan Parsons Project, as well as a few newer songs Alan has written and recorded.

M:  What did you learn from working with Alan Parsons? What was the best advice he gave you?

A:  One thing I observed working with Alan is how relaxed and level headed he seems to be, during what I would consider some fairly stressful situations. He takes everything in stride and keeps his cool, which I thought was great and something everybody should strive for and learn from. He is a real professional and expects a high level of quality from the people he works with. And rightly so. Everyone wants to “step up” in his presence.

As for advice, I asked him how he wanted me to approach some of the improvisational guitar spots, and he just suggested that I keep things as melodic as possible. That might seem obvious, but guitarists have a tendency of jumping into songs and solos “guns a-blazing”. His comment got me thinking and feeling some songs out differently than maybe I would have initially. That’s more a matter of scales and note choice, but I still phrase and bend notes the same way I would playing Blues.

There are some amazing guitar moments in his music that I have come to really look forward to. I think good band leaders give their players freedom to express themselves in the context of their music, which is what Alan is trusting me to do. There are some solos and parts that I keep very close to the records, because they need to be there for the song to have its full impact, not to mention his fans are expecting to hear certain parts a certain way.  I want to honor those parts and songs the best I can. It’s really a great opportunity for me as a guitarist.

M: What is the blues scene like in your part of California?

A:  I was lucky to grow up in Santa Barbara, which has a respectable Blues heritage. Early on I was able to learn from and play with Mitch Kashmar and his band, The Pontiax, as well as the great acoustic duo, Tom Ball and Kenny Sultan, plus a lot of other great players around town. Kim Wilson started out in the area, but I was too young to see him or meet him in those days. Santa Barbara has the nation’s oldest Blues Society, and they bring a lot of great artists to town that I have seen over the years. There’s also a couple radio stations (KTYD and KCSB) that have Blues radio programs that I consider part of the Blues Scene.

The live music scene in Santa Barbara has flourished in the past, but now is kind of small without as many places to play. There are people trying to keep it alive though, and it shows signs of improving. A couple years ago I moved a little further south to the Ventura area, where there are some more places to play, as well as a good group of local blues bands and players. It’s a little closer to the L.A. area, which could be viewed as a good thing. I’ve been branching out and playing other cities in California with my band, but it’s always more difficult to break into venues if you aren’t established in a certain area.

M:  Tell me about your songwriting. What inspires you?

A:  Everything and anything can inspire me. For my most recent CD (Walking In Circles 2009 riatsala music), I wanted to find a way to connect to common Blues themes lyrically and musically, but give a little twist to them. Lyrics are toughest for me, as it’s sometimes difficult to come up with new and original ways of conveying life experience or giving a different spin to a common story. Musically I can usually come up with cool guitar-riffs and melodies all day long.

M: How different is it to record a live album from a session album?

A:  The live album I put out, "Official Bootleg: Live in L.A." 2003 riatsala music, I didn’t really know was going to end up a live CD. I asked a sound man at a show if he could record the gig direct to disc. I listened to it months later, and was surprised at how good it sounded. It’s not perfect, but that’s the way most live shows are. "Walking In Circles" was done fairly quickly. With the exception of the vocals, which were overdubbed, most of it was recorded live. In the studio you have the option to do another take or fix a few things here and there. Live is just going for it and seeing how it turns out at the end. I love both.

M:  Do you prefer to do covers or originals? Why?

A:  I think any songwriter wants to do their own originals most of the time. I do original songs in the situations that call for it, and mix in the covers for the long gigs. If you’re doing a short showcase set, opening for a national act, or if you’re the main attraction, you can get away with playing all originals. Then if you want, you can throw in some covers as a tip of the hat to your heroes, or as a bonus for the fans.

Doing 3-4 sets in various bars and clubs can necessitate a different strategy unless you have that many hours of originals that people came to hear you play. People want to hear songs they are familiar with that they can dance and drink to. I play for audiences, and in certain venues they also like to hear things other than Blues, so I have a fairly large list of Classic Rock and rocking Blues songs that I like to play. If you want to succeed in some of these environments, you need to be able to pull out a lot of covers and slip the originals in where you can.

I also like to take some cover songs and give them a different feel or vibe. That can be a rewarding challenge. It’s always a lot of fun playing a smoking rendition of “One Way Out”, but it’s a bit more fulfilling when people are connecting with and digging something you wrote and recorded on your own. I would imagine it would be similar to how a parent feels watching their kid score the winning touchdown in the big game.

M:  What kind of gear do you use for these different musical situations?

A:  Guitar-wise I have been using a Fender Eric Clapton model Stratocaster. It’s very versatile and gives me a lot of tonal options, plus it plays great. Amp-wise for my band, I use a couple different Fender amps. I’ve been using a ’62 Vibrolux and a Blues Junior amp. The combination of those two is fantastic.

When I play with Alan, I’ve been using some sort of Marshall half-stack depending on what is available through the backline companies. I try to keep things fairly simple in my signal chain, but I do use different pedals for these different situations. The one constant is an overdrive pedal from Fulltone called the OCD. That pedal and my Strat enable me to get a consistent sound in any musical situation.

M:  The Berklee School of Music in Boston, MA is quite prestigious when it comes to music. What did you take with you from that experience?

A:  It may seem prestigious out here on the West Coast, but I’ve heard you can’t get a job in a music store on the East Coast if you haven’t been to Berklee! It would also be more prestigious if I had actually graduated, but after two years I was itching to move back out to California and start playing in bands. So, I did.

My favorite Berklee experience was a jam I was part of my first year. We had a drummer and bass player and five or six guitarists in one room jamming some blues. The guitarists were all amazing and much better than me. We all took turns soloing. So when it came around to me, I had only one choice,…step up and play with the big boys! Since then, I always try to put myself in musical situations where I’m going to have an opportunity to learn and grow. That would be the most important thing I took away from being at a music school. That translates into seeking out and sitting in with more experienced players, and finding ways to put together or join bands that have seasoned veterans in them.

M: In your reviews, you are compared to many blues artists, is that a good or bad thing?

A:  It’s an absolute honor. Most the comparisons are to guitarists that are huge inspirations and direct influences. Some of the names that get mentioned might not be big influences, but they are always players I respect in one way or another. I think playing aggressive Blues guitar is going to conjure up a fairly short list of players to most people's ears. Being mentioned in the same sentence as some of your heroes is great, and never gets old to me.

M:  What’s the hardest part of being a musician today?

A:  Getting noticed, booking good gigs, and getting paid a fair wage. I would bet most working musicians would agree with that. It’s a tough time right now economically speaking, which goes without saying. I really don’t think I’m going to be able tell you anything about being a musician that you haven’t heard countless times.

Music has become undervalued as far as people being able to get it for free online. That is a reality we all have to face. The internet is a great tool but it has become over-saturated with bands and music since recording and distributing your music is so easy now. There is a lot of great music that IS getting a chance to be heard which is marvelous. There is also a lot of music being released that isn’t that good, and the consumers and music fans have to wade through so much more to find the music that they will really enjoy and connect with. It just means that those of us that are hell bent on doing this for a living need to work harder to get noticed. If you’re on a mission to save the world, which is what it feels like most of the time, then you keep doing whatever you have to do to get the gigs, promote yourself, make the records, and make what money you can to survive.

M:  You speak of doing experimental, traditional, and rock blues, What is your niche in the blues world?

A:  Anything I put out under my name is more than likely going to be fairly rocking guitar based Blues and Blues Rock. I like to experiment a lot within the genre, but I have also deep respect for tradition. I feel like I’m walking a thin line sometimes in as far as going outside the Blues realm with my some of my writing, but staying tethered to the roots at the same time.

If I were to get approached by a band, label, or agency to work on a specific project, I’d be game. In the meantime I want to continue to experiment and write in some different Blues and Roots music styles. My first CD (A Little Wiser 2002 riatsala music) was mainly rocking Blues, but ventured into some Southern Rock areas as well. My live CD dipped into some Jam Band realms in addition to the rocking Blues. With my most recent release, I wanted to make a fairly traditional record, but with a bit of an edge. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do that, and pay tribute to some music and musicians that are very important to me at the same time. It also gave me a chance to get Mitch Kashmar involved on Harmonica and Piano which was great. I am thrilled that the Blues world at large accepted and dug it. We got great reviews and feedback for "Walking In Circles". I have such a blast investigating and exploring all as many different styles as I can.

M:  Who are your blues heroes and why?

A:  There are so many! The first thing that comes to mind are all the originators of acoustic and electric blues. Those guys and gals paid dues that most of us have no idea about. Some of those musicians quite literally gave their lives for this music, and made huge sacrifices. They blazed the trail that we are all walking on.

I have just stated the obvious, but that’s the first thing I thought of. There are so many well known musicians that everyone is aware of that are heroes to all blues musicians and fans. There are also all the great webzines, Blues societies, record labels, music venues, and DJs that really put their souls into promoting this music, and I think a lot of them could qualify as Blues heroes.

My personal heroes are the ones that I have met, got to know, and learned from in person. Mitch Kashmar, James Shane, Frank Goldwasser, Jon Lawton. These guys are all some of the best at what they do, and they all took the time to show a long haired Rock n Roll kid how to do some things right on the guitar, and how to play this music. Lucky for me, I also get to record and gig with some of these guys on a fairly regular basis.

When I put my first Blues band together back in 1997, the members of the rhythm section I had would qualify as heroes of mine. Tom Lackner (drums) and Jack Kennedy (bass) were the rhythm section from Mitch’s old band, "The Pontiax". That was a great way to segue into playing Blues after coming from a Hard Rock background. My main inspiration to be a musician, however, is my grandfather, the late Chico Alvarez, who played trumpet with the Stan Kenton Big Band in the 40s and 50s. I got to know him briefly, and seeing him play live a few times was huge for me. At the time, when I was growing up, I had no idea how heavy of a player he was in his day. Years later I’d talk to Jazz trumpet players, and they’d tell me they knew who he was and that he was a great one. I’m so glad I had the chance to know him a little and see him play before he passed.

M:  What are your musical goals?

A:  To get better at everything! I want to focus on writing as much as possible. I want to keep putting out records that reach and connect with more and more people. I want to play more gigs in more places. More music all the time is the goal! It would be nice to hook up with the right label or booking agency to help get my music out there a little more. My gig with Alan Parsons has already exposed my music to a whole other different group of music fans, simply by association, which is really cool.

M:   Who would you be honored to take the stage with?

A:  I honestly think if I could jam with Warren Haynes, I’d be a happy camper for years to come. To get a chance to musically interact with him on stage, would be an amazing experience. There’s lots of guys, of course, that any guitar player would kill to have a chance to jam with. Buddy Guy, James Cotton, the list is pretty long. I’d love to back up Kim Wilson sometime. That would be awesome. I’ve opened for the T-Birds a couple of times, and all those great tunes of his would be a lot of fun to play live. While I’m making my dream list, I might as well mention that if The Black Crowes ever need a guitarist, let me know, especially since I still look the part!

M:   What is the best advice you can offer to your guitar students?

A:  To be open to as many different styles of music as they can deal with. There is so much to learn from so many types of music. Guitarists need to learn what bassists and drummer have known for years. The more kinds of music you can play, the more work as a musician you’re going to get. I encourage them to start playing in a band or with other musicians as soon as possible, and also to start writing their own songs as soon as possible. There is something to be said for sitting in your room and getting your chops together, and I think most players with any degree of ability have done that.  Getting out and MAKING MUSIC is what is going to introduce you to people, places, and experiences. Some good and some bad of course, but that’s part of the path isn’t it? Navigating the stormy seas.

M:   What do you have going on right now in regard to CD’s, DVD’s, or shows?

A:  I have about twelve or thirteen songs recorded right now that are all over the map stylistically. I want to write and record a few more songs, and focus on getting a solid and cohesive album together. There are some more dates with the, Alan Parsons Live Project, coming up soon, which I’m looking forward to. It looks like my band might be doing some Blues Festivals in California this summer, which I’m really excited about. I am on a mission to play anywhere and everywhere I can. I’m on a mission to save the world!

Alastair Greene websites:
Alan Parsons Live Project
I don't know why, Alastair kind of reminds me of this guy, Coco Montoya.
Copyright © 2010 Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.

Photo Copyright © 2010 Alistair Greene. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission. 
Thank you for sharing Alistair!

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
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