A Tribute to a Folk Legend

 A Tribute to a Folk Legend

Road Warrior Greg

By Lucas Battista

Where we live, Greg Trooper is practically a household name. Especially within any household that has taste or is in Trooper’s various extended tribe of Rockaway-goers. Although no longer here, his legacy and words will continue to echo at the Knights of Columbus (333 Beach 90th Street) on Friday, January 26 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. at a musical festival in his name. Donations are highly appreciated and will contribute to an ongoing struggle in our country between good folks and a truly horrendous, terrible disease—pancreatic cancer.

I sat down with Claire Mullally, Greg Trooper’s wife of twenty-seven years, and Janet Deering, his closest friend, to learn more about Trooper and his music.

L: When and where did you meet Greg Trooper?

C: I met him in 1983 in the city, in Manhattan, we were 25, kids really, working together where a lot of musicians and actors worked because it was a flexible gig, and you could make money when you weren’t playing music or auditioning. At the time, I was studying acting (but about to apply to law school) and he was a songwriter and performing musician.

J: I met Greg Trooper probably in the early ‘80s, or mid ‘80s, introduced to him by his girlfriend at the time who’s a good friend of mine, Claire Mullally.

L: What is your taste in music?

C: Pretty eclectic, I like all different kinds of music.

J: Varied, I love music and Greg’s music had many influences but he’s also a rock and roll guy—he always was. But influenced by all kinds of music—he loved R&B, rock, folk and because of the time he lived in Texas and Nashville…there was a certain country flavor. And a bunch of country artists recorded his songs—Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Steve Earle, Maura O’Connell…

L: What type of person was Greg Trooper?

C: He was a very soulful person, and he was a fascinating and funny guy. He always made me laugh and he always made audiences laugh, and then he’d make them cry with his songs. He loved other songwriters, folk music, R&B, all the stuff we now call Americana. He was just really passionate about music. All he ever wanted to do since he was a kid was to write songs and sing them.

J: Greg was very interesting … a person that was interested in many things. He was a great reader, loved books and was a music aficionado! You could ask him questions about any type of genre, and he’d have an in-depth discussion about it! As far as his personality went, he was a deep thinker, but also a very funny person. He had a fabulous sense of humor, he could make you laugh very easily.

L: What were his interests other than music?

C: Big, big Mets fan.

J: Well, he grew up on the Jersey Shore, so I know he liked surfing, he loved movies, books. After he started touring in Italy, he became a big fan of Italian wine!

L: Did he have a preferred guitar?

C: Well, he played a 1970’s era Martin, a beautiful guitar…he always coveted old Fenders which were always out of his reach, but he always had a few electric guitars. When he started playing solo, he just brought his Martin and a harmonica!

L: What kind of musicians did Greg gravitate towards?

C: His genius as a band leader, besides his leadership qualities, was that he had a really good ear for other musicians. Larry Campbell was in his first band, and they played together for many years. Larry went on to play with Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, and many others in that realm.  Ken Blevins was a great drummer he used for many years. Ken played with John Prine, John Hiatt, Sonny Landreth and a bunch of others. Greg liked soulful musicians, he liked drummers who could play a little behind the beat, a little “swampy” as he used to call it. And other performers gravitated toward him! He opened for John Prine on the road for almost two years. He opened for Joe Ely, a great Texas singer-songwriter, on a month-long tour.

L: What was the most memorable, electric performance he gave?

C: I’ve been to many of his shows, and I have to say there were many of those moments. One of the greatest shows I saw was at a folk festival out in Bend, Oregon, a beautiful place, it was in a tent at sunset, there were about 500 people there and the place was electric, they gave him a standing ovation after every song—they were quiet for some of his quieter songs, crying, even. And then he’d make them laugh, so they were laughing and crying, and when he started rocking, the place exploded. He had a way of electrifying a room.

J: So one of the things I loved about Greg was I would tell him that though I’m not really a student of music, I love music, and he would say that it’s a great thing to appreciate music even if you don’t play, if it speaks to you, moves you in some way, then it’s great. I remember seeing him at the Bottom Line in the ‘80s, the Lone Star, Tramps, so many great gigs! And his guitar player, Larry Campbell, went on to play with Dylan, Neil Young, Levin Helm!

L: What musicians did Greg most enjoy collaborating with?

J: Yeah, well, when he moved to Nashville with his wife and son in 1995, I know he played with Buddy Miller, Steve Earle, Roseanne Cash, among many others.

L: How would you describe Greg’s philosophy?

C: He was totally about his music and his family, he loved his son, he was a really good father, and that was very important to him. And second to his family was his music and performing. He just loved it so much, he used to joke, “I do this because I can’t really do anything else.” And it was kind of true!

J: Well, I think he was so passionate about his writing and performing, it was kind of like a calling!

L: For the tribute on January 26, are there any bands in particular you look forward to?

J: Really, for me, it’s just to be able to hear live performances of some of his songs. I have all of his CDs, every one of them, but I also probably saw him live more than anybody else except maybe his wife, because I would go out to big shows, little shows, Texas shows, Nashville shows, whenever I could. Kevin Stokes is an old friend, I love his band, he and his brothers, and the Kearney brothers will be there too.

C: I’m looking forward to seeing them all. Most of them are local Rockaway people—I love that It’s a local event to celebrate a local guy.

For more information on the event in honor of Greg, please check out the advertisement on page 3 of this week’s paper. Hope to see you there!

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