|A Dixon Smith photo of Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys performing in 1966. (L-R) Richard Greene, Lamar Grier, Bill Monroe, Peter Rowan, James Monroe.|
Greene's career has been full of so many recordings and performances that it has been hard to get a handle on it. Greene's role in Old And In The Way is usually glossed over as well, since his place was taken by the great Vassar Clements, and Vassar played on the group's seminal album. However, a recent interview with Richard Greene by scholar and radio personality Jake Feinberg unravels some interesting threads in the Greene story, particularly in his first ten years as a performer. Thus, with accurate information from Greene himself, it's possible to put his career with Old And In The Way and The Great American String Band in its proper context. This post will look at Richard Greene's musical history from 1964 to 1974, with a special emphasis on Greene's musical connections to Jerry Garcia during that time.
In the Feinberg interview, Greene says that he was asked to join Old And In The Way because Jerry Garcia wanted him in the band. Of course, it's most likely that Greene's old pal Peter Rowan recommended him, but Garcia had known Greene back in his bluegrass days. What is intriguing about Richard Greene's early career was not his formidable bluegrass experience, but the fact that an historic stint with Bill Monroe was followed by jug band, jazz and rock groups. In that respect, Greene had more or less replicated Garcia's experience of having been grounded in bluegrass and using that discipline to play a wide variety of music.
Richard Greene On The Jake Feinberg Show
Jake Feinberg, formerly the play-by-play man for the Knoxville Tenneseeans AA baseball team, has a unique show on 1330 KWFN-am in Tucson. Feinberg has weekly interviews with interesting musicians, mostly from the 1960s and 70s. His interviews are up to 2 hours long, and he focuses on the intersection of jazz, rock and world music during that time, particularly in Northern California. Feinberg focuses on the type of musicians who worked with a wide variety of players, often crossing over various genres. The names are not always huge, but they are very familiar to anyone who has spent time looking at the backs of albums--George Duke, Ron McClure, Bob Jones, Emil Richards, Mike Clark, The Jazz Crusaders and Gary Bartz, to name just a few. There are many names that are familiar to Deadheads, too: Howard Wales, Bill Vitt, Melvin Seals, Tony Saunders and Bobby Cochran, for example.
Feinberg has a particular ability to get musicians to talk about their approach to music, and a particular interest in who they played with back in the day. Feinberg's persistence in asking each subject where and with whom they played back in their professional beginnings is invaluable to the likes of me. The Richard Greene interview goes on for nearly two hours (here and here), and is well worth the time to listen to. My quotes from the interview are rather casual transcriptions from my notes.
|The Coast Mountain Ramblers (Ken Frankel, Richard Greene and Dave Pollack) at the Ash Grove in 1963|
The typical thumbnail sketch of Richard Greene has been that he was a classically trained violinist who discovered bluegrass, and his classical training gave him a huge advantage over more casual players. Greene himself considers the story an exaggeration. According to him, he had taken violin lessons but did not consider himself "trained." Now, I think Greene is being a bit modest--he got so good so fast as a bluegrass player that he was obviously pretty talented, but I take his point that he was no prodigy as a teenager.
Greene discovered bluegrass and old-time fiddle more or less by accident. The guilty party was Ken Frankel. Some readers may recognize the name, as Frankel played bluegrass with Jerry Garcia, David Nelson and others off and on from 1962-1964. The story from Ken Frankel:
Feinberg's interview picks up the story in late '63 or so. Greene's breakthrough experience came when he dropped out of college around that time (alluded to in Frankel's story above). Greene had taken a job at a real estate agency. Across the street was The Ash Grove, the legendary folk club at 8162 Melrose Avenue (now The Improv, a comedy club). One day on his lunch break, Greene went over to the Ash Grove. Legendary fiddler Scotty Stoneman was playing for a very few people in the club. Solo fiddle performances are rare, but Stoneman was a rare fiddler indeed. Greene was transfixed hearing Stoneman play what amounted to an endless fiddle solo, hearing the High Lonesome Sound in one of its purest and most imaginative forms.
Coast Mountain Ramblers - Old Timey Band with Dave Pollack and Richard GreeneI had played music in high school with Dave, who is as good a musician as I have ever met. In 1960 we were undergraduates at Berkeley, and were trying to put together an old-timey group. We put a few notices up looking for a third person, but couldn't find anyone. Richard was an excellent classical violinist from our high school, living in the same place as Dave (the co-op). Out of desperation, we decided to try to teach Richard how to play fiddle. He was a little resistant in the beginning, and made fun of the music. We put a few songs together and played them on a folk radio show (the Midnight Special on KPFA). Much to our surprise, and especially to Richard's surprise, everyone went crazy for us. All of a sudden, Richard was hooked. In the early 1960's, we played on the Midnight Special radio show often, and in small concerts and clubs. In 1963 we won the Ash Grove talent contest, which was a year long event. (Ry Cooder came in second). Our prize was to play for a week at the Ash Grove. We were so successful they held us over for a second week. Shortly after that, Dave and I graduated from Berkeley and went on to other types of endeavors. Richard made fiddle his career, which was a good thing for his many fans.
|A Stoneman Family album from the 1960s|
I get my improvisational approach from Scotty Stoneman, the fiddle player. [He's] the guy who first set me on fire — where I just stood there and I don’t remember breathing. He was just an incredible fiddler. He was a total alcoholic wreck by the time I heard him, in his early thirties, playing with the Kentucky Colonels… They did a medium-tempo fiddle tune like ‘Eighth of January’ and it’s going along, and pretty soon Scotty starts taking these longer and longer phrases — ten bars, fourteen bars, seventeen bars — and the guys in the band are just watching him! They’re barely playing — going ding, ding, ding — while he’s burning. The place was transfixed. They played this tune for like twenty minutes, which is unheard of in bluegrass. I’d never heard anything like it. I asked him later, ‘How do you do that?’ and he said, ‘Man, I just play lonesome.’Soon after Greene rescued Stoneman, Stoneman hooked up with Clarence White and the Kentucky Colonels. Garcia was already friends with Clarence and his brothers, so he would have heard Stoneman play many times. Indeed, there is a famous Kentucky Colonels live album recorded in 1964 (Living In The Past, originally released in 1976 on Sierra Records), where Garcia introduces the band during a Palo Alto performance (November 15, 1964 at the Comedia Del'larte Theater on Emerson Street).
The combination of having had fun in college with the Coast Mountain Ramblers and hearing the musical possibilities of bluegrass fiddle from Scotty Stoneman seems to have set Richard Greene on a new musical path. He wasn't interested in college, nor in real estate, but he got serious about bluegrass. Since he was based in Southern California, he played a little with the Pine Valley Boys, a Berkeley bluegrass band who had relocated South. At the time, the Pine Valley Boys included David Nelson on guitar. Greene had probably already met Garcia from his Berkeley days, but if not, he would have likely met him in 1964, through either the Pine Valley Boys or the Kentucky Colonels, as the California bluegrass world was quite tiny[update: Commenter Nick found an interview with Greene which says he met and played with Garcia around 1964].
In the second half of 1964, Greene was also a member of another band, The Dry City Scat Band. Bluegrass bands aren't like rock bands, in that much of the material was and is traditional and shared, so it isn't so hard to be a member of more than one bluegrass band. Also, there isn't much work for bluegrass bands, so conflicts are sadly rare. The Dry City Scat Band had evolved out of a Claremont, CA group called The Mad Mountain Ramblers, whose main gig in 1963-64 had been at the "Mine Train" in Disneyland, dressed in Old West gear (one of the few paying bookings for string bands).
The Mad Mountain Ramblers evolved into The Dry City Scat Band, who played mostly bluegrass with the occasional old-time string band number, a good match for Greene's experience. Dry City featured two other players besides Greene who went on to have substantial careers, namely banjoist David Lindley and mandolinist Chris Darrow, who both went on to have significant professional careers in the Los Angeles studios. Greene's easy transition into the studio scene in the 1970s was probably eased by having played with such established players many years earlier. The Dry City Scat Band mostly just played the Ash Grove, particularly two long runs: June 30-July 19 and September 22-October 11, 1964. Yet out of these thin connections, Greene somehow became a member of the first and most important bluegrass band, Bill Monroe And His Bluegrass Boys.
Bill Monroe And His Bluegrass Boys
Bill Monroe was a popular country singer prior to 1940, often performing as a duo with his brother Charlie. However, late in 1940 he made a conscious effort to create a new style of music, an effort that succeeded completely. At a time when music was moving forward but rural life in the South was changing, Monroe invented bluegrass, a style that had traditional harmonies and acoustic instruments like "old-time" music, but played at a breakneck pace in a sophisticated style, like be-bop. Bluegrass became a popular style, appealing particularly to people from the Appalachians who had relocated to big cities for factory work.
There were many other bluegrass bands besides the Bluegrass Boys, but Bill Monroe was the godfather. He also became a regular performer on the Grand Ole Opry. However, by the late 1950s, while Monroe remained a country music legend, he was no longer a popular artist on the radio, and he was reduced to being able to tour only by using a pickup band of local musicians. They would know his material--it was famous--but they wouldn't be rehearsed and they weren't his band. What saved Bill Monroe and bluegrass was the folk revival. Young kids in the suburbs, like David Grisman (Hackensack, NJ) and Jerry Garcia (Menlo Park, CA) went from hearing Joan Baez and the Kingston Trio to hearing bluegrass, and they were hooked. Monroe's star rose again, and he started having a regular band, tight and rehearsed in his trademark High Lonesome sound.
By the early 1960s, thanks to the folk revival, a new breed of suburban teenager had gotten interested in Bill Monroe and bluegrass, and Monroe had started playing for suburban "folk" audiences as well as his traditional Southern fans. In 1962, Monroe had his first "Northern" band member. Bill Keith was a banjo player from Amherst, MA, and had initially learned bluegrass from records. Keith was a phenomenal, revolutionary, banjo player, however, and a huge influence on the likes of Jerry Garcia. No small part of Keith's impact on the likes of Garcia was the fact that he had come from a suburban college town, just like Garcia had.
|The cover of Bill Monroe's 1967 MCA album Bluegrass Time, when Richard Greene and Peter Rowan were members of the Bluegrass Boys|
Although Monroe had a more fluid approach to bands than some performers, since his arrangements were fairly fixed, he still generally had a core band that he worked with. From the end of 1964 until the middle of 1967, Monroe had a quintet that was largely "Northern" save for himself and his son
Bill Monroe-mandolinPeter Rowan had been a folk musician in the Martha's Vineyard area in Massachusetts, but he too had discovered bluegrass. Rowan is well-known to Deadheads, of course, but Rowan and Greene started playing together in late '64 in the Bluegrass Boys. I am not sure how Greene got hooked up with Monroe. It is interesting that the Summer of '64 is when Jerry Garcia and Sandy Rothman made their pilgrimage to the bluegrass festival in Brown County, IN, in the hopes of getting into Monroe's band. Garcia supposedly hovered around Monroe, waiting for an opportunity to meet him, in the hopes of becoming his banjo player, but no such opportunity arose. Ironically, some months later Rothman ended up in Monroe's band for a few weeks. Had either of them stuck around, they might have connected with Rowan and Greene in the Bluegrass Boys lineup that was to follow.
Peter Rowan-guitar [Wayland, MA]
Richard Greene-fiddle [Los Angeles, CA]
Lamar Grier-banjo [suburban Maryland]
The Rowan/Greene/Grier configuration of the Bluegrass Boys worked on one contemporary album, Bluegrass Time, released on Decca Records in 1967, after Greene and Rowan had left the band. Greene and Rowan also appear on a few tracks on some archival live material. Rowan jumped ship to form a rock band called Earth Opera in Cambridge, MA with another young, suburban bluegrasser from Hackensack, NJ, mandolinist David Grisman. (This topic will be the subject of another post entirely). Richard Greene, meanwhile, seems to have stayed on the East Coast, eager to expand his musical horizons.
|The August, 1967 Reprise album Garden Of Joy, by The Jim Kweskin Jug Band. Richard Greene had joined the Cambridge, MA based group by the end of the band's tenure.|
The Jim Kweskin Jug Band had been a popular act on Vanguard Records since 1963. In fact, Garcia and others had gone to see the Kweskin band in Berkeley (at the Cabale on March 11, 1964), since they had already formed a jug band, and the Kweskin crew were the leading practitioners. By 1967, the Kweskin Jug Band had been through a number of personnel changes, but while sounding a bit outdated they were still a draw. They were based in Cambridge, MA, and Greene and banjoist Bill Keith played on their final album, Garden Of Joy, released on Reprise in August of 1967. Geoff and Maria Muldaur were the singers (joined by Kweskin on guitar and Fritz Richmond on bass). The disintegration of the Kweskin band is too strange to discuss here (google "Mel Lyman"), but suffice to say Greene and the others had to move on.
|The back cover of Planned Obsolecsence by The Blues Project, originally released on Verve in 1968 (this is actually the cd released on One Way in 1996)|
The Blues Project had been founded in Greenwich Village in 1965, and they had been a seminal band on the early psychedelic circuit. The Blues Project had shown that a bunch of white suburban guys could play funky blues in an imaginative way. They put out some great albums on Verve Records and were influential everywhere they played, not least in San Francisco. When the group had disintegrated in mid-1967, organist Al Kooper and guitarist Steve Katz had gone on to form Blood, Sweat and Tears, who had become hugely successful. Kooper had then in turn split from BS&T, but he had gone on to fame as a producer and performer in his own right, so the Blues Project name definitely had some hip cred.
Two members of the Blues Project, bassist Andy Kulberg (b.1944-d.2002) and drummer Roy Blumenfield, had moved to the Bay Area by early '68. They formed a new band, and they called themselves The Blues Project, presumably because it helped them get gigs. The other members of the group were guitarist John Gregory and saxophonist Don Kretmar, both San Francisco musicians. However, Kulberg and Blumenfield seemed to have realized that trying to live up to the first Blues Project was never going to be a winning proposition, and they evolved into a band called Seatrain. Richard Greene, no doubt friends with Kulberg and Blumenfield from the East Coast folk scene, returned to California to join the group.
However, it appeared that the former members of the Blues Project still owed an album to Verve, so they couldn't record as Seatrain. Thus the members of Seatrain, including Greene, made an album called Planned Obsolescence, credited to the Blues Project, which was released on Verve in 1968. The same band members then recorded the first Seatrain album for A&M, which was released later in 1968. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the Planned Obsolescence album had little to do with the original Blues Project, and that only the most trivial material was used for the album. Such was the 60s. It was hardly the strangest thing in the recording history of the Blues Project, who would go on to reform and release various albums over the years.
|A Berkeley Barb ad from February 14, 1969 for Berkeley's Freight And Salvage. High Country was booked for Thursday February 20. Richard Greene may have played with the band (David Nelson definitely did).|
Greene had returned to California in 1968, apparently to play in an electric rock band in Marin County. Nonetheless, he found some time to play a little bluegrass on the side, while still playing with Seatrain. Thus Greene was a sort of adjunct member of a Berkeley bluegrass band in early '69. Butch Waller, formerly of the Pine Valley Boys, had returned to the North and he had formed High Country in 1968, initially as a duo. Their home base was Berkeley's Freight And Salvage. Various members came and went throughout 1969. When Greene did play with High Country, he often played with David Nelson, another old pal of Waller's (I have addressed this murky subject elsewhere).
|The first Seatrain album, released on A&M Records in 1969|
Sometime in early 1969--or possibly in late 1968--A&M Records released the first Seatrain album, called Seatrain, according to the practices of the time. Seatrain included all the five players who had been on the Planned Obsolescence album (Gregory, Kretmar, Greene, Kulberg and Blumenfield). However, lyricist Jim Roberts, Kulberg's songwriting partner, was also listed as a full member. The album wasn't bad, and a lot of care had been taken in the writing and recording of the songs, but the first Seatrain album had a sort of stiff, baroque feel. It appears that in the Spring of '69, Seatrain relocated again, this time from Marin County to Cambridge, MA.
|The 1969 Gary Burton lp Throb, on Atlantic Records, with Richard Greene guest starring on electric violin|
When Seatrain relocated, it gave Richard Greene a chance to play some real jazz with Gary Burton. Gary Burton is too fascinating a tangent to go into here, but--just to give you a taste--Burton was a groundbreaking vibraphonist who grew up in Nashville, TN, enjoying country and rock along with jazz. The first Gary Burton Quartet, with Larry Coryell on electric guitar, formed in New York in 1967, was a crucially important jazz-rock fusion band. The Quartet could play the Fillmore as well as the Village Vanguard, and shined in both places.
By 1969, Jerry Hahn had taken over the guitar role from Coryell, but the Gary Burton Quartet was still a great band. Greene played amplified violin with them on occasion. When Gary Burton recorded an album at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 20, 1969, in Newport, RI, Greene sat in. As a result, Greene appeared on the album Throb, along with Burton, Hahn, Bob Moses (drums) and Steve Swallow (bass). It's a terrific album, but it has never been released on cd, so it is hard to hear [update: a commenter tells me Throb was released as extra tracks on the Keith Jarrett/Gary Burton cd]. In any case, Seatrain went on tour right after the festival, and Hahn left the group, so although Burton continued (and continues) to have a stellar jazz career, the jazz side of Greene's violin career was left by the wayside.
|The second Seatrain album (1970), but the first on Capitol, also called Seatrain, like the one on A&M. Peter Rowan had joined up with old bandmate Richard Greene for this one.|
When Seatrain returned to the East Coast, they underwent a variety of personnel changes, not all of which I am certain of (and in any case too tangential even for this post). However, the principal change was that Peter Rowan joined the group on guitar and vocals, replacing John Gregory. With Rowan and new keyboard player Lloyd Baskin joining Greene, Kulberg and a drummer, Seatrain's sound became less baroque and more soulful country. However, as an East Coast band, they did not fall into the country rock bag of the Flying Burrito Brothers and The Grateful Dead, even if they shared some musical roots.
|Richard Greene and Peter "Panama Red" Rowan at the Freight And Salvage on February 18, 1970|
It seems that Seatrain returned to Marin County for the Fall of 1969 and the Winter of 1970. Besides regular rock gigs, however, some of the members of Seatrain played some bluegrass shows at the Freight And Salvage with various Berkeley musicians. In February, March and April 1970, Peter Rowan and Richard Greene played three shows at the Freight under the billing "Panama Red and Richard Greene." The ad for one month actually indicated that Rowan was 'Panama Red', so it wasn't particularly a secret. Nonetheless, it is very interesting to see that the Rowan's Panama Red persona was in place as early as 1970, even if it seems that the song was probably not written until later.
I would love to know what songs Rowan and Greene did as a duo, and what it sounded like. I assume it was a forum for Rowan's own songs and some choice covers, but it would be intriguing indeed if a tape or even a setlist turned up.
|The 1971 Capitol album Marblehead Messenger, by Seatrain|
After April 1970, there were no more weeknight bluegrass gigs at the Freight for any members of Seatrain. All signs point to the band having relocated the East Coast again. Capitol laid it on pretty thick, a clear sign that the company had high hopes for the band. The 70-71 lineup was the "classic" lineup of Seatrain that everyone remembers:
Peter Rowan-guitar, vocalsSeatrain carved out an interesting niche. They sang in a country rock style, with a little bit of R&B overtones. Yet they had no lead guitarist, so most of the lead lines were played by Greene on the electric violin. With his classical training, bluegrass chops and jazz experience, Greene was uniquely positioned to be a lead player, even if he played "lead violin" rather than lead guitar.
Richard Greene-electric violin
Lloyd Baskin-keyboards, vocals
Andy Kulberg-bass, flute, vocals
In the Feinberg interview, Greened describes himself as having been heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix. He used a wah-wah pedal on stage, probably one of, if not the, first electric violinists to do so. In that respect, Greene followed something like Garcia' arc, taking the music and discipline he learned from bluegrass, electrifying it, and playing at high volume in a rock band. Greene describes himself as "the first electric violinist" in rock. That isn't quite true (I think a guy named Eddie Drennon was first, who played in Bo Diddley's band, and members of the group Kaleidoscope also played electric violin from 1966 onwards), but it's certainly true that Greene was playing electric violin with no road map, and was blazing new trails as he did so.
Seatrain recorded two albums for Capitol in 1970 and 1971, Seatrain and Marblehead Messenger. Both were recorded in London with George Martin. The first Seatrain album on Capitol, released in 1970--rather unfathomably also called Seatrain, just like the '69 A&M album--was the first album George Martin had produced since The Beatles. Capitol would not have sent Seatrain to London to record with Martin if they had not rated them highly.
There is some nice material on the two Capitol albums, and they are very well recorded, but the albums are not exceptional. Seatrain has a nice cover of Lowell George's "Willin'," and Marblehead Messenger has a nice version of Rowan's "Mississippi Moon," but there were no classic FM tracks. Some live Seatrain tapes circulate, on Wolfgang's Vault and elsewhere, and Greene's unique role as lead violinist is well represented. Seatrain opened for a lot of famous bands, at the Fillmore East and elsewhere, and seems to have acquitted themselves well. Greene and Rowan did not lose touch with their bluegrass roots, as their typical show closer was a rocking version of "Orange Blossom Special."
By mid-72 or so, however, Seatrain seemed to have kind of run its course. A fourth Seatrain album, Watch, was released by Capitol in 1973, but it seemed to be made up of old tracks. Rowan played on a few of them, and Greene co-wrote one song, but the album was an afterthought. Rowan, with few options on the table, moved to Marin County, where his brothers were making a record with David Grisman and Richard Loren. Richard Greene appears to have returned to Southern California.
|A 1998 cd of the original live broadcast of the impromptu bluegrass group that became known as "Muleskinner."|
On February 13, 1973, a KCET-TV program was scheduled to feature Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys. The hour long program planned to feature a live half-hour of Monroe, with an opening live "tribute" set by younger musicians. The group assembled became the basis of what is now known as the "Muleskinner" group (because of the 1974 album), but they didn't actually use the name Muleskinner. As it happened, Monroe's bus broke down in Stockton, and the openers played the entire hour instead. The band for this show was
- Peter Rowan-guitar, vocals
- Clarence White-lead guitar
- David Grisman-mandolin, vocals
- Richard Greene-violin
- Bill Keith-banjo
- Stuart Schulman-bass
The impromptu performance was so satisfying that the musicians played a week at The Ash Grove (March 17-22), the very same club where Greene had first heard Scotty Stoneman. They also made plans to record an album. According to Greene (in the Feinberg interview), the plan was that this ensemble would co-exist with Old And In The Way. An album was recorded, with the idea that it would be a sort of rock-bluegrass hybrid, and John Kahn played bass, with John Guerin on drums. The album Muleskinner-A Potpourri Of Bluegrass Jam was released in 1974, but after Clarence White's death on July 29, 1973, any serious plans for the group were dropped.
|Part of the March, 1973 Keystone Berkeley calendar, showing Old And In The Way playing March 12 and 13.|
I have also written at length about the genesis of Old And In The Way and Muleskinner, so I won't recap it all. Suffice to say, Jerry Garcia was living at the top of the hill in Stinson Beach, and David Grisman and Peter Rowan were living at the bottom of the hill, and they started to play bluegrass together. Garcia got his long-dormant banjo chops together, John Kahn was added on bass, and in March of 1973 the quartet started playing some bluegrass gigs at rock clubs (and possibly at some tiny place in Stinson Beach). There is a whiff that John Hartford was tried out as a member, but he played few, if any shows, possibly only working on a still-unreleased recording, but I have to assume Hartford's schedule did not allow him to be a member of a part-time band.
Greene's first performance as a member of Old And In The Way was on April 12, 1973, at the Granada Theater in Santa Barbara. Greene went on to play fiddle at most, though not all, of the Old And In The Way shows for April and May. At the time, the band was just a curiousity: Garcia had surprised the rock world by playing as a sideman in the New Riders Of The Purple Sage on a secondary instrument (pedal steel guitar), and here he was doing it again on yet another instrument. Very few California rock fans even knew what bluegrass was. FM broadcasts of Old And In The Way were often the first bluegrass fans that many rock fans had ever heard.
Old And In The Way helped re-invigorate bluegrass in many ways. The most important way, of course, was the fact that Jerry Garcia's presence caused people to actually listen to it. Peter Rowan's original songs made bluegrass sound contemporary, instead of like a museum piece. Finally, unlike most typical bluegrass bands, Old And In The Way had relatively lengthy instrumental breaks that flirted with jazz. This was directly modeled on the style of Scotty Stoneman. Stoneman had influenced Garcia's guitar playing, and now Garcia had a bluegrass band with a fiddler who had actually taken lessons--of a sort--from Stoneman himself.
The free-flowing style of Old And In The Way owed a lot to Richard Greene. Ironically enough, when Greene had to leave the band, Greene was replaced by the even more incredible Vassar Clements, himself a true legend. Clements took flight in Old And In The Way's format, and the other musicians in the band all thought that Vassar was the best soloist in the band. Greene had established the template, however, and it was the critical need to replace him with someone good that caused the band to seek out Clements.
Why did Richard Greene leave Old And In The Way? He was playing great music with friends, and he was able to merge bluegrass with jazz, and the band was rising in popularity. Greene explained the answer in the Feinberg interview: he got offered serious money to go on tour with Loggins And Messina. Old And In The Way gigs paid a little bit, by bluegrass standards, but they were only going to play occasional shows around the Grateful Dead and Garcia/Saunders touring schedule. Old And In The Way wasn't really going to pay Greene's way, and Loggins And Messina would.
Jim Messina had originally been Kenny Loggins' producer, but their initial collaboration went so well that they became a duo. By 1973, they had hit singles and were becoming hugely popular. Loggins And Messina would go on to sell something like 15 million albums in six years. Loggins And Messina were a pop group, but a very musical one. One of the cornerstones of their success was a country music sensibility without all the twangs and songs about trains. They already had a fiddle player in the band, Al Garth, but he also played saxophone and flute. By bringing in Richard Greene, it allowed Loggins And Messina to have a sort of Western Swing sound on stage, with either twin fiddles or fiddle and saxophone.
Interestingly, Greene's connection to Loggins And Messina was through Seatrain. Seatrain had played a number of shows with Poco, back in 1970 when Jim Messina was their lead guitarist. Although apparently they hardly spoke at the time, Messina was definitely listening, and when they needed a versatile violinist, Greene got the call.
According to Greene, Loggins And Messina made so much money touring, they traveled in not one but two jets. One was for Loggins and Messina, and the other was for the band. Obviously, Greene was getting a pretty good wage besides. Greene toured with Loggins And Messina for three years, until the duo finally broke up in 1976, while they were both still friends. Greene may not have played on every tour, but I think he played on most of them. He appears on some tracks on the 'posthumous' Loggins And Messina live album, Finale, releases in 1977. (Unfortunately, as far as I know, Loggins and Messina never did the slow version of "Friend Of The Devil" after '72, so Greene never got to play it).
|An ad from the Sunday, May 5, 1974 Oakland Tribune, listing the Great American String Band's upcoming performance at the Keystone Berkeley that night|
In 1974, although Greene was making his living by touring with Loggins And Messina, he still had time for other music when they were off the road. David Grisman had precipitated the end of Old And In The Way because he wanted to go in a different direction than Peter Rowan. I'm not sure that Greene and Grisman had really played together prior to the 'Muleskinner' show in February 1973, and then Old And In The Way a few months later. Certainly, most of the younger bluegrass players all knew each other, so Greene and Grisman had surely picked a little, but they hadn't been in a band with each other.
By March of 1974, Grisman and Greene had hatched a new band, called The Great American String Band. It was initially based at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall. The goal of the Great American String Band was to play all American music on acoustic instruments. Not just bluegrass, but jazz, folk, blues, swing and pretty much anything else, sometimes all at once. This was a pretty audacious goal, but the remarkable thing about the band was that it ultimately succeeded, and in so doing helped revolutionize American music. Whether you read about "New Acoustic" music, or see a couple of guys in a pizza parlor doing a swinging version of a blues song on mandolin and guitar, that can be traced back directly to the Great American String Band.
The Great American String Band debuted at the Great American Music Hall on March 9-10, 1974. The first night's lineup was Grisman, Greene, David Nichtern on guitar and Buell Niedlinger on bass. For the second night, Jerry Garcia joined them on banjo. Although there were some occasional adjustments to the lineup, Garcia and Greene were in the GASB through June of 1974. Garcia stopped playing with them after June, mainly due to having too many other commitments. Greene and Grisman continued to play in the GASB through the Fall of '74 (the band was sometimes billed as The Great American Music Band).
However, the Great American String Band ultimately stopped playing, I believe because Greene had too many commitments with Loggins And Messina. The Great American String Band evolved into the David Grisman Quintet, and it was the DGQ that really opened everyone's ears to the possibilities of acoustic music. It did not hurt that the Old And In The Way album was released in February 1975--a mere 16 months after it was recorded--and David Grisman's name became better known in Deadhead circles.
If Richard Greene had been on the Old And In The Way album, it would have been his name that was associated with progressive bluegrass fiddle and the Grateful Dead. If he had stuck with the Great American String Band, then the David Grisman Quintet (under whatever name) would have had two former members of OAITW. Whether that would have been good and bad would be impossible to say, but the fact was that Greene had to make a living, and making Loggins And Messina swing a little on stage was a pretty musical way to make a living, if hardly revolutionary.
Richard Greene's presence in Old And In The Way was not accidental, even if it was only for six weeks or so. Greene represented a straight line from Scotty Stoneman, and he had played with Bill Monroe, so his bluegrass pedigree was all that Jerry Garcia could ask for. And yet in the years before Old And In The Way, Greene had played old-time music, in a jug band, electric jazz and high volume rock and roll. In that respect, Greene came back to bluegrass in a very similar way that Jerry Garcia did, proud of the tradition and steeped in it, yet eager to enrich it with other kinds of music. Greene's breadth was essential to the foundation of The Great American String Band as well, and yet he departed both seminal groups long before they became famous.
Happily, many years later, the music world has caught up with Richard Greene and he is rightly revered as a master of violin and fiddle, crossing boundaries in a wide variety of ensembles. He may not be using a wah-wah pedal any more, but Greene's wide tastes inform his music in a variety of powerful ways. His presence in Old And In The Way and The Great American String Band was no accident, even though it took several more years for everyone to catch up with what Jerry Garcia and David Grisman already knew.
Richard Greene Discography 1967-76
[this discography is limited to bands where Richard Greene was a member]
Bluegrass Time-Bill Monroe (Decca Spring '67)[For a more complete discography of Greene's work, including many of his session appearances, see the page on his own site]
Garden Of Joy-Jim Kweskin Jug Band (Reprise August '67)
Planned Obsolescence-Blues Project (Verve 1968)
Seatrain (A&M 1969)
Throb-Gary Burton (1969)
Seatrain (Capitol 1970)
Marblehead Messenger (Capitol 1971)
A Potpourri Of Bluegrass Jam-Muleskinner (Sierra 1974, recorded 1973)
Old And In The Way (Round 1975, recorded Oct 8 '73)
Finale-Loggins And Messina (Columbia 1977, recorded live mid-70s)
Muleskinner Live: Original Television Soundtrack (Micro Werks 1998, recorded Feb 13 '73)