Music News & Reviews

The road always leads back to Sacramento for Jackie Greene

Jackie Greene photographed at The Crest Theatre in Sacramento.
Jackie Greene photographed at The Crest Theatre in Sacramento.

For those of us who remember catching Jackie Greene around Sacramento in the early 2000s, we’ve since had to watch his career truck along from afar. Greene, who once lived in midtown by way of Cameron Park, at one time was among the highest-profile musicians living in the area, a singer-songwriter who packed local clubs, opened for the likes of B.B. King and landed a record deal with Verve/Forecast.

That seems like so long ago. Greene hasn’t lived in Sacramento for more than a decade, bouncing to the Bay Area, a spot near Galt where he set up a recording studio, and now Brooklyn. His career has continued through a string of solo albums, including 2015’s “Back to Birth,” an album for Yep Roc Records that showcases Greene’s melodic side and seamless ability to blend rootsy rock ’n’ roll with bits of gospel, folk and blues.

That’s to say Greene is achieving veteran status, far from the baby-faced singer-songwriter on the cover of 2002’s “Gone Wanderin.’ ” As Greene readies for a hometown show Friday, Aug. 5, at the Red Lion Woodlake Sacramento, he’s a bit scruffier with a beard, but his voice hasn’t sounded smoother. He also developed his guitar chops further in a stint with the Black Crowes and his ongoing affiliation with Phil Lesh and Friends, which reinterprets Grateful Dead tunes and other songs in a loose, improvisational atmosphere.

But no matter how far he gets from home, Greene always finds his way back to Sacramento – and may become a more permanent resident here in the near future. Here’s what Greene had to say in a phone call from his tour van while heading to a recent gig in Connecticut:

Q: You’ve been away from Sacramento for quite a while now. How are you liking it on the East Coast these days?

A: My ultimate plan is actually to move back out to Sacramento. Quite frankly, New York is kind of tough if you’re from the West Coast. (Laughs) I mean, between the weather, how much everything costs, it’s kind of a pain in the (butt). There’s a lot of good things about it. It’s just sort of the stress of everything can get to you. I’ve been all over, and that Northern California living is where it’s at.

Q: Does this still feel like the same Sacramento to you when you come back?

A: Not really. I feel like it’s changed quite a bit, but to be honest, I haven’t lived out there for a while, so I haven’t had my finger on the pulse. But that’s maybe why it seems different. I’ll drive downtown and it’s like, “That’s new. That’s new. That’s new.” I will say the Sacramento food game is really up. We’ve been talking about that a lot in the van.

Q: I’ve heard you say before that Sacramento can be tough to play in terms of finding the right venue. Does that still hold true?

A: Sacramento is tough for us. The venues that are still there are either too small or too big. We can’t play the Memorial Auditorium because it’s too big, and the Crest can be kind of expensive to do. We want to try and do all-ages shows. At the same time, it is my hometown. I really try and find a way to do it. It’s always nice to feel that hometown love when we come through.

Q: You’ve been pretty busy these last few years, especially in those sideman gigs with Phil Lesh and Friends and the Black Crowes. How would you sum up the ride in playing with those guys?

A: It has been a really good ride, and it still is a good ride. I’m pretty lucky to be pulled into these situations somehow. Playing with the Crowes was a lot of fun. I did it for a year, and that’s all it was going to be. It was really fun to go out and live out my childhood fantasy of being just a guitar player in a famous rock ’n’ roll band and play really loud. That was really awesome. I learned quite a bit playing with those guys.

Q: I’d think that gig with Phil Lesh would be especially challenging, given the spontaneous nature of his music, and not to mention the scrutiny of longtime Grateful Dead fans.

A: I’m far more comfortable with it now. At this point now, I’m almost feeling like one of the older guys. It’s even more fun now because it’s less stressful and I do know more material now. It’s more freeing. We did a gig out the other day and Phil made the set list 10 minutes before we went on. Part of the gig and part of the experience is to learn something new in front of 1,000 people.

Q: How scary was it at first?

A: At first it was super nerve-racking. I was 26 years old – and God, that’s 10 years ago now – I remember my first real gig was at the Greek Theatre (in Berkeley) and there were like two or three songs on the set list that I never sang before or even really heard. I was like, “Oh (shoot).” I was freaking out. To go from that to where I am now is night and day. It’s a long-term gift that I received from Phil and from doing that whole circuit.

Q: Do you find that these kinds of musical situations and experiences start to influence your own work when it’s time to record your own music?

A: Yeah, there’s that palette of colors, and that palette has got so much bigger, and the possibilities for those colors has just grown. Now I have this experience of playing in sort of questionable circumstances and realizing often times it comes out not as bad as you might think. You can totally fail, but the thing about Phil is to never be afraid to fail. Quite frankly, it’s a good life lesson, not just for music. It sounds cheesy and corny but it’s true.

Q: Given all the time you spend on the road, are you looking to settle down at some point and get in family-man mode?

A: Absolutely. That’s one of the things I want the most in life. I think that’s going to happen for me pretty soon. All my friends are in that space now and I’m like, “Oh man, that seems really cool.” We’re not kids anymore. Half of us (in the band) have kids. Me and the drummer are the only ones who don’t have kids and that will probably change at some point. There’s a little different angle than when we were in our 20s. It’s a much more mature version of it, which can be energizing.

Q: So what’s in the near future for you? More touring? More recording?

A: We’re going to tour a lot. The new band is killer, and I feel like we’re kind of hot right now. I want to keep that going in the fall and through the winter. We’ve been starting to record a lot of our live shows and at some point we’ll put out a compilation of all the live stuff we can do. We can go all across the board, back to the old 2001 catalog and everything from U2 covers to David Bowie. It’s the kind of band that can really go to next musical level that I think we can go.

Chris Macias: 916-321-1253, @chris_macias

Jackie Greene

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Red Lion Woodlake Sacramento, 500 Leisure Lane, Sacramento

Cost: $30 to $65

Information: 877-987-6487; www.sblentertainment.com

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