Interview, Alastair Greene, blues rock guitarist, Martine Ehrenclou, Rock and Blues Muse

Alastair Greene

By Martine Ehrenclou

Guitarist, singer-songwriter, Alastair Greene, has been hailed as one of the best blues/rock guitarists of his generation with his mix of blues, Southern rock, and jam band sensibilities. After seven years of touring the world as the guitarist for rock legend, Alan Parsons, Alastair launched his solo career. He released the critically acclaimed Dream Train in 2017. Live From The 805  (2018) was recorded in 2018 in front of a sold-out crowd in Santa Barbara, CA.

Alastair spent the last year as the guitarist in the Sugaray Rayford Band, for which he received a Blues Music Award nomination with Rayford for Band of the Year. He rocks the blues and has made guest appearances with Walter Trout, Coco Montoya, Savoy Brown, Eric Burdon, John Nemeth, Debbie Davies and more. He will be releasing a new solo record on Tab Benoit’s Whiskey Bayou Records this year. Co-produced and co-arranged with Benoit, the 11 original songs are more straight up blues than his last two records.

Martine: Congratulations on your upcoming solo album with Tab Benoit. Tell me about it.

Alastair: I’d met Tab four or five years ago at the Big Blues Bender in Las Vegas. I was playing with Alan Parsons at that time. It turns out he’s into a lot of 70’s pop and rock that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with a Louisiana blues guy. We hit it off.

Two years later, I was hanging out with him again in Vegas at the Blues Bender and he said, “You know I’ve got a record label now. Would you want to come record a record with me?”

I had just done Dream Train and Live from the 805 on Rip Cat Records and had just signed on to play with Sugaray Rayford. I said to Tab, “Yes, man, I’d love to make a record but I’m going to be touring with this guy and his band.” We kept in touch. In 2019, I went down to Tab’s place for a week and brought in my songs. He produces and he plays drums. He’s played drums on probably 80 percent of the releases that have come out of his label. His bass player, Corey, came and played bass. We recorded a good 70 percent of the stuff that I’d already written. I wanted to have enough material in case there wasn’t any inspiration and have enough material to make sure I could make a record. (Laughter)

Martine: (Laughter) Lack of inspiration might be impossible in Tab Benoit’s studio. I’ve heard it’s very creative and fun.

Alastair: Yes, definitely. I also wanted to be open to that. I ended up writing a couple of songs down there with him and we arranged some I’d already written. He had some really great ideas. The record was a lot of fun to make. Tab’s a great drummer. He and Corey have been playing music together for a long time so there is a relationship there rhythm-wise that’s really cool.

I wanted to write more of a blues-based record because I felt that that Dream Train is really classic rock, like a ’70s rock record with a couple of blues songs on it.

It’s funny because for Corey and Tab, they’re like, “Man, this is really rocking.” And I’m thinking, “This is like the most blues that I’ve done in a while.” But they’re coming from playing blues. Tab rocks pretty hard, if you’ve ever seen his show.

Alastair Greene

Photo: Marilyn Stringer

Martine: I have. He sure knows how to put on a great show.

Alastair: He can definitely rock but he is probably more of a blues guy than I am if you’re comparing the catalog side-by-side. I’m really excited about the record. He’s mixing it right now.

Obviously, with the state of things right now (COVID-19 pandemic), a lot of things are in flux so I think if we weren’t all locked away in our houses, we may have made an effort to get this out sooner. But as it is, we’re just making sure we’re doing it right. I think it’s going to be awesome when it’s all said and done.

Martine: Do you think your record will release sometime this year or is that dependent on the pandemic?

Alastair: I would like to get it out this year but at the same time, we really don’t know what’s going to happen (with COVID-19 pandemic). I mean, I would like to release music regardless. People are eager to hear new music from an artist that they dig.

Martine: Definitely.

Alastair: At the same time, without any real touring going on, I think the strategy to release a record during this time would be a little different than it would be if there was touring. One of the things that attracted me to making a record with him (Tab Benoit) and being on his label is he takes his artists out on the road.

Martine: Is that your plan to tour with Tab and his Whiskey Bayou Revue?

Alastair: Yes, that was the plan. I was two days away from getting on a plane and going to his place to enjoy a month-long tour before this happened (COVID-19 pandemic). That tour was going to be introducing me to his fans. Josh Garrett was also going to be on that tour. It was to start in the South, go up into a bit of the Midwest, over to the East Coast and then end in Florida.

My suitcase was packed. My gear was packed. I had all my guitar strings and my pedal board. I was literally ready to walk out the door and go on tour for a month and this stuff started happening.

Martine: Wow. What a shock.

Alastair: At the beginning of March, there were murmurings of this stuff (COVID-19 pandemic). No one was shaking hands, joking about doing the elbow bump and doing a low five with your feet. (Laughter)

Martine: (Laughter) I remember that.

Alastair: That weekend I talked to Tab’s manager. All of a sudden it was like, “Man, this may not happen.” And then it was, “It looks like it’s not going to happen.” I said, “Well, all right, so we’ll just roll.” Some of the dates have been moved to 2021. I think everyone’s just waiting to see where everything lands. But the plan is for me to go out and promote the record with him.

Martine: What’s it like being home and not touring right now?

Alastair: I feel very lucky, very blessed. It’s like, man, I’ve got guitars. I’ve got CDs and records to listen to. I’m home with my wife and my cats and I’m good. Do I miss hanging out with my friends? Sure. Do I miss playing gigs? Sure. Do I want to go visit my dad on his birthday? Sure. But the fact of the matter is, I don’t feel some great loss. I don’t feel like my freedom’s been taken away or anything like that. I feel like I’m doing what I’m doing to stay safe for myself and to keep other people safe too.

Martine: Exactly. You’ve made some great use of your time while at home with your “Throwdown Thursdays” and “Metal Mondays” live streams on Facebook. They’re so much fun.

Alastair: Well, thanks.

Martine: You’ve come up with interesting things like “Name That Riff” that engages the audience. You’re playing different guitars, showing photos of you and B.B. King, a signed Live At The Regal record.

Alastair: When I started doing “Throwdown Thursdays,” I wanted to try and do something a little bit unique, do some other things aside from a tip jar and playing my songs, which is part of what I’ve done. I’ve also been doing “Worthy Cause of the Week.”

Martine: That’s right. The one last week was a fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders.

Alastair: Yes. With “Worthy Cause of the Week” I started sharing some records that I was listening to, some vinyl, and shared some stories. I happened to have a couple of guitar picks laying around so I said, “I’ve got this Steve Morse guitar pick.” Someone suggested, “You should do a guitar pick of the week.” So, I’d tell a little story and then show a couple of Warren Haynes picks or a Buddy Guy guitar pick. (Laughter)

To me, it just keeps it interesting because as much as I think people want to hear people play guitar, you can pop on Facebook any time and someone’s live, which I think is great. I wanted to just keep things interesting for myself. I’m just trying to keep it new every week.

Martine: Tell me about your approach to your slide guitar playing.

I recently watched your video, “Down to Memphis,” from your record, Dream Train. You’ve got kind of a masterful handle on it. Can you just tell me a bit about that and when you got into it?

Alastair Greene

Alastair: (Laughter) Well, I appreciate you saying so. I think there’s guys that are light years beyond what I’m capable of doing but slide is one of those things that I’d originally heard Jimmy Page do on some Led Zeppelin stuff.

I was really into a guitar player named Jake E. Lee who used to play with Ozzy. When he left Ozzy Osbourne he started a band called Badlands. He was an inspiration of mine early on. He was playing some slide on the Badlands albums so I was like, “Man, that’s a cool thing. By the time I picked up the slide, I knew through playing guitar that in order to figure it out, I had to go back to the source.

When I was first learning guitar, I tried to learn how to sprint before I even knew how to crawl because I heard Eddie Van Halen. I was trying to do all this stuff and didn’t really have any foundation. Then when I finally got into blues, I figured out that, oh man, you really need the foundation to build upon.

I went all the way back and started listening to some Robert Johnson, some Son House, some early Muddy Waters, and Bukka White.

When I started getting into different tunings of the guitar, that really was an eye-opening experience for me. Those tunings lent themselves to be a bit more creative with the songwriting. That’s been something that I’ve pursued pretty seriously from when I started making records. The very first record that I put out in 2001 has some open tuning songs on it and slide.

Martine: You’re a versatile player. From Alan Parsons for seven years, then Sugaray Rayford and his soul/blues for the last year, to your own blues/rock music. Is that versatility because you have a varied musical taste?

Alastair: It’s funny because I don’t feel that versatile. When I play guitar I go, “Oh, that’s me playing guitar,” whatever. But I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been interested in a lot of different kinds of music.

When I came home from Berklee College of Music, I formed a rock band. When I started getting more serious about the blues, I started sitting in with blues bands. A dear friend of mine who passed away recently, Jack Kennedy, played bass in my band for the first 10 years.

Martine: I’m sorry.

Alastair: Thanks. He was really instrumental in getting me to start playing blues gigs. He was playing locally with a couple of different blues bands and would invite me down and get me on these gigs. I was young and decent enough that I was asked to join this R&B/funk/Latin band that I played with off and on for 10 years.

I just kept saying “Yes” to things. I was just like, “Well, I can learn it. I’ll figure it out.” I played in heavy metal bands, jam bands, singer-songwriters, and blues. I think a lot of that is just because I love to play music and I love to play guitar. When I was younger, the way to play the most guitar was to say “Yes” to everything that came up and figure it out along the way. (Laughter)

Martine: Keeps it interesting. It was great talking to you and I really appreciate you taking the time.

Alastair: Me too. I’m glad we had the chance to do it.

Alastair Greene Online