Back in August 1997 while on our annual visit to Nashville I was browsing in the long defunct, Compact Discovery record store, on 21st Ave., opposite Vanderbilt. I used to enjoy looking out for the writers whose names appeared on the records I bought. I had bought Vince Gill “When I Call Your Name” back in the late 80s and remembered the name Greg Trooper from his song “We Won’t Dance” that Vince covered on said record. Now staring me in the face was a cd “Noises In The Hallway” (D’Ville Records) by one and the same Greg Trooper, produced by Garry Tallent, he of E-Street Band fame.
Well I handed over my $$$ and was duly hooked. Here was a writer and singer of some distinction and a record that I grew to love. There were folk-country songs like “The Heart” that just grabbed you and the wonderful “Hannah’s Dreams”, these were songs full of great imagery, of hopes and dreams.
The record had come out the previous year so I was clearly late to the Greg Trooper table. The following year, 1998, the wonderful “Popular Demons” (Koch Records) was released, this time produced by that emerging purveyor of all things Americana, Buddy Miller. This is a simply stunning piece of work, from the opening “Halfway”, through the closing (bonus track) “I’ll Keep It With Mine” there is not a duff song present. There are break-up songs, “Two Drops Of Rain” and “Cumberland Square”, songs on the move “Paradise”, love songs “Every Heart Won’t Let You Down” and “Lightning Bug”, story songs as real as the day is long, “These Sunday Nights” all exquisitely played by a band that thrills but never intrudes, a band featuring a guitar player, Duane Jarvis that years later I came to form a good friendship with and who sadly passed away some years after.
Three years elapsed before the next record emerged, the Phil Madeira produced “Straight Down Rain” (Eminent Records) and while it’s a solid offering it never captured my imagination like the previous two had. I wonder if Greg feels the same, as on his recent tour only two songs, the country-ish, sing-along “Real Like That” and the effervescent “Trampoline” featured in his set lists. Two years later, sticking with Phil Madeira as producer Greg returned to form with “Floating” (Sugar Hill Records). This had it all from the evocative “When My Tears Break Through”, the love ditty “Lucky That Way”, to the yearning of “Inisheer” and the ode like “Muhammed Ali (The Meaning of Christmas)”. We had a slightly funkier sound moving on from that of his previous two records which featured great and somewhat Americana- country style sounds (which I hasten to add I love to hear).
Around this time Greg had toured the U.K. on a number of occasions gaining a burgeoning reputation for putting on a great show and being a real crowd pleaser, unfortunately I never made one of his shows due to other commitments or not being here when he was. He seemed now to be in the regular stream of putting out an album every two years, as 2005 saw the Dan Penn produced “Make It Through The World” (Sugar Hill Records) hit the stores. Live favourites like “This I’d Do”, “Green Eyed Girl” and “I Love It When She Lies” ran alongside the epic “No Higher Ground” telling us the tale of the devastation caused by the great hurricane in the early 20th century that killed so many in Galveston. Greg had put out some live records during the intervening years, in 2002 and 2006 which I have to admit to not buying. 2009 then saw him put out an old recording “The Williamsburg Years” which I again missed out on, but he did return to my radar in 2010 with “Upside-Down Town” (52 Shakes Records). He again gave us songs of the heart “Dreams Like This” ,”We’ve Still Got Time”, “Bulletproof Heart” and “First True Love” as well as the witty “They Call Me Hank”.
Last Sunday I caught up with Greg for the first time in my life at a house concert in my local area. He enthralled everyone, not only with his songs and his picking, but with his self-depreciating humour which makes for great between-songs banter. The man is a real entertainer and a very real songwriter. He introduced us to songs from his new, just released here in the U.K and Europe album, “Incident on Willow Street” (52 Shakes Records), and wow I was blown away again, just as I had been all those years ago when first discovering his music. The sheer imagery songs like “All The Way To Amsterdam” and “Steel Deck Bridge” bring is song writing genius, the joy of “Good Luck Heart”, the intensity and mocking humour of “Mary of the Scots in Queens” make it a fine album and perhaps one of his finest, time will tell, but I have feeling it will be a keeper.
I again caught up with Greg a few nights later at the Green Note in London, where again he entertained his fans royally with a somewhat different set of songs, but with all the same feel and zeal as his house concert performance. Why this man is not a star and on everyone’s radar baffles me, but that is the case with so many artists I listen to and admire for their talent. When he next visits these shores I implore one and all to embrace him and his music, he deserves that much at least.