Remembering the Music of Greg Trooper
Greg Trooper passed away on January 15, 2017 at the age of 61. He had been dealing with pancreatic cancer for some time, but the singer-songwriter lived up to his last name, performing shows up until the end.
If you are unfamiliar with Greg Trooper‘s work, you cannot go wrong with any of his albums. He can break your heart with a love song, haunt you with a tale of murder, and give you new perspectives. With just a voice and a guitar, he created magic. Yet, he never received the acclaim and popularity he deserved.
Trooper brought a unique view, humor, and intelligence to his songs. He could make you laugh or cry, having earned his diverse take on the world. Trooper was born in New Jersey, but he later lived in Austin, New York City, Kansas, and Nashville before ending up in Brooklyn.
Rolling Stone‘s headline on its article about Trooper’s passing stressed Trooper’s work writing songs for artists like Vince Gill. But Trooper had a warm wonderful voice that made you think this was a guy you’d like to know. Steve Earle once said he “coveted” Trooper’s voice. Trooper also could do a great cover, and he created one of my favorite Bob Dylan covers with “I’ll Keep It With Mine” off of his Popular Demons (1998) album. And he gave that voice to many characters throughout his own songs.
I first fell in love with Trooper’s work in 2001 when he released Straight Down Rain, and I would later go back and discover his earlier albums. He had me as a life-long fan the first time I heard “Sometimes It Takes a Hurricane,” a plea for social justice. “Sometime it takes no more than a drop of water/ Sometimes it takes a hurricane.”
The title song from his next album, Floating (2003), comes from the folk tradition of ageless murder ballads. It is a beautiful song that will haunt you long after you hear the final lines. In some ways, it was courageous for Trooper to sing an unusual song like this one, taking the voice of someone you should not like.
Floating also contained one of Trooper’s most touching love songs that showed his love of Irish music, “Inisheer.” He named the song after one of the Aran Islands off the mainland of Ireland.
Another one of my favorite Greg Trooper songs is “Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas).” Other admirers of the beautiful song about the famous boxer include Steve Earle (who covered Trooper’s song “Little Sister” for the U.K. B-side of Earle’s “Copperhead Road” single).
“I am the greatest,”
he said with a grin;
But he was talking about you,
Not about him;
And was teaching me
The meaning of Christmas.
On “This I’d Do,” a song from Trooper’s 2005 album Make It Through This World, Trooper wrote a song where a lover makes promises. In doing so, he took a typical love-song scenario and made it seem both touching and new.
Finally, Trooper shows his sense of humor with “Mary Of The Scots In Queens.” The song appeared on his final album of original songs, Incident on Willow Street (2013). The video is pretty funny too. Again, Trooper sings in a voice of someone you might not like, but this time he makes you laugh.
Those are a sampling of some of my favorite Greg Trooper songs. Our thoughts go out to his friends and family, including his wife Claire Mullally, who often sang with him both live and on albums.
Trooper will be greatly missed by his fans and admirers, who included Billy Bragg, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, Ray Wylie Hubbard, John Fullbright, and Allison Moorer. But we will keep enjoying the music. RIP Mr. Trooper.
What is your favorite Greg Trooper song?