Jackie Greene is something of an old soul. At 35 years of age, the singer, songwriter and guitarist has enveloped himself in a roots rock scene whose fans are often many moons his senior. It’s the kind of thing that happens when you find yourself under the wing of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, performing timeless music for audiences that couldn’t care less what clothes you wear or which reality TV star you date.
Yet with eight albums to his name, Greene has also blazed a trail that is very much his own. The past few years have found him honing his craft and fronting a touring band that puts a fresh spin on the tried-and-true singer-songwriter and blues rock formats. That feat is particularly apparent on Back to Birth: Live in 2016, a new live album that captures the tracks from his 2015 album Back to Birth in all of their concert glory.
Greene will take the stage in New Orleans on Wednesday, November 9 when he brings his touring band to The Parish at the House of Blues. We caught up with him last week to chat about his latest projects, his experience in Grateful Dead world and more.
You just released a live version of your most recent album Back to Birth. What was behind the idea to release an album of live recordings of the tracks that are on that album?
It came out of something we’ve been doing for a while now. We’ve been recording all our shows for probably the past year or so, and we figured it’s a good way to sort of put a compilation together. A lot of people that come to our shows just, quite frankly, prefer the live shows over the albums anyhow. So we figured it was a good thing to give to them. We’re starting to amass a lot of recordings and need a way to put them out there, so I’d expect to see a lot more of this kind of activity coming from us in the future.
And who is in your live band right now?
The band is Nathan Dale on the guitar—he’s been with us for a long time, like ten years probably— and a new bass player and a new drummer. The drummer’s name is Fitz Harris and the bass player’s name is John Cornell, both from L.A.. They’re pretty funky, those two guys, so it’s a little bit different from the last time we came through. We’re still doing our stuff, but there’s a little bit of grease added, I think, with those two guys.
Do you mean that they’re kind of livening things up? Adding some funky flair to the mix?
I think so. It feels that way to me, yeah. Definitely with John playing bass, he’s definitely a funkier dude than I know we’ve had in the past. So it’s pretty cool, it makes it interesting, at least for me anyway.
You’ve found yourself, for lack of a better word, in the Grateful Dead orbit over in recent years. You were pretty young when Jerry Garcia died. Is the Dead’s music something that was part of your life early on or did it come to your world later?
No, not at all. I didn’t know that much about the Grateful Dead until after I played with Phil [Lesh] in about 2006 or 2007. And I’ve just sort of come to really, like you said, really embrace it and really love it. You know, I never saw the Dead. It just wasn’t really in my world back then. Now I wish it was. I wish I would’ve got on that bus sooner. But better late than never I suppose.
You mentioned some of your fans preferring the live show to the recorded material. Does that mean you bring the Grateful Dead ethos of improvisation to your live shows?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I think that, if there’s anything that’s sort of shaped the way we approach the live show nowadays, it’s the time I spent with Phil, learning from Phil and learning the Grateful Dead music and learning how to perform in that way and in that spirit. So, that’s definitely the thing that, we’re striving for that in some ways. It definitely opened my eyes to a different way to perform music so, yeah man, if I’ve learned anything I’ve learned the most from that experience for sure.
I hear you’ll be doing your annual Bay Area Holiday at the Warfield for the first time this year. Not to belabor the Dead point, but that venue also has a deep history with that band as well. Are you excited about playing in that room?
It’s gonna be awesome. I’m really looking forward to it. On my 27th birthday, we did a Phil and Friends show at the Warfield. It was probably—I’ve done birthday shows almost every year, for the the last, I don’t know, ten years or so—and that one on my 27th was one of my favorites. That room is unbelievable. Obviously, the Jerry Garcia Band playing there, they have the record for playing there some four million times or something like that. We’re totally looking forward to it. I’m from the Bay Area originally, or Northern California/Bay Area, so it’s nice to come home to what feels like a hometown crowd.
Do you have any special surprises planned for that show?
We do, but we’re not gonna talk about them at the present moment. We do, and it’ll be fun for everybody.
The whole sit in tradition is pretty big down here in New Orleans as well. Is that something you plan to incorporate into your show at the Parish?
If there are certain friends around, absolutely. That’s always the thing, especially in New Orleans, and New York’s the same way, everybody’s a musician. So everybody’s on tour all the time and sometimes it’s hard to land in the same place at the same time. But when it does happen, you know, we all have cell phones now. So it’s “hey man, where you at.”
Is there anything about New Orleans that inspires you musically?
Yeah, I suppose so. The whole town is music, basically, if you really think about it. A lot of the stuff that I like, that I listen to, was sort of born in New Orleans and in the South in general. A lot of blues music, a lot of folk music comes from down there. It’s always a treat to come through town.
Do you have any history here? Any good stories from over the years?
None that I can tell. Most are from my debaucherous past.
Not an uncommon response to that question.
Yeah, I plead the fifth.
Jackie Greene will perform at The Parish at the House of Blues New Orleans on Wednesday, November 9. Tickets for the show are on sale here.