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Power of Youth: Jackie Greene talks about playing the Dead and the tides of change

Such a nice looking boy, that Jackie Greene.Jackie Greene's electrified Americana sound has led many listeners to assume that the music is being made by

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Such a nice looking boy, that Jackie Greene.
  • Such a nice looking boy, that Jackie Greene.
Such a nice looking boy, that Jackie Greene.Jackie Greene's electrified Americana sound has led many listeners to assume that the music is being made by a man much older than Greene's 27 years. It's been that way since he snuck onto the scene about a half decade ago. His music incorporates styles that became popular long before his birth, and his new association with the Grateful Dead empire suggests deeply rooted associations with legendary musicians.

 
A few days before his new record, Giving up the Ghost, hit the streets, Greene shied away from remarks about his age, which he's faced most of his career. But he doesn't mind talking about his new album - a record that's receiving warm reviews and being hailed as a positive step forward for the emerging star. Tracks from Ghost, like "Shaken" have a modern, Ryan Adams-like feel that are at the same time wrapped in a classic Jackson Browne model. Greene doesn't see the inclusion of these 1970s tastes as intentional or a conscious departure from his earlier work.


Jackie Greene's electrified Americana sound has led many listeners to assume that the music is being made by a man much older than Greene's 27 years. It's been that way since he snuck onto the scene about a half decade ago. His music incorporates styles that became popular long before his birth, and his new association with the Grateful Dead empire suggests deeply rooted associations with legendary musicians.

A few days before his new record, Giving up the Ghost, hit the streets, Greene shied away from remarks about his age, which he's faced most of his career. But he doesn't mind talking about his new album - a record that's receiving warm reviews and being hailed as a positive step forward for the emerging star. Tracks from Ghost, like "Shaken" have a modern, Ryan Adams-like feel that are at the same time wrapped in a classic Jackson Browne model. Greene doesn't see the inclusion of these 1970s tastes as intentional or a conscious departure from his earlier work.

"It's sort of an organic process to me. It doesn't occur to me to make anything sound like one specific thing," Greene says of his songwriting. But he acknowledges that listeners who haven't tuned in since his previous record, American Myth, might notice a difference.

"I live with myself every day. To me it seems normal and natural. I don't notice the change, but I realize it happens," he says.

Change most certainly does happen, and for Greene, the past year has been full of changes - the most significant of which came in the form of an out-of-the-blue phone call from former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. Not long after the call, Greene found himself enrolled into the current edition of Phil Lesh and Friends, the bassist's Dead-covering, constantly touring band.

"I wasn't well versed - I was never a Dead Head. I didn't know a lot of the other stuff that everybody else seems to know," Greene says, adding that dumping the Dead songbook into his memory bank wasn't the easiest of tasks.

For a couple years now, Greene has been on the artists to watch lists of several rock writers, some of whom have even touted the Sacramento native (now living in San Francisco) with the often-cursing title of "the next big thing." Touring with a band that attracts some of the most loyal fans in music history (as well as releasing what's destined to be one of the best-received West Coast albums of 2008) surely won't hurt Greene.

"It was very cool. It made me feel very proud and lucky. As far as a learning experience, it was a great gift," Greene says of his selection by Lesh to sing and play guitar in the band.

He doesn't elaborate on what he's learned, other than a truckload of Dead songs, but the ongoing Lesh and Friends tours (he'll meet up with them again this summer following his own tour, which stops at the Tower on Friday) is likely the continuation of a musical education marked by an attention to the greats of American music. When he was younger, Greene said he could go from listening to fellow Sacramento denizen Merle Haggard to Otis Redding without missing a beat.

"For most of my life I've been on this really old soul, old rock and roll kick. I always wanted to sing like Otis Redding and eventually realized I couldn't," Greene says.

No, he doesn't sing like Otis Redding, but he's got that Redding-esque soul somewhere inside of him. And maybe that's why he sounds twice his age.

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