A extended interview with Richard
conducted by Jim Moss 3-21-98 to 10-13-99: Part 1
Over they years I have heard lots of stories of many
musicians and I have to say
that my expectation before this interview or its preceding emails was that I
would be in for a tough time conducting an interview with Richard Greene. After all,
this was the guy who added the "modern alternative" concept to Bill Monroe's
1940's based music form. It is not uncommon to hear Bluegrass Boys of other
bands refer to the band with Greene in it as "Wild" as in "Now that was a pretty
wild bunch" or "Well, I guess Monroe was experimenting at that time".
Whatever the reason, Richard Greene clearly took the
Bluegrass Boys fiddle
and made a hard 90 degree turn. So extreme was his sound in the context of the
traditional hard core Bluegrass Boys, that no one ever repeated it. There would
only be one Richard Greene, ever, in the Bluegrass Boys. Other more modern
sounding fiddlers have taken parts of his playing and incorporated it into their
fiddle playing to make a more accessible Bluegrass sound to modern audiences,
but no one would ever apply the extreme tension of Richard Greene's fiddling
to Monroe's band again.
So what I found was Richard Greene was anything but
difficult. I quickly discovered
that Richard Greene was very considerate and a pretty nice guy!
Note: I have
received a couple of comments that suggest that I might be better off if
"uh"s, "uh (pause)" and "ahem" etc. were to be edited out.
Well, I don't think so... respectfully.. but..
I like this approach because it gives the reader a
sense of how the person is formulating
their ideas. When I print "ah", "uh" it is where the person is pausing to think of the next
sentence they want to say and how to say it so that it reflects, accurately, what they are
are feeling. "uh" or "ah" are a pauses. People say this sort of thing to buy time while
keeping the train of thought going, so as not to indicate the end of a thought. It should
be noted that "uh huh" is said quietly maybe to imply "I see" but, not "AH HUH!"
as in "I caught you!"
This is a good indicator of their demeanor or self
image. I think the other
type of interview is more sterile with the only information being conveyed is that being
on topic. This way, the reader can get to know the person to a greater degree.
BU and other magazines have the safe thing covered already. While safe, to me it is
not the same as meeting the person. I want the reader to feel that they are in the
room with the person being interviewed. To me, this approach while a little harder
to read, has much more depth.
I hope you can get use to it. It really pays off
with people like Jimmy Martin, who
actually shout everything they say at you. Here with Richard Greene you get the idea
that while he is confident in what he wants to say, he is working out just how to say it.
Richard Greene seems to be improvising as he goes along while Jimmy Martin in his
interview is clearly broadcasting in his form. When I look at the music that these people
produce, I can then get a feel for how much of it is their personality and how much
is strategy. Bluegrass Unlimited for years has done a great job of the polite and
professional interview. I like to think of my interviews as Bluegrass Shock Interviews...
but they are just what the person being interviewed has said on tape.
I make nothing up for effect.
I want to make another point here. In reading my
preface to this
interview, I speak of the effect of Richard Greene's fiddling on Bluegrass.
Many reading this will not have heard what I am talking about. There is a
very good reason for this, and that is, outside of "Bluegrass Time" this band
did not recorded much... not enough to support what I am saying.
Although commercially produced albums, or CDs these
days are clear
and clean, in Bluegrass they do not fully represent the music.
What you would like to do is get back to that time for a visit.
You will find very little on record of this band with Richard Greene,
Peter Rowan and Lamar Grier, but is was an important time for Bill's
music and for people who want to learn to play Bluegrass just like all
the other times in Bill's music, with all the other influences. If all you are
listening to are CDs you will never get there.
Serious young Bluegrass musicians must collect the live
recordings of a
band that spans the years to understand what they were about. This is true
for all the early bands like Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, Reno & Smiley,
Flatt & Scruggs, The Stanley Bros., Jimmy Martin with JD Crow.
The live recordings are out there, you need to find them if you want
to understand the roots of Bluegrass. Bill Monroe knew this and
he would allow everyone to record his performances. You can
see in the link below, photos with recorder microphones taped to
the PA mike stands. http://www.mossware.com/music05.html
Each band of Monroe's had a different sound to some
some were very different. I would say the first Bluegrass band with
Lester and Earl set the standard, then there were the double fiddle
bands of the 1950's with Bobby Hicks and Joe Stuart or Charlie Cline, etc.
Then the modern classic sound of the band with Kenny Baker.
Sandwiched in there was the band with Richard Greene, Peter Rowan,
Lamar Grier. The way to hear enough of this band to understand it, is to
find recordings of the live shows that exist out there.
NOTE: If this is ever reprinted,
each part must presented
in its entirety with the by line and URL candlewater.com
The interview begins with a series of emails.
Richard Greene (email): Fantastic web pages! RGreene
Jim Moss (email): Is this THEE Richard Greene?
The same Richard Greene on all the 1966 Bill Monroe live
show tapes? ... Little Rabbit and all?
Richard Greene (email): Yes I am thee. How did you get
to look gray with white letters.
Jim Moss (email): These neat colors are not
readable to all browser..
I know some mac people who can't see the gray. For PC's it seems to work...
Say, I would like to interview you for the web site if
you don't mind..
I have listened to many of your live shows with Monroe that are on tape.
I am a collector of these old Bluegrass shows. I would like to explore your
days with Monroe...
For example, when you played with Monroe, did you
follow or precede Buddy
Spicher? I have some Opry shows where you and he seem to be
overlapping for a few nights. I just recorded "Bluegrass Swing"
which I got off of those tapes. Spicher plays it on one show...
You might have played it too... I think Monroe might have wrote it.
I also recorded Little Rabbit which I got from your performance
Points I would like to cover are:
* Your history with Monroe (stories? Buddy Spicher)
* Your history before that.. how did you get started playing violin
* You and Scotty Stoneman..
* Your sound with Monroe.. how did you go about creating the sound
that is so distinctly yours. (The field tapes made of you with Monroe
have immortalized you. This is where a lot of Bluegrassers will have
heard you first and where they steal their licks.. You are a prime candidate
to steal from. )
Richard Greene (email): An interview would be
great! Then I'll tell
you all about Spicher (we're still friends). Call me and
we'll make a phone appointment. Rg
Jim Moss (email): I always got the impression
listening to tapes of
your days with Monroe that you probably scared the hell out of everyone.
Your style back then was pretty different from the norm. I can imagine
them ol billhillys with their hair standing straight up... It was your
double stops that were so unlike what they had been playing.
Your style with Monroe was rather intense.. or should I say tense..
there was a lot of tension in your fiddle playing. How did this come about?
You seem very pleasant. I would have expected from your music of
that time.. for you to be like some of my classical technique instructors, yelling,
screaming metaphors .. lots of creative energy in these guys..
..never offensive, just very expressive.
Did you set out to create this level of intensity or
did it just come natural?
Did you have to work on the structure of these double stops such that
you wouldn't sound like the other fiddlers? Double stops aside, just
your noting seems full of pent up energy or anger.. or something tense..
Now that I think about it, it does sound somewhat similar to Scotty
Stoneman's intensity... but it is really down another track completely.
Richard Greene (email): Amazing
perception!! Scotty was the raison d'Ítre
of my music. I might not have gone "pro" without him. He taught me EVERYTHING
about the fiddle, then Bill Monroe taught me everything about music (my best work
with Monroe is on the album "Bluegrass Time" and also on a live show at the University
of Wisconsin, 2/13/67.)
I currently (1998) have in release 7 solo CDs, the last
three of which
are Bluegrass on the Rebel label. If you are doing a "Bluegrass" interview I
should have Rebel send you my 3 Bluegrass albums. The 2nd one was nominated for
IBMA Album of the Year and the 3rd one was nominated for a Grammy this year.
Also you're right on about my personality and often there are connections between
fiddle styles and human traits, these connections are often difficult to make and
could be contradictory, for example Kenny Baker plays "sweet" but his persona is
pretty gruff and impatient. And in my case you're absolutely correct!
Jim Moss (email): So are you saying that your
personality is pleasant or that you
have pent up anger.. or both? I mean, what would cause a person to
take this approach to the music. I have read your information sheet, and
I have to say that to compare you with Jean-Luc Ponty is weird.
Ponty couldn't get that much tension using Viagra. It is my opinion that
he has always had a very soft feminine sound.
"Bluegrass Time" was the only Monroe record that you appear on correct?
I think the largest body of Monroe material with you on
the live shows that exist in the collections of tape collectors
like myself. These field recordings although not bringing you a
profit, have immortalized you in the act of being a Bluegrass Boy.
Richard Greene (email): A lot of stuff in the bio was
Darol Anger. I have no idea how to describe myself.
(regarding the live shows) I thought the Opry shows were really hot.
Something about that combination of musicians that made Monroe really turn on the juice.
Jim Moss (email): Here is what I am trying to get
When I sit down with Bluegrass people sometimes the topic of
Monroe's fiddlers comes up. Now Monroe has had many fiddlers,
many really good fiddlers. Yet the names that come up are Kenny Baker,
Chubby Wise, Bobby Hicks.. and Richard Greene. Now when they talk
about your playing, they say it was "crazy" or "pretty wild stuff".
Now, why is that? Here is what I think... I think they are having trouble
finding a label for what you did. Now, I call that "Innovation". SO!, what were
your intentions when you "Innovated". How did you approach doing this?
Richard Greene (email): No problem. Before
our phone conversation I'll print
all your questions (including these) and have them in front of me.
Jim Moss (email): It is interesting to me that at
the mixing board in most cases,
if I boost 180 hz a fiddle gets a richer warmer sound. In the case of your
fiddle playing, 180 hz had no effect. I thought about that.. and decided that
this had to be part of your sound.. your fiddle sound was not a dark sound,
instead it had a lot of higher frequencies.
In the Monroe live shows, your sound largely stayed
above 400 hz to 600 hz.
Where as a Baker or a Forester type sound would have a heavy node at around
140 hz to 180 hz. Just below 250 hz. This is the same for the mandolins, at least the F5's.
Richard Greene (email): You've discovered the difference between a fiddle and a violin!
Jim Moss (email): Interesting.. You must mean the style of playing..? the technique..?
Richard Greene (email): > I probably mean price,
quality and the "violinistic" tone
contained within the instrument. Higher workmanship + more "focus" of sound
equals higher price.
The 140 to 180 wolf-tone starts to disappear at around
This is not to say that the fiddle I used with Monroe cost $40,000, it
probably cost almost nothing, and it has long ago disappeared. However,
that fiddle was chosen and set up by me, and a lot of my background at
that time contained "classical" considerations, which highly influences
one's choice of instrument and sound, almost unconsciously. This is what
flipped me out about Scot Stoneman's playing, and sound. (I mean
his innate "classical" sensibility of tone and focus) In other words, Scotty
was a violinist, Kenny is a fiddler, I'm in between.
Jim Moss (email): What you said here is what I first
thought when I found the
EQ issue. I thought, this sounds very violin, that is his sound, it is not just the
choice of notes.
Earlier, I was beginning to say that it seemed that
some chamber music
musicians went for dark sounding violins. The early Amadis
violins that I played were dark sounding. The Guarnerius violins
are famous for being dark sounding. The Guarnerius family studied
with Amadis as I remember, they just learned to make "loud" dark
sounding instruments. I never played a strad, but strads supposedly
are known for that high pitched cutting sound. Still the dark sound of
a Guarnerius comes from a $500,000 or more violin. These are not
woofy sounding, but dark dark sounding violins.
My fiddle was played in the Chicago symphony in
1945. It has
a dark sound like Baker's. There are also the Woof tone fiddles out there
that players like Curly Ray Cline had. I think it all adds the variety
in the music. Your sound was really different as you have implied.
I have Opry shows with you on them.. There is a
portion at the beginning with you
rehearsing or jamming or warming up or something.. with Peter, and I am assuming,
the band. It is from this set of tapes that I learned Moonlight Waltz..
Monroe can be heard teaching it to you.. Well, he played it
different than the way he recorded it. I liked this older version best.
Do you have this recording?
Richard Greene (email): Wow! I don't have this,
but I would sure love to hear it.
I've had a 33 year running dispute with the BG community about how to play
Moonlight Waltz, the way Bill taught it to me vs. everybody else's way.
Lamar Grier's wife religiously taped all of our Opry shows off the radio and we
would listen to them right after each performance, but that's the last time I heard them.
Also we did one Wheeling Jamboree that was incredible which I would die to hear.
Jim Moss (email): Kenny Baker said he knew about
the difference and that
the tune had gone years without being played and when he suggested to Bill
that he record it, that the two of them remembered it the new way.
I remember when I started playing fiddle when I was 20. I had these
old Lefty Frizzell records with this great old almost rockabilly sound.
As I listened to the fiddler I thought to myself, "Man, if this guy playing
fiddle knew that there was some kid in California sitting in front of
an old 78 player spinning his cuts...
Well, this is something that you and the other names I
mentioned earlier have
accomplished, many times over, all over the world. There were probably lots
of problems along the way, but that all falls aside and only the music remains.
Richard Greene (email): Thank
you for the thought, it's observations like this
that keep me going, literally. Someday I'll tell the truth of what my career has looked
like from my perspective, but not now, not while I'm right in the middle of it.
Rarely do I like to admit anything that would take away from my so-called "legendary" status.
(One translation of "legendary" could be "Where the hell has he been? certainly not here!" or
"Is he still around?, I didn't realize he was still playing.")
The interview moves to the phone
from here on out.
Jim Moss: Did you set out to create this level of intensity or did it just come natural?
Richard Greene: Yeah, I do...
definitely. I am sort of schizophrenic, the stuff I
work out, then write out, then perform on stage... is a little too complicated to be
that intense. But, then there are other places where I consciously improvise...
Yeah, uh... I try to do it all the time... its not that I try to do it, but it is just a part
of what happens when I am into it... Playing very strong... Definitely "in your face".
I played in solo.. I played the Muleskinner...
Listen to this one..
The Muleskinner Blues!... Solo!... Unaccompanied!... In Bill Clinton's face.
How do you like that!
Right in .. very much... I have a video of it. It was a command performance I was
asked to come in for.. it was world leaders... and they had this fiddle thing they
wanted to do. ...And Mark O'Conner couldn't make it.. I always get that shit...
Anyway, I made it!
In fact, I flew right from Mark O'Conner's camp, right
to the.. Denver to play for
the president. But the deal was... I decided to just put it in his face. (the fiddle near his face)
(pause) I mean I was standing within inches of his face.
It was a musical kind of thing.. (that I was doing)
Jim Moss: Must have been something, intense Bluegrass
fiddle up close.
Do you find that if people come to see you play that they expect you to play
with this kind of intensity?
Richard Greene: Oh, I have no idea. I don't
know.. You mean a Bluegrass festival
Jim Moss: Well, do you play many Bluegrass festivals?
Richard Greene: Well, a few of them this last few
years, with the band The Grass Is Greener...
which.. uh.. I am just doing a quartet thing now so I don't call it that anymore...
Jim Moss: You were singing bass in Monroe's band right?
Richard Greene: In the Bill Monroe band, Yes.
Jim Moss: Do you sing now?
Richard Greene: No.. no.. It hurt my throat. I don't like singing.
Jim Moss: I don't know how many people really
realize that new
set of options that came about with your fiddle playing...
Richard Greene: It is pretty gratifying that people
like Del McCoury and his band
acknowledge that something happened at that time in that band. It wasn't just me!
It was that particular band... that Monroe had.. like.. Peter Rowan was very much
into the same intensity aspect of things as I was. On the tape (that I played him) he
played this little guitar run... just played it strongly as a human being could play
those notes. And it needs that!
Jim Moss: Boy you got that right! I think Peter
Rowan was one of the heavy bass
line players in the Bluegrass Boys. I think back on Joe Stuart,.. and Edd Mayfield
who was probably the guy who started it, but Peter must have had the biggest sounding
bass lines around outside of Clarence White.
Richard Greene: So with Lamar Grier too... Lamar
caught the bug, not so much on
the records, but on some live shows.. you hear him trying to pull shit.. just because
of what we're doing. And.. uh.. James had.. Monroe's son on bass, had his own
kinda brooding, dark, thing... and so...
Jim Moss: Yeah, what was with that? You can
see that in the pictures...
He looks real unhappy.
Richard Greene: Yeah, I don't know.. he was Monroe's son and.. I don't know...
But the band was... I get the feeling that in a
lot of places (bluegrass music circles)
it (the intensity) is acknowledged.. You are obviously right, that in a lot of
places it is isn't... nobody knows anything...
Nobody knows the difference!
Jim Moss: Right, that is amazing..
Richard Greene: Especially in Bluegrass nobody knows
A generation has not.. hasn't heard!.. the stuff that I've heard! They haven't
even heard that stuff! Hardly.. They're playing based on... maybe copying
Alison Krauss.. which is great.. I wouldn't want to copy her though.
Jim Moss: Yeah, I know what you mean. I think
whenever you learn a music
style, you need to go back to the roots and learn that first. Then go back to Monroe's
roots, the gospel singing and blues influences..
Richard Greene: Yeah, and his body of work could be fairly adequate.
Jim Moss: Yeah.. yeah... There was a lot to
Monroe. At Bean Blossom
on a weekend he would play the usual stuff, but on a weekday he would
really stretch out. During the week nights there might be only 20 people in
the audience... it was at that time that he would start to play a lot of old
songs.. like Maple On The Hill, that he would not play in his shows..
and bluesy tunes like maybe Evening Prayer Blues. So there was a lot
that was Monroe that never was recorded... outside of the live tapes
that he would allow recorded. He really went out of his way to let people
record his shows too.
When he would teach you a tune... how much detail
would he express to you.
I have this tape and he just plays it for you.. but when you didn't do it his way
did he correct you? or ..
Richard Greene: Well, you couldn't do it exactly that
way because he played
a lot of double notes, but what I would do is I would notate everything he did...
very precisely. Every double note... And then, instead of using a double note
I would work on a slide of some kind. Usually from a half step below.. or I
would make it a longer note.. I would acknowledge the Arc of his melody
with... complete religiosity. Wouldn't change that a bit. Whatever moment
in time that he would show me the melody.. cause it would be a different
melody the next week.
Jim Moss: uh huh... Yeah he did that to me too, with
When I went to record it, at the office he had a slightly different version
from the one he showed me on the bus.
Richard Greene: Which doesn't matter.. it is all
melody... and genius.
And so uh.. So that was what I would play..
Jim Moss: You would note this down.
Richard Greene: Yeah.. He would love doing that.
He was the greatest..
we got along as well as any two people could get along... fairly constantly.
It was a great relationship because I was ready to learn. He was ready to teach.
And I recorded uh.. Northern White Clouds, on my
second album. You haven't
heard this yet, but the way I approached it was... I recorded it as a fiddle tune.
The way I figured out the melody for it was I got a live tape of Monroe playing
it on the Opry and notated exactly his break. Not the way he was playing it
in the beginning, but the way he played it the third or forth time around. Notated
his break and then I defined that as the tune. Now.. this is how Northern White Clouds
goes and I taught that to the band.
So, I still learn from him. Evening Prayer Blues,
the tune you just mentioned,
the same thing. I notated uh uh.. (pause) Get Up John. Start with that.. then go off to a
solo, respecting everything he did. So I still, when I am playing.. or my..
when I recorded these last three bluegrass albums... he was like a religious icon.
A great source that I used constantly on all three albums.
The first album of the three albums that I did, was
just the tunes, the instrumentals
that I did back then. I really wanted to learn them right and do them well. So I did
a whole album of those. With Bill Keith on banjo... because he is great..
He could really pour it on and he has been in on a lot of this kind of stuff.
So I still have great respect.
The next album, however, is not going to be any of that. I am trying to just do
original material now. With the quartet. This quartet that I've got is.. really...
Its a smooth hot machine. Way better than the Bluegrass band I had, in terms
of what I am trying to play. Feeling good.. feeling... Well you can hear everything
better. Four pieces, for me, is a great idea. I never did it before. (1999)
To be continued
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