Wednesday, December 13, 2017
“I never was a gambling man, unless you count what’s in my hands,” sings Alastair Greene on the opening line of his song “Dream Train,” the rollicking, rocking kickoff to his new album of the same name. Greene’s singing of his own music dreams, gambling on guitar and the luck of life’s draw. His bets paid off. On Saturday, December 16, at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club, Greene will celebrate 20 years with his Alastair Greene Band, in a special anniversary performance slated for a live recording.
In its two decades since forming, as Santa Barbara bands and music stores have come and gone, the Alastair Greene Band has managed the unique feat of being a State Street mainstay and an internationally renowned touring band alike. Along with fellow stellar S.B. musicians Jim Rankin on bass and Austin Beede on drums, the three-piece has stuck around through an everlasting adeptness in expressing blues-rock, having in them combined more than their fair wicks’ worth of talent and passion to burn. “My my, hey hey,” as Neil Young sang; and the rockers Greene and Co. are still here, and here to stay.
Perhaps guitar wasn’t such a gamble for Greene, who said, “I haven’t had any second-guessing about what I’ve had to do with my life.” Long-haired, bighearted, and burly, Greene’s not a braggart showman but a humble torchbearer, a no-frills skills-person of the bluesy variety. He walks with what he coined a “Grateful Swagger,” his take on The Meters’ “Cissy Strut”: a gait of confident contentment, guitar in hand. “I’m just grateful to be doing this,” he said of a life spent recording and playing with the likes of Alan Parsons, Starship, Les Stroud, Glen Phillips, and many others.
Greene’s rock beginnings started around age 16 as a student at Santa Barbara High. He played in a hard-rock band, the Crime, and remembered, “At that age, you don’t know what’s involved with the long haul … You’re playing and seeing dudes playing shows, and you kind of fall in love with the thing and wonder, well, how can I make it happen?”
He attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, and then boomeranged back to a grunge-era S.B. “It was a really exciting time,” recounted Greene of the early and mid-’90s, when bands such as Toad the Wet Sprocket and Dishwalla put the 805 on the contemporary rock map. “There was a really nice original music rock scene, there were clubs, and some bands even got signed,” said Greene. “A lot of musicians moved out here and were saying it was like the next Seattle.” But the scene’s seen “some ebb and flow,” and many since have been spirited away from the stages, sent elsewhere to shifting business models, music tastes, or life plans.
Greene, meanwhile, has held on, with a mix of “stubbornness” and “insanity.” He formed his Alastair Greene Band in 1997, settling into the style closest to his heart. Aligning along the axes of Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan and elders such as Robert Johnson, Greene has always admired the “authenticity” of blues-rock. “It’s not pretentious; the roots of it is real honest. It was not for commercial gain; it was made to make people feel better,” he said. How he came to play blues-rock in particular? “The music chooses you.”
Success has been a mix of “hard work and chance and luck and sticking with it,” Greene said. “The music industry is the Wild West; one plus one does not equal two.” Working with master audio engineer and multi-instrumentalist Alan Parsons — who enlisted Greene as a touring guitarist for seven years — Greene came to understand the ins and outs of a fickle industry where commercial gain is the game. “I respect anybody that was able to navigate the music business through all these changes. He’s a very intelligent guy and has been doing this for a very long time,” Greene said of Parsons.
After touring with Parsons at a clip of hundreds of shows in a row, Greene played his last gig with the band as a full-time member this spring at the Starry Nites Festival at Live Oak Campground. Greene finds himself at a crossroads moment, heading down the next path as a frontman in full. “It’s time to put the bandleader hat on full-time,” he said. “I’ve been a side guy for large portions of my life, and some guys are side men for life. I don’t fault them for that; it’s their mindset to serve the artist or band.”
Outside of music (“Is there an outside?” he asked), Greene can be found spending most of his days now in Oxnard, where he loves to cook with his wife and spend time with his cats, Boof, Scamper, and Kokopuff. A fourth, Rufus, ran away last year, and the departed cat receives a memorial instrumental on Dream Train.
So as he looks back on the years and pets gone by, he’s looking forward. “I’m at a point where if I’m going to go after this part of the dream, hey; I’ve got a band and gotta get to it,” he said. “I’ve been doing this 20 years with my guys, and in some ways, it feels like I’m relaunching my solo career. I want to celebrate.”
The Alastair Greene Band 20th Anniversary Show is on Saturday, December 16, at 8:30 p.m., at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.).