My Cultural Life: Ronnie Greer

After 46 years of playing the blues, the guitarist misses the Guinness Spot and keeps finding Steely Dan on his CD player 

Who/what/where/why/when is Ronnie Greer?

I guess I'm generally acknowledged as one of Ireland's leading blues guitar players. I've been at the centre of the Irish blues scene for over 40 years.

When did you first pick up a guitar?

I first started playing guitar aged 13, joined my first band at 16.

Which artists first turned you on to the blues?

Early blues influences were the great Chicago musicians and singers, such as Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, Otis Spann and Otis Rush. Around the same time I developed a love of jazz as well, and started listening to people like Oscar Peterson, Louis Armstrong, Stan Getz and Zoot Sims. This amalgam of influences would form the basis of my style of playing, where I meld some jazz inflections into a hard-edged Chicago blues guitar style.

Did your parents influence you musically?

My parents were not musical performers, but both were fine singers with a strong interest in music.

Can you remember your first gig?

I can barely remember my first gig, it being an incredible 46 years ago, but I think it could well have been with a beat group at a dance in Dromore Orange Hall, Co Down.

You've toured the world – which venue or festival do you enjoy playing the most?

Most of my work over the years has been in Ireland, but the highlights for me would be playing at a blues festival in Dusseldorf with the Jim Daly Band, on the same bill as Albert Collins and Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Also backing Dr John in Dublin and Belfast was very special, and I always enjoyed playing the much missed Guinness Spot at the Belfast Festival at Queen's.

If you could share the stage with a backing band featuring any musicians from throughout history, who would you choose?

This is a difficult one to pin down. There are so many great musicians I admire and would love to share a stage with, but if pushed I think being up there with Ray Charles on vocal and piano, Steve Gadd on drums, Billy Preston on Hammond organ, and Ray Brown on double bass would be hard to beat. All these guys are just the best you can get in their chosen musical field. I'd also be very happy to take a gig with Steely Dan.

Which album do you return to time again after a hard day at the office?

I mentioned Steely Dan in the last answer, and their consistently brilliant albums keep finding their way on to my CD player. Wonderful songs played brilliantly, without showing any signs of dating.

If you could have written any song from throughout history, what would it be?

Again, it is almost impossible to pin this down to one composition. I do have a special fondness for 'Lush Life' by Billy Strayhorn. A masterpiece, in my opinion. Wonderful chords, sophisticated lyrics.

Who would you most like to play for?

I assume you mean what audience would I like to play for? In that case, my answer is the audiences that I already play for. The people who make the effort to come and support me and my music on a regular basis, who I'm very grateful to.

When and where can we see you performing next?

The Ronnie Greer Band is in the Island Arts Centre, Lisburn on Saturday February 25, and the Market Place Theatre, Armagh on Saturday, March 3.

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