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Kenny Greenberg: Nashville's In-Demand Everyman 
By Rick Kelly

For many years, musicians, writers and singers have flocked to Nashville seeking fame and fortune as Country Music stars. However, other genres of music have played an important part in the music community, and their practitioners are important players in the overall business of making music in Nashville. One of the best current examples of Nashville's diversification - how it benefits Country Music - is the career of 2004 CMA Musician of the Year nominee Kenny Greenberg.

Greenberg was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and raised in Louisville, Ky.  The Greenberg family was not an intensely musical one. Greenberg's two older brothers played horn and clarinet in school, and Greenberg studied piano as a child before moving to trombone. But in the late 1960s, he took up guitar.  Inspired by the musical heroes of his generation - Duane Allman, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix - he taught himself to play. Greenberg learned quickly and developed a style of his own, informed not only by the playing of the great rock guitarists, but also by blues greats including Albert King, Freddie King and Blind Willie McTell.

By the mid-1970s, Greenberg was playing in Holiday Inn lounge bands around Louisville. Most of the bands were Country, with a concentration on Buck Owens and Nashville's "Outlaw" singers. 

It was at one of those bars, the Lemon Tree Lounge, where Greenberg met a member of Country singer Mike Lunsford's band, who encouraged him to move to Nashville. Shortly afterward, the same musician called with a proposition. He'd been called out on the road for an extensive tour, but his wife was seven months pregnant, and he didn't want to leave her alone. He offered Greenberg free rent if he'd come to Nashville and watch over his wife during the pregnancy. Greenberg jumped at the chance. He packed his belongings and made the four-hour drive to Nashville.

Greenberg started hanging around some of the legendary Nashville nightspots - The Exit/In, Mississippi Whiskers and the Old Time Pickin' Parlor. There was an underground songwriter's scene developing in Nashville, and Greenberg played guitar with up-and-coming writers Guy Clark and Don Schlitz. This led to gigs as a sideman for local artists. By the early 1980s, he was playing in bands with Jimmy Hall, Dave Olney, Will Rambeaux and Ashley Cleveland, his future wife.

"The 1980s was kind of a golden age for live music in Nashville," Greenberg said. "There was just so much great music happening in the clubs, and we were sure that somebody from that scene was going to break out."

Among the artists that populated the scene at the time were Jason and the Nashville Scorchers, and Will Rambeaux and the Delta Hurricanes, whose lineup included Greenberg, bass player Michael Rhodes and drummer Jerry Crutchfield next to Rambeaux. 

While Greenberg stayed busy on the live music circuit, his goal was to become a session musician. "I played with all these local guys and hoped that some of them would get signed to a label deal, and I'd get to play on the records," he said. Along the way, Greenberg began to develop as a songwriter. "It was great to learn to write with these people.  The level of talent was just off the scale because of guys like Rafe Van Hoy, Kevin Welch and Gary Nicholson."

Greenberg's membership in Nashville favorites The Snakes led him to his first opportunity to produce. He shared production duties on the band's debut album with drummer James Stroud, guitarist Mike Henderson and keyboardist Wally Wilson. Stroud would go on to head DreamWorks Records Nashville (currently Co-Chairman of Universal Music Group Nashville with Luke Lewis) and produce superstar Country acts including John Anderson, Clint Black, Tracy Lawrence and Tim McGraw. 

In 1992, Greenberg got an offer to produce an album for folk music legend Joan Baez. The album, Sing Me Backwards, included four songs co-written with Greenberg, and was nominated for a GRAMMY Award.  Next he produced Canada's Barra MacNeils and, in 1993, roots-rocker Edwin McCain's sophomore album Misguided Roses and its multi-format Top 10 hit single, "I'll Be."

Greenberg is successful in the Christian music industry, producing two GRAMMY Award-winning albums for Cleveland. Recently, he produced and played guitar on Happy by Christian artist Matthew West, which was nominated for five Gospel Music Association Music Awards.

Greenberg was nominated for an Academy Award for producing the Allison Moorer song "A Soft Place to Fall," featured in the 1998 Robert Redford movie "The Horse Whisperer." He also co-produced Ride, the debut album by Columbia Records artist Shelly Fairchild.

Greenberg knew Sony Music Nashville Vice President A&R Mark Wright from his work with Brooks & Dunn and Lee Ann Womack. "They had signed Buddy Cannon to produce the album, and Mark said, 'Let's throw Kenny in to make sure it gets messed up a little,'" a reference to Greenberg's raw style of guitar. 

"I don't play raw by choice," he said. "I've tried not to play so raw, but that's the way I play. And that's usually why they call me in. I'm not a real Country session guy; I'm more of a rock guitarist. I came up playing lots of Southern rock, but in the '90s, Country Music started going that way." 

Fairchild praises Greenberg as a producer. "Working with Kenny is an absolute privilege. He has a 'knowing' inside him that takes each song, whatever style it may be, to where it has to go. I think he's only scratched the surface of what he's capable of," Fairchild said.

Currently, Greenberg divides his time between playing sessions and producing. His most recent production projects include two albums with his wife - a collection of hymns and a straight-ahead rock gospel album.

As a guitarist, he was nominated for CMA Musician of the Year award in 2004. He has written hits for SHeDAISY ("Little Good-byes") and "Nobody Ever Died of a Broken Heart," recorded by Trick Pony.

Despite his varied accomplishments, Greenberg's first love is the guitar. "I still practice," he said. "I love to practice. I'll sit in front of the television, and just play along with whatever music comes on."

Sometimes, the music coming from the set sounds familiar. He has made several albums of instrumental music that have been marketed to TV music supervisors. His music has been heard on NBC Sports, Fox Sports, E! Entertainment Television, The Playboy Channel and Oprah.

As Nashville continues to grow as a recording center for all genres of music, Greenberg's versatile talents will continue to be in very high demand.

2005 CMA Close Up News Service / Country Music Association, Inc.

 

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