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