Jackie Greene on Songwriting

JACKIE GREENE IS ONE OF THE MOST ACCLAIMED YOUNG songwriters to emerge from California in years. Hear him do his own thing on Giving Up the Ghost [429], or catch him revitalizing the Grateful Dead catalog on tour with Phil Lesh & Friends.

“The more you play guitar, the more you start to put in your own rules,” says Greene, “and those are the hardest ones to break. Try something unusual, or even uncomfortable. Now and again I’ll randomly twist the tuning pegs until I find something that sounds good, so I’m forced to relearn the instrument. It’s almost like turning your brain into a child’s brain that’s not caught up in what you can and cannot do. I write a lot on my ’55 Gibson J-45, but which guitar I use matters less as I gain experience. The most important thing is to pick up any instrument when inspiration strikes. Sometimes I’ll grab a mandolin because it helps to try a somewhat unfamiliar instrument, find three chords, and figure out what you can make of them. It’s a good idea for singers to get a guitar that matches your voice, or inspires you to find melodies over chord progressions. I’ll try using a flatpick, a thumbpick, or playing fingerstyle, depending on whether I want a loud or a soft sound. Sometimes I’ll use a capo to help find the best key for my voice and the band. Then you have to take the chance of playing a new song live, because that’s the only way you’ll ever know if you got it right.”