Greg Nagy is well aware of the Blues and the wide swath it cuts. It’s path can be traced from the Mississippi Delta up through Memphis, to St. Louis and eventually ending up in Chicago. There are traces of all these places in Greg’s life and therefore in his musical interpretations of the Blues he holds so dear.
Born in Flint Michigan he was witness to the boom and bust of ‘Auto City’ as well as the realities of life and it’s effect on young people everywhere. Honing his skills with various local bands he has developed a sound that is part funk, part soul and all Greg. With two releases under his belt he is poised to move to the forefront as an up and coming artist. He pulls no punches with his music and in doing so reminds us that the Blues is all at once gritty, sweet, turbulent and calm, much like the man and his native city.
Join us as we talk about amazing things…..
B411: In any creative endeavor that we chose to do, whether it be being a chef and making meals or being a recording artist and making music is it basically that we are pleasing ourselves and if others buy into it that’s good, if not OK we move on?
Greg Nagy: Yes! I think that’s a great analogy. Honestly, I feel like I’m serving someone a meal in a sense, and of course I always hope they’ll like it, but ya know if you spend too much time second guessing what others might be expecting from you, well you’ll do yourself a disservice. That is, you’ll get distracted from really matters; connection and personal expression. With anything, if you are true to what you are doing then someone somewhere is bound to like it. With 7 plus billion people in the world you gotta get at least a few, probably counting your relatives…<laughs>. But seriously, I think if you get comfortable in your own skin, get to know yourself a bit, and be honest as all get out you’ll succeed in some way. Personal tastes are driven by personal experience and not everyone will love what you are doing and in being a sensitive artist that is sometimes tough to deal with. However, it’s all a balancing act, you take the feedback and weigh it and add a dash of this here and a dash there… according to your own tastes.
B411: But ultimately that is determined by putting out the best product you have and letting it fall where it may?
GN: That’s the record, now for performances you can dance around that. You can kind of feel the room and play the chameleon. – Not that being a chameleon is disingenuous, I think is important. It’s similar to talking to you right now, I can have in my mind what I am going to answer but if I don’t feel like they are connecting I need to revisit those answers. Again, it’s all about the human connection all preconceived notions of concept aside… and somehow managing to still please yourself, to have it all sit right with yourself. There is art as creation and art as recreation…I don’t think they need be mutually exclusive.
B411: Well if all you are going to do is please yourself – you can do that in a room and not involve anyone else. Is that ‘concept’ of creating something of your own one of the major attractions of making music for a living, or is it a pressure point of your chosen career?
GN: One of the things that is so cool about what I do for a living is that there is no pressure to recreate anything. If I get to work on this next record it can be a serious documentation of where I am as a person or as an artist.
B411: Isn’t that what they are?
GN: They are supposed to be, but if you look at some guys like Chuck Berry and had gained a lot of success he is being told that the kids want that rock & roll beat…he had to play that ‘Johnny B. Good’ rhythm in so many songs. I guess when you become an icon like him or Bo Diddley it can get changed.
The other important thing is to have a sense of humor. Life in general is wacky, inconsistent and life in an emotionally driven art form is life on steroids.
B411: Isn’t all art emotionally driven?
GN: Good art is. We have to agree on our definition of art, but yes. Yet I think there is an element of social construction to it. What I mean by that is maybe someone doesn’t get appreciated in their own lifetime because the social milieu isn’t open to it. So eventually a handful of movers and shakers will come together and make things happen but it’s not easy if you are out on the edge.
Human knowledge doubles every thirteen months. When the arts present something new it has to go through a lot of stuff to get heard or seen. There is so much stuff out there, we are being bombarded every day. So what do you do? I think you don’t try to second guess what people want, that’s not the answer. I think more of it is being yourself and honest and the people will hopefully come around to what you are doing either now or long after you are gone.
B411: I think that the folks in our little world are more aware of what is real and what is not. I believe they know more than the general pop fan-dom base out there today. I am not sure they want or care to have real music at a certain level they want a beat, images and to be entertained.
GN: Well yeah, there is a manufactured road to success and an assembly line mentality that is driving pop music these days. I grew up in Flint, Michigan where we have or I should say had assembly lines for cars and that analogy fits perfectly. When you find something that resonates with the public and they consume it you keep grinding it out and milk it for what you can. Then when they change you re-tool, or you fall by the wayside.
B411: Let’s re-tool and go down another road. Different people like different things, but as you mentioned social mores are also a factor…
Let’s take ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’, one of my favorite songs still to this day. Yet is it still viable today. Is it inappropriate with today’s standards?
GN: Ah yeah there are certain understandable elements of stigma around suggested pedophilia in these modern times. As crazy as some modern pop tunes can get I can’t think of any that seductively offer lyrics about a grown man be attracted to a school aged girl. Unless Pete Townsend has got a new record coming out… Oh man, that one was bad… I do apologize. In all seriousness, you are asking if it is inappropriate? We live in a different time for sure and the meaning of the words and such phrases also clearly change throughout time. I certainly don’t wish to judge the great Howling Wolf. The context was altogether different. And I have to think that if someone were to do such a cover today the nostalgia in a person might allow them to forgive. At the same time you have to ask yourself (and given all the people who don’t understand the historical content) if we are trying to bring new people in to this particular genre is it appropriate and/or maybe too anachronistic for any real shared meaning. Or should art really worry? It’s a tough question.
Digging deeper… oh man I hope I don’t dig myself in too deep here <laughs>… Is it even art to just recreate verbatim songs from a long past point in history? While song interpretation is very important, in my humble estimation, to keep the rich heritage alive, isn’t it sometimes a bit odd to draw on archaic blues and folks lyrical references. Or is it? I guess I just have to hear the modern song or reading in question. Matt Hill, for example, does amazing readings of Howling Wolf and if he does “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” I am sure he does a fantastic and righteous job presenting it. So maybe it is how it is done rather than what is done. For me personally, I don’t feel comfortable singing certain songs about excessive violence in general, but part of that could be me growing up in Flint, Michigan the second most violent city in America. <laughs> We laugh to keep from crying…Regardless, I’m not into censorship, or political correctness to a severe level. I do feel there is no harm being reasonably sensitive about these things… hope that makes sense. Sorry if I rambled and vacillated a bit…you really ask some deep questions… you’ve really got me thinking here, not sure if that is a good thing <laughs>…
Part 2 to follow after we return from the Blues Music Awards. May 10, 2012 8:00 PM. They will be broadcast live on SiriusXM B.B. King’s Bluesville #70 starting at 8:00PM. Turn on, tune in and join us as we celebrate the mother of all American Roots Music.
***Be sure to visit Greg’s website for up to date info at: http://www.gregnagy.com/ oh and by the way Greg will be performing at the Raise The Roof Online Concert & Benefit for the campaign to for the Blues Hall Of Fame Museum! LIVE WEBCAST & PPV! Sunday, March 24, Club Fox in Redwood City. For tix to the webcast show go tohttp://bit.ly/V28cxD or for tix to the live in person show go to http://clubfoxrwc.com/ - Greg is additionally doing many shows on the west Side of town., check out his schedule on site.
Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
photos: courtesy of artists, Jarrett Gaza, Leslie K. Joseph