For nearly four decades, bassist Jim-Joe Greedy was the anchor in several legendary western MA punk outfits’ rhythm sections. Now fronting his own retro-country quartet, '61 Ramblers, Greedy is content to still be doing what he loves best. '61 Ramblers play the Iron Horse, this Thursday in support of former BR549 frontman, Chuck Mead (and His Grassy Knoll Boys).
Examiner: You’ve been a part of some legendary western MA’s hardcore, psychobilly and slowcore bands like Pajama Slave Dancers, 8th Route Army, Angry Johnny & The Killbillies, and Steve Westfield’s Slow Band. Old punks don’t fade away, they just get country. Is that a natural progression for the most part? What’s your musical ideology?
JJG: I was a founding member of PSD, and played with them for a bit less than two years, before resigning when they signed with the SONY/BiB label. It was the "punk" thing to do!
I actually started with country music. It was really the first influence musically in my life. In the 60’s and early 70’s, it was all over television (all three channels in western MA!) — so going from punk to country made perfect sense for me. Both share key elements in their minimalism and themes that come from the heart — songs about real stuff (usually tragic stuff). In their purest form they’re both "street level" genres of music. That had a lot of appeal to me. In the early punk years, the thing that drew me in was the rejection of mainstream rock ‘n’ roll and all the big money hype that goes with it. I didn’t relate to popular bands like Led Zeppelin because their lyrics were beyond my teenage comprehension level. When I first listened to “Stairway to Heaven” (repeatedly), I didn't get it, but (The Ramones) “Beat on the Brat,” I got immediately. I still don’t get “Stairway to Heaven.”
My musical ideology is pretty simple as I like almost everything at some level. More analog, less digital. And cool hats. I generally prefer bands that wear cool hats. It's not an across-the-board thing though.
Examiner: There seems to be very little musical innovation in the retro-country genre from my perspective aside from novelty bands (Reverend Horton Heat, Southern Culture on the Skids, O’ Death): do you feel a responsibility to play it straight with your interpretations of classic country tunes? Is there room for experimentation within the genre?
JJG: There is always room for experimentation in any genre. It's totally unavoidable as long as humans are involved in the process. We tend to re-interpret everything automatically. I do try to keep it true to form, not necessarily out of respect for tradition, but because I love the way those old records sound.
Examiner: “Classic” country music and punk rock seem to go hand-in-hand attitude-wise — outsiders, outlaws and generally unappreciated in their time. How do you view your career in terms of this? Was there a moment with a particular band where you thought, “This shit might blow up?”
JJG: With the punk bands that I was in, it was kind of a regular occurrence for someone (usually a guitarist) to throw a heavy object like a hammer, or a mike stand at me during intense rehearsal disagreements. This hasn't happened yet in the '61 Ramblers. It might be the lack of teenage angst as we're all over 40.
Examiner: What are some of your fondest memories of playing with any of the bands you were involved with? Is there a still a western MA scene for you?
JJG: Many to note. Here’s a condensed answer to that question.
8th Route Army: meeting and opening for the Ramones, the Damned and a handful of other legendary bands. Playing CBGB’s before it became a tourist trap.
PSD: our first record release show at Main St. Records. Both bands being voted "Best in the Valley" by The Advocate in 1984 (a tie).
Angry Johnny & The Killbillies: busking in Northampton in our early years (we made more money on the street in one summer than we did in two years of so-called "paying" gigs). Playing the Loud Music Fest (Northampton), Lollapalooza in NYC (mid-90’s) and touring Europe. Touring with Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh and Drive-By Truckers
Steve Westfield & the Slow Band: touring Europe a few times.
Is there still a western MA scene?
Examiner: Talk about '61 Ramblers. Any recordings to date? Long-term plans for the band?
JJG: The '61 Ramblers is a blissful labor of musical love. The music is influenced by the greats such as Lefty Frizzell, Ernest Tubbs, Faaron Young, Johnny Cash and Buck Owens. Nothing recorded yet as playing live always trumps recording for me. I'm just not fond of the process as it's tedious and I'm rarely happy with the results. It'll happen though eventually. Long-term? Keeping the dream alive!
Examiner: What can folks expect at your Iron Horse show?
JJG: Folks can expect to be thoroughly entertained on Thursday. If they aren't, I'll eat my hat (literally) as I have a Homburg made out of cheese for such occasions.