John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

The Legacy of Greg Trooper

The late musician’s songs were performed by Steve Earle, Vince Gil and others.

By - Mar 31st, 2017 01:47 pm
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Greg Trooper at Paradiso, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Photo by Erik Joling.

Greg Trooper at Paradiso, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Photo by Erik Joling.

Last weekend I was in Brooklyn for a celebration of the life and music of a dear friend, Greg Trooper. Greg was a troubador in the truest sense, plying his trade all over the map, here and in Europe. He was often on the road by himself for long stretches… a song salesman, pitching his latest to crowds and, sometimes, other artists. it wasn’t a hard sell. Steve Earle, Vince Gill and Maura O’Connell, among others, thought enough of them to sing them. The thing that escorted his already great songs to an even more special place was his voice. It was warm honey with a touch of east coast smog — it sounded real in every moment. The sound he made was very sneaky in the way it moved in and set up shop in your head without you realizing it. Once that happened, every time you heard him sing endorphins were released.

I like it when people use the same voice on stage and off. Mannerisms or acrobatics don’t move me, honesty and humor do. Greg had both, he was an unapologetic sentimentalist with a dry, self-deprecating sense of humor. He didn’t go out of his way to stretch boundaries musically, he knew the old reliable majors and minors he played on his Martin D-35 were perfect for the stories in his songs. That corner of music was was big enough for him to move around as he added his songs to all the others in that honorable genre once called Folk Music.

Between songs, the New Jersey cat came out a little bit. He would tell stories and people would listen. Greg was Irish and Jewish and his humor set up somewhere near that border. Part of the gig when you’re a singer/songwriter is talking between tunes. In a lot of cases you would prefer silence. I’ve heard introductions that exploit sad events in a way that make it harder to judge the song on its own merits. I never heard Greg do that, and lord knows over the last year or two he could have.

One of the songs I sang at his celebration we wrote together, it’s called “Rose With You,” a waltzing nod to Irish Greg. The other was “Hummingbird,” a tune as American as hot dogs. A nice uptempo rocker, it’s the tale of a man who has stopped playing for some silly reason (I’ll guess the music business) and the vacuum he leaves behind. Sounds kind of serious, but when heavy topics meet fast tempos, the latter always prevails. The lyrics don’t really promise a sequel where the man picks up music again, but you have to guess he does somewhere down the line:

 

Daddy don’t play that Hummingbird no more

Daddy don’t play that Hummingbird no more

It sits in closet gathering dust

His chubby little fingers are just gathering rust

Daddy don’t play that Hummingbird no more

 

Daddy don’t wow the crowd anymore

Daddy don’t play it loud anymore

He don’t flash that lover’s grin

Make the girls swoon all over him

Daddy don’t play that Hummingbird no more

 

Some say he got lazy, some say he got bored

Some say he’s still playing behind closed doors

Whatever it is or wherever he’s gone

I miss the little devil and his crazy song

 

Daddy don’t play that Hummingbird no more

Daddy don’t play that Hummingbird no more

Whatever it is he does

Does he know it’s just killing us

Daddy don’t play that Hummingbird no more

© Greg Trooper

I know all about magical thinking now. Greg had pancreatic cancer and received the best care possible. He was up for the fight and always in in good spirits when we visited. I couldn’t help thinking he was the guy who would somehow beat the odds. He leaves behind a wife and son we are very close to. They were blocks away when we lived in Nashville and our son played with theirs while the adults commiserated, cooked and laughed. A lot. His wife, Claire Mullally is from a big Irish family in Brooklyn and she and their son Jack have been back among them for quite a few years. Greg was a family guy to the core and he would have been especially pleased when Jack, who I’d never heard sing or play anything but drums before, got up with his cousin, Oona Roche, to perform another of Greg’s Irish songs, “Inisheer.” His second or third time in front of people singing, it was like he’d been doing it his whole life. You could hear a little bit of Greg in his delivery.

One last story. The Trooper clan came to visit about ten years ago. The Rosebud Theater is walking distance from our house and The March Of The Penguins was playing. As we were meandering down North Avenue, Greg’s phone rang and soon he was shouting in into it top volume. He was a man possessed for about three minutes — I thought he’d won the lottery. Here’s why: The call was from a fan in Houston. Greg had a following at a club there called The Mucky Duck. But this wasn’t just any fan, it was an astronaut, one who happened to love Greg’s music and promised to play it outer space. The call was confirmation — Greg’s music had indeed been up there with him orbiting the Earth. That got me thinking… where do songs go after they’re sung? I like to picture them hovering above us, like little stars, waiting patiently for their turn to brighten the lives of those below, people and penguins alike.

5 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: The Legacy of Greg Trooper”

  1. Kevin says:

    I remember Greg asking the crowd at The Mucky Duck if there was an astronaut there. I think that received a few chuckles, so Greg explained he’d heard from an astronaut that wanted to take his music to space and was hoping he was at the show so they could meet. No one spoke up that night. That would’ve been in 2002, I believe.

    Hadn’t thought of that in ages until your post brought it back to the surface. Thanks.

    Ps I was also at St. Marks and agree that it was a wonderful tribute. You and the other performers did Greg proud!

  2. Brian J says:

    I’d never heard of John Trooper, and I wonder how I missed him. Thank you for this excellent article. Please continue to do this.

  3. Ken says:

    Good song! His spirit lives!

  4. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    Where do the songs go after they’ve been sung? Straight into the hearts of the audience!

  5. guy gallo says:

    Nice words John.You really captured his life, career and spirit in the article.Your rendition of ” Rose with you” blew us away at the celebration.Greg would of enjoyed the show.

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