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Finding Bliss

Jackie Greene follows his muse

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CALIFORNIA ROOTS Jackie Greene straddles the line between Tom Waits and the Dead.
  • CALIFORNIA ROOTS Jackie Greene straddles the line between Tom Waits and the Dead.

Americana songwriter and Northern California native Jackie Greene has long been a North Bay favorite, not only as a solo performer, but as a one-time member of the Black Crowes, a touring partner with Bob Weir and a part of Phil Lesh & Friends.

Though he moved to Brooklyn a few years ago, Greene still makes his way west as often as he can. He performs with his band at the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma on Dec. 29 and 30.

So what took Greene to the East Coast? "It was a girl," he says. "What can you say?" Still, music remains Greene's main muse, and he estimates that he and his band performed nearly 150 shows across the country this year alone, including his annual birthday show in San Francisco last month. "It was great. Bob Weir and Phil Lesh both came," he says. "We ended up doing three sets. It was crazy and wild."

Greene says he didn't grow up a Grateful Dead fan, and only started diving deep into the music after meeting Lesh in 2006. "Those first few years playing with Phil was like a Grateful Dead master class," says Greene. "As time went on, I fell more in love with those songs, and I'm a full-on Dead Head at this point."

Greene credits Lesh and Weir with opening him up to the concept of playing his songs with improvisation. "Phil and Bob are both fearless in the way they view live performance," Greene says. "You know, Picasso said famously that a painting is never finished, and a song might be the same way. Those damn hippies might have been on to something," he laughs.

In addition to picking up a knack for experimentation from the Dead, Greene's achingly personal, emotionally charged songwriting is inspired by one of his other musical heroes.

"The first thing that really got me into songwriting was Tom Waits. I fell in love with that gravelly voice," he says. "I was immediately attracted to it because it was weird, it was different, and it sounded painful to me."

Those influences and Greene's love of traditional folk and roots-rock shine on his seven eclectic solo albums, including 2015's Back to Birth.

Greene says he's writing material constantly, and hopes to have a new release next year, but it's hard to say where it's going just yet. "I sort of follow whatever my muse is of the day or my bliss of the moment," he says. "For better or worse, that's just the way I do things."

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