Diamond Jim Greene
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Diamond Jim Greene

Chicago, Illinois, United States | SELF

Chicago, Illinois, United States | SELF
Band Blues Acoustic

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"Diamond Jim Greene, Country but no Bumpkin"

SOUL BAG magazine
Spring Issue 2000

Portraits in Blue
Translated from original French version

Diamond Jim Greene
Country, But No Bumpkin!

These days it seems that blues can be found in the most unlikely places. This time, it was at a booth at a food expo held in the biggest conference center in the world, McCormick Place, on the shores of Lake Michigan. Jim Greene was there singing, wailing on his National steel guitar, in front of a wall of barbecue sauce bottles. His high, lilting voice evoked in turn Tampa Reid, John Hurt and Blind Willie McTell. Was I hallucinating? Did Diamond Greene really live in the trendy suburb where I worked? I managed to meet up with him over a plate of catfish, because I had to find out how he had ended up in this place.

Greene is not at all a country bumpkin; on the contrary, he’s open-minded and sensitive; he loves to comment on the sociopolitical situation of African Americans. Born in Chicago in the early 1950s, his earliest childhood memories are of nameless musicians, unknown outside of their neighborhoods, which at the time were isolated, unstable enclaves. His defining moment came at age 7 on Ellis Avenue, where blind singer and guitarist Arvella Gray drew wildly enthusiastic crowds, a cup hooked on his jacket that was often overflowing with change. Little Jim would run to pick up stray dimes and quarters off the ground and stuff them back in the pockets of the old man.

At 17 he buys an electric guitar, listens to both Nashville’s WLAC and Hendrix, and joins a variety of musical groups. As he puts it, “I heard Johnny Winter before Robert Johnson.” So he comes to know the frustrations that go along with jam sessions, the stifling tendencies of ensembles. Fed up, he joins the Marines in 1977. While based in Washington, D.C., he encounters the artists he will consider his strongest influences: John Cephas, Archie Edwards and John Jackson. He thinks back to his childhood and realizes that this type of acoustic sound that comes so easily to him is the best way for him to express himself. Jim throws himself into the Piedmont blues scene alongside “Bowlin’ Green” [John Cephas] in Virginia, and nurtures his new style with gusto. We next find him in a park in La Jolla California in 1988, barely surviving, living the lifestyle of a hobo and playing with an acoustic group called the Blues Ambassadors, looking like they just stepped out of the 1930s and joined by singer Earl Thomas with Billy Winston on harmonica. His biggest moments during this time were opening for James Cotton and playing by the ocean at Jim Croce’s bar. Not much else would come from this stint on the west coast, except that here is where he would earn his nickname “Diamond,” when a pretty fan, overcome with emotion, would take off one of her jeweled earrings and press it into good-looking Jim’s hat.

After that Jim would make his way back to the Midwest, stopping off at the clubs of Minnesota, then Utrecht in 1995 and Lucerne in 1996. Jim finally settled down in the blues capital, having come full circle, and found an old house that resembled a barn straight out of Mississippi. He would rehearse there for his first gig at the Chicago Blues Festival of 1997, and decided to record there as well while performing for an audience of friends that he could trust to keep quiet. Indeed, from time to time only the sound of birds chirping can be heard. The result is an intimate feel reminiscent of a juke joint.

Will he manage to stay faithful to his roots or will he end up moving away from them in the way of a Keb’Mo’? In any case, he doesn’t really like his CD on Black Magic (“Just a Dream”, BMCD 9032) and is currently dedicating himself to producing carefully crafted verse centering on soulful, reflective themes, illustrating daily life at the end of the millenium. This doesn’t keep him from covering a Kate Bush song for a tribute album, or from crafting his liner notes for his CDs with painstaking care, commenting on each track. These days he often goes to visit Honeyboy Edwards, who tells him secrets and anecdotes about Robert Johnson…Diamond Jim Greene is definitely a man who has paid his dues.
—Jacques Lacava
- Soul Bag Magazine


"Diamond Jim Greene's CD Snapshots"

BLUES REVUE MAGAZINE
Issue No. 96
Oct/Nov 2005

DIAMOND JIM GREENE

Snapshots
DJG Music

Acoustic blues recordings have a harder road to the marketplace than contemporary-sounding electric projects. Chicago’s Diamond Jim Greene learned this while shopping Snapshots and ultimately resorted to releasing the album independently. Now that it’s available, traditionalists will be grateful for his initiative. In Greene’s words, Snapshots is so named because “ each on of these songs is a still photograph representing different times in the evolution of the blues.”
The song selection reflects both Greene’s scholarly eye and his ability to harmonize disparate elements. The death letter of Bo Carter’s “New Stop and Listen” with its rudely ascending bass walkup and skittering, mandolin-like treble figures, segues smoothly into the intense soul of Ray Charles’ “Drown in My Own Tears.” Greene’s radical rethinking of Tampa Red’s “Things About Coming My Way” incorporates bagpipes, a slide solo that sketches “Amazing Grace” and Myles Goddard’s recitation of the Ojibwa death song, yet remains inarguably bluesy. A small combo take on Willie Brown’s “M&O Blues” seems a natural precursor to the rocking, ‘50’s –style electric interpretation of Tampa Red’s “Don’t You Lie to Me.” Effective, sensitive solo version of songs by Blind Lemon Jefferson and Willie McTell set the tone for originals such as the memoir “Blindman” for his mentor Arvella Gray, and two very different takes on love lost, “I Don’t Got You” and “If You Go (You Stay Gone).”
- Blues Review Magazine


"Diamond Jim Greene's CD "Coach House Blues""

LIVING BLUES MAGAZINE #144 MAR/APRIL 1999

“Diamond” Jim Greene
Coach House Blues
(Cooling Board CB 1001)

Chicago guitarist “Diamond” Jim Greene fits handily into the contemporary African-American acoustic blues movement that continues to invigorate the genre. Greene proves a highly adept slide player and powerful singer on his domestic debut (he previously had an album released in Holland on Black Magic). Working mostly solo, Greene displays a sure feel for seminal pieces by Blind Willie McTell, Robert Johnson and Tampa Red. But it’s his originals---the unusually constructed “Watching You”, a harrowing “Full Moon,” and a vivid ”The Blindman” (detailing his childhood encounter with street singer Blind Arvella Gray, to whom the CD is dedicated)---that bode well for Greene’s future. (P.O. Box 940, Evanston, IL 60204)---BD

- Living Blues Magazine


"Diamond Jim Greene's CD "Coach House Blues""


BLUES
revue
THE WORLD’S LARGEST BLUES PUBLICATION,
DEVOTED TO THE LISTNER AND MUSICIAN WHOSE MUSICAL PASSION IS THE FULL SPECTRUM OF THE BLUES.
www.bluesrevue.com

“Diamond” Jim Greene
Coach House Blues
Cooling Board 1001

The Chicago suburb of Evanston is possibly the least bluesy college
town in America, thanks to the absence of anything resembling a bar scene. Evanston, is, after all the ancestral home of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, chief agents of America’s failed attempt to outlaw alcohol in the 1930’s. Yet it’s also home to Jim Greene, who plays the sort of country blues itinerant musicians used to perform as they hoboed from town to town across the Deep South.
Greene’s Just a Dream debut on the European Black Magic label was one of the first releases in the recent rush of albums by young African-American musicians rediscovering their acoustic roots. If Greene doesn’t yet have the recognition that Keb’ Mo’ or Alvin Youngblood Hart have in America, it’s not for lack of talent (and he doesn’t have Keb’ Mo’s former career in disco to live down either!). Greene’s new disc, Coach House Blues, confirms every strength of his 1995 debut. Rather than go back into a studio this time, he opted to record live (save one track) in front of an invited audience in a friend’s 1890’s-period coach house. The result is a 15-song, 53-minute collection that opens with a raw-edged version of Robert Nighthawk’s “Murdering Blues” and wraps with a medley of Blind Willie McTell’s “Stomp Down Rider” and Fred McDowell’s “You Done Told Everybody.”
In between are more tunes by McTell, Robert Johnson and Tampa Red, as well as six Greene originals. For a left-field surprise, he also includes a cover of Kate Bush’s “Home For Christmas.” Greene’s own material includes “Watching You,” arguably the album’s best song, but all the tracks capture Greene’s strong vocals, his terrific guitar work and his passion as a live performer.
BILL WASSERZIEHER
Issue No. 47 May 1999



- Blues Revue Magazine


Discography

CDs
1. Just A Dream (Black Magic Records 1995)
2. Coach House Blues (Cooling Board Records 1998)
3. Snapshots (Cooling Board Records 2003)
4. Holdin' On (Cooling Board Records 2007)

Photos

Bio

When I was about 7 or 8 years I saw Blind Arvella Gray playing a National Steel resonator guitar on Ellis avenue near 63rd Street on the southside of Chicago. This was around 1958 or '59. There was a large crowd of adults around him and when he finished the song he was playing, the adults begged him to play it again. Mr Gray told the crowd " I cain't keep playin' dis stuff fo nuthin' now, dis is how i make my livin'!." The adults around him could not get their hands inside their pockets fast enough. Arvella had a tin cup clipped to the lapel of his jacket pocket which the adults filled up with half dollars and quarters. Some of the coins spilled onto the sidewalk. Me being the closest person to the sidewalk, began picking up the overflow of coins and stuffed them inside Mr. Gray's jacket pocket. Of course, I was taking my little cut for my labor, after which Mr. Gray launched into the tune again. I have not been the same since. After that day, I made it my mision in life to see and hear every guitar player who came into view on the streets and taverns in Chicago and there were plenty. My sound today is a combination of those guitar players, singers, harmonica and piano players. My Biography:

“Diamond” Jim Greene

Walk into a record store with a decent blues section nowadays and there will be a slew of compact discs by a new generation of country blues performers who not only have revived the acoustic tradition, but have created a lively and growing audience. [Diamond Jim Greene] is among the new practitioners, along with [Guy Davis] Corey Harris, Del Rey, Eric Bibb, Rory Block, Keb' Mo' and Alvin Youngblood Hart, who are responsible for this resuscitation”
Blues Revue Quarterly

Born and raised on the south side of Chicago, "Diamond" Jim Greene's initial exposure to blues was through Arvella Gray, a blind Chicago street singer and guitarist, who Jim saw performing on Ellis Avenue on Chicago's south side during the late 1950's. Since that first exposure, Jim has performed in numerous blues band configurations, including a stint with the Southern California-based all acoustic "Blues Ambassadors". For the last 20 years, he has performed unplugged and solo, or with a harmonica player and/or upright bass. John Cephas, Phil Wiggins, the late John Jackson, the late Archie Edwards, Paul Geremia, Roy Bookbinder, all of whom Jim had the pleasure of meeting and playing with during the mid 1980's, remain constant influences as does fellow Chicagoan "Honeyboy" Edwards. "He's one of the most authentic Delta blues players I've ever heard . . . He's like Robert Johnson reborn".
Los Angeles Times

Jim has toured extensively throughout Europe since 1995, spreading the good news about acoustic blues on major festival stages in the U.S. and abroad, including the Chicago Blues Festival (1997, 2000 and 2005), the Long Beach Blues Festival (1997) and the International Blues Festival at Lucerne, Switzerland (1996 and 2006), to name but a few. Blues Revue Magazine said of his last CD, "Snapshots" (2003) on the Cooling Board label: “Greene is an accomplished fingerpicker and slide guitarist who works effectively in Delta and early Chicago veins as well as the East Coast style of Blind Boy Fuller.” (Issue No. 96, Oct/Nov 2005). His instruments of choice are prewar National Steels and 12 string guitars which he has used to open for James Cotton, Buddy Guy, Ike Turner, Otis Clay, KoKo Taylor, John Hammond, Duke Robillard, Cephas & Wiggins, Saffire (the Uppity Blues women), Sherman Robertson, Joe Louis Walker, Mississippi Heat, Lonnie Brooks, and a host of other well-established blues performers; he will no doubt continue to perform wherever discriminating blues lovers gather.

Currently based in Chicago, Jim will be playing engagements both large and small all across America and Europe in 2007 and beyond. His newest CD, ‘Holdin On’ (January, 2007) is now available at Chicago’s Jazz Record Mart, CD Baby or by visiting www.diamondjimgreene.net. For more information including booking contact: Cooling Board Records P.O Box 940 Evanston, Illinois 60204 e-mail: fingerpicker@sbcglobal.net