Greg Garing
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Greg Garing


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"Greg Garing"

Greg Garing is the personification of musical integrity and authenticity. Whether he's alone with his guitar, or in front of a band, Greg Garing's talents often overwhelm a first-time listener. Defying categorization or label, Garing exudes a blend of musical heritage and stylistic innovation. In an ideal world where true musical talent supplanted packaging and marketing, Greg Garing would be multi-platinum.

David Adelson
Executive Editor
HITS Magazine
- HITS Magazine

"Down Home On Avenue C, An 'Opry' Neither Grand Nor Ole"

When Greg Garing set out to resurrect what was left of authentic country music, he never figured the route would lead to the Alphabet City Opry and a tiny, Hades-red bar at the corner of Ninth Street and Avenue C in the East Village.But over the last half year, Mr. Garing, a tall, gaunt figure with long stringy hair who dresses in black like a cross between Neil Young and Johnny Cash, has created one of the least likely musical scenes in years, a rawboned, free-form country and bluegrass revue that's closer to the ghosts of Nashville's past than anything you can find there now.

Each week Mr. Garing draws a crowd of neighborhood people, punks, students, yuppies and musicians to one of the ultimate slices of urban grit, the down-at-the-heels alphabet avenues that used to be thought of as the edge of the Lower East Side and are now considered part of the East Village.Over the years, the area of battered tenements and housing projects has gone from the quintessential destination for waves of destitute German, Jewish, Slavic immigrants and Puerto Ricans to a drug-riddled urban wasteland to a heterogeneous polyglot that in recent years has begun to turn around by attracting newer immigrants as well as artists and students.And if the alphabet avenues and Hank Williams in some ways go together like fried matzoh and pickled pig's feet, the result for now is some striking music and a glimpse of how even some of the most ragged parts of Manhattan are now being transformed by the stock and real estate boom of the 90's."To tell you the truth, we wanted to be off the beaten path," said Ken Nye, one of the co-owners of 9C, the ad hoc name for the unnamed bar, which occupies a corner previously used by a drug-plagued bodega. "People thought we were crazy to come here, and now our problem is to figure out what to do with all the people showing up."The 700-square-foot bar, where Mr. Garing's Alphabet Opry holds forth, has an eclectic Early Satan decorative theme, with a bright red she-devil on the wall, a "Bad Dog" sign by the front door and an "X-Files" pinball machine. Each Monday, the 16 or 17 unofficial members of the Opry take turns rotating in and out of the ensemble in a bar that can at most hold 80 or 90 people.The ringmaster is Mr. Garing, 31, a musician with prodigiously diverse interests and an eerie tenor that howls and cracks with arresting intensity."I've got to tell you that I've been doing this since the 50's, and he's far and away the best I've seen," said John Herald, who was the leader of the bluegrass group the Greenbriar Boys and was part of the folk revival of the early 60's. "He plays every stringed instrument there is as well as anyone I've ever seen, and he's an amazing singer in almost every form -- country, bluegrass, rockabilly. He's sort of a country prodigy."Mr. Garing grew up in Erie, Pa., entranced by every kind of music, from the ragtime and big-band 78s he found in his attic to the Beatles. But upon hearing the bluegrass of Bill Monroe, he was hooked.At the age of 19 he got himself an old Winnebago, drove down to Nashville, camped outside Mr. Monroe's oversize nightclub and set out to learn from the masters. Over the next decade, with slick, made-for-video, commercial country booming as never before, he became a one-man, hard-core country preservation society, working with and learning from most of the giants of a dying tradition, people like Mr. Monroe, the flamboyant bluegrass performer Jimmy Martin, an old forgotten honky-tonker named Roy Duke, the former Grand Ole Opry star Wilma Lee Cooper and other weathered relics of the days when country really was country."It was like an endangered species that was on its last legs, and I wanted to find a way to bring it back in front of people," he said.And then in 1994, after years of, as he puts it, "being ridiculed and laughed at and told no one wants to listen to this stuff," he found an audience.Playing at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, the most famous downtown club on Nashville's grimy, faded lower Broadway, Mr. Garing became part of a retrograde revival movement. Dressed in grimy Hank Williams Western attire and wailing ancient country tunes, he created a vogue for the music and a substantial buzz around himself that drew people ranging from country bigwigs to Marianne Faithful, who did a memorable duet with him one night on Hank Williams's "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."But before long, with what seems like characteristic contrariness, he packed it in. Balking at the idea of being typecast as Hank Williams, disgusted with Nashville's country establishment and suddenly deciding that what he really wanted to play was rock, he moved to New York.

An Acclaimed Blend Of Country and City
Mr. Garing, whose sunken cheeks, bone-thin body and night-owl pallor have been compared to the supernatural comic-book hero "The Crow," moved into a tiny Greenwich Village apartment and filled it with musical instruments and a light fixture of an old 78 of George Morgan's "Lonesome Record." Last year he put out a highly acclaimed record called "Alone" (Revolution/Paladin) that was an indefinable mix of the ancestral, high lonesome sound of the country and the futuristic, electronic jangle of the city.But he wanted to keep doing the country stuff as well, and decided, partly because of the vogue for alternative country and Americana music, that there was an audience for it in New York, which has always had a modest but avid country constituency.Kenn Richards, a black electronic musician and disk jockey who remembers living in the area near 9C in the 80's when it was best known for "crack houses, crack whores and the standard potpourri of East Village stuff," said that hard-core country in the neighborhood is not as odd as it may seem."If you think of the East Village as a futuristic, urban wasteland landscape of Generation X-ers, then, yeah, I guess it's incongruous," said Mr. Richards, whose dreadlocks and black bomber jacket don't qualify as standard honky-tonk attire. "But if you get past people's uniforms and ask whether it's good music and if it touches something real, then maybe it just fits right in."And in recent years, as New York has come back, so, to some extent, have the alphabet avenues. The western edges of the area, like the blocks near the Sidewalk Cafe on Avenue A, which has its own country night on Thursdays, have been undergoing a substantial revival for quite a while. But even in the two years since 9C began, the inner blocks around Avenue C, ground zero for urban decay, have begun to come alive. Mr. Nye said that two bars had opened nearby in the last year and that his block now includes a hardware store, pizzeria, Chinese restaurant, video store and other signs of nonlethal pursuits.Mr. Garing began playing at Coney Island High on St. Mark's Place and then, thanks to a bartender named Roger Davis, who became something of the fixer for the whole urban country scene, moved with him over to 9C. Given the East Village's cheap rents and history of adventurous music from punk to jazz, it seemed a good place to try.Mr. Nye and his business partner, Raphael Ambron, were dubious but willing to try it on Mondays, the deadest night of the week.To their amazement, it took off, drawing more people most Mondays than could fit in the bar. Mr. Garing has put together a floating ensemble that includes both veteran country musicians and others learning the music from him. The pedal steel player, Henry Bogdan, used to play with a hard-rock band called Helmet. The fiddle player is a book editor and former classical violinist named Diane Stockwell. More established semiregulars include Mr. Herald, the harmonica player Trip Henderson and Mike Younger, a country blues musician.Some, like Rob Ryan ("I'm from Down South. South Jersey."), the host of the Thursday night show at the Sidewalk Cafe, and Monica Passin, who has two groups, Li'l Mo & the Monicats and the Ladies Honky Tonk League, are most interested in their own groups and careers.But Ms. Passin, a Bronx native who became transfixed by country after picking up an album of George Jones singing Hank Williams songs, says the current scene works for everyone."The country scene in New York seems to move in waves," she said. "There was a lot of activity in the late 80's and early 90's and then it died down and now the whole scene is burgeoning again. I love what Greg does. It's definitely changed my life."People familiar with the music's history in New York wonder where it goes from here.

A Rare Dynamic, But a Fragile One
"There's a wonderful dynamic that's unlike anything I've seen in 25 years," said Douglas Tuchman, a co-host of a country show on Columbia University's WKCR-FM (89.9) radio who for years produced bluegrass concerts. "But I think it's very tenuous. My gut feeling is that it's very, very hard to sustain without more established paid gigs."But Mr. Garing is already thinking big: Monday night jams at 9C until the end of time, other themed nights -- perhaps a jazz one -- at 9C, maybe even a more formal, Opry-like show on a permanent basis that could bring to New York some of his old idols from Tennessee."I have no idea how it's going to evolve, but I guarantee you it's going to evolve," he said. "This could really be something."As for him, he's dedicated to keeping the old music going, working on his more modern projects and keeping from being typecast in either one."I grew up playing the clarinet," he said. "Woody Herman was my hero. In Nashville I painted myself into a corner by being pegged as Hank Williams. So what I want to do is, before people start saying, "Well, is he the country guy or the rock guy?' I'm going to start playing the clarinet again."
- The New York Times

"Greg Garing"

This is the curiosity gig of the week. Garing, originally from Erie, Pa., spent 10 years in Nashville playing country and bluegrass before relocating to New York City. His new album, "Alone," could be called futuristic country because he uses samples and other tools of electronica along with genuine banjo and mandolin. His lyrics are retro country, and his voice is hauntingly effective. There are some gems on "Alone," including the stone-country "Safe Within Your Arms," the ballad "All My Stars Are in Your Eyes" and the bluesy "Where the Bluegrass Grows," a loving tribute to the late Bill Monroe. Garing, 31, could be the coolest alt-country artist to come along this year, or he could be a hip forward-thinking rocker with a Nashville jones.

- Minneapolis Star Tribune


"Alone" - Warner Bros. 1997
"Manhattan Blues" w/Harlem All-Stars - Gotham Records - 1999
"Fuzz singles" - Produced by Steve Albini - Fuzz Artists 2007



In an age of boy bands, corporate sponsored rebellion, and fake reality shows, it's nice to see an original pop up seemingly out of the blue. Insiders know about Garing and his haunted, southern-gothic voice and songs, and it's time the rest of the world did too. He straddles the line where indie rock, and blues meet, and that's a place where he belongs with the Nick Caves, Jeff Buckleys, Ryan Adams, and Jeff Tweedys of the world.

Few people approach their music with as much intensity and imagination as Greg Garing. He is rooted in bluegrass and honky-tonk, but his musical appetites are too omnivorous to be contained by any one genre.