By Lea Fiega, Freelance Writer, April 2020
TRR: It is certainly a pleasure meeting with you today, Gregg. Can you tell me where you are from originally?
Gregg: I am from Westchester, raised in Eastchester, New York. I moved to Connecticut in 2001.
TRR: When did you first start playing the guitar?
Gregg: I started playing the guitar when I was 13. It was not my first instrument. My first instrument was actually the trumpet. I started playing trumpet in the 4th grade, playing throughout grade school and middle school. When I was ready to transition into high school (I went to catholic/private school, it was all boys). It did not have a music program. It was all academics and sports. I knew I was going to have to give up the trumpet, as my school band days were over with. My father was a recreational guitar player, he played as a hobby. He told me that he had a beautiful guitar in the house and that he never played it anymore. He told me then that I should take it up . That is pretty much when I started playing.
TRR: Were you classically trained on the guitar or were you self taught?
Gregg: I took classical lessons for 4 and 1/2 years.I started playing with a nylon acoustic guitar.I was not allowed to play an electric guitar per the instructor. He was very strict about that. He did not believe in the electric guitar at all.
TRR: Did you have any music idols growing up?
Gregg: Guitar wise? Frank Marino from Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush was a God on the guitar. This was around 1977-1978.He was probably the first guitarist that I was really in awe of. Then I would say Hendrix, Robin Trower. At that time, they were popular guitar players, the stuff I was listening to.
TRR: What is your favorite part about being a musician?
Gregg: I would have to say it is the creative side of it. I put a lot of myself into what I play. My guitar has always allowed me the avenue to get things out that I may not be able to put into words verbally, but I can play it. I guess it gives me the chance to quote the the great Bruce Lee, I can “Honestly express myself”.
TRR: Who is the main songwriter for Livesay?
Gregg: A prior band member, the bass player, was the writer of the lyrics for about 15 years. Now, the music or songwriting is done by myself and Tony Stahl, our keyboard player.
TRR: Tell me about any prior bands you were in prior to Livesay.
Gregg: I was in Saintly Sinner, a band called Master Force, another one called Silent Listener, and then Vandal. Silent Listener had an EP, Saintly Sinner had an album.
TRR: Livesay currently has 5 albums, correct?
Gregg: Yes we do. Our first album, titled LIVESAY was released in 1996. Our next album was Darkest Hour in 2000. Our next release was Awaken the Giant in 2009. Our 4th album was Frozen Hell, released in 2016 with Kivel Records….. Then the 5th album Chronicles was released in 2018 with RFL Records. I would have to say that our 3rd album, Awaken the Giant, was my favorite of the 5. Our album Chronicles is a copulation of all of our music from the prior albums as well as a new song. We decided to do it because when we are playing out at festivals, etc, we were often asked where fans could get our CD’s. The record company we were with at the time was only selling our current CD on their label. All of our other CD’s were self produced by us and we had various distribution deals. Some CD’s you could find on line and others you couldn’t. When we returned home from the Festivals Tour, we decided that we should take the songs that the fans were asking about from our past albums, and put them on one disk to make it easier for people to access them. In doing so, maybe we could pick up some new fans along the way. The is how Chronicles came about.
TRR: Your song “International Man” is one of your newest songs off the Chronicles Album. When did you write that?
Gregg: Yes, that song was written in a hotel room in Illinois. We were rehearsing our set because we were playing out later that night. I had an idea to write a song about a friend of mine, who is also a musician. He used to tell me all the time about his exploits on the road and used to always say to me, “I’m International”. It was kind of a joke, but I told the guys I had to write it….. and there you go. International Man!
TRR: I am sure that all of your songs mean a lot to you…. But do you have a favorite?
Gregg: I have a few songs that are favorites, I think “Darkest Hour” off of our 2nd album is a great song. I also love the instrumental on the song on our 3rd album, Awaken the Giant. It’s called Aphasia. It is the first instrumental I ever recorded.
TRR/Lea: I love the song Red Room.
Gregg: The song Red Room was very popular in Japan. It was being requested every 5 minutes on the radio stations there. A record executive from Japan contacted us and wanted to sign us. They sent us a contract but the stipulations were that they wanted to buy the rights to our songs. The contract stated that for $24,000 they wanted to buy the rights to our songs and lock us in for 3 years in Japan. I said no. I was out with our entertainment lawyer in New Jersey on a conference call with the label in Japan at the time. The record label became belligerent, stating that it was a world class deal and that it is the offer that every band gets when they sign. Then told us we had 24 hours to make a decision. I stated then that I didn’t need any time at all. The answer was no. That was our Japan label experience.
TRR: You are signed with RFL Records. How has that been with them?
Gregg: Yeah. It's been great. My contract just came due with RFL this month, They are offering me a new contract and I think I am going to sign again with them. The label just got hooked up with a worldwide global distribution company so things are moving along for them pretty well, and I am going to see how that plays out. We are working on our 6th album now. We are in pre-production, hoping to release it by the end of the year. You know, a lot of people say to me, "Your band has been together for a long time. How come you only have X amount of albums?" The story is this. The first 3 albums we did we financed ourselves because we weren’t signed. The distribution deals we had, we did that ourselves. We went into a real studio and paid the money, and they were very expensive to make. We did them incrementally. The material was written, but when you are going into a studio at $130 per hour, it took us time as we financed everything ourselves. We released the album “Livesay” in 1996. Next was “Darkest Hour” in 2000 and then “Awaken The Giant” in 2009. Our 4th album “Frozen Hell” was released on Kivel Records in 2016, and then “Chronicles” on RFL Records in 2018.
TRR: Do you have a favorite venue that you have performed at, out of all the places you have traveled?
Gregg: I have a few. I definitely enjoyed playing out in Illinois. That was a lot of fun. The place was called The Tree. I also loved playing huge rock clubs like Lamours and The Ritz back in the day. Now, one of my favorite places to play is the Chance Theater in New York. The theater is sizable, and can fit a really good audience. It’s “old school crowds”. We do play intimate venues, but they can be quite different. The aura of the room is not the same. There are distractions. People are eating, there are TV’s on around the room, and the bar crowd isn’t necessarily there to see the band. In a theater setting, the crowd is there for the sole purpose of seeing the show.
TRR: How do you think the internet has impacted the music business?
Gregg: Negatively for sure. I think it has killed it to be quite honest. I say that because it has destroyed the value of bands song catalogs. It has diminished the special quality of being a musician and has made it an every day thing. I think it is great for the consumer. Everything is available at your fingertips. For the musician creating the music, I think it has been awful.
TRR: What is your proudest moment as a musician?
Gregg: Thats a tough one. There have been some really cool moments for sure. I’ll say this. We have been fortunate enough to open for some major musicians. We have opened for Ronnie James Dio twice. We have opened for Pat Travers, Vince Neil, Warrant, Ratt (Both versions of Ratt), Sebastian Bach. We opened for most of the big names that came thru the Hudson Valley of New York, One of my proudest moments was playing with Steve Morse. I wanted to meet him so I went to his dressing room and his people let me in. I said, “My name is Gregg Livesay and I just played on stage. I wanted to come up and just thank you for the music. I think you are incredible”. He replied, "Oh wow! Was that you? I was watching you!" He then went on stage to do his set and he said, “That Gregg Livesay, watch out for him. He blew me away”. I know I didn’t blow Steve Morse away, but for him to say that was pretty cool because of who he is. That kind of respect from other musicians, that makes me proud. That means the world to me.
TRR: Tell me about your friendship with Jimi Bell.
Gregg: We are very close. We had actually met back in 1988 and didn’t realize it until much later. I had just finished playing a set at a rock club in Westchester. I went to the bar to get a drink and this guy walks up to me and said, “I just saw you play and you were very good. Have you ever considered submitting yourself for the spotlight column in Guitar Player Magazine? Every month they feature the best of the best unknown guitar players all over the world. That’s how people like Vinnie Moore and Greg Howe got discovered”. I told this guy that I didn’t think it was good enough to do something like that. He told me that I certainly was…, and that he was just in the magazine…. -In issue 130 I think. I told him that I would check it out. I didn’t know if he was telling the truth or not. I had a subscription to the magazine, I went home and looked it up and sure enough, there he was. The guy was Jimi Bell. Now, fast forward to 2014, I run into this guy up here in Connecticut. Neither of us remember our meeting prior to this point. We become friendly. On facebook one day, Jimi posts a picture of himself. It was the picture from Guitar Player Magazine! I called him on the phone and said, “Hey Jimi! Do you realize that you and I met each other for like 10 minutes back in 1988 when you told me that you were in that magazine Guitar Player?" He said that he vaguely remembered talking to someone, and it was me! Jimi and I pretty much hit it off instantly in 2014. We have very similar stories about how we started playing guitar. We were similar as kids, we were both introverts, didn’t have a lot of friends. We were kind of like oddballs. We got involved with playing guitar and kind of ignored the outside world. We both got accomplished at playing and people started paying attention. You know, I am never serious about anything. I think I am a bad influence on Jimi. We have a lot of laughs together. I love him. He is very humble, and one hell of a guitar player.
TRR: You are one of the featured guitarists at this year’s New England Guitar Summit. What a stellar line up. Jimi Bell (Autograph/House of Lords), Gregg Livesay (Livesay), Billy D’Napoli (Wild America), Brendan Clark (Alice Loves Alien), Mr. Joe Stump (Alcatraz), and Dean Cascione. How excited are you about this event?
Gregg: I am humbled that I have been asked. I am a little nervous, but it will be a great time.
TRR: What is something that people don’t know about Gregg Livesay?
Gregg: Hm. I am a super, super sensitive person, I am a very deep thinker, I am a very deep person. What most people see is that I am a real jokester, but I am a super sensitive, deep person. I can literally take a grain of sand and turn it into dust, That’s how I am. I am also a perfectionist. I am not perfect, but I beat myself up pretty severely. I am very harsh on myself.
TRR: What is on the horizon for you, for Livesay?
Gregg: We have more shows coming up. We plan on having our next album released by the end of this year. We also plan on doing some fly outs, including heading back out to Colorado to play before the end of the year.
TRR: Thank you for letting us get to know a little more about you and the band, Gregg. It’s been a pleasure.
Gregg: No, it was an honor for me, thank you so much!