Trooper’s first album, The Greg Trooper Band, was released in 1986. “It was a pretty bad record,” he admits. “At the time, I think I was kidding myself a little bit, trying to fit in a little more with the modern world. In retrospect, I’ve gone way back to Texas now, and to country music and The Beatles’ rock ‘n’ roll, but when you make your first record, there’s all this interference rattling around — ‘How am I gonna do this?’, ‘Who’s gonna listen?’, ‘Who am I making this for?’ — all of which is unsettling.
“But, on the plus side, Steve Earle got hold of a copy, and really loved some of the songs on it. And that became a serious turning point in my life. Through that, I ended up with the same manager as Steve had at the time. He cut one of the songs (“Little Sister” was the B-side of the “Copperhead Road” single in England), and he passed it on to Tony Brown at MCA.
“I started coming down here to Nashville about then. Tony Brown loved ‘We Won’t Dance’, and Vince Gill recorded it on his MCA debut, 1989′s When I Call Your Name. When that went on to sell over a million copies, I thought, ‘Well, it took a little while, but this is a breeze!’ I’d hit payday, and all of a sudden, things started happening.
“It’s still about to happen,” he concludes, laughing.
The relative success of “We Won’t Dance” led to Trooper’s first publishing deal with CBS/Sony. He wrote for them for about a year, but after they acquired Nashville’s Tree Publishing, he became a regular visitor to Music City. In 1992, he recorded Everywhere in New York City (it was reissued by Koch in 1999), then finally moved his family to Nashville in 1995.
Trooper’s wife, Brooklyn born-and-raised attorney Claire Mullally, has sung on all his records. With Greg since 1982, Claire put her law practice on the back burner when they moved to Nashville with their 6-year-old son Jack. Tired of the legal racket, she bought a 50-year-old ice cream stand/drive-in called Bobbie’s Dairy Dip.
“Best fries in the fuckin’ world,” Greg boasts proudly. “She double fries ‘em like the Belgians. Bobbie’s got a write-up in The New York Times, and they’ve got it up on the wall of her old law firm, and over the top of it they wrote ‘Our Hero.’ Because they all just hate what they’re doing.”
Though he had some initial misgivings about the move to Nashville, he now feels it’s been a good fit. “I stayed in New York City for 15 years,” he says. “Did two records in that time, and now I’m on my third one since I moved here, so things are moving quicker.
“As goofy as Nashville can be, I was far better suited to the people making music down here. I thought it was going to be more Music Row — you know, this big, bad song factory — but I never had to deal with that. I came down here, Steve [Earle] picked me up at the hotel, and all of a sudden I’m meeting these great players and writers. Buddy and Julie Miller, Rosanne Cash, Steve, Lucinda — a lot of my heroes are here. Dylan made records here. People like Duane Jarvis, Steve Forbert, Kevin Gordon, Bob Delevante and lots of others are making great, traditionally-based music here.
“It’s great, and it’s always been here, and it just stays that way. It’s just never been the dominant thing, so the overall stigma stays with the city. I always get this, ‘So, why’d you go there instead of Austin, dude?’ But it is a more professional town, and even though the Devil himself may reside here, I can make a far better living with my songs, and my recording opportunities have been far greater than if I’d moved to Austin, I think.”
Plus, the fries are better.
The Nashville cats’ general industry savvy also gets high marks from Trooper. “Musicians down here love to play, and they’re everywhere, so you can put a band together at the drop of a hat,” he says. “It’s absolutely the easiest place to tour from. I’ve also found that here, way more than in New York, that people know how the music industry doesn’t work.
“I mean, the music industry just doesn’t work very well,” Greg explains. “Somebody will make a record and sell 50,000 or 100,000 or whatever, and they’ll never see a dime. And in New York, you find a lot of musicians who’ll say, ‘Listen, I gotta get paid X amount of dollars for this situation.’ And I’d like nothing more than to pay musicians what they’re worth, if not more, because they’re what brings all of this nonsense of mine to life, you know?
“I’m definitely not slagging musicians. It’s just that, down here, they know that if Greg Trooper’s making a record for Eminent, that they can get paid, but they only get paid this much. They also know that, uh, Joy Lynn White, for example, doesn’t have a record deal, but she’s making more recordings, and they love Joy. So, they’ll go in there and do it for her, not expecting a big paycheck. People do it because they love music, and they’re not expecting the music industry to deliver their career for them.
“It’s just the way the industry is set up. The artists and the musicians are the foot soldiers. They’re out in the trenches, and they’re the first to get shot. I don’t like bitching about the industry, because they’re very easy targets. But there are many high-profile acts out there who sell way more records than I could ever dream of, and they still don’t see the money. And around here, the players at least understand that.”