The Bangor bluesman Eric Green is what they call a musician’s musician. He’s self-taught, he’s always working and he’s damned good at what he does. He’s the kind of guy other musicians respect — or are mildly jealous of, depending on how they roll.
However, Green is also what they call a rockin’ dude. As in, he’s just a cool, funny, smart guy. Those two elements — talent and personality — make for a rare breed in Maine. A rock star? Maybe. Any way you slice it, Green has been able to amass fans from all over the state: from diehard blues fans to people who just want to boogie, and from backwoods Maine to Bar Harbor.
“It used to be I had to call people for gigs. Now, people are calling me. It’s been really fantastic,” said Green, who plays with his band, the Eric Green Party, as well as a number of weekly solo gigs. “It’s been a lot of work, but now we play all over Maine constantly. We’ve built a reputation on being able to rock both the rednecks and the guys on yachts.”
Green’s style mixes traditional blues, funk and country into one heady stew, whether he’s playing with the Green Party or by himself. The band features Green, drummer Paul Bosse and bassist-guitarist Nik Cody, as well as a host of sometime members playing everything from harmonica to keys.
This Saturday, the band will play at the first Blues & Brews Festival, set for 4 to 9 p.m. in West Market Square in downtown Bangor. The festival also features Big Time Blues and Mark “Guitar” Miller, as well as a whole host of beers from Maine microbreweries.
Green also plays a solo gig each Wednesday night at Luna Bar & Grill on Park Street in Bangor. When he’s on his own, he switches between guitar and keyboard — the latter of which is a fairly new development for him.
“I’m playing a lot more keyboards. Like, a lot more. About half my set is keyboard,” said Green. “It just kind of came out of nowhere. It was the middle of winter two years ago, and I had this old, $20 keyboard that I started messing around with. Within two months I was pretty good, and I just started going crazy on it.”
Green’s embrace of the piano has revitalized him, creatively. In addition to learning songs by old favorites such as Professor Longhair and Horace Silver, he has been writing his own new songs for piano, as well as learning how to read music — something the 20-year-plus guitar veteran had never really known until just last year.
“I can read music now. I’m learning to play all these songs I never dreamt I could actually pull off,” said Green. “I still feel guitar pretty heavily, but keyboard has made me a better guitarist. I turn 45 next month, and I’m not supposed to be learning new stuff. I’m learning like crazy. It feels totally right.”
His versatility is one of his strongest points. Without batting an eye, Green will switch from playing Johnny Cash and George Jones into something deeply, wickedly funky — and then segue into a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” or “You Are My Sunshine.” It’s that flexibility that’s garnered him so many fans, in addition to gigs most nights of the week. I said it four years ago in this column, and I’ll say it again: Eric Green is the hardest-working man in Maine show business.
“It’s an art form, playing to different crowds. You have to switch gears without actually changing too much,” he said. “It’s taken me seven or eight years to get to the point where I’m not constantly getting messed with by people that have had one too many sombreros.”
His core audience are the blues fans. They come from all stripes, but they tend to be a little older, and they tend to like to party. And they love Eric Green.
“Some guy just paid me a year in advance to play his daughter’s wedding,” said Green. “He said to me, ‘If she doesn’t end up getting married, we’ll have a hell of a party anyway.’”
Green honed his chops during years spent living in New Orleans. He returned to Maine eight years ago, and while he misses the Big Easy, he’s very content to remain north of the Mason-Dixon.
“I was born here. I’m a tribal member of the Penobscot Nation. My people have been here for 15,000 years. They say we’re a nation of immigrants, but I’m not an immigrant,” said Green. “I love New Orleans. I learned so much there. But this is home, and I’m really proud to stay local and keep it real.”
Besides, why go anywhere else, when Bangor is so vibrant?
“This place is blowing up more and more. There’s more energy every day,” said Green. “I don’t want to be around when the tragically hip contingent takes over, when it’s all about hairstyles and attitudes. Maybe Bangor won’t let that happen. Either way, things are changing. It’s a different place. It’s a great time to be here.”