When music fans think of the band scene in Athens, Ga., acts like R.E.M., Widespread Panic, and Of Montreal probably come to mind. But for many longtime locals in the small university town, a bespectacled country singer with a rhinestone suit epitomizes the quirkiness and camaraderie at the heart of things.
For 20 years, mild-mannered family man Greg Reece has split his time between family and work while regularly booking shows as his alter-ego "Redneck Greece" and donning his customized sequined jacket, cowboy hat, and six-string.
"My goal is to enjoy the music and have fun with it," he says, speaking from his home in Lexington, Ga. (20 miles south of Athens). "These days the shows have got to be either something fun or extremely financially lucrative. Both is good, too."
Reece arrived in Athens in the mid '80s from the North Georgia mountain town of Ellijay. As a young college kid with an electric six-string, he formed his first band, the Primates, with the sibling rhythm section of Eric and L.H. Sales. While the trio blended bits of garage-rock, country, and blues into their twangy set, they fit in with the guitar-based scene that was taking shape in the wake of R.E.M.'s initial success.
"We'd do originals and everything from Commander Cody to Buck Owens to Johnny Cash," says Reece. "We did rock that'd gotten countried-up. We weren't trying to be country, though, at all. We weren't ashamed of the fact we could do it. We were hicks, after all."
After the Primates disbanded, Reece started playing solo gigs as Redneck GReece. His act quickly became a full-band situation after buddies clamored to jump into the fun. Under the band name Redneck GReece Deluxe, the ensemble started playing boozy parties and special events at out-of-the-ordinary joints like Loco's Deli in Athens and the notoriously sleazy Clermont Lounge strip club in Atlanta.
"I have a new suit that I got made about three months ago," Reece says. "It has a Clermont Lounge theme on it. We played there in May, and that was an interesting night. Lord have mercy. We had a blast."
By 1992, Reece had enough original material to record and release a debut album titled Good Eatin'. In 1994, he followed with Cold Hard Facts. Song subjects ranged from beer and exotic dancers to heartbreak and dirt-poor livin'. Such songs as "Mama was a Dancer at the Clermont Lounge" and "Don't Let Another Penis Come Between Us" became early fan faves.
"We called it swingin' hillbilly honky-tonk that Nashville won't touch," Reece says. "I'm not making fun of country music. I've had people say that, and it pisses me off because that's not at all what's going on. All old-style country music has humor in it, If you look back at the Opry in the old days, most acts actually had a comedian on stage with them.
"Funny songs have been a way of life from the get-go," he adds. "Think about Minnie Pearl, or Bob Wills [of the Texas Playboys] with all his hollering. You couldn't get away with that these days."
Reece's latest recording is a swinging, honky-tonk-style holiday tune titled "Santa and the Trucker," featuring an all-star cast of players. Produced and released to raise money for the Athens Boys & Girls Club. The track features singer Patterson Hood and pedal steel player John Neff (both from Drive-By Truckers), percussionist Domingo S. Ortiz (of Widespread Panic), Tom Ryan. (of the Normaltown Flyers), and guitarist/pianist Randall Bramblett.
"Patterson did the voice of Santa Clause on that single," says Reece. "We had sponsors pay for the printing and pressing, so the Boys & Girls Club gets every penny from the sales. It's a good old time."
"She's Breaking my Heart While She's Drinking My Beer," penned by the late Atlanta guitarist Greg Smalley, a longtime cohort of the Drive-By Truckers, is still a hot selection on the Redneck GReece setlist. Currently, Reece and his mates are working up a pile of brand-new songs as well.
Redneck GReece Deluxe enjoyed a healthy rotation of musicians from Northeast Georgia over the years. This Saturday, the lineup will feature Mike Gibson (filling in for Rick Fowler) on guitar, Clint Swordson bass, and Mike Strickland on drums.
"We'll be in there as just a regular old four-piece," says Reece. "I've got my good old buddy Rick on lead guitar and the rhythm section from Besty Franck and the Bare Knuckle Band on stage. Betsy's great, and they've been down to the Home Team a few times."
"I've been so busy trying to make a living that I haven't had time to finish up some of the new recordings," he says. "The last song I finished in the studio was a tune called 'What Am I Gonna Do.' We have a new one that touches on the immigration issue called 'Come on in, Juan, It Ticks Off the White People.' We've got a song about inflatable dolls. We still do a lot of the good old covers, too, like Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, and Merle Haggard. We usually like to start off with some Boxcar Willie."
That's the only reason why we do it; to have some fun. You don't make a living at it — you know how that works."
on the first recording or "Mama was a Dancer at the Clermont Lounge"