“I’ve got to take you higher/We’re going up in the clouds/I hope you’re not scared to look down” “Living on the Edge”
While Greg Sover’s friends in his Philadelphia neighborhood, where he grew up, were listening to local rappers he was immersed in classic rock, country and the blues ever since he first picked up a guitar at the age of five.
“From the beginning, it’s been the greats that have intrigued me,” says Sover, naming Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Duane Allman, Dwight Yoakam guitarist Pete Anderson and, of course, all three Kings – B.B., Freddie and Albert as early influences. “Hearing those first few notes of ‘Purple Haze’ changed my life.”
On his fourth and latest album to be released by his own independent Grounded Soul Records label in May 2023, Sover’s musical career has come full circle, as he’s joined on two songs by legendary Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsies bassist Billy Cox, a cover of “Manic Depression” and a rare track from the great guitarist, “Remember,” originally recorded for the international version of Jimi’s first album, but never available in the U.S.
“It was such an honor and privilege to play with him,” says Sover. “I had to keep pinching myself that it was Jimi Hendrix’s bass player, but I got to know and respect him as his own man, too. He and his wife were so supportive. They just want to pass it on.”
Sover and Cox hit it off right away, and after working remotely on the two tracks, they got together in Billy’s hometown of Nashville to collaborate on a live video for “Remember,” a song that starts with a reggae lilt and ends with a funky jam straight out of James Brown by way of Archie Bell and the Drells’ “Tighten Up.” Cox, who also co-produced the track with Sover, recalled how he and Jimi were on the way to re-record the song before he passed away, and that Billy wanted to do it with Greg as a form of homage, impressed with Sovers’ “humility” and dedication to his craft.
“I listened to the original track quite a few times, but I had to come up with my own version of the guitar solo at the end, because it was so underplayed, I could hardly make it out,” acknowledges Sover.
Recorded at Cambridge Studios in south Philadelphia, the new album turns the spotlight on Sover as a true triple-threat – already known for his world-class guitar work, he is now blossoming as both a soul/R&B singer (listen to his come-hither croon on the atmospheric “Tonight”) and a songwriter (from the heavy metal psychedelic blues of “Psalm 28” to the rousing “Gimme Shelter” gospel shout of “Freedom”), with 8 of the 10 self-produced tracks original compositions. Other standouts include the delta blues and AC/DC Angus Young histrionics of the title track, the slinky blues of “Stuck in the Rain,” which could be about either a broken romance or overcoming career obstacles (“I’m trying to keep the flame from going out/But I’m stuck in the rain”) and the chugging locomotive riffs of “One Way Train,” about the inevitable call of the road and music taking one away from their loved ones. Sover’s fourth album shows remarkable growth... he is not just a blues performer but a true purveyor of rock n’ roll/Americana music, ready to both accept the torch from those who came before and pass it on to those following him.
The self-declared Brooklyn-born guitar ‘slinger was “mesmerized” by the feminine curves of the acoustic instrument owned by his father, a Haitian immigrant who moved the family to a one-bedroom apartment in the Crown Heights section. That’s where his dad would play Kompa tunes for his son – a rhythmic native music from his homeland described by Greg as most resembling salsa. The first English-language songs he remembers hearing as a child were Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up,” when his father gifted him with his own instrument, not a toy, but a real guitar, small enough for a kid to use.
“I stuck with it,” he says about teaching himself how to tune to the open E-chord and eventually play. “It was something I loved to do and still love to do.”
Greg cut his performing teeth as a bassist in the church while in his teens, then played guitar in various bands, including heavyweight champion Joe Frazier’s group, before “muscling up” as a vocalist and bandleader himself. Sover soon became an integral part of the local Philadelphia music scene, releasing two full-length albums, 2016’s Songs of a Renegade (S.O.A.R.) and 2018’s Jubilee, and 2020’s Parade six-song EP, performing locally and at festivals with the likes of the David Uosikkinen's In The Pocket, Yardbirds, Jeffrey Gaines, Jimmy Vivino, Tommy Conwell & the Young Rumblers, Walter Trout, Sonny Landreth, Popa Chubby and the Marcus King Band. Sover and his band made the semifinals for two consecutive years at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis and won the 2015 Hard Rock Rising competition at Philadelphia’s Hard Rock Cafe in 2015.
Among the classic rock songs Sover has covered are Cream’s “Politician,” Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes,” Mountain’s “Theme from an Imaginary Western,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” and “Voodoo Child,” all not mere carbon copies, but brings his own distinct flair for melodies in service of the song rather than just mindless shredding. His City of Brotherly Love roots – Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International, the street-corner R&B of local groups such as the Stylistics and Delfonics – come across even more clearly in new songs like “Tonight,” hinting at new expansive directions for the future. His new bandmates include such icons as veteran bassist Kenny Aaronson, the fellow Brooklyn native who has played with everyone from Bob Dylan, Rick Derringer, Billy Idol, Joan Jett and Sammy Hagar to the New York Dolls, Foghat and Hall & Oates, and drummer/podcast host David Uosikkinen of Philly’s the Hooters, whose founding member Rob Hyman, ironically, was one of the co-writers of “Time After Time.” “They keep me growing as a musician,” he adds.
“It’s freedom time/Is freedom free?” “Freedom”
“It’s all about who loves the music,” says Greg about expanding the audience, getting more people to hear his music and see him play live. “It’s all about crossing these boundaries and bringing everyone together, whatever your race, religion or nationality. As for me, I’ve been through it all... it’s too late to stop now. Just go for it. The show must go on.”
Greg Sover’s new album is destined to keep that flame from going out.