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Spotlight: Trigger Hippy

Blair Jackson | August 15, 2014

On the surface it looks as though the odds are stacked against Trigger Hippy. After all, the outfit has been around—in name at least—for five years, yet the band has already experienced several personnel changes, and while the group will finally release a self-titled album on September 30, the quintet’s members have other irons in the fire that have often taken precedence over Trigger Hippy.

In 2013, “We were dormant,” says singer Joan Osborne, who has a successful solo career of her own and devoted a considerable amount of time last year working on her new album, Love And Hate. Meanwhile, Trigger Hippy founder and drummer Steve Gorman spent most of the year traveling the world with his main band, The Black Crowes, and along for the ride on those tours was Trigger Hippy’s other singer (and guitarist and keyboardist), Jackie Greene.
Trigger Hippy’s principal guitarist, Tom Bukovac, is an A-list session player in Nashville, so he’s perennially busy. Bassist and co-founder Nick Govrik is another respected Nashville cat.

Yet, the members of Trigger Hippy speak glowingly about their admittedly limited experiences as a band and their future together. They kicked off 2014 with an ecstatically received Northeast tour, a full-length album is just about finished, and there are more gigs in the offing, most likely including several summer festivals. “We’re comfortable in the jamband world,” Osborne says. “We all have connections there, and when we have played, the response has been pretty amazing. At the same time, we’re not putting any limits on where this band might go musically.”

Of the five members of the band, only Gorman and Govrik are original members—the first lineup also included former Black Crowes guitarist Audley Freed and Widespread Panic guitarist Jimmy Herring. They recruited Osborne to be lead singer, “and the first thing we did when I came down to Nashville and we all got together was writing and jamming together,” she says. “We knew we would probably do some covers, but we wanted to focus on original material, so the writing was step one.”

When Herring, and then Freed, departed, Greene came on board. “I had met Joan through Phil [Lesh] several years ago,” he says, “and I had known the previous guitarist, Audley Freed, through Warren Haynes. A couple of years ago, I went down to Nashville and we got together and jammed and started writing a bunch of tunes, and Joan and I sang together and realized it could work as a sort of two-singers kind of thing. She’s definitely the main singer, but we had this idea that there could be a lot of male-female duet kind of things, which is something I’ve always liked and it is something you don’t see a lot of these days.”

“It’s so nice to be able to join forces with somebody who has the kind of soul that Jackie does,” Osborne adds. “I feel like we sort of spur each other on— not in a competitive way, but more like, ‘This is what I’ve got to bring, what have you got? Oh, you’re gonna sing it like that? Well, check this out!’ And then, when you find a duet partner where it really clicks, there’s a magic and something really mysterious and beautiful about that. I feel like we have reached that in a lot of places, and there’s a lot more we have to discover as a duo in that way.”

Given the pedigrees of the members of Trigger Hippy, it’s not surprising that the band’s music is a rich amalgam of rock, sensuous R&B, blues, gospel and country elements. Their original tunes—some group collaborations, others brought in by Greene and Osborne—seamlessly meld bits of Memphis, Muscle Shoals, Motown and Nashville, along with Southern rock riffing and jamband elasticity. Guitarist Bukovac—the newest addition to the group—gets plenty of opportunities to show off his versatility, and he and Greene are remarkably sympathetic jamming partners, whether Greene is playing guitar—sometimes in an Allmans-like tandem—or, as is often the case, organ, “a big ingredient if you’re trying for sort of a soul sound,” Greene says.

“I can honestly say that Tom’s the best guitar player—maybe next to Derek Trucks—that I’ve ever played with, and I’ve played with some really good ones. I don’t mind getting my ass kicked by someone who’s really great, and Tom does it every night,” he laughs.

But it is Greene and Osborne’s passionate and evocative vocals—solo, trading verses and together—that dominate the group’s sound. On originals such as “Heartache on the Line” (from the EP) and “Rise Up Singing,” and their cover of Delaney & Bonnie’s “When The Battle Is Over,” they sound like they’ve been a duo for decades, the chemistry is so palpable.

“I like that Delaney & Bonnie vibe,” Greene says. “We’re probably more like that than Marvin [Gaye] & Tammi [Terrell], but there’s that influence in it, too. That aesthetic is easy for both Joan and me. It’s still rock, but it’s soulful and singer-friendly.”

The forthcoming Trigger Hippy album and shows will likely make many new converts, and though no one seems to have any illusions about the group being the main thing in their lives any time soon, Osborne says, “Everybody is committed to making space in their world for Trigger Hippy. We have so much fun! It’s like putting a bunch of puppies in a room and letting them roll around on the floor all over each other.”