Asbury Park singer-songwriter-keyboardist-producer Ryan Gregg is constantly working on stage, in the studio, and on social media as a solo artist, the founding member of The Shady Street Show Band, the singer-keyboardist in Ocean Avenue Stompers (a New Orleans-inspired brass band founded by Shady Street trombonist Ian Gray), a keyboardist-vocalist in “Stormin’” Norman Seldin’s Big Band, and as a part of dueling piano duos with Norman, as well as Des Spinks of Des & the Swagmatics. Yet, he never seems overworked; rather, the more he works, the more joy he experiences, expresses, and shares.
In the studio recording his debut solo album, Hustling in Place, Ryan often plays many of the record’s six songs live, as he does with Shady Street’s Makin Waves Award-winning 2016 debut album, Revelry. While Ryan often produces other artists, as well as music for film and television, the forthcoming solo outing will be his only release since Revelry.
You can see him live performing the many songs he has written solo, with Shady Street, Des, and others. Upcoming gigs will be announced on Instagram. He also will perform with Norman as a duo on July 23 at R Bar in Asbury Park, as well as with Ocean Avenue Stompers, who have gigs coming up on Saturday afternoons at R Bar, Monday nights at Seahorse also in Asbury Park, and August 11 at Rootstock at Hawk Haven Vineyard in Cape May.
Enjoy the following chat with Ryan Gregg, the July Makin Waves Artist of the Month!
You are one of the hardest-working, yet joyful musicians. You always seem to be working in one ensemble or another and doing so with infectious joy. How – and why – does constantly performing make you happy?
Performing is a release for me just as much as it is for the audience. I’ve had plenty of bad days that ended better because I got to go on stage and let out whatever was eating away at me and embrace the positive energy created by everybody in the room.
I’m also surrounded by incredibly talented musicians, performers, and entertainers who paint with all kinds of brushes, and I’m dipping in and out, learning from my peers and contributing my voice where I can. I enjoy being a part of the conversation.
Also, it’s just fun playing music with your friends.
What was the first music you heard that made you want to be a musician?
I don’t think it was so cut and dry for me. I started playing really young and it was just something that was always a part of my life.
The music that started my journey to where I am today was ragtime, more specifically Scott Joplin. I had a really good teacher when I was a kid who was classically trained, but saw that I was gravitating towards jazz. Ragtime is the bridge between jazz and classical music, and that’s how she communicated the language to me.
Where did you grow up?
Aberdeen, New Jersey.
Why why did you gravitate to the Asbury Park music scene?
I grew up close by, but I didn’t play my first note in town until I was about 25. When I moved back to the area after school and a couple of adventures, Asbury was naturally the place I ended up.
What did you do musically before you formed Shady Street Show Band?
Worked on other people’s music.
Is the forthcoming Hustling in Place album you’re working on a solo project?
It’s a solo record, just me and my piano, six original songs.
What does it sound like? When and how will it be released?
Sounds like a mix of Tom Waits, Randy Newman, and Dr. John. It will be released soon in what I imagine will be some kind of audio format.
Shady Street has only released one album, the brilliant Makin Waves Award-winning 2016 LP, Revelry. Why hasn’t the band even released a single since then? Do you plan to?
I guess we haven’t even released a single since then because we’re happy moving at our own pace and don’t feel the need to bow to outside forces that would make us feel guilty about prioritizing different musical, professional, and personal aspirations.
Also, we’ve written lots of new songs since the first record and have been playing them out live for a while. We do plan to release more material. I believe it should be soon, and, once again, it will be released in some kind of audio format.
Another of your projects is Ocean Avenue Stompers, which has yet to release a recording, yet gigs constantly. Any plans for them to release an album of original material or are they more of a cover band? Is anyone else in Shady Street Show Band also in Ocean Avenue Stompers?
The Ocean Avenue Stompers is a collective of musicians who hail from all different projects, playing music inspired by the spirit of New Orleans filtered through the lens of the Jersey Shore. The band is a rotating cast of characters. There have been members of Shady who’ve played with the Stompers in the past.
The band functions as a second-line horn band, quartet, quintet, wedding band, funk ensemble, or parade band… depending on the day. I think that there will be original music down the line for sure, but one thing at a time.
Is Gregg Allman an influence on you?
I’m a fan of Greg Allman, but I wouldn’t call him an influence. I got to the classic rock piano players later in life. My major influences were blues and jazz players like Oscar Peterson, Otis Spann, Count Basie, Dr. John, and others.
And how did it feel to play the Brothers and Sisters album in celebration of its 50th anniversary with Brother and Sister at Godfrey Daniels? Then play Peachfest with them?
I’ve known Vaylor and Melody Trucks for a while now because of a retreat I’ve been going to for years called Roots Rock Revival. It’s a very personal project for everybody involved and it’s a privilege to get to play that music with people – and for people it means so much to, myself included.
What do you enjoy most about performing with Norman Seldin?
Playing with Norman is like having a conversation with a friend who speaks piano. Also, working with someone who was not only alive, but an active participant in the doo-wop scene in the sixties in Asbury Park… it is a window into history. I didn’t know how direct a line from doo-wop to Springsteen there was until I started working with Norman.
You perform with Norman’s Big Band and as a dueling piano duo with him. Norman is enormous place within the history of the Asbury Park music scene as the leader of the band, Joyful Noize, that Clarence Clemons was in before he moved over to E Street. What is the most enjoyable story he’s told you about Asbury Park?
My favorites are the ones where he talks about navigating the business. A lot has changed over the years, but human nature has remained pretty much the same. Back room deals, shady characters, protecting yourself… if anybody is interested in specifics, I suggest picking up a copy of You Don’t Know Me, Norman’s autobiography released last year.
You also gig regularly with Des from Des & the Swagmatics as a soulful dueling piano duo and when Shady Street and the Swags share amazing bills and stages together. What do you enjoy most about playing with Des?
Besides being a complete ham onstage like myself, she is a monster singer and a master technician with her voice. Her control and range are unbelievable, and it’s always good to learn from the best. Also, Des is a very close friend and has been for years. The hang is always good.
With what other acts do you play?
A short list of some of the bands I’ve worked with include Eric Lindell, Dana Fuchs, J.T. Bowen, Roosevelt Collier, Oteil Burbridge, The Lee Boys, Scott Sharrard, ‘Stormin’ Norman Seldin, Ocean Avenue Stompers, Melody Trucks, Soul Project NOLA, Uncle Scotchy & Juke, Des & the Swagmatics, Jet Weston & the Atomic Ranch Hands, Matt O’Ree, Arlan Feiles, Black Flamingos, Billy Walton Band, Moroccan Sheepherders, Enjoy, and many others.
When and where you will be playing throughout the summer and into the fall, and wutg whom?
My gigs are listed on my website, ryangreggmusic.com, and I regularly post on Instagram about what I’m up to and where I’ll be next.
Given the volume of shows you play, what are the greatest challenges in keeping your schedule straight and avoid double bookings?
Challenges are easier when you’re surrounded by people that have your back and vice versa. I’m constantly checking in with the people I regularly work with and am always going over my calendar.
How often do you have to turn gigs down because you’re already booked?
Tell me about the annual Pulse Memorial Benefit at Georgie’s Bar in Asbury and the Roots Root Revival in the Catskills. Why are they important to you?
I’ve been playing The Pulse Memorial Benefit, along with Shayne Desena and other members of Shady Street, since its inception. A good friend, Ethan Dayback, who is a fierce advocate and active participant in the Asbury LGBTQ+ community, puts it together. It’s a pleasure to be invited into that community for that event every year.
Roots Rock Revival is one of my most important weeks of the year. It is where I recharge my soul and get to hang in the woods for a week with over a hundred incredible players who are all there to jam and have a good time. For more info, click here.
You also have worked as a producer and a songwriting for other artists, as well as television. What are some of those projects?
I’ve been on Comedy Central Digital and done some work for PBS. I’ve also music directed for music theater and have thrown music and chili festivals. I had a job once selling pickles and salsas, and I ended up writing a theme song for the company; although I left the gig and took the song with me when they stopped paying me. Hopefully one day I get to use it for something.
Is there anything I didn’t ask on which you would like to comment?
Have a good summer!
FOR MORE ON RYAN GREGG & ALL THAT HE DOES, CLICK HERE!