Gypsy’s Lament, a classic revisited
by Todd K Smith
“At the time, Russia was going through musically, what we went through in the sixties. So the music that was getting a lot of airplay was The Beatles, Stones, CSN and early seventies rock, like The Eagles. My stuff meshed perfectly with the time.” ~Michael DeGreve
Tucked away in a roadside bar on the windy plains of Wyoming, sits a lean, poetic figure. His golden mane falling gently around his shoulders - shoulders covered in a gypsy’s terry-cloth shirt. Night after night his soothing voice blends harmoniously with the Ovation guitar resting on his lap. It’s a welcomed sight for the road-weary traveler in need of a place to sit by the firelight and shake off the cold.
For almost thirty years, Michael DeGreve has sat on his bar stool singing songs that tell his story. Some of the songs are his own compositions; others are renditions of his many influences. Influences like The Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, his good friends; Crosby Stills Nash and Young, and The Byrds. Says DeGreve, “Growing up in the sixties, this was my music. It is timeless and still holds its validity today it still moves me almost 40-years later.”
With idols so etched in the changing sounds of the sixties generation, it’s no surprise that DeGreve’s own music would have a similar ring. Gypsy’s Lament, DeGreve’s first album for Spirit Wind records, is a self-study of a songwriter bringing to light his own rich use of melodies and vocal harmonies. Yet, it’s the long list of credits displayed on the CD’s back panel that is most surprising.
DeGreve, though remotely located, has some very impressive friends. The album’s title track was written with the assistance of Graham Nash. Leland Sklar (James Taylor and more recently Phil Collins) handles nearly all the bass tracks. Ian Wallace (King Crimson, Jackson Browne, CSN, Don Henley) plays drums. David Lindley (Jackson Browne) adds a bit of guitar in conjunction with DeGreve and even Randy Meisner (Eagles/Poco/Linda Ronstadt) steps in to lend a hand.
The influential names don’t stop there. Gypsy’s Lament was produced and engineered by Don Gooch of Crosby Stills and Nash fame. DeGreve’s back-up singers, Marcy Gensic (Pat Benatar) and Teresa Lovitt (Rita Coolidge) even come with their own list of credits. In the creation of CD’s artistic design, no details were left out. Adorning the cover and lining the inner jacket is the work of famed Western artist Maija.
The six-foot plus DeGreve starts his tale of the wild West by telling us he is originally a California native, born in sunny Los Angeles. Growing up in Southern California, he was exposed to a culture rich in change and influence. His interest in guitar and the music of the time was second only to his love of basketball. An avid player, and a high school star, DeGreve had his sights on the NBA.
DeGreve told Elias Mitsis of the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, “By a twist of fate, I was not able to play ball anymore. One of the fellows I worked with at the (LA) Times had a band and I began jamming with them. After that, I became a late ‘60’s dropout. I decided not to go back to College, I quit my job at the Times editorial department reviewing pop concerts and joined a rock n’ roll band. I did all the ‘60’s things.”
DeGreve went on to work with Truth; a band produced by former Motown VP Mickey Stevenson and recorded their self-titled debut on People Records in the spring of 1969. In the early seventies, amid the shuffle of rock n’ roll and a budding acting career (Ozzie’s Girls), DeGreve took a two-week gig in Cheyenne, Wyoming. “I tell people it was a two-week contract that’s now lasted twenty nine years,” laughs DeGreve.
The singer/songwriter was quick to attract local musicians, college students and the occasional barfly. “Some friends of mine from the University of Wyoming sent some of my music to their friends in Russia,” tells DeGreve of his career highlight in the mid-Nineties. “One day I got a call from this Russian promoter claiming that my album had gone through the roof in Russia, and invited me over for a tour.
“At the time, Russia was going through musically, what we went through in the sixties. So the music that was getting a lot of airplay was The Beatles, Stones, CSN and early seventies rock, like The Eagles. My stuff meshed perfectly with the time. When I got there I felt like one of the Beatles. I was greeted by fans with roses and shuttled from press conferences to television interviews. I played several small halls filled to capacity and then closed out the tour with a three-night festival, which included every major band in Eastern Russia. Over 10,000 people attended each night. The feeling was overwhelming.”
“I felt like an ambassador over there,” he continues. “Being able to enjoy their cities, the vodka and the friendship. It was so amazing. There is a song on my album called ‘Ground Zero.’ It’s loosely based on the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still. It’s all about what would happen in the case of a nuclear war. There I was singing to the people that we had our missiles pointed at! It was very emotional.”
DeGreve explains the original work on Gypsy’s Lament took months to construct and went back and forth between Graham Nash and himself several times. It includes “The Ballad of the Lion and the Bear,” a song about his best friend in LA, David Smith, and all the crazy things they did as kids growing up. “Someone compared us to a lion and a bear,” remembers DeGreve of his songwriting partner, “Now that he’s passed on, I feel his spirit with me stronger than ever.” Nash sings the backing vocals giving the song a haunting but classic feel.
Randy Meisner’s playing is heard in “Magic Eyes” and “Untitled Road Song,” an experience DeGreve remembers as being especially rich with the ex-Eagle bassist being a “treat to work with.” The album also has two chilling ballads, “Song Long Overdue” and “Daughter of the Wind” both capturing DeGreve’s uncanny ability to tell a story with the prowess of Dan Fogelberg or Loggins and Messina.
Over the years, Michael DeGreve has had the great fortune of opening for several of his contemporaries including Neil Young, Donovan, Dave Mason, and Asleep at the Wheel. The texture of his original compositions such as “Silver Lining,” “Tender Nights” and “Robin’s Song” are gems in lyrical storytelling combining country/folk rock with a melodic delivery. A second disc, Live at the Hitch, features DeGreve’s typical set list including renditions of Gypsy’s Lament amidst his friendly and often humorous banter.
For booking information and the ordering of CD’s and video products send SASE to Michael DeGreve: 2530 Road 120, Cheyenne Wyoming. 82009, or visit his website: www.michaeldegreve.com