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Greg Townson of The Hi-Risers

By L. David Wheeler, staff writer
Messenger Post
Posted Dec 02, 2010

Founded in 1998, the Hi-Risers have been among Rochester's premiere evangelists for American roots music - notably rockabilly with shades of garage rock and alt-country, in the Blasters tradition - with sets packed with high-energy originals like "Foundation Rock" and "Katy Did" and the occasional cover from the likes of Buddy Holly. They've released more than half a dozen albums along the way, and have taken the band not only on the road, but across the ocean. "Some of the best experiences of my life have been playing in Europe and Scandinavia," says guitarist Greg Townson. "The audiences there have the best time at our shows. The type of music we play - American roots music - is more appreciated over there than it is here, unfortunately. We take our own traditional music for granted in the States, but I think that's starting to change a little bit for the better." Townson fielded some questions from us:

Describe your music in three words. Rock & Roll!

What musicians have most inspired you? Chet Atkins was the first guitar player I was ever aware of and he still inspires me. Early on the Beatles were huge, of course. For me, they set the template for what a band should be. ... Because of them I've always felt variety is a strength rather than a weakness, but from a marketing perspective that isn't true anymore. ... The last ten years I've actually been more influenced by songwriters, rather than musicians. Johnny Mercer is knocking me out right now!

What are your three favorite local venues to play? The Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is great for all-nighter gigs where we stretch out, relax a little bit and fill an entire night of music. The Bug Jar is fun for a high-energy, one-hour showcase set. After that it's a tie between all the great venues around: Abilene, Lovin' Cup, the list goes on. We enjoy ourselves most everywhere we go!

What's on your iPods right now? OK, I always keep it on shuffle and without cheating I'll say the first things that come up: The Shirelles, The Impressions, Bill Evans, Burt Bacharach, Toots & The Maytals, Ray Charles, Junior Walker & The All Stars, The Fleetwoods, Chuck Berry, Lee Dorsey, Ersel Hickey - a local rock and roller from the Fifties. I've also been listening to lots of soul from the early Seventies.

What's the strangest gig you've ever played? I seem to recall playing a cave in Germany, but I'm not sure if I'm remembering that correctly!

What's distinctive about Rochester/Finger Lakes audiences? Audiences around here have always been good listeners, but it used to take awhile for them to get dancing. That doesn't happen so much anymore. Now most of the time it's a dance party right from the start of the show. Our music is social music, it's meant to be danced to. If you don't want to, though, that's fine with us.

Who's the most underrated area band/musician? I'll say John Ellison, the leader of a Rochester-based band from the Sixties, the Soul Brothers Six. He still writes and performs, and he's amazing. He lives in Canada now, but still comes down to perform in Rochester occasionally.

What project are you the proudest of? Our fifth record, "The Fine Art of Making Mistakes," is my favorite and the one I'm most proud of. We're completely sold out of it, and I hope to get it back in print sometime soon.

If you could pick anybody - dead or alive - to have a drink with, who would it be? Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records in Memphis. I never tire of reading his interviews or listening to the recordings he made. He got the most amazing an unexpected performances from his artists.

What does 2011 hold for you? It should be a great year. The Hi-Risers have a new record that's finished and ready to go. I also have my first solo record in the works. I just recorded five songs in London and hopefully it will also be out next year. Also, a record I produced by a band out of Zurich, Switzerland called The Hillbilly Moon Explosion is coming out too.