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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Greg Trooper: An appreciation

Greg Trooper sings "Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas)"

Great artist and wonderful guy. Gifted songwriter and even better man.

That was the consensus on Facebook Sunday among the very many who left comments on Greg Trooper's Facebook page upon word of the much-loved and respected Nashville singer-songwriter's death from pancreatic cancer two days after his 61st birthday.

Others, like Billy Bragg, took to Twitter: "Very sorry to hear that Greg Trooper has passed away. A powerful songwriter and performer, he wrote this song…." The link led to Bragg's cover of Trooper's "Everywhere," a poignant ballad about a Marine and Japanese-American friend who meet sad ends in World War II.


E Street Band's Garry Tallent, who also lives in Nashville and produced Trooper's 1996 album Noises in the Hallway, tweeted, "My good pal and most talented singer/songwriter Greg Trooper has lost his battle with cancer. Condolences to his family, friends and fans." And Rosanne Cash, who sang harmony vocals on his albums, tweeted, "So sad to hear of the death today of songwriter and beautiful soul Greg Trooper. 'Ireland' my favorite song of his."


New Jersey native Greg Trooper would be called "a songwriter's songwriter," but only because he missed out on the broader exposure others luck into or are lucky enough to have good enough promotion and marketing behind them. The fact that the likes of Bragg, Vince Gill, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, Maura O’Connell, Lucy Kaplansky and Tom Russell covered his songs attests to his talents as a writer, and Facebook was filled with testimonials to his performing prowess.

"I know his music and saw him perform, and I can say, sincerely, that Greg Trooper was a very talented songwriters and performer," says Ed McKeon, folk music director at non-commercial radio station WWUH-FM in West Hartford, Conn.

"His songs caught the ears of other talented and prolific songwriters like Steve Earle and Billy Bragg who made space in their repertoire for Trooper’s compositions. With so many good songs, one wonders why he didn’t find the wider audience he deserved."

Singer-songwriter/producer/guitarist Eric Ambel, who's worked with artists including Steve Earle in addition to recording his own music solo and in bands like the Del-Lords, produced Trooper's albums Between A House And A Hard Place (Live at Pine Hill Farms) and The Williamsburg Affair.

"What can I say about my friend Greg Trooper?" he asked on Facebook. "He hired me to play at his wedding. We wrote some songs together, played some gigs. I produced a couple records for him. He was my friend for a long time. We might trade a text or two but then we needed to have a conversation or a lunch, which we did a lot."

Ambel noted that Trooper's illness "didn't really take him off of his chosen path but it put challenges in the way. Greg was good to his family and his friends. Before the cancer he had been helping his dad towards the end of his life. Grown-up stuff. Living the life of a good guy with his son Jack and his wife Claire."

Acclaimed New York country singer-songwriter Laura Cantrell offers a personal anecdote.

"I met Greg in New York in the 1980s, when he was a local performer, with experience coming out of bands in New Jersey and impressive abilities as a writer," recalls Cantrell. "I remember thinking he was the real thing, while I was a young person who had ideas about writing songs but hadn't really written anything of real quality. A few years later, while I was an intern on a show at [listener-supported Jersey City station] WFMU, I managed to pour a glass of water on his guitar--not a huge glass of water, but abundant moisture nonetheless! I'd continue to feel embarrassed when I ran into him over the next few years, though he was always amiable."

Cantrell eventually started performing and touring, and bumped into Trooper at a festival in Holland.

"He seemed surprised that I was there as a performer, but also warm and encouraging. When he relocated to New York a few years ago he asked me to perform in a writers-at-the-round program, and I felt like I'd finally been allowed a seat at the grown-ups table--especially as he'd already written the incredible song 'Muhammad Ali.' Eventually Greg and I even wrote a song together and I'd enjoyed performing it with him a few times."

Cantrell, who hails from Nashville, ran into Trooper again last summer.

"He shared some memories of seeing Guy Clark in Austin, and I enjoyed his perspective as someone who'd spent time in, and absorbed the lessons of, songwriter scenes in New York, Austin and Nashville."

"Troop," concluded Ambel, "has left us with a lot to think about and a lot to be thankful for. And much of that remains in his wonderful songs."

He posted a YouTube video of "Muhammad Ali": "Here's a favorite of mine. This is a song from a truly good guy about a really good guy who could see the good in other people. People all around. Cheer's, Troop."



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