Gregg Hill began writing songs in seventh grade, but he never really thought of himself as a performer — until he moved to New Orleans five years ago. Inspired by the Big Easy and other artists who call it home, Hill embarked on yet another new chapter in a life that has contained many, honing his live-audience entertaining skills — while forging relationships with those artists. The singer, guitarist and pianist then recruited two of the city’s finest — bassist/vocalist Roland Guerin and drummer Doug Belotte — as the rhythm section for his latest album, Bayou St. John, releasing Sept. 15.
Named for the region that connects Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi River, it’s also the place where Hill wrote most of the album’s tracks. Bayou St. John contains only eight — and one is just a minute long. But that’s all it takes to fall for this artist’s folk-tinged Americana, a thoroughly engaging sound conveying his easygoing nature (and accomplished picking) in masterfully painted tableaux capturing moments in time with charm and emotional resonance.
On “Places in Between,” which premiered July 25 on the Americana Highways website, Hill wraps little slices of life into a moving chronicle of domesticity, with backing vocals by Joy Clark.
Comparing Hill to James Taylor, Americana Highways’ Melissa Clarke described Hill’s songs as “humble, mellow and true.” He delivers a similarly sweet ode to the city he loves on the ballad “New Orleans Again,” cowritten with Cowboy Mouth’s Paul Sanchez and featuring backing vocals by Lynn Drury. The Louisiana-flavored “Oh-Dee-Aye” features backing vocals by Hill’s daughter Jesse, who also accompanied him on his 2022 release, Born Liar.
That album, produced in Nashville by Grammy winner Neal Cappellino, reached No. 95 on the Americana Music Association Albums Chart and No. 14 on the Alt. Country Specialty Chart, and spent two months at No. 4 on the Relix/Jambands.com radio chart.
Bayou St. John was coproduced by Guerin, who was mentored by Allen Toussaint and served as Dr. John’s last musical director. He’s one of many New Orleans artists Hill cites as mentors and friends.
“This is a great place to come and get good,” Hill says. “I couldn’t think of a better place to hone your craft and learn how to be a pro.”
He’s being rather modest. Hill already had several albums under his belt before recording Bayou St. John, the latest endeavor from a creative talent whose career has included stints as a groundbreaking cable TV executive, a tech entrepreneur, a sculptor and director of Manhattan’s largest Buddhist meditation center. In fact, his song, “Great Big Smile,” has been translated into several languages and is sung all over the world, spread via the global Plum Village community created by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.
In addition to his regular residency at Buffa’s in New Orleans, Hill has several album release shows planned, including one in his native Chicago. He’ll also perform in Nashville during AmericanaFest. For more info, click the links below his show list.
Aug. 25 – Hard Rock Café, New Orleans, La.
*Sept. 14 – Reggies, Chicago, Ill.
*Sept. 16 – Buffa’s, New Orleans, La.
Sept. 19 – WDVX-FM “Blue Plate Special” radio show (live), Knoxville, Tenn.
Sept. 21 – The Commodore Grille, Nashville, Tenn.
Sept. 28 – Red Light Café, Atlanta, Ga.
Oct. 10 – Pete’s Candy Store, Brooklyn, N.Y.
*Oct. 14 – 18th Ward Brewing, New Rochelle, N.Y.
Oct. 21 – Buffa’s, New Orleans, La.
Nov. 18 – Buffa’s, New Orleans, La.
Dec. 16 – Buffa’s, New Orleans, La.
* Jan. 13 – Harmony Live, Fort Pierce, Fla.
*Jan. 18 – Hillcrest Coffee, Lakeland, Fla.
*Jan. 20 – Bynx, Orlando, Fla. (recording live)
(* album release shows)