Author’s Note: This interview has been on a wild ride in the last ten years. A shorter edit originally appeared in Buffalo Spree magazine, the longer format ran on Acid Logic and the version you’re about to read finally found its way into my fourth book If They Can’t Take A Joke (Authorhouse, 2007). Gregg’s been a dear friend of mine for more than 15 years and with his 55th birthday approaching, I thought I’d revisit this interview.
If you’ve participated in (or just enjoyed) the Buffalo music scene for the last six years, Gregg Sansone is a pervasive, melodic, keyboard-driven entity. The two-time Buffalo Music Award Winning Solo Artist Of The Year plays out at clubs, bars and other venues over 300 nights a year (when he’s in peak physical condition), and his cover shows run the gamut of Steve Winwood to Elton John to Stevie Wonder. Dabbling in rock, jazz, blues and classical standards, Sansone has become a local icon and a national underground phenomenon. I saw Gregg play (or channel, to be more accurate) Elton John covers at Route 66 in downtown Buffalo four years ago, and I’ve been a Sansonite ever since. His two and three hour shows are lousy with fans, electric in their intensity and craftsmanship, and brilliant to witness. I had the opportunity to sit down with Greg at my apartment in Lancaster while he was recovering from major back surgery (he had a disc removed).
TW: You haven’t had a drink since you were 15. Why is that, and do you find it surreal to play out at clubs and bars for the majority of the year in the company of people who are soused out of their minds?
GS: No. Alcoholism runs in my family. I’ve got a huge family. Eight boys and one girl. Some people put down meat and become vegetarians. I had the hindsight as a fifteen year old to say ‘You know, I’m addictive as hell. I have a real addictive personality. I’m just not going to do this. Otherwise, I think it could be a problem, and it just stuck through college and everything else. Like anything, I stuck with it and it developed and it’s been years and years. I have a blast (at the shows). People come up to me and say ‘Man, you were hammered because you were dancing on the bars!’ and I say, ‘No, but awesome, thanks man.’
TW: How does your strongly held belief in Buddhism inform your singing and songwriting?
GS: Songwriting and instrumental writing are different. They’re along a spiritual line, but my performances are an extension of what I believe in anyway about myself. Buddhism isn’t a religion as much as it is a philosophy. They didn’t invent being honest and they didn’t invent being good people, they just do it well. So you can apply it to any faith that you have and for me, it just helps me to not want to kill everybody. Or when someone is drunk and they fall into my keyboards and everything, now I don’t want to drag them into the parking lot. Before (Buddhism) I did.
TW: Do you think the era of disposable pop/porn performers like Britney Spears and Ricky Martin is nearing its end, or is it more of a popular music cycle?
GS: I think human nature is human nature, and within music, I’m no expert on anything. I’m just an Italian from Buffalo. Before them when Madonna got really popular, they produced people like Jody Watley, and-
TW: Rick Astley.
GS: People like that, that’s exactly right, but specifically female singers to sound like her (Madonna). Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, so it does go in cycles. I think the American people, we’re a disposable society. There’s a huge portion of the population that buys into that, and they just go into whatever’s popular. But there’s this undercurrent of people like us that-
GS: Observe and evaluate and say, ‘This is good, this doesn’t work for me, that’s kinda bullshit. I know that you love Elton John for instance, as do I. People like Elton John, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and even Madonna, and I’m not a Madonna fan, but she’s stood the test of time. They’re not a flash in the pan, and for good reason. If we didn’t have those people, it would be a sad, sad world with the boy bands, although Justin Timberlake has broken from that and has really made a name for himself. I mean, I don’t think he’s going anywhere.
TW: And Mark Wahlberg-
GS: Mark Wahlberg is kinda cool in the movies, though! When he was Marky Mark it was a different story.
TW: Your best one night stand story after a show:
GS: Um, my best one night stand story after a show-because I have one night stand stories during a show.
TW: That sounds like the better story.