There is a certain adrenaline-fueled mysticism that belongs to the blues alone; it lives on in the songs passed down through legends and in the roots of what we call rock and roll. These stories were penned by freewheelers like Jimmy Reed, whose legacy came in unleashing the blues to the mainstream, and were told in songs like his “Bright Lights, Big City” as it changed hands through history from Reed to the Animals, to Eric Clapton, to the smoky, pulsing version resurrected by Gary Clark Jr.
On the night Thaddeus Anna Greene released Directory of Thieves, he stood in front of the American flag backdrop of Bad Racket Recording Studios and, with a brash grin and gleam in his eyes, chanted the modernized Clark Jr. line in Reed’s classic, “You gonna know my name by the end of the night”. Today, the 22-year-old gives a likely response when asked if he’s worn thin on Hendrix comparisons over the past year but, between all the steamy, mid-summer swagger, in that moment I couldn’t have helped but to expect Greene to light his Fender on fire with the velocity of infamous Monterey Pop Festival “Wild Thing” grandeur.
“I wonder what people will say when they see me now,” Greene has a playful smirk, twisting a dread in one hand. “I have this picture where I look just like Bob Marley. Don’t play like him, though. Everyone wants to see the next Bob Marley, the next Jimi Hendrix, the next Bob Dylan. They’re so busy trying to find that they’re letting all the moments pass them by.”
Greene, drummer Anthony Foti, and bassist Matthew Augusta released Thaddeus Anna Greene’s debut in June, but Directory of Thieves was an album that almost didn’t happen. Before moving home to Cleveland, Greene was a film student in Chicago. Then money, a brief stint in Los Angeles, and heartbreak happened. “A green-eyed gypsy,” he laughs, shaking his head a little too knowingly. You can’t help but think of her haunting the tambourines running through the instrumental “Electric Bull”.
“That album was kind of a prophetic thing. Because I wrote most of it before any of that happened,” he unravels his scarf and the smell of Nag Champa fills the corner of the small east side coffee shop near where he grew up. “And then everything just started coming true. You better be careful what you write.”
For all the barreling, straightforward psych-rock, it’s Directory’s moodiest, most brooding corners that bare witness to why the blues still bridge generations through tales of turmoil and love lost. Just as the blues of the World War II era were going electric, it only seems appropriate for the album’s closing track, “Message from the High Chair Tyrant”, to end in a fuzzed-out, unnerving 1960s informational recording of how to prepare for an atomic bomb. And where Directory of Thieves leaves off, Greene picks up as a voice for a new youth coming-of-age in uncertain times.
“Children are dying, schools are getting shot up; there’s so much going on in the world now, I don’t see how your music can’t be dark in a sense,” he says on writing new material. “I just have this idea of acceptance, exceeding expectations, and changing people’s perspectives on what it means to young in America. And furthermore, what it means to be young and black in America. And not black enough for black people and not white enough for white people. Being in that middle, where no one understands.”
In the months following Directory’s release, Greene received a phone call from legendary rock photographer Robert M. Knight, founder of the Brotherhood of the Guitar program that places young musicians with Fender guitars. He invited Greene down to Nashville to meet other young players. “Nashville was humbling,” explains Greene. “They’re monsters, they eat, sleep, and breathe music.”
The band plans to begin recording in March and hopes to release their sophomore effort fall of this year, one Greene says is less jam-based and more structured with intricate instrumental and rhythm sections. “What I really want to get across musically is the attitudes of bands like Nirvana, bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, and early punk, but with dirtier, bluesier music,” Greene says. “People are scared to let it all hang down. They need to realize it’s not that cerebral.”