Brothers in song
Songwriters Tim Bluhm and Jackie Greene collaborate a Skinny Singers
A lot has changed in Tim Bluhm’s life over the past few years. He got married, for one. His longtime band The Mother Hips released its first album in almost six years. Bluhm also met Sacramento’s favorite son, Jackie Greene.
Bluhm recalls a 2004 Mother Hips show in Davis where he noticed a large group of people standing outside a venue down the street. And on the marquee: Jackie Greene.
Musical wunderkind Greene had released only three records, but was already being touted as America’s next great songwriter. The future of The Mother Hips was less certain. Bluhm and the band, which at the time had released five albums including three on American Recordings, had just started playing again after taking a year to concentrate on their personal lives.
Bluhm’s first thought: “Who the hell is this guy?”
Bluhm and Greene wouldn’t officially meet until 2005 while playing separate shows in New York City. Greene, who was a Mother Hips fan, immediately connected with Bluhm, and the two started writing songs together soon after.
It’s since grown into a close friendship. They hang out and trade music—mostly old country and obscure psychedelic records from the ‘60s (not surprisingly, Bluhm says Greene has quite a vinyl collection).
In conversation, Bluhm’s voice rarely budges from its relaxed timbre, but when he talks about the collaboration it’s clear that it has been meaningful on a personal level.
“He’s just such an incredible musician and very dedicated to music,” Bluhm says. “I see his single-mindedness and I admire that.”
The 28-year-old Greene moved to San Francisco (where Bluhm also lives) a couple of years ago, and in 2007 the two finally put their songs on wax under the moniker Skinny Singers. They recorded Skinny Singers Strike Again! at Mission Bells, the studio Bluhm and Greene own together in the Bernal Heights neighborhood. The album marries Greene’s love for soul and blues with Bluhm’s spare country and pop arrangements. Not surprisingly, the voices fall together seamlessly.
Bluhm has also been keeping busy producing and making his music. He released his third solo record, House of Bluhm, earlier this year, and produced wife Nicki’s first album, which, of course, includes the services of himself and Greene.
It was only five years ago that Bluhm was living in a ‘95 Chevy Sportvan, spending his time catching waves up and down the California coastline. Many of Bluhm’s songs evoke that adventurous spirit of life off the grid, an option he says he would consider if it weren’t for music.
“I’d probably be a surf bum,” says Bluhm. “I’d probably live in Mexico, maybe try my hand at writing novels.”
The Skinny Singers bring that no-stress feel to their music. It’s for their enjoyment. And it was on display earlier this year when they shared the stage in San Francisco with Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead.
They’re still writing songs, too. Bluhm and Greene already have another batch of songs that will find their way to disc. In the meantime, Bluhm is splitting time between producing records, including Greene’s next solo effort, and working on the next Mother Hips album.
He’s also teaching himself to play piano, something undoubtedly inspired by his friend who knows his way around the ivories.
“It’s been a cross between inspired and discouraged,” Bluhm says of his progress with a laugh. “Jackie’s just so good.”