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Catching Up With…

Willie Green

“Mean” Willie Green’s artful grooving mesmerized fans of the New Orleans institution the Neville Brothers for over thirty years, during which time Green likewise elevated music by Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Edie Brickell, and Elvis Costello. The latest representation of the drummer’s prowess is the album Ouroboros by his band the New Orleans Suspects, whose tracks like “Get Back What You Given,” “Magdalena,” and Green’s own “Yo Flambeaux!” yet again prove his place among the great lineage of Big Easy musicians. All the more reason to be surprised to learn about his drumming roots. “When I got with the Nevilles I wasn’t into the Meters,” Green says. “I was into rock. I wasn’t listening to [the Meters’] Zig Modeliste or [legendary New Orleans drummer] Earl Palmer—I was listening to guys like Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, Deep Purple’s Ian Paice, and Grand Funk Railroad’s Don Brewer!”

Green was born and raised in Shrewsbury, Louisiana, just outside New Orleans. His early “training” included hammering out rhythms on boxes or the side of a car, as he didn’t have a drumset. “I didn’t have a school or a teacher either,” Willie recalls. “But I would just hear things and go play them. My love of music and drums comes from my late grandmother and God. Everything I’ve become I owe to them.”

The New Orleans Suspects are seasoned vets who came together in 2009 as an off-night pickup band, but they quickly morphed into a hot entity. Ouroboros, the group’s third disc, was recorded live at Rhythm Shack Studio in New Orleans and brings to mind some of the city’s greatest bands, like the Meters and the Radiators, but also Little Feat, Tower of Power, and the Band. Drummers should pay attention to the interplay between Green and bassist Reggie Scanlan. “I have a lot of freedom to create in this band,” Green says, “and I love playing with Reggie.”

Watching Green at the kit, it’s hard not to notice the way that he practically dances on his bass drum and hi-hat pedals. We asked where this approach came from. “When I was with the Nevilles,” Willie explains, “playing songs like ‘Hey Pocky Way,’ I used to rock, or as you say, dance, with the groove. I hit hard, but I don’t pull up high. It’s a powerful impact.”

Bob Girouard

Photo by Rick Moore