In Memoriam: Greg Poulos
editorial note: I wanted to write this piece because I felt like I had something to contribute. In writing these words I want to mention, upfront, that I must inject myself into the conversation because this account is wholly my own. It is based on my direct experiences and my recollections over a 30-year time span. I will do my best. I hope, and my intention is, to get this written into the record of the American musical pantheon as a part of the history of one of the best American blues guitar players/musicians that I ever met
As I recollect, I met Greg Poulos in 1992. I was playing electric bass in Dan Electro (Mike Shannon) and the Silvertones. At that point I was an up-and-coming blues bass player, and I was fortunate enough to already have played with good bands. One man that was instrumental in my early career was Rock Bottom (David York), the harmonica extraordinaire. He scouted me out early on in the 1990’s. He had another band working with him at the time so I never really worked with him as a member of his band but he would recommend me to other musicians, the first being Clint “Deacon” Fuller. After spending some time with the Deacon Fuller Band, I was recruited by Dan Electro to join his band based upon Rock Bottom’s recommendation. Nineteen ninety two was a great year for me as that is when I met my girlfriend who is now my wife Carolyn Hamilton.
In the Silvertones, I got to play with a real good drummer named Dennis Laak, an excellent guitar player named Kirby Dietz, and Dan Electro on harmonica. That band played a little bit more funk and shook it up with other interesting tunes that I had not challenged before, and, hence, I was excited about being in the band. The Gator Club in Sarasota hired the band to be the house band. We were there 5 to 6 nights a week, Tuesday through Saturday, so literally it was a dream gig. We could leave our gear set up all week. I did not know Greg Poulos personally at this point; I only knew the name and knew that the man was an astounding guitar player.
Well, fast forward. Rock Bottom ended up having a heart attack and all the Tampa Bay blues community came together and had benefit concerts for him, one of which I performed at – the Gator Club in Sarasota, Florida.
I played a round of music with Dan Electro and the Silvertones. Everyone in the band was friends of Rock Bottom as well. We had a good set, and the band was tight. When we were finished playing I was approached and asked by Greg Poulos and Pat Ramsey if I could play a set with them. If I remember correctly, their bass player might not have shown up, but it was a long time ago. The only thing I vaguely remember now is the fact that I got to play with Greg and Pat. It was very intimidating to say the least, especially when you are the young guy, and I was a young guy at that point. Well, apparently, we made some good music together as shortly thereafter they both approached me outside and directly asked me if I would join their band. It literally was like a scene out of a movie.
Now, if I had no band at that point, I would have immediately said yes. The conundrum in my head was I had just signed on with Dan Electro and the Silvertones and I liked the band AND the guys in the band. So, I told them at the time that I needed some time to think on it. Years later, I found out from Greg that he was a little shocked that I turned them down initially.
I truly needed some time to think about it.
To play blues with, Greg Poulos, someone that studied and played with Freddy King, and with Pat Ramsey, who recorded and played with Johnny Winter, was too much of being in the right place at the right time. I realized that this was an opportunity of a lifetime, and I had to accept this gold prize, and I made the decision to join the Poulos Ramsey Band. On drums was a Sarasota musician named Jessie Hoover. I loved Jessie dearly; he was like a brother to me. Keep in mind these cats were older than me, so they were like my older brothers. As a matter of fact, having had the life experience of growing up with three older brothers was the reason I was able to work with people more mature than me…but I digress. The Poulos Ramsey Band was solidified, and we played a bunch of shows in 1992 & 1993.
I felt like I had graduated blue schools with the earlier bands and now I was in blues College.
A couple of pictures here provided by drummer from Tallahassee, Steve Howell. These were taken in Tallahassee. I just remember that the Seminoles were playing the Florida Gators. We loaded in on a Saturday and NO ONE was around. The ENTIRE city was at the game. This was my first real introduction to hardcore SEC football. That, plus the place we were staying didn’t have a door on the bathroom!
Greg was teaching me the instrumentals by Freddy King e.g., Sidetracked, The Stumble, Remington Ride, and the like, and Pat was out of this world with his harmonica playing, and his singing was just top shelf. I really learned how to play boogie bass on tunes like “Allergic to Work.” Pat had originals like “Dead Shrimp Blues” and would just kill it on tunes on Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do”. Both these cats taught me a lot; plus, with Jessie Hoover on drums we created a solid shuffling blues sound. He was a drummer that made it easy for me to play.
Greg took me under his wing and as a result I learned how to play more melodic and to understand music theory at a higher level. One of the biggest takeaways I had was when we were on the road. I went to his hotel room and on the bed was the sheet music to the jazz standard “Stardust” … about a 7 to 8 sheet arrangement of the jazz standard. I didn’t understand what he was doing at the time because I was such a blues purist, and I didn’t have time for that stuff! Then Greg would play the intro, the pick up intro, into the melody, and I realized that’s who he was. THAT was the bar he set for himself and because of that I have never stopped learning either. He set an example in the back of my mind that has not waivered. Raising the bar in his musicianship is what Greg did, all the way to the end of his life.
Greg ‘s friend from junior high school Will Woodsmall was the manager of the band. I thought Will did a great job with the band, and, considering that Greg and Pat were big personalities, it was a lot to manage! Will had a relationship with Jerry Wexler from Atlantic Records. As a result, there were times I got to be able to stay down at Jerry ‘s house on Siesta Key as Jerry was seriously looking at the band. Other record labels like Ichiban and Alligator were taking some notice. We were trying to get to the next level. One of the high points for me was playing the 1992 Sarasota Bradenton Blues Festival. That weekend, the Poulos Ramsey band was playing at a place called the Lost Kangaroo in Bradenton. Greg told me that the great “Dangerous” Dan Toler was going to be on the gig. When I heard that my head exploded! I could not even believe that I was going to play with a legend, which never would have happened if Greg didn’t take a shot on me.
I have fond memories from that weekend because we played a Friday and Saturday night at the Lost Kangaroo with Danny Toler and the Sarasota Bradenton Blues Festival on Saturday September 5th 1992. I remember Greg playing these unbelievable melodic and harmonic double lines with Danny. Danny Toler could not have been a nicer guy. People get hung up on labels like “blues” guitarist. While both of the cats could “kill” the blues, make no mistake, they were MUSICIANS. Both studied with ferocity, and it made their playing expansive because they created more options for themselves. Greg could play straight ahead Jazz and complex harmony parts with the best of them.
It was here, on break, Dan directly told me that when he tried out for the Allman Brothers to replace Duane Allman, after the audition, Dickey Betts stated that he was going to be “Dangerous” for Dickey’s career. In many ways it was a prophetic comment by Dickey.
At some point, I decided to part ways with the band to finish up my bachelor’s degree and get back into the Mental Health business, and, although I left on good terms, just recently before Greg passed away, he asked me about leaving the band so many years ago that he never really understood why I did it. I was touched that he recalled any of it. It was just another example of the sensitivity the man had.
Eventually, I landed back in Gulfport Florida and Rock Bottom came a calling. After a time, I became an official Cutaway (Rock Bottom and the Cutaways), and I was reunited with Greg in the band. After I left the Poulos Ramsey band they continued for a while with a new rhythm section and eventually went their separate ways, musically speaking.
We had a good run with Rock and the band was top notch with Glenn Evans on drums, Gentleman John Street on piano, Greg on guitar, Rock on Harp, and me on bass. The version of the band ran together for a bit, but after playing and touring, I was burnt out. I respectfully resigned and considered leaving music altogether.
During this time, I stopped playing for a while and finally decided to START a band – The Swinging Johnsons. I did not see Greg much until September 5th 1999, when I married my wife. He was playing guitar in Dan Electro and the Silvertones, and we chose them to play at my wedding. My friends really hooked me up with this top-notch swing band. Here is a pic we took of Greg by this cool car. He always liked vintage cars. This was taken on Sand Key Clearwater during my wedding!
A Selfie taken at the World Famous Bradfordville Blues Club in Tallahassee.
I was playing a gig with Bryan Lee and wanted to share a moment with my old bandmate Mr. Pat Ramsey.
Living north of the Skyway Bridge I didn’t see my musician friends south of the bridge very often. I was playing in my bands and Greg was busy in Sarasota.
Around 2019 Greg and my band, the Blues All Stars, started playing gigs together, mostly in the Sarasota area, and my band would back up Greg at various venues. The culmination of this era was when Greg got to perform with Bryan Lee the Braille Blues Daddy. I was friends with Bryan, and he was excited to do a show with Greg. Bryan even recalled that he may have met Greg back in the 1970’s. Bryan’s Band was opening for Freddy King and believed he met Greg there. They both did a great show together and it is immortalized on You Tube. (see Below)
I saw Greg at his 70th birthday party. I could tell he was feeling very nostalgic and sentimental. It was a great day with many jams and many stories. Then Greg and his best girl Cyndy came to my gig in Cape Coral at Slate’s on November 17th 2021. He sat in and it was just pure music. We had done it so many times and we did not know it would be the last time. The obligatory hug closed out a sweet Florida night with joy in our hearts.
In my career I had only a handful of my band leaders show up to my gigs. Rock Bottom & Greg Poulos. It meant a lot to me that my friend showed and played a few with the crew.
I am so happy I was able to know Greg Poulos. He was a mentor and he taught me so much about music. I will miss my friend, and, at the same time, I feel grateful that he was able to thoroughly enjoy his last several years here on earth.
Take care GP I’ll catch you at the jam.
TBone Hamilton & the Blues All Stars February 1st 2020 – Set 1
TBone Hamilton & the Blues All Stars February 1st 2020 – Set 2