By Slim Man
If I were in a court of law, and a judge were to ask me if I’d slept with Greg Vail, I would have to say…
That’s the truth. But here’s the difference between the truth, and the whole truth…
In the mid 1990s, I was traveling around the country in an Isuzu Rodeo SUV with my two bandmates, John E Coale and Rick O’Rick. The car was jam-packed with keyboards, drums, amps, suitcases, and 3 sweaty men. The Slim Men!
In those early days, when we got to a town—Cleveland or San Francisco or Kansas City—we’d find a local horn player to sit in. When we arrived in SoCal, we heard good things about a sax player named Greg Vail. So one night in Bakersfield, Greg sat in with our band for the very first time. No rehearsal.
I’m not easily impressed. It’s one of my many fine qualities. But I was really impressed with the way Greg played. He had heart. He had soul. He had nice hair.
After the gig, we went to the local fleabag motel, and we doubled-up, which in the music biz means you share a room. John E and Rick stayed in one room, and Greg and I stayed in the other.
So, the truth is, I slept with Greg. But the whole truth is that I just slept in the same room. That’s it. Greg is now on his third marriage—a wonderful woman named Michele. And I’ve been through 3 engagements, as in fiancés.
But Greg and I have been together—musically speaking—since that first night in Bakersfield. One of the many things I love about Greg? He’s constantly improving, relentlessly challenging himself. He’s my go-to sax guy, and he’s also what we musician-types call “a good hang.”
Greg plays alto and baritone sax. He also plays flute. But my favorite is the way he plays tenor. He’s got a sound and a style that is all his own. I’m a big fan. Big Fan!
I spoke with him on his shoephone on the morning of July Fourth, from his home in Laguna Hills, California.
Greg’s grandfather played sax, and also played first clarinet in the Sioux City Symphony (Iowa). He fell in love with the second clarinet player, who sat next to him. They got married.
Greg’s grandpa gave him a sax when Greg was six. He took lessons from his grandfather, and began to get serious in middle school. He went on to study classical sax at Long Beach State, practiced 4 hours a day, and graduated with a B.A. in music.
Greg got into jazz when David Sanborn, and Grover Washington, Jr., arrived on the scene. Greg released his first solo CD, E-Motion, in 1995. In 1996, he was part of a compilation put together by Time-Life, a CD called Sax by Candlelight.
I remember seeing the commercials on late-night TV. The CD sold over a million copies, but Greg didn’t get paid.
Welcome to the music biz!
Greg raised a big fuss, organized the other musicians, and eventually Time-Life and Warner Music paid up. Greg got a fat check, which he used to fund his next 3 CDs.
Greg was a founding member of the band Kilauea, and a touring member in Peter White’s band. He joined East Bay Soul in 2008, and he’s still a proud member. Greg is also a regular player at the Celebrity Jazz Jams, held in and around Palm Springs, which are put on by Patte Purcell, who usually writes this column. Mr. Vail is featured on the new Marc Antoine CD, Laguna Beach, which will be released in a few months.
The last time I played with Greg was in May at the KSBR Bash, a concert put on by a radio station in San Juan Capistrano. There were a couple thousand people in the audience.
We did “Kiss” by Prince. Greg Vail nailed it. Got a standing ovation! All Hail Greg Vail!
Slim Man has a new cookbook, Slim Man Cooks. Check it out at slimman.com