Give me greasy music, please
August 23, 2017 6:34 AM   Subscribe

Ray Wylie Hubbard performed his "Snake Farm" in concert recently, and called it "greasy" ("That one's so good'n'grEEEzy," he said, in case inflection makes a difference). What does this word mean in this usage, and can you give me more of it?

Is it a musicians' term? Is there any kind of definition, or "you know it when you hear it"? If it's recognized lingo, where does it come from? If you're a musician, what is your understanding of it?

Also, more of it, please: If it helps with suggesting specific songs, think along the lines of Lucinda Williams's "West Memphis," something with slide guitar and heavy bass (I think; I'm struggling to identify the elements I like). Something that telegraphs smoke-filled roadhouse, and just-this-side-of-raunchy.
posted by MonkeyToes to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
To me it means it's got a deep groove, in an old-school R&B/soul style. Example? Oh, Pee Wee Ellis' "The Chicken".
posted by thelonius at 6:47 AM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is it a musicians' term? Is there any kind of definition, or "you know it when you hear it"?

Yes, yes, and yes. It's all of that.

Do you know what "dirty funk" means? That's a musician's term, that we can in principle define in straight music-theoretic terms, but most players and listeners will also just know it when they hear it.

Let us know if you're interested in putting this in text book terms. But evocatively:
Greasy music: thick, smooth, indulgent, satisfying, visceral. Perhaps a little bit of a guilty pleasure. You know, like a plate full of bacon and eggs. A little more functionally: slower, pronounced bass, bass is central and fairly relentless. A deep groove, as thelonius eponysterically puts it above. The bass line here in Snake Farm is a fairly close relation to Stevie Wonder's Superstition. Stevie's a bit faster and funkier, I think it's still greasy, but reasonable people can disagree on stuff like this.

Green Onions, that's greasy, perhaps quintessentially so. You can almost taste them onions, sizzling in bacon fat. This bass line is used all over the place, much like the "Amen Break". A famous close cousin there is Spirit in the Sky

From this bassist Warwick who seems to know what's up, giving a video tutorial/clinic on bass, "I like bass lines that're greasy, funky, that have this slippery, slinky feel to 'em. "
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:10 AM on August 23, 2017 [8 favorites]

This Saturday, from 4pm to 7pm, listen to "The Funk Show" on WNCU, and Howard Brechette will supply you with all the grease (as SaltySalticid explains) you desire.
posted by thelonius at 7:16 AM on August 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

Some super greasy Sly & The Family Stone. If you dig it, check out the whole There's A Riot Goin' On album.
posted by STFUDonnie at 7:43 AM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Numero Group label assembled this 33 hour playlist that brings the lipids: Every Eccentric Soul Record. Period.

posted by bendybendy at 8:20 AM on August 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

Tho' to pick only one song, I'd take Ike Turner's Getting Nasty
posted by bendybendy at 8:25 AM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thinking about it a bit more: I think the term "greasy" was popularized surrounding the development of funk in the mid '60s to mid '70s, but it's also likely older. While a lot of funk is greasy, greasy doesn't mean funk. The earliest, greasiest thing I can think of is Cab Calloway's Minnie the Moocher. Recorded in 1931 before the gods of funk were even born, that song remains greasy af, even in 2017.

So songs can be greasy, but not funky. Your examples are not funk by any stretch, and funk classics don't really conjure up "smoke-filled roadhouse" to me. But that Lucinda Williams song has some serious blues and funk influences. And while the examples above are all great music imo, they are not especially close to the examples you gave.

I think you want greasy bluesy country to specifically get that gritty roadhouse feel of your examples. The best example of a greasy blues country song I can find is this number by Scott H. Biram, described by Rolling Stone as a "Greasy Lament" of country and blues. That article gives some good key words and descriptions, and that along with the artist can probably get you a bunch more through Pandora and the like.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:25 AM on August 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

I wonder if it came from "Keep My Skillet Good And Greasy", which isn't really all that greasy in the way we were discussing, but what a great title.
posted by thelonius at 8:29 AM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Other people have covered the mood, so I'm trying to think of concrete musical specifics that make a record sound greasy to me. One is grooves that might be tighter or looser but definitely do not push or hurry or lean forward. (Isaac Hayes is greasier than James Brown, though James Brown is not un-greasy himself — and James Brown is at his greasiest when he slows down.)

Another is an arranging style and production style that's full of warm, smeary, growly sounds: skronky saxophone, fuzz bass, old-fashioned bluesy distortion on electric guitar or harmonica or Hammond organ. A horn section is greasy. A string section is ungreasy, even if it's that sort of Philly-soul/disco-style string section that you can dance to.

Another is songwriting that uses the general form of old electric blues even if it doesn't use the exact same chord changes — songs that are driven more by riffs than by melody, that sit and groove on each chord for a while instead of going through quick changes, and that can be stretched out and extended indefinitely. Chord changes that anyone can learn by ear are greasier than chord changes you have to write down. Modulating is definitely ungreasy. Cab Calloway, Stax, and Miles Davis are greasier than Broadway tunes, Motown, or John Coltrane. The Stones are greasier than the Beatles. Songs without a chorus, or with a "chorus" that's really just the last line or two of a twelve-bar blues, are greasier than songs with a real self-sufficient chorus that has different chords from the verse. Songs that you could swap any random floating verse or blues couplet into without anyone noticing are greasier than songs whose lyrics fit together with intricate precision. (The warm, repetitive organ riff is a big part of why Green Onions feels so greasy, even though it's played pretty quick and tight and doesn't leave much open space.)

Another is this way of playing with empty space where you keep feeling the beat even when nobody is playing. If the whole band stops dead for a few beats towards the end of the verse and everyone keeps dancing and stays precisely on beat because they're all still feeling it in their butts — and then the band comes back in for the turnaround for the next verse and everyone in the room goes apeshit — that's a positive grease sign.

I think your examples are further in the country/blues direction than some of the suggestions you're getting here — but they're definitely still laid-back, open-ended, funky, and sonically warm and dirty, which is where the connection to Ike Turner or Sly Stone comes from.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:59 AM on August 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

Can't talk greasy without citing Jerry Reed's "Amos Moses."
posted by the sobsister at 9:53 AM on August 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

I wonder if it came from "Keep My Skillet Good And Greasy", which isn't really all that greasy in the way we were discussing, but what a great title.

In Southern Appalachian vernacular, "greasy" means plentiful. A place name like "Greasy Hollow" means a place where game is plentiful and easy to get. I think it's easy to see this usage being transformed into the musical usage.
posted by OmieWise at 12:15 PM on August 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'll admit, I don't really feel qualified to answer this, but Mr. Dave's word is good enough for me. If you think this fits, try Very Greasy.
David Lindley and G.E. Smith, Play It All Night Long.
posted by bricoleur at 7:20 PM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


We're missing from this otherwise excellent list the Almighty King of Grease: Andre muthafuckin Williams.

Here's the extremely NSFW "Pussy Stank" as an example. Not all his songs are quite this NSFW, but the great majority of them are as greezy as fatback sandwich dunked in bacon fat.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:53 PM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Popping in with thanks to all, and especially to Salty Salticid and nebulawindphone.

I am with you, Dr. Wu. Holy wow, but Andre Williams! He oozes!

I am still looking for more greasy country/blues, so keep the suggestions rolling in...
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:06 PM on August 24, 2017

Chester Randle's Soul Senders. Soul Brother Testify.

doo doo doo doo SKRONK doo doo
posted by rocketman at 12:42 PM on August 25, 2017

From the Boogie Nights soundtrack, Feel Too Good by The Move.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:51 PM on August 26, 2017

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