The first time I heard of Riley Green was when my dear friend Sam Stewart mentioned that a guy from Jacksonville had his own show and that we should have him open for the Marshall Tucker show we had planned at Zinn Park.
At the time, Robert Jackson and I were putting on free shows at the park and always had local artists open for the bigger acts. Riley showed up with his guitar in the back of his truck and played his slot that day. I remember thinking, “There might be something there.”
Riley kept playing, and his name starting showing up on signs outside of venues. The name stayed the same, but the signs kept getting bigger and in farther away locales.
Then, Riley was a contestant on the CMT reality show “Redneck Island,” and word of mouth started exploding. The thought then was, “This man is catching fire.”
Fast forward to 2018, when Riley Green signed to Big Music Label Group, home to some of the biggest country artists in the world. A guy, our guy, had made it to the big time.
His tunes were on the radio and we sang as loud as our lungs would allow. He made music videos and began catching onto tours most artists only talk about with friends and family. He’s currently touring with Brad Paisley, whose world tour stops at Oak Mountain Amphitheater in Birmingham on July 19.
And we thought, “Sweet Jesus, he did it.”
Q: You’re playing Oak Mountain this week. That’s got to be a pretty big deal for you.
A: It’s nice to go back and play in my home state, especially after the year that I’ve had of traveling and playing all over the country. It’s kind of like a homecoming for me.
Q: Have you attended shows there before in the seats?
A: I haven’t. I got an opening shot for like Colt Ford six years ago on the small stage one time, but I’ve never been at the big part to a show.
Q: Did you ever go see any shows there when you were growing up?
A: No, I haven’t actually, but that’s where all of the big names came to.
Q: Let’s talk about the new EP, “In a Truck Right Now.”
A: So, “In a Truck Right Now” was my EP that I put out when I signed a record deal. It had my first single, “There Was This Girl,” on it. We’ve actually just put out a second EP, which is called, “Get That Man a Beer.” It’s got another four songs on it, along with my second single, which is called “In Love Right Now.” We’ve got another five songs recorded that we are going to put out that should make a complete record a little later in the year. So, we’ve just kind of been having a stream of music going out all year.
Q: I have watched your career since you’ve started, and the most impressive thing to me about you is your work ethic.
A: Well it’s hard to say it’s work. I used to frame houses, so this is a lot easier than that, but it’s a tough business. There's a lot of competition. I can remember going to Nashville years ago and being at an open mic and seeing the other people that were better than me there. I was really fortunate that I was able to build a fan base in Jacksonville, Ala., because that kind of pushed me up to the top, I guess. I think that Nashville kind of noticed me from all of the tickets I was selling in Alabama and in the Southeast. That’s kind of what made the noise for me.
Q: How much fun has it been for your family to witness your success?
A: They really enjoy it. I don’t think that they thought anything would come from it either, but it’s neat that I was getting to play guitar on the weekends and playing shows to make a little bit of money. To have a song go on the radio and go No. 1, then getting to do the adventures I’ve been doing, is just as much a surprise to them as it is to me. Also, just really exciting to be able to do what I love.
Q: What was young Riley like as a kid just kicking around the house there in Jacksonville?
A: I was always real into sports growing up. I played football, baseball and basketball as a kid, and I always liked playing outside. I was a little rambunctious, I guess, so I got into a little bit of trouble, but I told my parents that’s what I had to write songs about. I’ve gotten out of the trouble now, I guess.
Q: Were you a big music fan growing up?
A: Yeah, I always enjoyed music by Roy Acuff, Hank Williams Sr., Merle Haggard. My oldest sister, Lindie, was a big music fanatic. She was 10 years older but she showed me a lot of music I wouldn’t have heard otherwise. I would ride to school with her and she would have different playlists, so I had a lot of different inputs.
Q: You don’t live in Jacksonville anymore, I assume?
A: I’ve got a house in Pleasant Valley I stay at a bunch, but of course I have a place in Nashville, so I go back and forth whenever I get the chance. I’m on the road quite a bit.
Q: What do you miss about Jacksonville when you’re not around?
A: The people. I get to go to some big cities and really pretty places traveling, but my family and friends are back home. That’s probably my favorite thing about coming home.
Q: Describe your journey from going to Jacksonville State University to where you are today.
A: I was trying to play football at Jacksonville State, but I really didn’t think college was for me, so I struggled going to classes. I started playing in bars around town, started writing songs. The Marshall Tucker Band concert was the first time I played my song “Bury Me in Dixie.” That song was a big part of it, and allowed me to go play in front of crowds that didn’t know me. After that song, I put out another EP and kept putting music out and writing songs trying to get a record deal. After a little time, people started really buying into my music, downloading my songs, streaming my music, and coming to shows. We started selling a couple thousand tickets in Birmingham, Atlanta, Nashville, Mobile and Montgomery.
Q: Have you gotten any really good stories from the road?
A: I’m out on tour with Brad Paisley right now, and that’s a pretty big thing I never thought I’d never be able to do. Playing at the Grand Ole Opry was another big thing that I never thought I’d do. Having a No. 1 song on the radio is something I couldn’t even dream about — like going to these award shows rubbing elbows with these people I’ve known about.
Q: What are you doing after the Brad Paisley tour?
A: I’m going on tour with Jon Pardi, and I’m also doing a headlining tour where I’ll go back and do more shows in the Southeast.
Q: Are you writing anything else, or working on the project that ties everything together?
A: I’m always writing, and I always try to keep that part going because you never know when something is going to come to you, and also because I enjoy that part of it. It doesn’t feel like work to me, writing songs, so I’m always writing. I actually wrote a song about a month and a half ago that I played live, which somebody recorded and put on YouTube and it got over a million views in a week. So, we went and recorded that song last week, and it’s going to be on the record.
Q: Last question. Is there anything you want to say to the people here in Calhoun County who will be reading this article?
A: Just thank you. I could remember when I started out, I got the confidence to go out and play in those same bars in Calhoun County that I grew up going to as a kid. I would play two or three nights in the same town, and we put on the Back 40 Bash concert and people showed up. It really felt like I was the hometown guy and everyone wanted me to be successful, and that was a big part of it. All of the noise I created playing up here in Alabama really spread, and was the starting place for the career I have now.
Larry May is the owner of CD Cellar record store on Noble Street in downtown Anniston.