Greaves held down a residency in one of Music City’s busiest bars, played support slots to country stars such as Alan Jackson and Brad Paisley and wrote songs with a young Blake Shelton before returning home in 2008. Since then he has released CDs, recorded in Nashville and Auckland, that hark back to his childhood in South Auckland.
The fourth of former Zodiac and Viking recording star Rusty Greaves and his wife Gladys’s 14 children, Kevin Greaves was born in Weymouth in 1956, and took up the guitar aged four. As a child, he was certain his father was a superstar. Who else was hosting parties with Lou and Simon, Gray Bartlett and Peter Posa among the guests?
The increasing number of Greaves children would be mesmerised by their parents’ record collection, which seemed to run into the hundreds and featured artists such as Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash, and a myriad of Grand Ole Opry compilations.
The sheer overuse of those records coupled with tiny dirty hands meant the vinyl was not always in the best condition. In fact, at one of five-year-old Kevin Greaves’s earliest public performances he kept repeating one line because that’s the way it ran on the family record player.
As a teenager, he toured as part of his dad’s Christmas show.
The Greaves family became regulars at the Auckland Country Music Club at the Mt Roskill War Memorial Hall and would perform alongside magician Jon Zealando and Crunchy the Clown at the orphans’ Christmas party on top of the Farmer’s building in Hobson Street. The children then disappeared to the new toys in the playground. Come home time it was inevitable there would always be one Greaves sibling missing.
After signing his first autograph at the age of 12, Kevin spent the next day in social studies class perfecting the autograph he’s used more or less since. As a teenager, he toured as part of his dad’s Christmas show, taking in the sound shells of the North Island, and he supported Tennessee Ernie Ford at the Auckland Town Hall.
When John Alexander’s popular dance band required a bass player, Rusty Greaves announced, “Kevin can play bass.” He couldn’t but he did manage to bluff his way through; his brother Bruce was already in the band. The $25 a night he was paid was a real eye-opener as the average weekly wage was $57.
Soon after, Kevin became Lou Clauson’s guitarist and musical director. On one occasion Clauson required a backing band for a talent quest and Kevin enlisted his brothers Alan on bass and Peter on drums. Clauson christened the band Good Grief.
Kevin branched into pop and rock’n’roll when he started subbing at solo gigs for singer Dave Cowell. He then began working on his own, from Mondays to Saturdays, at venues such as the Potter’s Wheel and the Portage Trust, plugging a vocal microphone and acoustic guitar into his Gunn amplifier.
Having seen Simon Mehana and Gerry Merito use drum machines, Kevin followed suit. For the next 14 years he worked seven nights a week – seven years at the Tiara Restaurant in Royal Oak and seven years at the Airport Inn and Gateway Lodge in Manukau. When he broke his arm playing basketball he developed a way to play guitar while in a cast; a style that he kept up when the cast came off.
Kevin was woken by a Phone call from the States suggesting he “come to Nashville and make a record”.
In the early 1990s, Kevin Greaves released a DIY cassette called Coming Home. It was recorded in a small studio behind Peter Van Gent’s Greenlane music store utilising Kevin’s Saturday night restaurant band: sister Michelle on backing vocals, Chris Davis on drums and Tony Cowell on guitar. It was a good outlet for the songs Kevin had written with Davis and Cowell.
In the audience for one of his Airport Inn gigs was Nashville jingle writer Sue Williams and her daughter. The group got to talking and the next day Kevin added melodies to a collection of Williams’ lyrics. A few weeks later, Kevin was woken by a call from Playback Records boss Jack Gale in Nashville suggesting he “come to Nashville and make a record”.
It turned out Williams used to work for Gale, whose record company roster included former Nashville hit makers Jeannie C Riley (‘Harper Valley PTA’), Sammi Smith (‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’) and Grand Ole Opry artists Del Reeves (‘Girl On The Billboard’) and Ernie Ashworth (‘Talk Back Trembling Lips’). Kevin took the chance and recorded I’m Not Scared Of Women with Gale. The title track made it to No.15 on the regional charts while its follow-up ‘Hurtin’ To The Bone’ got as high as No.4.
Gale was intrigued by Kevin’s deep baritone, almost bass voice, and thought it might entice some major label interest. Then 37, Kevin’s age counted against him during an RCA Nashville audition when the company pumped for younger Kenny Chesney instead.
The regional hits led to opening slots for Vern Gosdin, Charlie Walker and Sun Records icon Carl Perkins. With his own Nashville band, there were also dates at clubs and county fairs throughout the southern states. While still new to the scene, Kevin golfed with Del Reeves’ harmonica player where he spent the round oblivious to the fact that their partner was Grand Ole Opry star and Grammy nominee Jan Howard.
The next year he gained his green card and moved to Nashville permanently.
In 1993 and 1994, Kevin was based in Virginia at his former Airport Inn proprietor Ray Schofield’s uncle’s home. He undertook building work under the table and began playing Friday nights at the Holiday Inn in Sterling, making “a couple of hundred bucks” in tips. The between-songs banter that had gone over so well in Auckland had to be totally modified to suit an American audience.
The next year he gained his green card and moved to Nashville permanently. “Well, I’m not gonna get discovered in Berryville, Virginia,” he thought. On his return to Nashville, the city was in the middle of the annual Fan Fair. He took in a Tanya Tucker concert and hooked up with New Zealand friends and they all headed to the LeGarde Twins’ Hall Of Fame Lounge on Music Row, one of Nashville’s go-to spots.
As the crowd flocked in, Tom LeGarde laid down his guitar and started tending bar. The New Zealand contingent revealed that Kevin was a singer and could take over entertaining the patrons. 90 minutes later, LeGarde was impressed and it turned out he even knew Rusty Greaves. “Come see me tomorrow,” he said.
The next day, Kevin sauntered into the bar with a warm greeting and was literally ignored by LeGarde behind the bar. Just about to walk out, all was revealed when the other LeGarde twin burst through the door. “This is the guy I was telling you about!” The meeting resulted in Kevin Greaves playing first on Sundays and then all week at the bar, as well as two or three shows a day in the twins’ Country Music Theatre.
Many of the city’s stars would meet their band and bus at the bar before heading out on the road. They included the Bellamy Brothers, Tanya Tucker, Tracy Byrd, Tracy Lawrence, Chris LeDoux and The Dixie Chicks. Most would end up sitting in with Kevin.
After the LeGardes’ lease expired in 2001, Kevin worked on Broadway in downtown Nashville at Tootsie’s, Robert’s Western World and Legends Corner. Later he was employed by Gosnell Music Group as a songwriter and song plugger, writing with up-and-comer Blake Shelton, although the partnership had more to do with fishing than penning a hit song. He toured extensively with country star Freddie Hart, of ‘Easy Loving’ fame, who was also managed by Rob Gosnell.
While in Nashville, Kevin recorded the albums Over The Storm and Long Haired Country Boys, the latter credited to Kevin and multi-instrumentalist John Kearns. They had met during the Over The Storm sessions and struck up a friendship when they discovered each played guitar right-handed but golfed left-handed. Kevin brought the American back to New Zealand for shows whenever he could. Later came It Takes A Man, the title track dedicated to adult son Kayton, with whom he had reunited after many years. Kayton was named after his Kevin’s good friend and Hank Snow’s steel player Kayton Roberts.
The last 18 months or so in the States were spent in California, where Gosnell was involved in the opening of Native American casinos. Kevin did pre-lights opening spots for Brooks & Dunn, Brad Paisley, Toby Keith, Lonestar and Rascal Flatts at the 20,000-capacity Corrs Amphitheatre in Chula Vista, just south of San Diego. Kevin’s unreleased R-rated comedy album was on high rotation on Paisley’s tour bus.
While back among family for his son’s wedding in New Zealand in 2006, Kevin played some shows and came to the conclusion that home was where he wanted to be. Two years later he moved to Hamilton, putting into action the jamboree blueprint he had seen in the States where he would take on a residency and have a revolving number of guests each week to keep things fresh.
In the last few years he has harked back to that inspirational Rusty and Gladys Greaves record collection to release Daddy’s Radio and Daddy’s Radio Part II. It featured songs co-written with Jodi Vaughan for his two sons as well as the music he grew up on such as ‘Saginaw Michigan’, ‘Sea Of Heartbreak’ and his father’s best-loved song ‘Anna’. The band tracks for both albums were recorded in Nashville with the vocals completed at Peter Van Gent’s South Auckland Studios.
In 2017, Kevin Greaves was awarded the Variety Artists Club of New Zealand’s Benny Award, an award won by his father Rusty Greaves in 1976.