In the late ‘70s, John March was a young blues guitarist trying to refine his sound in LA. Like many before him, he sought the tutelage of legendary fingerstyle player Ted Greene.
At this point, Greene had already shared stages with Joseph Byrd, Ry Cooder and Canned Heat drummer Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra, but you wouldn’t know it from his teaching quarters.
“He had this apartment where there was no furniture,” March tells BandWagon. “There was one chair for a student, and a few cushions for him to sit on. Then it was floor-to-ceiling music books through the entire apartment.”
For the next 25 years, March continued, off-and-on, to go to Greene for lessons as his playing grew beyond the confines of blues. In the years since Greene’s untimely death in 2005, March has never stopped learning from his former mentor.
“He was an extraordinary, like, Mozart-level musician,” March said. “Music is a language, and the way I speak in music is based almost entirely on the foundation that was established by my work with Ted.”
This summer, March, now based in Colorado, released For Once In My Life: A Tribute to Ted Greene. The album is March’s second tribute to his former mentor after 2012’s Chord Alchemy: A Student’s Tribute to Ted Greene.
While March revisited the challenging fare of Greene’s solo guitar arrangements on Chord Alchemy, he took a decidedly different approach on For Once In My Life.
“It’s all based on the idea of accompanying a melody, soloist or vocalist,” March said. “The other thing that Ted loved to do was accompany singers.”
The list of singers that contributed to the album is a who’s who of long-established Denver performers and studio musicians. Robert Johnson, Mark Oblinger and Linda Styles each contribute vocals, and legendary session musician Jeff Paris (Keb Mo’, Ringo Star, Mr. Big) croons over the title track.
On “Unexpected Blues for Ted,” the sole original composition on the album, March takes the lead and accompanies himself. The song vacillates between a shuffle feel and a swing feel as it builds from a clean, jazzy head to an overdriven, unhinged solo section.
“The idea was that, like a Bach piece, the harmonic structure increases over the course of the recording,” March said.
Over the course of the album, and sometimes within an individual song, March steps in and out of the spotlight to alternately display his incredible musicianship and make room for stand-out performances from the various other contributors. The result is a collection of standards that is both stimulating and easy to listen to.
Greene’s influence is not limited to musicality on For Once in My Life. The influential educator was known by students to accept payment on a pay-what-you-can basis. In the image of Greene’s generous spirit, March is donating a portion of the proceeds from For Once In My Life to three charities: OneTreePlanted.org, TedGreene.com and the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.
Perhaps the charity that holds the most personal significance to March is the latter. During the 2013 Colorado Floods, he broke both of his elbows and then continued trying to make a living as a gigging guitarist despite crippling pain.
“Two weeks later, I was playing at a fundraiser for people whose homes had been destroyed in the floods,” March said. “One of the other musicians came up to me and said, ‘Hey, man. We think you’re playing really well. We just can’t tell over the screaming.’ I think it was a joke, but it didn’t feel like it.”
MusiCares was the first organization to provide financial assistance to March after he decided to undergo rehab and physical therapy for the double elbow injury.
These days, March has fared decently well through the pandemic due to his diversity of work as a producer, video editor and documentarian. Notably, he has produced dozens of mini-documentaries on Colorado-based musicians in the past handful of years, aiming at celebrating the rich history of the independent and scholastic music scene in the state. His thoughts and efforts remain focused on the musicians who are suffering from the fallout of the pandemic.
“Through cooperating together, we’ll make it through this time,” he said. “Music will re-emerge, hopefully in a stronger place.”
For Once In My Life may be a tribute to Ted Greene, but the true mission of the album lies in supporting and uplifting music, wherever it may stem from.
Check out John March’s story and music at zenguitarguy.com and watch his JM Media “38 movies about Colorado musicians” on YouTube via zenavguy.com