Golden Rules: Greg Golden and a Life with Guitars

The Greg Golden Band recently released their latest album, Storyteller, Vol. 1. The band’s specialty is melodic hard rock featuring guitarist Golden and singer/multi-instrumentalist Joe Retta. The group has played with some of the biggest names in the business, including Sebastian Bach, .38 Special, Great White, Y&T and many others. After years on the road, Golden eventually settled down at home in Reno, where he and his band are based. Golden also owns and operates Bizarre Guitars, a guitar shop with a massive inventory. Those twin passions – his band and his business – both center around the guitar. Golden spoke with me about his life in music. – bk

How did you get your start as a musician?

We lived in Las Vegas. My mom was a country and western singer when I was a kid; she sang in the club. She actually sang here in Reno in a couple of big nightclubs for about 25 years. My dad played a little guitar, and my sister sang pretty good too.

On December 22nd of 1958, I was six years old. My dad bought me a guitar and amplifier from a neighbor. I never took a lesson; I’m completely self-taught. But I was gifted with super long fingers, which is an advantage when you’re playing guitar. I caught onto it pretty quick, and I could pick up melodies pretty well on it, so I’ve always been a lead guitar player, because I could hear a melody and play it.

My father owned a casino, so we played in there with the other casino owners’ kids; they’re still my friends to this day. So I’ve been playing for 65 years.

When did your band start?

I started playing in Las Vegas, but my first real rock band was Axe, here in Reno. We won a national Battle of the Bands in 1967 and got to record at Studio 10 in San Francisco. We won a cash prize, and got to record with Johnny Mack. That started us, and then we had an agent here in town, so we were booked constantly. It seemed like we played all the time.

I was in Floyd Rose’s band. Floyd got signed by a record company, and we played all kinds of gigs. The first Floyd Rose [guitar tremolo system] was made for me; I have it in my vault.

I was on the road, on and off for three or four years. I went to different towns, and I bought guitars. But I wanted to stay local; I got my fill of sleeping in a different bed every night for three or four years. I opened my guitar shop, Bizarre Guitar, when I came back, and I also played with Chuck Ruff from the Edgar Winter Group.

Now, we’re centralized at my store, and we have a really amazing practice place there. Frank Hannon, the guitar player for Tesla, is my best friend. He and I have been friends since he was 16. He has mastered and produced all of my records. I have two CDs, two EPs, and a DVD. My music’s getting played on Sammy Hagar’s internet radio show, which reaches a ton of people.

Over the years, what about your band has made you most proud?

I feel that my singer Joe Retta is the best singer in rock and roll today. There’s no one better. When Ronnie James Dio died, Joe took over in Dio Disciples. And when Ronnie Montrose died, that band kind of fell apart, and I got the bass player. We had four former Montrose guys in my band at one time!

We’ve had opportunities to play in Nashville and all over the place, but we decided we really didn’t want to go on the road. We’re all pretty close to my age, and traveling is kind of out. We’ve all been there, done that. But we’ve opened for some of the bigger bands. We opened up for Tesla in 2017. And Frank plays with us all the time.

My sound man and partner in the store passed away last December; it was the most shocking thing that’s ever happened to me in my life. He was more than a brother. We raised each others’ kids, did everything together. He had a recording studio, and during the pandemic, he ran all the cords from his building to my 18,000 square foot building. We recorded for six months straight! Then we sent it to Frank Hannon to be mastered. And it sounds incredible.

What do you think explains the appeal of the kind of melodic hard rock that you play?

For starters, the lack of anybody [else] doing it like we do it. I have a very unique style of playing, and Joe’s singing is amazing. We have thousands of covers that we can do, but we’ve got 58 originals. I’ve written [the music], and Joe has written the vocal parts on about a third of them. Frank wrote the vocals on about a third, and Randy Scoles wrote some vocals [on our 2015 album].

But what makes us endure is the fact that we are extremely tight, we have really good harmonies, and we have our own unique sound. We’re not copying Lynyrd Skynyrd or Blue Öyster Cult or Journey just like everybody else’s worthless band that plays all over the place. I don’t mean to cut down the tribute bands, but it doesn’t take a whole lot of creativity to copy. We’re pretty much an original sound and original band.

What do you most enjoy about running Bizarre Guitars?

I’ve met an amazing amount of people through the store. I’ve dealt with Van Halen, Doobie Brothers, Garth Brooks, B.B. King, Carlos Santana… if you name a rock or country band, they’ve been to my store one time or another.

I love playing guitar. It’s just my thing, and I know a lot about guitars. I can fix and refinish them. I was a repairman for the first five years in the store. I’ve always had a great stock of old and new guitars. We stock just about every Gibson guitar they make.

This is my 49th year owning that business. I’m into old guitars; I have a museum in my store. It’s called the vault; we bring people down and show them around.

You’ve been in music nearly your entire life. Where do you see music going in the future?

The future of music is originality. Cover bands? “Oh, let’s see how much we can sound like Journey. Let’s see how much we can sound like Lynyrd Skynyrd.” I don’t believe in that. I think that people are so used to not hearing good music that they go back to things that they did like. They’ll listen to a tribute or remakes of that stuff versus new music, because most of the new music isn’t written that well.

I’m not tooting my own horn, but my albums are incredible. Great guitar, great vocals, great harmonies, great hooks, a great theme. And so our future is to keep writing good music, and to keep playing it.