Gregg had a dream. That dream was to become the best-known Irish hard rock singer/guitarist since Phil Lynott OD’ed on heroin in 1986. But, unlike Phil, Gregg didn’t have a band. And he lived in Erie, Pennsylvania. And he wasn’t Irish.
“But so what, right?” he said one night over beers with a friend at The Lonely Pin, a popular Erie bar and bowling alley. “I mean, whoever said you have to have a four-piece band to make rock ‘n’ roll music? If you got the chops, who needs a goddamned rhythm section?”
Gregg had the chops. Everyone agreed on that. He could pick up somebody’s six-string and crank out the solo of “Why My Guitar Gently Weeps” in such a heart-rending way that you could swear Clapton was in the room. By all rights, musicians from around the city should have been lining up to jam with Gregg. It hadn’t worked out that way, though. Gregg, it had been noted time and again since he was in preschool, did not play particularly well with others.
“I play what I wanna play,” he told his buddy at the bar. “I bring on some guys, and the next thing you know, we gotta do ‘Just What I Needed,’ because that’s Jim’s girlfriend’s favorite Cars song. Or we have to do eight minutes of ‘By-Tor & the Snowman’ because Jason’s a huge Rush fan. No way. I’m not doing it.”
“I think it’s called ‘By-Tor & the Snow Dog,'” his friend said.
“Well, whatever,” Gregg said, and he finished his Miller High Life. “Rush is dumb, anyway. Their songs make no sense.”
That night, Gregg decided once and for all to go it alone. He took his BC Rich Warlock (the guitar’s distinct, jagged body just screamed heavy metal), a mic stand and a portable amp and started playing the streets of downtown Erie. He spent most of his time outside the Olive Garden, where he could pull in as much as $20 an hour from the high-rollers who were out to impress their dates on a Saturday night. A natural entertainer, Gregg kept his playlist accessible: a little Guns & Roses, some Alice In Chains, a few of Metallica’s more popular stuff. Nothing too hard, nothing too obscure. He wasn’t trying to win someone’s coolness contest. He was trying to make payments on his $200-a-month studio apartment, as well as finance some voice lessons.
Eventually, he made enough scratch to start thinking about a tour. To do a tour, Gregg reasoned, you needed some advance publicity or, at the very least, an 8 x 11 glossy of yourself. So he walked into an Olan Mills studio with his favorite guitar one Tuesday afternoon for a photo shoot. It was September 22, 1992, according to the police report.
“You a musician?” asked the photographer, a pallid, middle-aged man with an unconvincing comb-over.
“Yeah,” said Gregg, thinking that was pretty obvious, what with the guitar and all.
“What kind of music do you play?”
With a bit of a sigh, Gregg listed a few bands that he thought the guy might know. The photographer nodded and kept snapping away.
“So,” he said after a moment, “where are your pals?”
“Excuse me?” Gregg asked.
“Where’s your band?”
Gregg shifted the guitar to his left hand and struck what he hoped was an intimidating pose. “It’s just me. I’m the band.”
The photographer stepped away from his tripod and pushed his comb-over back with a grand sweep of his hand. “There is no way you could do the music of Styx any justice as one guy with a guitar.”
“Wanna bet?” Gregg said with a forced smile. “Besides, I only do one Styx song, and it’s mostly because jack-offs like you ask for it.”
“‘Come Sail Away.'”
“Of course,” the photographer said, returning his lens. “Of course. And the next thing you’ll tell me is you’ve got the nimble fingers of Tommy Shaw and the angelic voice of Dennis DeYoung.”
“Yeah, something like that.”
Gregg was starting to get a little hot. “What is your deal, man? You treat all your customers like this?”
“Only the ones with over-sized egos. I’ve seen you play before. The Olive Garden, right?
“You know what I think?” the photographer continued, still snapping away. “I think you’re not good enough to have your own band.”
The last thing Gregg remembers was gritting his teeth, lifting the white guitar over his shoulder and rushing the middle-aged man and his camera. The rest, he would tell police, was a blur.