How Riley Green’s Grandpas Shaped His Life and His Music
Riley Green's new song "I Wish Grandpas Never Died" went viral months before its official release, for good reason. The personal ballad strikes an emotional note from start to finish and it's more than just a missing someone kind of song.
"I wish even cars had truck beds / Every road was named Copperhead," Green starts at the chorus of a song he plans to officially release on Friday (Aug. 2). "And coolers never run out of cold Bud Light / I wish high school home teams never lost / And backroad-drinking kids never got caught / I wish the price of gas was low and cotton was high / I wish honky-tonks didn't have no closing time / And I wish grandpas never died."
Both of the newest Taste of Country RISER's grandfathers have passed, and if you're around him a little bit, you'll see that it still hurts. "Grandpas" is one of at least three songs inspired by Grandaddy Buford or Lendon (Bonds), who died in 2010 and 2018, respectively. Green might not be playing guitar and writing songs without those relationships.
"My Grandaddy Buford was the country guy," Green tells Taste of Country. "He was really into like Merle Haggard, Roy Acuff, Hank WIlliams and ... that was what I learned to sing and play. I never sang when I played guitar until my grandaddy started pushing me and me and him would sit around and he'd fiddle on the harmonica a little bit. That was where I got my traditional roots."
Buford Green founded the Golden Saw Music Hall, a proudly redneck, home-built entertainment venue in rural Alabama that's still active today. Musicians would come from all over town and state to play, with the only requirement being a willingness to take the stage and keep it country.
"The best way I can describe it is there's a tree in the kitchen when you walk in and there's like a raccoon in it and a hornet's nest in it," the "In Love by Now" singer says casually. "For show, not alive. And there's a possum on a string they hang up from the stage and they play some song about running a possum over and cooking it that night."
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Green's other grandfather, Grandaddy Lendon, partially inspired his song "Numbers on the Cars," which is about living with Alzheimer's disease. Lyrically this difficult ballad follows the singer's grandfather, but it was actually his grandfather's brother who had Alzheimer's in real life. Green and Great Uncle Jess would play dominos together at a local store on the regular, so watching him slowly lose his memory was excruciating.
While the singer took some creative liberties (Grandma Nancy is still alive, for instance), Lendon is the one who knew all the numbers on the cars — how can you not when you grow up next to Talladega Superspeedway?
"We were out on Lake Guntersville one night," Green begins, sharing a fishing trip story about his grandfather. "I remember him saying, 'Riley reach over there in that third draw of the tackle box on the left and get that blue spinner bait out with a yellow tail on it.' And I'm like, if he was to get Alzheimer's, he would never forget that."
Before his death, Green's grandfather got to hear the song. In fact, the 30-year-old "There Was This Girl" hitmaker counts playing it for him and family at the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium among his early career highlights.
"It was me taking myself to a place where, I guess, I was hurting a little bit," Green says of writing the song. Lendon provided a chance for the young songwriter to spill his heart on another occasion, as well. When he died Green wrote a song he called "Half the Man He Was" for his funeral.
He calls that his last heartbreak.
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