Greg Luttrell: A musician in tune with his audience

Whether there are two people or two hundred, Greg Luttrell jazzes up the party every night at Xian, a bar in the East Hotel in Beijing. On a sticky summer day, the American singer and guitarist spiritedly spoke of his China experience in which he:

Joined a band named Real Deal in Beijing
Was overwhelmed by the traditional Chinese musical instruments
Said China’s hot food doesn’t bother his voice


Greg Lutterll Photos: Courtesy of Greg Luttrell

Born in America’s music city Detroit, or Motown, he himself never thought he would have a chance to come to China, but an agent’s phone call opened an oriental window to him.
He first performed blues at a bar named the House of Blues and Jazz in Shanghai in 2009. Having developed a good relationship with the bar, he was called back to China repeatedly in the following years.
“I was like a small kid in a toy store standing on the Jinling Road in Shanghai where an array of instruments is displayed,” he told the
The guitarist was absorbed by the sound of Guzheng (古筝), one of the oldest Chinese folk music instruments. It is like a plucked zither and has 18 or more strings and movable bridges.
“I bought a Guzheng and took some lessons. I put it at home in America. I’m not good at it but I enjoy digging the sound,” he said.
He started learning guitar when he was 12 and honed his skills playing in blues bands in the 90s and formed his own funk and soul band, Michigan Blacksnake which released Michigan Blacksnake in 1997. They were nominated for a Boston Music Award for Best Funk Band in 2000.
“My grandfather was an influential DJ in Detroit and he inspired me a lot.” Scientific studies say that learning music is like learning another language. Those who play music activate a certain part of their brain, not better or smarter but different, Luttrell said, adding that music is a universal language.
He joined a band named Real Deal in Beijing last year and now plays on a residency contract for Xian at the East Hotel in Jiuxianqiao.

The three-member band plays a multiple collection of music including blues, jazz, pop, funk and reggae every night. The focus is to get people to dance during a four-hour performance.
“We don’t have a set song list. Each night I’ll look at the crowd and determine what kind of music we will play. We may play a little jazz to get started before firing it up. It depends on the mood. I feel sad if those who work with us have to listen to the same sound repeatedly, so each night is different. I play by ear,” Luttrell said.
Some of the traditional Chinese music tonalities are similar to the American blues which is a pentatonic scale. “I incorporated some of the Chinese notes on my guitar and it’s recognizable,” said the singer whose voice has been likened to Marvin Gaye, Lenny Kravitz, Stevie Wonder and Brad Nowell.

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