There’s a new player in town: guitar and bass and vocals, knows how to run a band and how to get the most out of a stage full of under-rehearsed musicians – a very handy skill in the Phnom Penh scene. Leng Pleng this week sat down to get some of the backstory of Greg Beshers, a career musician who’s played all over the world, but who, despite his striking resemblance to Guy Smiley from Sesame Street, never achieved his actual childhood dream of becoming a game show host.
“Yes, I grew up watching game shows. Being a latchkey kid [a child who is often left at home with little parental supervision] during elementary school and middle school, I had a lot of time on my hands, so I either played music or watched game shows. So I always wanted to be a game show host.”
He grew up mostly in Ohio – “an exciting place to be from”, he adds – generally in the vicinity of Columbus, and started playing underage in clubs while still at high school, with older musicians, originally as a bass player. After college, and years of acoustic music, he moved to New York City to seek fame and fortune, “the whole trying-to-have-a-band-in-New-York thing”.
“Eventually when I stopped making my own records I decided to play for other people, and that led me to a lot of work in New York, and based out of Austin as well.”
One of those who enlisted him as a sideman was Moe Tucker, the legendary drummer of the Velvet Underground. “It’s certainly one of the highlights. I was a huge VU/Lou Reed fan. Even getting just a chance to hang out, to meet her as a peer. I played with her for about four years, 1997 to 2001, until she retired. I don’t know if I was the cause of that…”
“This in the early days of the internet, so no one had cameras on their phones, so it’s not a well documented time.” Leng Pleng, however, did a little YouTube search and found a 1998 live show from Atlanta, with Moe playing guitar, and Greg doesn’t appear to have aged a day. There’s probably a picture of him in a New York attic somewhere.
Another adventure was touring as part of the US State Department cultural exchange programme, which runs through US consulates around the world. The band he was playing in at the time applied to be part of the programme, and off they went – the first tour was Russia, and they were back there three times.
“It’s a vast country that’s incredibly diverse. I went about three quarters of the way across, as far east as a city called Chita. Obviously the further east you go the more Asian influenced it becomes – oh, this is an Asian city. We played Ulan Ude, due north of Ulan Bator, Mongolia.”
In a more southerly part of Asia, and a year or two after quitting the music business due to a general malaise about the way he felt he was approaching playing music, Greg landed in Phnom Penh. He started to get around the gigs, particularly at Oscar’s on the Corner, meeting musicians and, unexpectedly, finding himself drawn back to the stage, inspired by what he was seeing and hearing from players who were genuinely enjoying what they were doing.
Within a few months he has managed to join the Cambodia Country Band and the Extraordinary Chambers, commenced solo performances, started to offer his services as a vocal coach and guitar teacher, and launched the South East Asian Soul Revue that will shortly commence a Tuesday night residency at Oscar’s. “I want to turn Tuesdays into Oscar’s Champagne and Soul Train night, where you can dance and groove and get tightened up by the SEA Soul Review. Enjoy life with a side of funkiness and soul.” The band draws on music by the likes of Tina Turner, Ann Peebles and the Temptations to make a thick, rollicking sound, with vocals by the outstanding Mirasol Aguila, out in front of a strong band at last.
Also stay tuned for Mainstreet, a duo featuring songs of the great American heartland. And who knows what other alchemy Greg will create as his work with the local scene proceeds. Great to have you here, buddy.
by Scott Bywater