Whenever Yoko called the house in Beverly, she’d introduce herself with her full name: “It’s Yoko Ono.”
“Like we’d get calls from any other Yoko,” recalls David Greenberg. A longtime employee of Rykodisc, the pioneering record company based on Salem’s Pickering Wharf in the 1980s and ’90s, Greenberg worked as a product manager and in various other capacities for many of Ryko’s biggest acts, including Elvis Costello, Frank Zappa, and the Boston band Morphine.
Now he is releasing his own music — or, more precisely, a lifetime’s worth of song lyrics he’s written with no particular melody or arrangement in mind. Greenberg’s unusual collection, titled “Mud Folio” after an old notebook nickname, features more than 100 lyrics ready-made for interpretation in any style of music.
“I’ve always loved music,” said the author, sipping a cafe au lait recently in a Beverly coffee shop. “But I have absolutely no musical sense or musicianship.”
He does, however, have an impressive résumé in the business. As a young man eager to break into filmmaking in the 1980s, he directed a Grammy-nominated video for the eccentric Providence band Rubber Rodeo. He also toiled as a roadie: “I know how heavy a Hammond C3 [organ] is,” he said. “Heavier than a B3 — it’s the church model.”
Later, he brought the recordings of the late, provocative comedian Bill Hicks to the Rykodisc family. Since leaving Ryko, he has worked as a marketer for Ted Kurland Associates, a Brighton-based booking agent for jazz artists including Sonny Rollins and Wynton Marsalis.
Oddly, while working with the Clancy Brothers to reissue albums from their old Tradition Records label, he realized that he had once lived in the very same Civil War-era brownstone in Greenwich Village where the Irish singing family ran the label in the 1950s. Their rent at the time, they told him, was $20 a month.
Given Greenberg’s background, he has a broad appreciation for all kinds of music. He admits that some of the “songs” in “Mud Folio” lean toward one style or another: titles such as “The Low Rent Rhumba” and “Shooby Dooby Moon” are evidently suggestive; the one that begins “My mama didn’t grow me up to go to bed with you,” he says, is clearly a country song.
But they’re not poems, he clarifies.
Since he started jotting lyrics in notebooks and on scraps of paper as a schoolboy in New Canaan, Conn., he knew instinctively that they were songs-in-waiting. Sometimes he’ll hear a melody in his head as he’s writing, but the words are free to find their own way in the world.
Thus far Greenberg has had modest success finding vocalists. He wrote for friends in a band, until they reminded him they played mostly instrumentals. China Moses, the daughter of jazz great Dee Dee Bridgewater, sent Greenberg some lyrics she wanted to rewrite after he offered her some of his own. And he recently wrote a song — “Is It Hot in Here or Is It Me?” — intended for his North Shore friend Barrence Whitfield, the R&B singer who can be found at the Record Exchange in Salem when he’s not performing overseas.
“I can see him up onstage singing it,” said Greenberg, a 56-year-old father of two grown daughters whose sedate demeanor belies his wry take on the world.
Moses, a performing artist who is a personality on MTV France, said by e-mail that she “met” Greenberg on Twitter: “We tweeted back and forth, freestyling lyrics to each other. . . . I had no idea what his day job was. I just loved his words.”
He’s been sharing his lyrics with friends and performing acquaintances nearly as long as he can remember.
Since David Greenberg started jotting lyrics in notebooks andon scraps ofpaper as a schoolboy inNew Canaan, Conn., he knew instinctively that they were songs-in-waiting.
“I’ve been making Xerox folios since I had access to a Xerox machine,” he said. With samples of his lyrics and postcards from business trips, he called them his “Going Nowhere” series.
Now he finally feels compelled to gather his work in a professional format. Using the new print-on-demand technology, he’s making “Mud Folio” available on Amazon and other e-commerce sites.
On a whim, Greenberg organized the pieces in the collection alphabetically, so that “Asleep Sleeping” is followed by “Baby Blues.” Rather than start with his oldest lyrics and finish with the most recent, the randomness of the order has teased out new meanings and juxtapositions, he said.
“I know a book of poetry isn’t going to sell, and this maybe even less,” he said.
He’s not gloomy about it, just realistic. The point isn’t to make a bundle selling books — “Mud Folio” is like an expanded calling card advertising his songwriting skills.
The goal, he said, is plain: “To get the stuff sung.”James Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.