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Gregg Sullivan: Out of the Shadows

by Steve Desroches

Over the past decade there have been numerous documentaries that show the dynamic innards of the world of rock and roll. Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Twenty Feet From Stardom, Muscle Shoals, The Wrecking Crew—all films that show that behind the spotlight and theatrical face of rock and roll is a long list of passionate and dedicated musicians who provide the foundation for the giants of rock. For decades Gregg Sullivan was part of that, playing guitar as a sideman for Blood, Sweat & Tears, The Rascals, Mary Wilson, and Roger Daltrey. But this week he’s taking center stage at Welllfleet Preservation Hall with the debut of a new musical project: the Gregg Sullivan Quartet.
“It’s music I’ve enjoyed over the years,” says Sullivan, about the set prepared for Saturday night’s gig. “I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to do it here.”

Sullivan, who recently moved from New Jersey to Eastham, hooked up with local musicians Fred Boyle, Rich Hill, and Bart Weisman to form the Gregg Sullivan Quartet, focusing on R&B/Jazz/Groove music, covering songs by Steely Dan, The Crusaders, Jimmy Smith, and more. Having toured the United States, Canada, and Europe several times over playing rhythm guitar for a diverse list of musicians and bands, Sullivan is digging into his past to present an evening of great music.

A musician’s musician through and through Sullivan doesn’t recall a time when he wasn’t playing a guitar. From the earliest age to young adulthood Sullivan studied and work on his craft so much so that he seamlessly moved to the stage with some of the biggest acts of the day. However, he was able to focus on the music, support himself financially, and all the while avoiding the trappings and responsibilities of fame.

“You’re there to do a job,” says Sullivan. “You’re there to make whoever’s out front sound as good as possible. Whatever the gig calls for, you do it. And hopefully they like it and you get more work out of it.”

As the aforementioned documentaries premiered, it set off a new appreciation for the art of rock and roll. Digging out old albums to read the fine print of the liner notes or Google searches showed little known facts like Cher sang back up for The Ronnettes hit “Be My Baby” or that Gregg Allman played on Aretha Franklin’s landmark 1970 album This Girl’s in Love With You. Glenn Campbell played on tracks for Ronnie Spector and The Rolling Stones.

“It was sort of like a ghost man thing,” says Sullivan. “No one knew. That’s the life of the sideman. You’re there to do a job. That’s it.”

While those are all examples of famous people doing work quietly, or secretly, Sullivan and his ilk, who focus on live work rather than studio sessions, aren’t necessarily anonymous as they’re standing and playing right there on the stage. But nevertheless, it’s only the biggest music fans with the deepest of appreciation and obsession that know who musicians like Sullivan are. And that’s just fine with him.

Since moving to Eastham, Sullivan has taught guitar at the Cape Conservatory in West Barnstable, which is where he met Weisman, and then Weisman in turn reached out to other long time collaborators. That synergy gave birth to the Gregg Sullivan Quartet, which also brought Sullivan back to electric guitar work after primarily focusing on acoustic material for quite some time. Premiering this new group is the current culmination of a life in music, for music’s sake.

“I’ve been exposed to a lot of different players and styles,” says Sullivan. “I can’t think of a moment that was my big break. I guess I’ve always been a working musician, a sideman. Going from gig to gig. Getting to play with all these musicians, it was always pretty cool and to see how it all played out. “

The Gregg Sullivan Quartet plays at Wellfleet Preservation Hall, 335 Main St. on Saturday, May 7 at 7 p.m. For tickets ($15) and information call 508.349.1800, go to the box office, or visit

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Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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