The five members of Green Leaf Rustlers have seen every corner of the world in their day, playing in the Mother Hips, Phil Lesh & Friends, the Black Crowes and other bands. Yet, the band itself rarely appears outside of Marin, making Green Leaf Rustlers a hometown secret of sorts.
On Friday, March 6, the group—comprised of frontman Chris Robinson (vocals, guitar), Barry Sless (pedal steel, lead guitars), Greg Loiacono (lead guitars, vocals), Pete Sears (bass) and John Molo (drums)—releases their debut album; a 2-LP live record, From Within Marin.
In covering classic country-rock songs by artists like Gram Parsons and Waylon Jennings, the group displays a musical kinship that goes back over a decade.
“At different times, we’ve been in five bands together,” says Sless, currently on tour with Sears and Molo in the David Nelson Band. “We’ve got a lot of playing chemistry developed. We already had a headstart on that.”
Robinson first played with Sless and the others through gigs with Phil Lesh as far back as 2005.
“At some point he started talking about moving to Marin,” says Sless. “So every time I’d see him I would put the Fairfax bug in his ear, until finally he jokingly said, ‘Do you work with the chamber of commerce or something?’”
Eventually Robinson did move to West Marin, and the five musicians played together in 2017 when Robinson organized a series of “Hootenanny Heroes” concerts at Terrapin Crossroads.
“It was three separate weekends with a different lineup of musicians for each show,” says Sless. “One of the ones was the band that went on to become Green Leaf Rustlers.”
In March of 2018, Robinson invited recording-engineer and Grateful Dead–archivist Betty Cantor Jackson to capture the band live on tape. Jackson sat in on three shows at Sweetwater Music Hall and collected the best material for the new album.
The group specializes in playing early ’70s country rock in the vein of the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Byrds, though they infuse the covers with their own “cosmic country” psychedelic-rock sensibilities.
“Chris’s take on the songs are completely different than the original version; he brings the songs to life in his own way,” says Sless. “And once we start playing, everybody brings their own touch to it, and all the songs have a different flavor.”