If you find yourself hearing the D-B-D-B-G-G-E-G-E-G progression of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine” out on the street at Yonge and Eglinton, it’s because you’re in the presence of musician Jim Greenham.
The 47-year-old busker with his thin frame, long curly locks (à la Robert Plant) and golden guitar can be seen on occasion at the busy midtown corner.
But he is not just playing for passers-by, he admits in a late September interview at the nearby Duke of Kent pub. He’s also playing for his
On May 13, 2012, Girlie Zapanta, died of a malignant, right-sided pleural effusion. By the time her cancer was detected it was too late.
Her death, and the events leading up to it, have served as the impetus for Greenham’s “self improvement.”
“She became a huge foundation in my life,” he says, taking a long pause. “It’s like everything that’s happened since then is a second phase
in my life.
“Everything I do is based on trying to do the right thing — trying to be better: better at music, trying to stay devoted to music.”
His brown hair hangs past his cheeks, drawing out his features. He cradles a cup of coffee and shares the time in his life before Zapanta, where he grew up in West Hill, listening to the music his cousins gave him on vinyl.
He got his start on the six-string when he was 12, and Greenham is brutally honest about his skill level back then.
“I really sucked when I started, but the thing that kept me going was I knew in (the next) six years I would play stuff I enjoyed,” he says, with a smile.
His skills developed, as he drew from legendary guitarist Jimmy Paige, of Led Zeppelin, and Eric Clapton. For a time in the ’90s and 2000s, he created original music with his band, Group Therapy.
His former band’s name has a touch of irony: Greenham admits that, as a kid, he wanted to be a psychiatrist.
“When I was in Grade 13 I just decided I’d rather be a musician, to get into that,” he says. “I kind of made a choice.
“Music is something that I enjoy more, and it wouldn’t be so devastating every day. Being a psychiatrist, you’d come home with a lot of
problems of other people.”
His decision to choose music over medicine has proven to be a fortunate one, as it has proven to be a healer in the aftermath of his loss. He says he’s still recovering from Zapanta’s death.
“For the last year and a half, that’s compelled me to totally go for it and get as good as I can,” he says, the coffee mug trembling in his
hands. A few droplets find their way onto the table. “I’ve always had (drive) anyway, but more so than any other time. I’ve been really focused on music and dedicating my music to her.”
When the Ellesmere and Victoria Park resident isn’t performing on the streets at Yonge and Eglinton, Yorkville or Bay and Bloor, he’s
composing new music with bandmates Isis Bou (on bass) and Peter Karppi (on drums).
Greenham says the street is where he can control what he plays, and when he plays.
“I can do it any time I want, and to me it’s like art,” he declares. “I’m not there for any other reason than to show people my art.
“I never really looked at it as though I’m a busker. I’m an artist trying to improve my art, and make people happy.”