Early lessons helped hook Tennis on music

With lawbooks as a backdrop, Greig Tennis is pictured with his favorite instrument, the string bass. He also plays drums, the electric bass, guitar and banjo. (Photo by Cliff Buchan)
With lawbooks as a backdrop, Greig Tennis is pictured with his favorite instrument, the string bass. He also plays drums, the electric bass, guitar and banjo. (Photo by Cliff Buchan)

Local attorney believes music sharpens skills


Editor’s note: The following is the third and final article in a series on movers and shakers in the local music scene.

Cliff Buchan
Staff Writer

Greig Tennis admits it. He’s hooked on music.

He’s been hooked since his band teacher taught him to play the drums as a kid, since he first heard bagpipes in college, since he learned to play the bass and the banjo as an adult.

Music has long been a way of life for Tennis, 62, who has carved out a career in Forest Lake working in real estate and as an attorney for the past 30 years. During the day, he is the head of Tennis Law Office, 20 N. Lake St., but when the business day ends, you’ll find him with the Riverside Trio, the Riverside Jazz Band or Savanna Blue.

As a professional who once closed real estate transactions and now practices law, Tennis firmly believes his music has been a valued companion to his daily work in the Town Square Building.

To be a good lawyer, Tennis said, one has to have discipline and be persistent in your work.

“It’s the same with music,” he said. “You have to be disciplined to be good at it.”

An early start

Tennis knows exactly when he came to love music. It’s all due to Rollie Nelson, the beloved band leader at Forest Lake High School. Nelson, now retired and living in Wyoming, would come to the Tennis home one night a week to help teach the fifth-grader to play drums. The Tennis home was just one block west of the school, and that made Nelson’s visits easy.

“That played into my early music involvement,” Tennis said of the convenience of where he lived. Nelson would give music lessons to Tennis and other kids in the neighborhood. “It was a half an hour a week with Rollin Nelson,” Tennis said. “That was a major influence on my life.”

Tennis did not have drums at the time, and he learned to play by drumming his hands on a table. When his parents realized the lessons would stick, a drum set was purchased. To make sure he was vested, Tennis was required by his parents to pay $5 per week to Schmidt Music for more than a year to pay for the purchase.

Tennis never strayed from drums during high school. By the time he was in the eighth grade, he had joined the marching band.

“This was the golden era of marching band,” Tennis said.

He played a variety of drums during his high school career and blossomed under Nelson’s leadership. The band traveled widely in the 1960s and Tennis was part of a trip to New York City. There were school functions involving the band and Tennis was also with the pep band. On the rare occasions when Nelson could not attend after-school events, he would hand the baton to Tennis, who filled in as director.

Teen band

That love of music led Tennis and a group of friends to form a garage band, The Yunger Set, when he was a sophomore in high school.

“We formed a band before any of us could play an instrument,” he said, smiling.

Joining Tennis in the band were brothers Mark and Mike Schmidt, Nick Wojtowicz and Kevin Casey. With Tennis on drums, the Schmidts on guitars and Casey and Wojtowicz handling the vocals and playing guitars, the band was hired for frequent school sock hops.

At dances during the fall, Casey, a star athlete, would often be late because of his gridiron duties.

“When Kevin came, the dance would start,” Tennis said. “We’d maybe go home with $10 in our pockets.”

The band stayed together for five years. By the time it broke up, Tennis had finished two years at Macalester College.

A new direction

It didn’t take Tennis long to find a new outlet for his music. As a freshman at Macalester, he was exposed early to the sounds of the Macalester Bagpipe Band. As a percussion fan, it was sweet music to his ears.

“I was hooked,” he said.

Tennis spent four years with the bagpipers and performed at many events, including the school’s annual Highland Games.

He graduated with a degree in psychology in 1972, but used the training for only a short period. He completed an internship at Hazelden in Center City working on a one-year research project. During this period, he was hired to manage a co-ed housing project at the University of Minnesota.

Leslie Bruckner of St. Paul was one of the 26 students living in the housing project. They met and were married a year later. Needing steady work, Tennis settled in with his father, Doug Tennis, as an associate in Tennis Realty. He would eventually buy the business from his father and remain in real estate for eight years.

It was all business for Tennis as he concentrated on making a living in real estate. Music would take a backseat.

Tennis learned to play the banjo when his two kids were young, but had done nothing more with music. That changed in 1996 when Jasmine, now 34, and Kyle, now 30, gave him an electric bass and a small Fender amplifier as a Father’s Day gift. It was just the nudge he needed to reach out for music again.

“I was off and running,” Tennis said. “I was hooked.”

He took lessons on the bass from Randy Gildersleeve and soon became skilled. “Within six months we had a little band,” Tennis said.

It was in 1997 when Tennis teamed with Randy and Sandy Gildersleeve, Chuck Corliss and Jimmy Beatson to form Savanna Blue. As he jumped back into music, Tennis also dabbled in bluegrass music and helped form Swenson’s Pickin Parlor. Each month a dozen or so bluegrass fans would gather at the Scandia grocery store to play. He would later start the Tennis Jazz Project and that led to the formation of the Riverside Swing Band and the Riverside Trio.

A busy time

It was a busy time for Tennis. After eight years of selling real estate, he sold the business to Barb and Doug Goerss and enrolled in the Hamline University Law School in St. Paul. It was a move he felt would bring stability.

“I dealt with a lot of lawyers as a real estate broker,” Tennis said. “I wanted to stay in Forest Lake. I felt this was something I could do.”

He completed the four-year law degree in just over two years and joined the Hebert-Jergens Law Office in Forest Lake in 1983. On Jan. 1, 1987, he went on his own, forming Tennis Law Office. He has used his background in real estate as a key area of his law practice.

It didn’t take long for Leslie and Greig Tennis to learn that their son, Kyle, would excel in music. By the time Kyle was 4, Forest Lake music teachers recognized the talent.

“Kyle couldn’t do anything but music,” Tennis recalled of Kyle’s early days.

It was his son’s love of music and desire to pursue a career in music that pushed Greig Tennis to new avenues with his music. By the time Kyle was 14, he had joined Savanna Blue as drummer. But classical guitar was Kyle’s true forte, Greig Tennis said.

After graduating Forest Lake High School in 2001, he went to the University of Wisconsin at River Falls where he earned a degree in classical guitar music performance in 2005. He now works as a worship music leader at a church in Eagan, where contemporary Christian rock is the main music on Sunday mornings.

Greig Tennis was on bass while son Kyle Tennis played drums during a performance by Savanna Blue at Forest Lake’s Arts in the Park event on Tuesday, July 23. (Photo by Cliff Buchan)
Greig Tennis was on bass while son Kyle Tennis played drums during a performance by Savanna Blue at Forest Lake’s Arts in the Park event on Tuesday, July 23. (Photo by Cliff Buchan)

Since finishing college and returning home, intent on a music career, Greig Tennis has turned over the jazz bands to Kyle to run.

“This is his band,” Tennis said.

And the formula is working under the father-son partnership. In addition to regular gigs and private performances, the Tennis music makers also play weddings.

For some weddings, Kyle Tennis will provide vocals and guitar music for the ceremony. The Riverside Trio will step in for the reception before the Riverside Swing Band will play the wedding dance. Kyle Tennis will also serve as the disc jockey for the evening while his wife, Sara, runs the photo booth.

“These are all-day events,” Greig Tennis said. “We have tons of fun together.”

When Kyle Tennis needed help setting up a limited liability company, Greig Tennis provided the professional help.

The various Tennis musical groups will play nine dates in July and 60 engagements in a year.

It is not Kyle Tennis alone that has benefited from his father’s mentoring. Jasmine has followed her father’s career path, too. She now lives in Seattle, Wash., where she works with an aunt selling high-end real estate.

Music has been a natural for the family.

“She’s (Leslie) been very good about this because it’s time spent with Kyle,” Greig Tennis said.

“It’s a hobby, but it’s more than a hobby,” Tennis added.

Still, he firmly believes he is a better attorney because of the benefits he soaks in from music.

And it’s not just performance time that Tennis enjoys. He will use quiet time at home for practice and relishes those sessions.

“It’s not drudgery,” he said. “I look forward to it. I love practicing.”

He will still pick up the drumsticks, but for Greig Tennis today, it’s the string bass that he loves the most.

Perhaps it was those early lessons taught by Nelson that sealed the deal on his love of music. He believes he is at a point where music has never meant more; it is an art that remains a challenge and demands discipline and diligence.

“I’ve enjoyed the music,” he said. “I’m playing with five people who were music majors in college, and I can barely read music. I have to pay the price by practicing to perform with these people because I can’t wing it.”

It’s all part of being hooked on music, he said.