I’m delighted today to launch a new Feature, ‘Jukebox Jive with …’.
The aim is to provide an insight into the social and musical roots of artists close to the heart of The Jukebox.
It is a special pleasure that we begin with Garland Jeffreys for I have been an avid fan of his work for over 40 years!
Garland generously spared an hour of his time for a telephone interview with me to discuss his influences, his mentors and contemporaries and the records he most cherishes from his own catalogue.
Delightfully he also frequently broke into song down the line from New York to illustrate his answers.
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Garland is a singer, songwriter and performer of immense talent.
Someone who was best friends with Lou Reed and regularly called up on stage by Bruce Springsteen.
People, ‘In the Know’ know what a great artist Garland is!
He has written dozens of haunting songs which provide searching insights into what it is to live an engaged modern life.
Drawing on the traditions of Jazz, Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Doo-Wop, Reggae and Soul his work shines a forensic light onto the issues of The Working Life, Race and Class, Love and Sex in post World War 2 America as refelected in the Nation’s premier City – New York.
Garland was born in June 1943 and grew up in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay. His heritage was a mixture of Black, White and Puerto Rican – not forgetting a trace of Cherokee!
It’s undoubtedly the case that such a complex heritage gave Garland an outsider status – too black to be white, too white to be black.
While this provided a series of challenging scenarios in his youth it had the artistic advantage of making him a sharp and subtle observer of the world around him.
His parents were hard working people who instilled in him a love of music and pride in doing a job well.
Perhaps it’s better at this point to allow Garland to tell you himself; through his wonderfully warm and affectionate memoir song, ‘14 Steps To Harlem’ what it was like growing up in the 50s and 60s in such a household.
IJ – Who was the Artist who called your own voice (as Bob Dylan’s was called by Woody Guthrie)?
Well, I grew up in a house filled with music.
My Mother loved Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington and Frank Sinatra.
I loved those and discovered for myself someone as great as Nina Simone who I used to see perform at The Village Gate.
All this stood me in very good stead later when I shared a stage with Jazz Giants like Sonny Rollins and Carmen McRae – you should have heard our duet on, ‘Teach Me Tonight’ (Garland croons … should the teacher stand so near, my love)
There’s a depth in Jazz I’m mining to this day.
I always could sing so naturally I sang along to the radio – those fabulous R&B, Doo-Wop and Rock ‘n’ Roll songs saturated the New York air.
If I have to pick one I’ll go for Frankie Lymon – he was a hell of a singer and he was my size!
Frankie could really sing and not just the uptemp hits everyone remembers but also heart rending ballads like, ‘Share’.
Frankie sang songs filled with energy and sweetness and you knew he was talking about the real life lived out on the New York Streets.
A record I just couldn’t stop playing?,,,
Well I’d have to say Frankie Lymon (don’t forget The Teenagers) with, ‘I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent’.
IJ – Was there a Radio Station/Radio Show that was important in introducing you to the Music you love?
We all listened to WINS and especially to Alan Freed’s Moondog Show.
I loved the Sports coverage on WINS too.
I was a true Brooklyn Dodgers fan – proud to say I was there in 1947 when Jackie Robinson played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field!
Later on I used to go to see broadcasting legend Bob Fass at the WBAI Studios
I went there a few times with the great Bass Player, Richard Davis, who played on my own records as well as being the instrumental star of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks.
Richard was a great musician but a humble man.
He was something of a mentor for me as was Paul Griffin (who played Piano on Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone among many other classic recordings).
Of course, I was close with Lou Reed from our days at Syracuse University – boy were we the odd couple!
IJ : What was the first record made by one of your contemporaries that made you think – Wow they’ve really got it!
Oh, Yeh … Bob Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright’.
I’m a couple of years younger than Bob Dylan.
I used to go to and play at New York Folk Clubs like The Gaslight and Gerde’s.
I saw him then. He has always been a fascinating character.
Managing to be a fantastic self promoter without obviously being one.
He had a unique style and his songs just made sense of the times we were living in.
He wasn’t afraid to be challenging politically and in personal relationships.
IJ : Which of your own Records was the first to turn out exactly how you wanted it to?
I’d have to say that would be, ‘Ghost Writer’ from 1977.
That was an inspired record – the whole album where everything came together. The songs, my singing and the musicians I played with all playing at a peak.
Songs like, ‘Cool Down Boy’, ‘Why – O’ and, ‘Spanish Town’ said something then and they still do.
Dr John’s on there and David Spinoza.
Hugh McCracken who played Guitar and Harmonica deserves a lot of credit.
Sadly he died 5 years ago now – that’s the way when you’ve been in the music world as long as I have.
Ghost Writer as an individual song tells my story.
A New York City Son trying to make my way while having fun.
Someone who knows about tradition in Literature – Shakespeare, Spencer and Sydney and who knows that there’s a poetry in the streets that demands to be expressed.
I agree with you that Ghost Writer is a, ‘Blue Hour’ song – a vision that comes from the ghosts whispering in that hour that’s the last of the night or the first of the morning.
I also love that Dub Reggae feel we got down.
IJ – What other albums make up your top 3?
‘Escape Artist’ from 1981 and, ‘The King of In Between’ from 2011.
As to individual songs I would have to go for, ‘Wild in the Streets’ which was a breakthrough song for me and something of a New York City Anthem.
It’s a Song every audience expects me to play and I make sure not to disappoint them.
I still love it – I make sure to play it straight just like I recorded it.
From more recent times I’m proud of ‘Coney Island Winter’ which says a lot about modern America and stands up for people who need to be stood up for.
Garland started that menacing whispered intro…
This is a classic.
A Song alive, vibrating, with the energy of the Streets.
An energy that can be exhilarating but which can also be threatening and at times even fatal.
It’s a song that has the beat, beat, beat of the summer sun and of hot young blood.
A song to be sung on the stoops and the fire escapes and on the baking roofs.
Garland was nearly 70 when he made one of his very best albums, ‘The King of In Between’.
What’s almost miraculous about this record is that it has the energy and rage of youth combined with the craft and wisdom of maturity.
‘Coney Island WInter’ has the unstoppable power of a Locomotive yet has a profound tenderness towards those left behind by a cruel and heedless system.
It’s a story that happens every day that only a rare storyteller could make come so thrilling alive.
IJ – What was your greatest ever Live Show?
A show that really stands out for me was one from The Ritz in NYC with The Rumour backing me up.
Those English guys can really play! (the partnership is brilliantly captured on the Rock ‘n ‘Roll Adult CD)
IJ – What Song by another Artist do you wish you had written?
For it’s simplicity, its power and its endless playability I would have to say, ‘Gloria’ by Van Morrison in his days with Them.
A Million Garage Bands can’t be wrong!
IJ – Who’s an under rated Artist we ought to look out for?
Garland Jeffreys ! (Seconded! The Immortal Jukebox)
IJ – Nominate a Song – one of your own or by someone else to take up the A100 slot on The Immortal Jukebox.
Garland Jeffreys – ‘Ghost Writer’.
IJ – Anything you’d like to add?
Sure – I’d like to say that I’m forever grateful to all my fans and supoorters. I’ve spent my life trying to make the very best music I can and that’s what I’m always going to do.
Oh ..and if you’re starting out as a musician I’d advise you to protect your copyrights!
Start your own record company. Of course the main thing you’ve got to do is love the music, the writing and the performing.
Wise words. Wise words.
New York has had many great chroniclers.
For my money Garland deserves his place among them.
His songs have an urban strength and urgency tempered by empathy for the outsiders and also-rans so often unblinkingly passed by.
Songs can be so many things.
For me Garland’s songs have been lifeboats when the tempest raged, lamps to light the way to a safer shore and ladders to climb up to the Stars.
What moves me most is the sense that I am witnessing a unique voice and vision telling me hard won truths.
Jackie Robinson said that the most luxurious possession, the richest treasure anyone can have is their dignity.
Garland has assuredly joined Jackie in that All Star Dugout.
Today, June 29, is Garland’s Birthday.
Happy Birthday Garland – may your Songs always be sung.
Many thanks to Claire Jeffreys for setting up the Interview.
Thanks too to Mick Tarrant for the introduction.
A Garland Jeffrey’s Playlist :
In addition to the tracks above I regularly play
‘I May Not Be Your Kind’
‘Don’t Call Me Buckwheat’
‘Hail Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll’
‘I Was Afraid of Malcolm’
”Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me’
‘Roller Coaster Town’
That would make a hell of a mix CD!