Garland Jeffreys
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Garland Jeffreys

New York, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2015 | SELF

New York, New York, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2015
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By Jon Bream

Like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, Garland Jeffreys has created a late-career masterpiece.

Garland who?

Garland Jeffreys, the rockin' New York singer/songwriter whom Rolling Stone named the best new artist of 1977. The black dude whom critics once dubbed the next Springsteen. The 68-year-old veteran whose "The King of In Between" was not only light years better than Bruce Springsteen's most recent album, 2009's "Working on a Dream," but was the most underrated album of 2011.

Like Jeffreys himself, this roots-rock-reggae-blues album oozes New York: the energy and intensity, the rhythms and diversity, the despair and hope, the grit and greatness.

"Coney Island Winter," the opening track, is as good a political commentary song as was released last year. A defiant rocker about political leadership and economic hardship, it could have been the theme song for the Occupy movement.

Unlike late-period Dylan and Cash, Jeffreys doesn't sound like a craggy old soul. He sounds vital and vigorous -- just like he did on 1977's remarkable "Ghost Writer" and 1981's standout "Escape Artist."

"I've always been a person with a certain kind of obvious vitality," said Jeffreys, who will perform Friday at the Ritz Theater -- his first Twin Cities appearance in at least a couple of decades. "I'm playful, I get excited. I have a different zest. I'm not retiring. This is the beginning of me performing until the lights go out type of thing."

Since Jeffreys became a dad for the first time 15 years ago, he has toured sparingly (mostly in Europe) and devoted considerable time to his daughter Savannah.

"I'm a father who's there and concerned about my kid," he said before proudly launching into a discussion of her songwriting and performing acumen.

A cult figure at best in the States, Jeffreys has been able to survive financially because his 1979 tune "Matador" became an enduring hit in several European countries.

"It continues to get airplay and still sells and I continue to play there," said Jeffreys, whose "Wild in the Streets" in '77 was probably his best known song in the States and something of an anthem for the skate community. "'Matador' has financed my life, which is very, very fortunate for me."

Indie rocker at last

After stints on A&M and RCA, Jeffreys tired of the major-label game. So he released "The King of In Between" on his own Lunar Park imprint.

Larry Campbell, a former Dylan sideman and now a mainstay in Levon Helm's band, co-produced with Jeffreys. Musicians included drummer Steve Jordan, bassist Pino Palladino, guitarists Duncan Sheik, Duke Levine and Campbell and backup singer Lou Reed, Jeffreys' classmate from Syracuse University and friend of 50 years.

In sound and conversation, Jeffreys comes across as the quintessential New Yorker. Sure, there are musical nods to the Rolling Stones, Curtis Mayfield, John Lee Hooker and Bob Marley, but "The King of In Between" has a Coney Island state of mind.

As a kid who grew up down the block from the iconic amusement park, he thought of the place as his nirvana, an escape into rides and beaches where people of all races got along. (Jeffreys' mother is Puerto Rican, his father black.) As a young teen, he made $1.05 an hour stocking prizes at a Coney Island guess-your-name booth and then he'd go buy a hot dog and fries.

"I was in love with the place," he said, the glee seeping through the telephone. "It was a heavenly spot. Now, it's the saddest place. Big ghettos, lots of crime, violence, murder. It's not right. This is where the song 'Coney Island Winter' is born, talking about the current times, sort of a disappointment of what's happened and using it as a metaphor of the circumstances of this country and what people are going through."

The song that follows is the unstoppably optimistic "I'm Alive," an ebullient mantra for a rocker who hadn't released a U.S. studio album in 19 years. But some new songs -- notably "Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me Home" and "In God's Waiting Room" -- address aging and mortality.

"It's a natural thing," Jeffreys said. "You reach a certain age and you start to think about yourself. This is where the whole issue of family -- my daughter, my wife -- am I going to be a burden?

"I realize with the Hooker song that I have the capacity to look at this with a sense of humor even though it's a serious issue. I think maybe John Lee would have laughed at it, too." - Minneapolis Star Tribune


Posted by Jim Morrison on June 6, 2011 at 5:00pm

"I'm on the 90-year-plan," Garland Jeffreys cracks.

When you’re helping to raise a 15-year-old daughter and your first album in 13 years is about to hit the market, there’s a reason to map out an ambitious future.

Jeffreys has been playing the occasional festival in Europe and the odd stateside show here and there over the last decade, but mostly what he’s been is a full partner with his wife, Claire, raising their daughter, Savannah, in New York.

"She's benefited from two parents who've been around," he adds. "I didn't see any reason to have a child and raise a child if you weren't going to be around."

She’s learned well, giving the old man a run for his money. She has a fan following on Youtube and a solo gig at The Bitter End later this month. "We're raising an entrepreneurial rock and roller," he says from his apartment near the East Village. ""That's what you've got to be today."

With Savannah Jeffreys well on her way, it's time for dad to get back in the game, something Jeffreys does emphatically with "The King of In Between," an effort worth the long wait.

"I wanted to make an album that means something," he says. "I've really set the standards high and I've struggled at times to make songs that would work and are representative of me and what I'm thinking."

The album features his strongest material since 1991's "Don't Call Me Buckwheat," one of the signature discs of that decade. Jeffreys typically moves easily through rock and roll, reggae, and folk blues as the melodic foundation for his mix of personal history and social commentary.

"It's very simple," he says. "The music I grew up with and listened to my whole life is coming through me when I'm working." That's everything from Frankie Lymon to Dinah Washington to The Band to Dylan to Hank Williams and Motown.

"Some artists are easily recognized," he adds. "Every song can sound the same on an album. I'm the opposite. I like the idea of trying to come up with a sequence of songs that are different from one another and make it work. That's the challenge."

For the album, Jeffreys called in favors from friends old and new. Steve Jordan plays drums, Brian Mitchell mans the keys, Mike Merritt is on bass and most of the guitar parts are played by Duke Levine and Larry Campbell. "One of the key things I say to these guys is I have no money," Jeffreys says, chuckling. "They don't call me for a month after that. But they understand. Any time someone asks me to sing on an album, I do it for free. You have to help out one another."

Jeffreys called up Campbell, who he'd met in passing over the decades, and asked him to drop by his apartment to hear a few songs. The idea was for Campbell to contribute guitar and violin. But when they started recording, the two got along so well that Campbell became the album's co-producer.

"I think the common thread -- what I'm always looking for -- is an honest interpretation of who you are," Campbell adds, the morning after he'd played another one of Levon Helm's Midnight Rambles upstate. "He does that really well. The genre isn't important. It's about being true to yourself and expressing that. If that's there, then I'm in."

Campbell's favorite cut on the disc is "Streetwise," a slice of string-fueled Philly soul laid behind Jeffreys' reflections on the world his child faces. Jeffreys suggested Campbell arrange the strings. Instead, he came into the studio one day with two violins and began laying down the string parts. "He doesn't get off the seat for four hours," Jeffreys recalls. "He lays down al lthe strings himself. I'd never seen anything like it before. The guy is amazing."

Even Campbell says: "I think we really nailed something there. I think we really crystallized Garland's initial vision of that tune."

Jeffreys did return to the strudio for a couple of cuts because he felt there wasn't enough energy on the record. One, "Coney Island Winter," kicks off the album with ringing rock guitars and a deadpan delivery that owes a little to Jeffreys' longtime friend, Lou Reed, who he met while a student at Syracuse University in the 1960s (Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals was another running mate there).

Other cuts like "All Around the World" and "The Contortionist," featuring Reed and Savannah Jeffreys on background vocals, dip into reggae. "'Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me" is a a shuffle that would make ZZ Top proud.

"Sooner or later gonna dust my broom," he sings. It's one of two songs on the album about facing mortality; the other is "In God's Waiting Room." "Here I am loving the song. I check with Larry and Steve and they think it's great. I bring it home and my wife and daughter hate it," he says. "I'm not connecting with the idea it could mean I'm going to die. I'm thinking about what a great song it is."

Jeffreys admits he's been wondering recently if he'll live long enough to be around when his daughter makes her first record or gets married. "I'm not planning on leaving any moment too soon," he says. "I'm healthy. I have no illnesses."

The songs were written over the last five years and many were played live in the studio with the band. "There's nothing like having a great band, a great bunch of players," Jeffreys says. "You go over it, you get the chords straight and lay the track down, vocals at the same time, and there it is. You can add a couple of things afterwards."

There is a sweetness as well as a toughness to his writing. The album explores the New York of his youth and of today, moving from remembrances of Coney Island to what he sees on the street outside his Stuyvesant Town apartment, where he says he likes to go down and sit in the park and shot the breeze.

As always, Jeffreys explores race and identity, which he addressed directly on "Don't Call Me Buckwheat," notably with "Hail, Hail Rock 'N' Roll" and “The Color Line.”

Jeffreys himself found it hard to fit in (listen to “I May Not Be Your Kind’). His father was the product of black and white parents. His grandmother was Puerto Rican. His grandfather was part Native American. He was raised Catholic, the only family of color in church.

"There was the awkwardness of being different," he says, singing a line from "Spanish Blood:" "Say you're Spanish; say you're Spanish blood."

That's what he did as a youth, pass as Spanish, not black. "I would hide and get through," he adds, hiding in his own skin.

And he notes that his daughter is a mixture of races as well and "lives in a world that is totally accepting. She said to me, 'Dad, that's your problem, not mine.' "

“I absolutely love to see my daughter with her friends hanging out on the basketball court with all kinds of kids,” he adds. “It’s that way now.”

Jeffreys started singing in kindergarten. He remembers crooning "Do the Huckle Buck," offering a few lines during the interview. When he was older, he sang "It's Almost Tomorrow" at an assembly. "That was it, man," he says remembering. "That was the way a career started."

After studying at Syracuse and abroad in Italy, he dropped out of graduate school and started a band. He moved upstate for a while, then returned to the city.

In 1973, he released his first solo album, “Garland Jeffreys.” A single not on the album, "Wild in the Streets," became an FM radio hit. Among those who played on the tune were Dr. John and the Brecker Brothers.

His biggest hit came later in the 1970s with "Matador" off the "American Boy and Girl" album. The tune hit the top of the charts in several European countries. "It came out in '79 and it still produces revenue and helps provide for our lifestyle," he says. "I wish every songwriter has one of these."

Most of his catalog is out of print, but he intends to get them back on the shelves and online in the next few months.

Jeffreys turns 68 this month, but he looks and sounds much younger. Being a songwriter hasn't been easy over the past decade. He's remained big in Europe; he'll play festivals in Spain and Belgium this summer with his Europe-based band, The Coney Island Playboys. But he'll focus more on playing in the States, building again a fan base.

Jeffreys headed upstate to play a Midnight Ramble with Helm and Campbell a few weeks ago, closing the show with a sing-along of “The Weight.” "I'm glad he's doing it again," Campbell says. "You can see he's got all that enthusiasm and fire. He just gives it up. He's the real thing." - No Depression


In a long career that so far has never quite jelled into all it could be, Garland Jeffreys has made some good records and one great one, 1977's Ghost Writer. He also wrote and recorded a memorably savvy and eccentric rocker, 1973's "Wild in the Streets," that managed to be both ebullient and cautionary.

That he's never really had the success he deserved, or tried so hard to attain, hasn't deterred or embittered him, though it has slowed him down. The King of In Between, on his own Luna Park label, besides being his best album since Ghost Writer, is his first one featuring new material since 1997's Wildlife Dictionary, which itself was released only in Europe.

But Jeffreys has stayed true to and been sustained by those parts of his identity that have fueled his music - his mixed-race background, Brooklyn rearing, college studies in art history, keen interest in literature, friendship with Velvets Lou Reed and John Cale, love of rock, reggae, blues and R&B. And, crucially important, his faith in New York as a potential urban promised land.

For The King of In Between, Jeffreys has found a supportive spirit in co-producer Larry Campbell, the former guitarist for Bob Dylan who has guided Levon Helm's comeback. Campbell doesn't force a uniform sound on Jeffrey's songs. Rather, he lets Jeffreys choose the approach - unpretentious but energetic roots-rock, reggae, Curtis Mayfield-style soul, rockabilly - and then records the musicians (Jeffreys plays acoustic guitar) to give each track a crisp instrumental dimensionality that avoids slickness or bombast. (The opening song, the driving yet intimate "Coney Island Winter," was produced by Jeffreys and Mark Bosch, and is one of the album's best.)

But the album's strongest element is Jeffreys, himself. Since Ghost Writer, he has had a tendency to flatten out his melodies to accommodate his storytelling. But here, the songs have perfect chord changes at perfect moments, giving them just the right tuneful lilt or bite to support his voice and message. And his singing - gruff yet honeyed, soulfully emotional and capable of sass or yearning, humor or heartfelt wisdom - is top-notch. He saves his highest-register yelps for the most powerful moments, as on "God's Waiting Room" (which mentions both Staple Singers and the Teardrop Explodes, revealing his wide frame of reference.) As a compassionate Boomer rocker who sees the American dream reflected in his own life, on this album he gives Springsteen a run for the money.

The writing, too, is strong, expressing the concerns and fears of a rocker in his late 60s, but also being defiantly hopeful about the future. But there's nothing obviously sentimental, or easy, in his observations. They seem hard-earned, a result of the life he's led. "Coney Island Winter" uses sharply descriptive imagery of that Brooklyn amusement park in winter as a metaphor for systems shutting down, and ends with Jeffreys announcing, "I'm on a mission of my own/Don't wanna die on stage/With a microphone in my hand." As if to underscore that, the song leads into the super-rousing "I'm Alive."

On "The Contortionist," with Lou Reed adding backing vocals, Jeffreys finds an apt circus metaphor for the balancing act of surviving the excesses of the rock ‘n' roll scene in order to keep living close to the music he loves. And in the celebratory rockabilly strut of "Rock and Roll Music," it's clearly evident he still loves it - and is still really good at it. In the ska-like "Roller Coaster Town," it's also clearly evident he loves New York.

One reason Ghost Writer was such a strong album was its ability to mine the darker, melancholy, drifting-blues side of reggae, without being shallowly imitative. On "The Beautiful Truth," he draws on that again, helped by Duke Levine's wah-wah guitar and solid drums and bass of Steve Jordan and Mike Merritt.

The King of In Between isn't perfect. "'Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me" is too blatant in showing its Hooker boogie-blues shuffle and is musically dull; a remake of David Essex's "Rock On" has a processed sound at odds with the rest of the record.

But overall, with this album Jeffreys joins a group of other rock-oriented recording artists of a certain age - Alejandro Escovedo, Willie Nile, Elliott Murphy - who, while never being hit-makers, see what they do as being as legitimate and important as blues or folk or country. They're one important reason why good, solid rock ‘n' roll is a permanent fixture of the American musical landscape, whether or not it's in fashion at any given moment. As the Showmen put it long ago, and I'm sure Jeffreys knows it, "rock and roll will stand."

DOWNLOAD: "Coney Island Winter," "The Beautiful Truth"
STEVEN ROSEN - Blurt


Garland Jeffreys either has a lot to be thankful for or a shit load to be bitter about. At 68-years-old, sometimes the years can blur your perspective on the experiences, making it difficult to delineate the two. He’s watched his college chum Lou Reed go on to become a cult figure in the art rock pantheon. He legally relinquished his first band’s moniker to another band shortly after their debut release on Vanguard Records. He’s collaborated with an enviable and diverse list of legends that includes Dr. John, James Taylor, Bernard Purdie, John Cale, and David “Fathead” Newman. In the 38 years since the dawn of his solo recording career, he’s issued a mere 10 studio albums – eight of which were stateside releases. Snagging major label deals with the likes of Atlantic, A&M, Epic, and RCA, most of his albums never ventured beyond the halfway mark of the Billboard 200. Rolling Stone named him 1977’s artist of the year. And for all his musical labor, he’s never been awarded a Grammy or a gold album plaque.

But still, there’s something to be said for a guy who still holds fast to the late 60s buck-the-system zeitgeist with lines like “Politicians, kiss my ass. Your promises, they break like glass.” After a 14-year hiatus from the U.S. market, Jeffreys releases the aptly titled The King Of In Between. Peddling pre-Giuliani NYC street noir chronicles and bluesy busker tales of woe and wisdom, Jeffreys’ latest offering finds him staunchly straddling the fence of his paradoxical status as a revered industry enigma and unsung underdog. The lyric above is taken from the anthemic opener “Coney Island Winter,” which plays like an impassioned would-be closing theme from the cult film The Warriors that got left on the cutting room floor. On “Til’ John Lee Hooker Calls Me,” Jeffreys laments the personal effects and honors the contributions of the kings of music’s bygone era over a whiskey-worn Chicago blues romp.

Replete with melodramatic string accents and a relentless backbeat, “Streetwise” pulses along like a close cousin to Etta James’ 1974 funky dystopic tale “Out On The Street Again.” For those who may be a bit confused as to the lane he’s traveling in, Jeffreys spells it out loud and clear on “Love Is Not A Cliché” with the opening lyric “I like my folk, I like my jazz, I like my R&B/ I love my rock & roll with a dash of soul and a funky beat/ I like a message in my sound…” Helmed by Jeffreys and longtime Bob Dylan co-conspirator and Grammy-winning producer Larry Campbell, The King Of In Between is a solid exhibition of Jeffreys’ troubadour style in fine form. While the album doesn’t contain the sort of firepower evidenced in his 1980 smash “Matador” or the propulsive crowd favorite “Wild In The Streets,” it’s quite possible that this commendable set could garner Jeffreys his first Grammy – or at the very least his first nomination. Whatever the case, it’s apparent that the venerable Jeffreys is quite comfortable sitting atop his throne of between.

- Rico a.k.a. Superbizzee - okayplayer.com


By Franklin Soults

Garland Jeffreys is touring behind his new album, “The King of In Between.’’
When Martin Luther King stood at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 and spoke of “the fierce urgency of now,’’ he also unwittingly encapsulated the thrill of what was then often called “youth music,’’ from R&B to folk to rock ’n’ roll. For decades, the myth endured that only youth could create this fierce urgency because “now’’ was their time; indeed, it was the only time they’d ever known.
Over the past few decades, however, aging pop musicians have shown they can claim “now’’ with a different kind of urgency, in part because it’s the only time they have left. Bob Dylan - the major voice of youth in 1963 - made the most of this unavoidable truth in 1997 on his Grammy-winning rattle at death, “Time Out of Mind.’’ With more or less fanfare, other artists have followed suit. Paul Simon made this year’s most celebrated return to form on “So Beautiful Or So What,’’ released as he neared 70.
But no senior musician has demonstrated the urgency of 2011 with as much youthful fierceness as 68-year-old Garland Jeffreys on “The King of In Between.’’ On Saturday, Jeffreys comes to Johnny D’s bearing the album’s uncommonly alive combination of R&B, folk, and rock ’n’ roll, not to mention of blues, reggae, and hints of jazz.
The album matches this musical reach with its conceptual range. The ringing opening rocker, “Coney Island Winter,’’ sums it up with a rush of half-spoken imagery: “All the games are broken down/ Rust is falling to the ground.’’ At once, Jeffreys is referencing the declining amusement park near his childhood home, his own aging, and the economic crisis gripping America.
“That song really sets the stage,’’ Jeffreys says by phone from his Manhattan apartment. “You look out and you know that people are not in good shape. People are suffering.’’
After a 13-year absence, “The King of In Between’’ finds Jeffreys in apparently excellent shape, talking about what everyone sees but few popular musicians mention, and dealing with his own aging with equal parts acceptance, humor, and defiance.
“A lot of people have written articles where they go ‘Garland is talking about death,’ ’’ says Jeffreys with a slow, warm laugh, like some avuncular Brooklyn cabbie. “He is! That doesn’t mean I’m dead yet! Don’t bury me!’’
The point is driven home on the album’s second song, another open-chord anthem titled “I’m Alive.’’ In the chorus, Jeffreys repeats the title phrase in rapid succession until it turns into a blur of syllables. This unabashed, poetic abandon comes as a jolt in the age of perpetual irony. It’s a vibrant reminder of the redemptive, romantic rush of New York-area rock in the pre-punk 1970s, where Jeffreys first made his name. By the time of his masterful 1981 album, “Escape Artist,’’ he seemed ready for a spot in the pantheon between Bruce Springsteen and his college buddy Lou Reed (both of whom helped with the record).
But he also called the album “Escape Artist’’ for a reason. Even then, Jeffreys strained so much against packaging that the LP included a bonus EP featuring collaborations with reggae greats Linton Kwesi Johnson and Big Youth.
“Bruce and I are friends,’’ Jeffreys admits. “Maybe we come from the same working class background on some level. I think he suffered some of the stuff I did with the kinds of fathers we had, and stuff like that. But I didn’t grow up with the band thing.’’
The son of a Puerto Rican mom and an African-American dad, Jeffreys grew up, instead, as the artistic offspring of Martin Luther King and Dylan. The cover of “The King of In Between’’ shows Jeffreys standing at the corner of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King boulevards in Harlem, near his father’s childhood home. And Jeffreys coproduced the disc with longtime Dylan guitarist Larry Campbell, for results more intimate than on “Escape Artist,’’ yet more biting than on Jeffreys’s soulful early albums like “Ghost Writer,’’ which made him Rolling Stone magazine’s “Best New Artist’’ of 1977.
“Like the title of the album states, I felt in between the races,’’ Jeffreys says, reflecting on his childhood. “I did not want to be in one race or another; and I knew this somehow early, early on. See, now people talk in terms of multiracial. You didn’t talk about multiracial in my day - you were either black, or white. But there was a tremendous variety, as there is now, you know? People want to be seen today as their full self.’’
Released on his own Luna Park imprint, “King of In Between’’ also helps Jeffreys discover the fullness of life in a new digital century, with a more direct connection to his fans and a new sense of freedom and excitement about recording.
“I feel like I’m starting anew,’’ he says, adding, “Well, I’ll tell ya, I don’t think I can wait another 13 years for the next album." - The Boston Globe


Garland Jeffreys is one of the survivors of rock and roll: a star in the early seventies, a respected veteran through the eighties and nineties, and now an aging if still vital rocker mounting a comeback. “The King of In Between,” Jeffreys’s new album, has all the fire of early anthems like “Wild in the Street” and “Ghost Writer,” including his trademark mix of rock, reggae, and R. & B., but with the contemplative, almost autobiographical lyrics of mid-period work like “Don’t Call Me Buckwheat.” From “Coney Island Winter,” an anthem about the singer’s home borough, to philosophical meditations like “The Beautiful Truth” and “The Contortionist,” Jeffreys demonstrates that aging gracefully in rock-and-roll life is not only possible, but preferable; this week in the magazine Ben Greenman writes that if “rock and roll is like a religion for heretics … Jeffreys has been a true unbeliever for decades.” - The New Yorker


BY JIM FARBER
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

Up and down the boardwalk of Coney Island lies Garland Jeffreys' past.
As we walk by the bars, tourists and barkers, he can't stop pointing out the places he's been - the alley where he used to work as a kid, the spot where his dad and uncle used to swim out so far it made him both excited and scared, the underpass where he used to meet a girl whose mom didn't approve of him.
"It's all here," he says. "But you know, nothing is the same."
How could it be? The memories Jeffreys conjures stretch back 50 years now, to a childhood spent working and playing on Coney Island, a short ride from his parents' home in Sheepshead Bay.
But, to Jeffreys, the place isn't only a nostalgia-magnet. It serves as both a metaphor and a muse for a cool new slew of songs.
"I was born a thousand yards from The Cyclone," he sings in "Roller Coaster Town," a piece about the topsy-turvy drama of the five boroughs.
"Twenty-two stops to the city," he recalls in "Coney Island Winter," tracing his ride from here to Bleecker St. for piano lessons starting at age 7. That's the same trip he would make as a teen to (illegally) enter jazz clubs where he'd see the great stars of the '50s and '60s, from Sonny Rollins (who later played with Jeffreys) to the late Carmen McCrae (who was a distant relative).
Such musings highlight "The King of In Between," Jeffreys' first album of new material in 14 years. It's not only one of his most clear, catchy and poetically rendered works, it's a terse reminder of his place in the story of New York rock.
In the mid-'70s, Jeffreys looked to be a major breakout star, with songs that captured the heat, humor and attraction of the city. Songs like "Wild in the Streets," (about a real life rape and murder in the Bronx), "35 Millimeter Dreams" and "Rough and Ready," became FM radio staples in their day, causing Rolling Stone to vote him "Best New Artist" of 1977.
The music also established Jeffreys as part of distinct New York sound in the mid-'70s, joined by artists like Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny and Willie Nile. They all fostered a brand of literate rock-soul that speaks very much of its day. "We all know each other," Jeffreys says, stopping for a drink on the boardwalk. "It's like we had the same family, in spirit. I first met Bruce in '72."
Jeffreys' 1980 album "Escape Artist," even featured members of the E Street Band. But the musician, now 67, never became the mainstream star here many predicted he would. (Most of his albums are out of print in the U.S.). He has enjoyed far more success in Europe.
Jeffreys' initial Euro connection came during college. He attended Syracuse University, something his dad had to work two jobs to fund. There, in the early '60s, Jeffreys met Lou Reed and the Rascals' Felix Cavaliere, who both remain friends. Jeffreys never liked the school, but he managed to finagle his way into spending several semesters studying in Florence, Italy.
"That had a profound effect on me," he says. "Here I was, a Brooklyn kid and I'm living with two Italian families studying the history of art in the Renaissance."
The families didn't speak English, which helped Jeffreys learn to speak fluent Italian. "I think I have a career in Europe mainly because of that experience," he says. "You can't just walk into that situation. There has to be some connection."
Albums he released in the '90s, like "Guts for Love" and "Don't Call Me Buckwheat," generated hits in places like France and Germany. In the U.S., they tanked.
Asked for theories why, Jeffreys pauses a spell before saying "you could speculate on a number of issues. I don't think I made enough mistakes for it not to happen. So, while I would have to take some responsibility, I think my responsibility is minor."
Certainly, not getting enough label support played a part.
When Jeffreys was readying 1977's "Ghost Writer" (the one that inspired those kudos from Rolling Stone), he says Jerry Moss, the head of A&M, his label at the time, didn't like it.
"He never heard anything like it, that's why he didn't like it," he says.
It's true that Jeffreys music can't be easily pinned down, creating a marketing challenge. His songs go from rock to soul to reggae with hints of jazz. His lyrics, meanwhile, can be confrontational as well as elliptical.
And his singing style has a definite New York swagger, a cool-speaking intimacy that flaunts convention.
Then there's the elephant in the room - the one that makes Jeffreys self-conscious to discuss: race. He's the child of an African-American father and a Puerto Rican mother, not the most common background for a potential rock star, especially in the '70s and '80s.
"Too black to be white, too white to be black," he says with a laugh. "I don't want to lean on that issue but it's part of the issue, no question."
It became even more of one in 1992 when the record company fought him on the "Don't Call Me Buckwheat" title. The name came from an incident at Shea Stadium, where he was seeing a game. When he stood up to get a hot dog someone yelled at him, "Hey Buckwheat, sit down!"
"They didn't want to put [the album] out in America, Jeffreys explains. "Paul Simon is a buddy of mine and I asked him, 'Would you remove the title?' He said, 'You can't.' I probably wouldn't have anyway, but he gave me that little bit of charge."
Meanwhile the album sold big in places like Holland and Belgium. Given his frustrations with major U.S. labels (having burned through just about every one), it's small wonder Jeffreys decided not to pursue one for the new CD.
"I finally let go," he says.
Instead he and his wife are issuing it out on their own imprint named for the classic Coney Island attraction Luna Park.
As to why it took 14 years to make the CD, Jeffreys says "It's easy to get gun shy. I have a lot of friends and allies in the business. They didn't call my dance card. What can I say?"
The CD's title, "The King of In Between," refers not only to Jeffery's mixed race background, but also to his taste in music, which falls squarely between several genres. "I've been between from day one," he says, smiling.
Like Jeffreys' best songs, the new ones favor a crisp, clean sound, leaving lots of space for the singer to air his deadpan hipster-speak. The lyrics have a great sense of place, grounded in the intoxicating and daunting urban sprawl. But there's a new motif this time: mortality. Jeffreys can express defiance in the face of it ("I'm Alive") or wittily embrace it ("In God's Waiting Room").
"Death - there's no question, it's there," Jeffreys says. "I'll be 68 this year and I have this young kid, who's 15. You can't get away from that. In one song I say, 'I don't wanna die on stage with a microphone in my hand.' But I'm thinking I might be willing to."
Especially since he's having such fun playing the new material of late. Offstage, Jeffreys says he lives happily in Stuyvesant Town with his daughter, Savannah (who also sings and writes) and his wife of 30 years. Yet, he still makes the trek out to Sheepshead Bay and Coney once a year, to see his old school and workplace and playground.
"I like to make the whole old route," he says as he gets up to take the subway 22 stops back to the Village. "This place is in me. And now, in the music, it's coming back out." - New York Daily News


Discography

1 The King of In Between (2011)
2 I'm Alive (2006)
3 Wildlife Dictionary (1997)
4 Don't Call Me Buckwheat (1992)
5 Matador and More (1992)
6 Guts for Love (1983)
7 Rock 'n' Roll Adult (1981)
8 Escape Artist (1981)
9 American Boy and Girl (1979)
10 One-Eyed Jack (1978)
11 Ghost Writer (1977)
12 Garland Jeffreys (1973)
13 Grinder's Switch Featuring Garland Jeffreys (1970)

Photos

Bio

GARLAND JEFFREYS

A Brooklyn native “who could fairly be called the quintessential New York City musician” (East Hampton Star), “a confessional singer-songwriter” (New York Times), and “an explorer of the links between rock, race and rebellion (New Yorker), after a long hiatus Garland Jeffreys came roaring back into the spotlight with 2011’s The King of In Between. “As good a classic roots rock record as you’re going to hear from anybody” (NPR) the album earned raves and led to his second appearance on David Letterman as well as sharing the stage with pals Bruce Springsteen, Levon Helm and Chuck Ragan. The experience fueled a creative revitalization for Jeffreys, whose ebullient, late-stage creative energy colors every note of his most recent release, Truth Serum (2013).

Starting out in Greenwich Village clubs in the mid Sixties, Jeffreys first recorded in 1969. He continued honing his craft over a number of albums and in 1980 the song “Matador” hit # 1 in numerous European countries and is still a radio staple today. In 1981 he broke though to American audiences with Escape Artist and in 1992 released the searing Don’t Call Me Buckwheat, his reflections on being multi-racial in America.

Jeffreys has long held the respect of his peers and the breadth of contributors to his albums reflect that respect as well as his genius for musical genre-bending: Dr. John, The E Street Band, John Cale, Michael Brecker, Larry Campbell, The Rumour, James Taylor, Luther Van Dross, Phoebe Snow, David Sanborn, Sly & Robbie, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Lou Reed among many more. With a string of critically acclaimed records and radio hits including "Wild in the Streets" and his cover of the garage rock classic "96 Tears" it's a testament to both the broad appeal and durability of Jeffreys' music that his songs have been covered by hardcore punk legends The Circle Jerks (whose version of “Wild in the Streets” is a skater anthem), psych-folkies Vetiver and jazz trumpeter Randy Brecker. His songs have been featured in numerous TV shows and commercials and “Wild in the Streets” will be heard in a forthcoming Baz Luhrmann-helmed Netflix series.

What people are saying about Garland’s legendary high-octane performances:

· Delivered a lean, mean showcase set with the grace and class that one has come to expect from him — SXSW, Austin Chronicle

· His live performances and his joy for life are undiminished. He will still jump from the stage and strut through the audience. When one story ends there's always another about to begin... — No Depression

· His live shows often cross the line between performance and full-on party — Elmore Magazine

· Deserves the status of American legend — The Guardian

Recently inducted into the NY Blues Hall of Fame (and previously featured in the Wim Wenders blues film “The Soul of a Man”), recipient of the prestigious Schallplattenkritik Prize in Germany and the Tenco and Premio Prizes in Italy, performing at world-class festivals such as Byron Bay Blues, Montreux Jazz, Ottawa Folk, Calgary Folk and Fuji Rock, and at venues from Alaska to Japan, almost fifty years into his storied career Garland Jeffreys has no intention of slowing down.

“Before Beck, there was Garland Jeffreys.” — Toronto Star

“Had he been born earlier, Mr. Jeffreys could have had a career as a jazz singer…had he been born later, he might have been a peer to Citizen Cope and Ben Harper, who mix up their playlists and benefit from followings not bound by the dictates of radio.” — Wall Street Journal

Band Members