From the start of his career in the 1960s, where he played many of the same folk venues that gave rise to a young Bob Dylan, all the way to the recent release of his new album The King of In Between one point about singer and songwriter Garland Jeffreys has remained constant.
With tracks like “Hail Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “The Answer,” and “Don’t Call Me Buckwheat” already to his credit the former Syracuse University student continues to be a fearless social commentator and an artist who’s showing no signs of slowing down even as the specter of old age begins to creep up on him.
Instead, Jeffreys appears ready for a career resurgence of sorts. Many of the songs on his new record are brimming with energy, and at least one features an old college friend who brings his dry vocal style to the proceedings in typical understated fashion. That friend of course is none other than Lou Reed, and even though he and Jeffreys have become the elder statesmen of a music scene they once tried to turn upside down, the experience they bring to lines like “I used to be a contortionist/ And now I know what it really means” make them just as vital as ever.
Fortunately, with just a few days remaining before his rare appearance in the Paradise City the Underground got the chance to catch up with Jeffreys via e-mail and asked him his thoughts on the death of fellow artist Gil Scott-Heron, why he spent 13 years between record releases, and what he thinks now of perhaps his biggest hit “Wild in the Streets.”
Underground: First off, what are your thoughts on the recent passing of poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron? Some critics have drawn comparisons between the two of you in terms of subject matter and influence. How do you feel about the comparisons drawn between the two of you as artists/ musicians?
Jeffreys: Gil-Scott was (and still is) a great force for freedom of black people throughout the world. This goes without saying. I began my journey for people of color, and justice for all mankind regardless of race during the mid sixties as well. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and some of the great jazz musicians of the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s were role models for both of us. There are surely similarities in our points of view. We spent time together here and there but never any long visits or get togethers...a radio show, a TV appearance, hooking up backstage, that kind of thing. In the end you might say our philosophies crossed paths from time to time. It's an honor to be compared with him.
Who are some other artists that you would consider to be your contemporaries?
Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Lou Reed, Arther Lee, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, Vernon Reid, Levon Helm, Paul Griffin, Dr. John, Rolling Stones and so many more.
What are the reasons behind the 13 year gap between your latest album The King of In Between and your previous release Wildlife Dictionary, which was only released in Europe?
My daughter Savannah was born in 1996. My wife and I wanted to be the best parents we could be, raising her with both of us present instead of my always being on the road and preoccupied. The music and the business are second to family!
What are some themes you are currently exploring on the new record and on the road?
Economic inequality, the realities of life and death, how creativity is essential to us all, struggles of the working class and the great power of music are a few of them.
Watch the video for “Coney Island Winter” off The King of In Between here:
Do you still get requests to play “Wild in the Streets” every night? What do you make of the success of that song now?
What might audiences expect from your show at the Iron Horse Music Hall on June 18?
My band and I will rock the IRON HORSE and YOU HAVE MY WORD. We are ready!!!!
Finally, what are some words of advice you have for young artists or others who are pursuing a career in music? How about some words of warning?
Stay with the music, keep writing, practicing, and PERFORMING. Lastly, control your music, start your own company, protect your copyrights and stay far away from record companies!
Garland Jeffreys perfoms June 18, 7 p.m., $20-25, Iron Horse Music Hall, 20 Center St., Northampton, (413) 586-8686, www.iheg.com/iron_horse_main.asp.
For more information or to see future tour dates please visit www.garlandjeffreys.com.