In Praise of Garland Jeffreys

In last Friday’s New Music post, I included a track from American artist Garland Jeffreys.  The song is called “14 Steps To Harlem”, from the forthcoming album of the same name.  I was pleased to include it in the post, thinking that it might encourage some people to check out his music.  But then I decided that embedding one of his songs in a post with a bunch of other artists isn’t enough.  Hence, this article.

Ever since I saw one of his videos on MTV back in 1992, I’ve been following the career of Garland Jeffreys.  As far as I’m concerned, he is one of the finest, and most important, musicians of the last five decades, but for most of this time, has unfortunately flown under the radar.  There’ll be no huge billboard sign on Times Square announcing the release of 14 Steps To Harlem, and the radio play for his new music will be few and far-between.  He deserves so much more.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Garland isn’t overly concerned with such commercial considerations, but I feel compelled to alert you to the album’s release.

Born and raised in Brooklyn NY, he attended Syracuse University, where he met Lou Reed, who was to become a lifelong friend.  Performing in New York City’s folk clubs, he also contributed guitar to John Cale’s 1969 album Vintage Violence, and recorded one album with the band Grinder’s Switch before releasing his self-titled debut album in 1973.  His second, Ghost Writer, featured the song “Wild In The Streets”, (recorded some years previously), which gained him significant radio airplay and made The Rolling Stones do a double-take:

Furious recording ensued over the next few years, and Jeffreys released five albums in as many years.  Race issues have always been at the core of his work, none more so than on the album Don’t Call Me Buckwheat, issued in 1992 following a five-year hiatus.  The album’s lead single was “Hail Hail Rock N Roll”, the video for which I saw on MTV, resulting in me devouring Jeffreys’ back catalogue.  Here he is performing it live in 2007 with special guest Lou Reed, and this video is worth watching for three reasons:

  1. The song is incredible, its lyrics reminding people that Rock N Roll came from black music
  2. Lou Reed on stage without a guitar round his neck, which looks quite odd
  3. The bromance.  Check out the bromance.

After Don’t Call Me Buckwheat, Garland didn’t release another album for six years, the wonderful Wildlife Dictionary, which collective dunderheads at RCA Records saw fit to only release in Europe.  There was another hiatus, and we had to wait another fourteen years for the next album, 2011’s astonishing The King Of Inbetween, released on an indie label.

Since then, Jeffreys released Truth Serum in 2013, and now we have the new album to look forward to on April 28th.  I urge you to buy his new album, your ears will thank you.  In the meantime, allow me to present a Garland Jeffreys primer, in the guise of a Spotify Playlist I’m calling Garlands For Garland.  

For some reason, Don’t Call Me Buckwheat isn’t available on Spotify, so here’s the title track

14 Steps To Harlem is released on April 28th through