Garland Jeffreys is a true rock and roll survivor, having been a contemporary of Lou Reed before his Velvet Underground days, being a part of the legendary New York club scene in the ‘60s, achieving chart success in Europe and later in the U.S., and still touring to this day.
One of Garland’s songs, “Wild In The Streets,” has become something of an anthem for the skate community and has been covered by artists such as the Circle Jerks and Chris Spedding. His song “Matador” went Top 5 in a number of countries in Europe in the late ‘70s, and the early ‘80s saw him hit the U.S. charts with a cover of the song “96 Tears.” He released a new album in 2011, The King Of In Between, which made many critic’s top 10 lists.
Garland will be appearing at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park on Jan. 14, as part of the Light Of Day main event, which raises money for Parkinson’s Disease and features David Bromberg, Southside Johnny, Joe Grushecky, Willie Nile, John Eddie, Joe D’Urso and Lisa Bouchelle, among others, and will be hosted by Vinnie Pastore, of Sopranos fame. I asked Garland about his latest work and about his appearance at the show.
How did you come to be involved with the Light Of Day?
Well, it’s an interesting story. I met Bob Benjamin, and Bob and I became friends many years ago. Bob’s condition became apparent at the same time a very good friend of mine—actually two friends—became affected. One had ALS, and one had Parkinson’s. The one that had ALS, I got involved with him, helped him raise money for him and his family. He had several kids and he needed help. I was able to get a few people together, like Paul Simon and Dr. John, and we raised a couple hundred thousand for his urgent needs. Eventually he passed away. He was a very dear friend of ours.
Because of that, I was open to other situations. I’m in good health, fortunately. This other friend of mine had Parkinson’s, and he passed away around the same time I began to see Bob’s situation. He got involved with Bruce, and I’m friends with Bruce. I brought my friend around so he could feel more comfortable about himself. The real connections were my friends out on the Island, Mike, Dennis and then Bob. It’s such a worthy cause, and turns out to be a joyful experience. It’s a celebration, it always sells out. Of course, Bruce is always a cornerstone of it.
Have you been touring as much as usual?
I’m doing a lot of playing. I’m very happy with the new album. It’s really everything I wanted it to be. It’s really opened doors for me again. I’ve had a chance to do a lot of performing, and that’s what I’ll be doing until I can’t play anymore. I see myself playing forever, being out onstage, playing with all kinds of musicians, traveling everywhere. My daughter, a 15-year-old kid, is a musician, she’s really talented. It’s a family business. We have our own company called Luna Park Records, and we run it ourselves. It’s a lot of work, but we’re having a pretty good time.
Are you happy that your daughter [Savannah Rae Jeffreys] is following your footsteps, even though it’s such an unstable business to be in?
That‘s an interesting question. What is stable these days? That’s the first thing. Secondly, I now am completely clear that I have done the right thing as far as my own choice of career. I love to perform. I love to make an album. I love to play for other people. I have fans all over the world. I’ll be playing all over Europe soon, I’m going to Australia, and I’m playing the U.S., every small town, and there’s nothing better than getting onstage and giving everything you’ve got to an audience who paid to come to see you.
Does it bother you that even though you’re an acclaimed songwriter, many people in the U.S. know you for your cover of “96 Tears?”
“96 Tears” came out in 1981—my version of it—but I had been recording since ‘69, so I’ve had a lot longer career than “96 Tears.” And “Wild In The Streets” is the song that really put me on the map, in that it was truly my first rock and roll record. I had a song come out in Europe called “Matador” that was a huge record for me all over Europe. That was a song that really, in a certain way, continues to support me and my family. If you’re a songwriter, that’s a very important thing. Keep writing, you never know what’ll happen.
What artists influenced you?
I was influenced by jazz because my family always listened to it. Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington. I liked Ray Charles. I started listening to Little Richard. Probably my all-time favorite artist is Frankie Lymon. I grew up wanting to be like Frankie Lyman. We were about the same size. I loved Fats Domino. I liked Jerry Lee Lewis, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, all the great Motown singers, Smokey, The Temptations, David Ruffin. And then Dylan. Dylan was major influence.
Anything special planned for Light Of Day?
I do my stuff, in the sense of a lot of the people that come to Light Of Day are often people you’ve seen before, or they’ve seen you. What everybody tries to do at Light Of Day is show off their wares. You have a half hour, so maybe you can do seven or eight songs, so you do it to the best of your ability. Not so much to be competitive, but to try and shine. We’re all comrades in this particular event. We all have a particular feeling for each other, Bob Benjamin being at the center. We all love him, we admire him, and we all are amazed at him.
Garland Jeffreys will play Light Of Day at Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park on Jan. 14. For more information, go to lightofday.org or garlandjeffreys.com.