Errorhead | Biography

  • Roachford

Garland Jeffreys "The King of In Between"Many critics hail Garland Jeffreys as one of the most underrated musicians in the history of rock. It is easy to understand why, this New York music legend finally having returned to the fray after years of artistic abstinence. "The King of In Between“ is Garland Jeffreys' first studio album for 13 years  - and in the USA, where the album appeared last year, the latest work from the grand seigneur of urban poetry has received rapturous praise, even rating as his best since the classic "Ghost Writer" from 1977. Garland Jeffreys, best known for his cult hits "Wild In The Street" (often covered and recently performed live by Jeffreys with Bruce Springsteen) and "Matador" (1980), is at the top of his game. "The King of In Between" – the title alludes to Jeffreys' mixed Afro-American, Puerto-Rican and Cherokee origins as well as his stubborn refusal to be pigeon-holed – is an impressively mature opus.“I’ve always been hard to slot, I guess,” says Jeffreys.
“These songs were written over a few years and it wasn’t until the album was finished that I realized they all talk about disenfranchisement, of feeling marginalized in some way or another. That’s the meaning of the title. It doesn’t pertain only to being biracial, though that will always be a part of who I am, but to how many people around the world today feel like they’re literally falling through the cracks.”Apart from stepping up as a spokesman for those who find themselves on the margins of our society – more on his extensive social involvement later – on "The King of In Between" Garland Jeffreys also repeatedly astounds the listener with a stylistic diversity that is taboo for most artists – for fear of finding themselves out on a limb, no doubt. The common thread that holds "The King of In Between" together is Jeffreys' hallmark upbeat falsetto voice and the urgency with which he puts across his trenchant lyrics homing in on social topics. The opener, "Coney Island Winter", sees him laying into politicians, for example: "say they're going to fix this town / jobs are gone, they came and went / all the money has been spent / all the games are broken down". Also on the agenda are the USA in the wake of the international financial crisis ("All Around The World") and his own mortality ("In God's Waiting Room") – lending the album an almost elegiac quality.    Jeffreys lives out his diverse musical passions to the full on "King of In Between"  in clear and lucid, masterful and supremely confident form. From reggae (he recorded "All Around The World" with Junior Marvin from the Wailers!) through blues ("'Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me") and Ska ("She's A Killer") to rip-roaring rock songs ("I'm Alive") and Philly sound à la Curtis Mayfield with a cineastic touch ("Streetwise"). "Love Is Not A Cliché" has shades of Bob Dylan, while "The Beautiful Truth" tilts its hat to Elvis Costello. On "The Contortionist", which exudes the charm of a Stones evergreen, he teams up with his old friend Lou Reed, with whom he attended art college in his early years. But whatever the influences, every song truly hits home in its own right, co-produced by Larry Campbell and mixed by the legendary Record Plant Studio engineer Roy Cicala (Lennon, Springsteen) .

Magnificent songwriting imbued with fine, quite erudite social criticism.  National Public Radio included "Coney Island Winter", the single which Jeffreys delivered in scintillating form on the Letterman Show, in its best of 2011 list, describing it as the best song by Bruce Springsteen not written by the Boss himself. It could equally be argued that the number bears all the stoic hallmarks of a Velvet Underground song. Whatever, it demonstrates Garland Jeffreys' timeless class once again.  The video for "Coney Island Winter" is a homage to a time that once was, captured in wonderful black and white imagery, a declaration of love for a district which is closely tied to Jeffreys' autobiography and whose decline becomes a metaphor for an entire country here. Garland Jeffreys will always be something rare in rock history – a seldom seen chameleon oozing charisma.

Coming from a humble background, in his early years Garland Jeffreys studied art in New York and Italy. After gathering initial experience with bands in the 1960s, in the seventies he recorded his first solo albums – "Garland Jeffreys" (1973), "Ghost Writer" (1977), "One Eyed Jack" (1978) and "American Boy & Girl" (1979). "Escape Artist" appeared in 1980 – a highly rock'n'roll-orientated album which spawned a couple of airplay hits in the guise of "R.O.C.K." and the cover version of "96 Tears". The album "Guts For Love" (1983) was followed by a break of several years. 1992 saw a surprise comeback with the emphatically political album "Don't Call Me Buckwheat", from which "Hail Hail Rock'n'Roll" went on to become a distinctly modern hit, its bold production somewhat reminiscent of Massive Attack. His last studio album, "Wildlife Dictionary" (1997), was only released in Europe. His extensive studio work and concerts with other musicians deserve to be mentioned, including such diverse artists as Stan Getz and Dr. John, James Taylor and Sonny Rollins, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Phoebe Snow, John Cale and Sly & Robbie. A "musician's musician" if ever there was one. His protracted creative abstinence was primarily down to very personal reasons.

Above all, Jeffreys devoted a great deal of time to his daughter and her education. “Walking with her through Stuyvesant Park, taking her to pre-school in the morning, both of us singing at the top of our lungs, were some of my most treasured times. I really wanted to be there for her.” In recent years, he’s been performing in both Europe and the States, working with two bands, and acoustically with his long time accompanist Alan Freedman. “I enjoy performing more and more, and I love hanging out with the audience after the show. It’s nothing like the old days, when it wasn’t cool to do that.” He’s been a part of numerous benefits for organizations such as the annual Light of Day Concert in Asbury Park, and Solidays in France, an AIDS awareness event, as well as more grass-roots efforts such as last spring’s community-sponsored Rock for Haiti concert to benefit Doctors Without Borders and shows to help with medical expenses for Alejandro Escovedo and Arthur Lee of Love. Most recently he returned to The Irish Rock Revue to benefit Bowery Mission and joined New York Hospitals and Health Corporation’s first concert series to raise funds for much needed hospital equipment. He’s also taken his message of racial tolerance into middle and high schools.So Garland Jeffreys has plenty of reasons to be proud of himself. As a caring father, he was content to put his career on hold for many years (marginal note: apart from featuring as a background singer alongside Lou Reed on "The Contortionist", daughter Savannah is also on show as a promising young musical talent on the internet, where she presents some of her own songs on youtube). At the same time, he has preserved his vitality and his compelling poetic drive, cultivating these strengths to perfection on "The King of In Between".

“I’m at a wonderful point in my life. I couldn’t be happier with the new record. It’s been a labour of love and it’s completely true to me, a real reflection of everything I stand for.” It's really good to know that such steadfast musicians who cling unfalteringly to their musical convictions are still around. Take it as read that the man who studied renaissance art in Florence in his youth is all set to enact his own renaissance as a top-flight all-round musician in Europe.