Garland Jeffreys

Garland Jeffreys

1973, Atlantic Records

Garland Jeffreys - Debut Album on Atlantic Records

Track Title Time
1 Ballad Of Me 2:55
2 Harlem Bound 3:48
3 Calcutta Monsoon 4:52
4 Bound To Get Ahead Someday 3:43
5 Lovelight 4:16
6 She Didn’t Lie 5:50
7 True To Me 2:25
8 Lon Chaney 4:05
9 Eggs 5:03
10 Zoo 2:15
11 Midnite Cane 3:13

Liner Notes from 2006 Reissue:

GARLAND JEFFREYS, my very first solo recording, marked a new stage in my early music career. I’d prepared for this album by performing in the many small clubs, church basements, synagogues, homeless shelters, sleeper’s conventions, hootenannies, village scenes, as well as the various apartments I lived or often crashed in during those early days.

Signed to Atlantic Records, I had the great opportunity to meet and play with some very special musicians. That I was somewhat nervous in starting the sessions was an understatement. Meeting the great keyboardist and arranger” Paul Griffin, at that time was a godsend. Paul, as he did with so many musicians back then, befriended me and held my hand through the process. I will never forget my friend, and to him and Winston Grennan, I dedicate this album.

Garland Jeffreys

Some rock, some soul, some singer-songwriter folk-rock, a little bit of reggae – Garland Jeffreys was all those things on his self-titled 1973 debut on Atlantic Records. It might not have been enough of anyone of those things to find a big audience among fans of anyone of those styles, and his career with Atlantic lasted for just that one album. Fortunately, he was able to continue recording a few years later, gaining his widest notice with a series of albums in the late 1970s and early 1980s on A&M and Epic. The qualities that made him distinct among singer-songwriters, however, were already well in evidence on Garland Jeffreys, his debut as a featured solo performer.

Although Jeffreys was almost thirty when he recorded the album, he’d already built up a formidable resume as a performer, recording artist and songwriter. He’d become friendly with Lou Reed in the early 1960s while attending Syracuse University; formed bands such as Train and Mandor Beekman; written a song, “Fairweather Friend,” recorded by John Cale on his debut solo album Vintage Violence, and recorded with a band, Grinder’s Switch, that put out an album on Vanguard. He decided to focus on a solo career rather than work within a group, however, and by the early 1970s the guitarist was working live on his own, his only accompanist being fellow guitarist Alan Freedman.

Garland hooked up with Atlantic after being checked out live by label staff producer Michael Cuscuna, who’d co-produce Garland Jeffreys with the singer-songwriter. “When I had the afternoon show on WPLJ in New York, he called one day and said he really liked my show, and he’d love for me to hear him,” explains Cuscuna today. “At that time, he was playing fairly frequently at Kenny’s Castaways on the Upper East Side. So I went up there and it was just him and Alan Freedman. I was knocked out from the get-go. He told me he had been in Grinder’s Switch, which was an album that I was aware of, but it didn’t grab me, so I didn’t look into it at the time. I thought, ‘Where has this guy been?’ So when I left radio, I got a job as a staff producer at Atlantic, and one of the people I signed was Garland. I begged and pleaded; I said, ‘Let me just make a record with this guy. I think he’ll really do something. He’ll really be big.’

While Jeffrey and Freedman remained the core instrumentalists on the album, the songs were given a considerably fuller instrumental treatment in the studio with the help of numerous other musicians. “Garland is a kind of utilitarian guitarist in the sense that he can comp for himself, but little else,” continues Cuscuna. “So from the get-go, we agreed that we would treat each track as an individual case. At the time I was working with Bonnie Raitt, Chris Smither; Bonnie just was out with a bass player, and Chris was out alone. Those kind of people I like producing, because you build an arrangement around each song individually, and really think of the song; not the artist or the album, but the song itself. Garland’s roots were in the downtown rock scene and in folk music; my roots were more in jazz and R&B. So we brought two different communities to the table in terms of who we picked and who we selected to be on the record.”

Describing the accomplishments of the more illustrious contributors to the record would take up several liner notes, but it can be noted that a few of them – Dr. John (on piano and organ), David Bromberg (on dobro), and the Persuasions (on background vocals) – were highly esteemed recording artists in their own right. Richard Davis (on acoustic and electric bass), Chuck Rainey (electric bass), David “Fathead” Newman (tenor sax), and Mike Mainieri (vibraphone) were all respected jazz players; John Simon (piano) was a hot producer himself, having recently worked with the Band, Simon & Garfunkel, Big Brother & the Holding Company and Blood, Sweat & Tears; background vocalist Patti Austin would become an R&B star; fellow background singer Lori Burton had, with Pam Sawyer, written material for the Rascals, and would later sing on John Lennon’s hit “#9 Dream,” and keyboardist Paul Griffin had played on countless sessions, the most renowned being Bob Dylan’s mid-’60s albums.

“We were really sort of educating each other,” observes Cuscuna. “I didn’t know David Bromberg; knew a lot of the folkies, but not the New York folkies. I turned him on to a lot of the great studio musicians, the jazz musicians. Those were guys that I used regularly at Atlantic and thereafter. There was a core of musicians that Atlantic, among other people, used a lot – Paul Griffin, Dr. John, Richard Davis and Chuck Rainey on bass, and [drummers] Jimmy Johnson and Bemard Purdie, were among them. These are guys that came in on time, sight-read if they had to, but they could hear something and develop parts that were just really wonderful really quickly. And they were the kind of people that could create instant arrangements in a very short period of time, so they were just delights to work with.” Alan Freedman still remained a key contributor to the album on electric, acoustic slide and 12-string guitars. “Garland was an instinctive musician, and Alan was more of a trained musician,” says Cuscuna of Freedman’s role. “His contributions were sometimes just translating musical language to Garland. Alan was the one who fleshed out parts. And, thank god, in very subtle ways. He was never a flashy player at all. He was a very careful creative player, the way he came up with parts for each song.”

One of the most innovative facets of Garland Jeffreys was the use of reggae stylings on the track “Bound to Get Ahead Someday,” at a time when few musicians outside of Jamaica had tapped into the sound. That track, in fact, was recorded in Jamaica itself. “He said, ‘I want to record a couple of tunes in Jamaica” remembers Cuscuna. “And I said, ‘Shit, I’m game: I think the only reggae I knew was some of the tunes that were used in The Harder They Come, and of course Johnny Nash, which was kind of watered-down reggae. But we had a great time down there, and it was a wonderful education in a music that I knew very little about. Byron Lee owned the studio that we went to [Dynamic Sound in Kingston], ’cause he’d had a long-term relationship with Atlantic, distributing Atlantic there. They treated us like the pope and the queen of England were coming down.”’ Indeed, it was still quite a rare occasion for artists of the United States to be recording reggae-influenced music in the land of reggae’s birth, though Nash and Paul Simon had done some such recording prior to Jeffreys. (The other track recorded in Jamaica, “Midnite Cane,” was released only on the European version of the LP.)

Garland Jeffreys was well received in Rolling Stone by future New York Times pop music critic Stephen Holden, who enthused that the album “significantly narrows the line between soul and post-Dylan folk-rock. A still developing artist, Jeffreys is, firstly, a formidable lyricist whose best work is intimately autobiographical but engagingly so, i.e. above self-pity and below grandiosity. The album is a self-portrait, described in terse, suggestive language that is never forced. Images and ideas are strung together in a manner that shows Jeffreys’s assimilation and understanding of middle-period Dylan. But unlike his predecessor, Jeffreys does not communicate divine rage or attempt to extend social consciousness. His poetic sensibility is modest-so much so that the feelings he expresses are wonderfully child-like, alternately insecure and enthusiastic.”

But Garland Jeffreys did not make the charts, despite the performer landing the opening slot for his old friend Lou Reed on a few dates at the esteemed Philadelphia venue the Main Point in 1973. “The fact that that album didn’t catch on was one of the major disappointments of my career, even up to today,” laments Cuscuna, who has worked as a producer of numerous distinguished contemporary recordings and reissues over the past few decades, principally in the jazz world. “I didn’t get it. I don’t know why the hell it didn’t reach more people. It didn’t catch their ear. I really thought that ‘She Didn’t Lie’ was gonna be a big record for us, that was gonna drive the album. Bette Midler loved it, she wanted it, she almost cut it after she heard our version. But I suppose in retrospect, part of it might have been the same problem that Oscar Brown Jr. had. Both [were] very creative singer-songwriters, and their music was steeped in white traditions and black traditions. It wasn’t black music that could cross over to whites, and it wasn’t white music that could cross over pop for everybody. It was really like mulatto music, in a sense. I think the eclecticism of their aesthetic and their musical range maybe just left people confused. Another thing that may have hurt us, too, was the eclecticism of the album. But both of us were pretty addicted to eclecticism, and we weren’t gonna change that part of it.”

In the wake of the album’s disappointing performance, Atlantic would drop Jeffreys from the label. “He did one more single called ‘Wild in the Streets, and it was a lot more commercial, to my way of thinking,’ adds Cuscuna. “It didn’t catch on, and Garland was really just dispirited with the fact that Atlantic wasn’t doing what he thought they should, or that it wasn’t working. And at the time, around ’74, Atlantic was getting more and more corporate, ’cause they had been bought by Warners a few years earlier, and that was one of the times there was a big crackdown to reduce the roster. So it was just a mutual decision not to go forward. Garland took ‘Wild in the Streets’ with him, and put it on his first A&M album.” That record, Ghost Writer, did make the charts as the first of a half-dozen albums he’d release between 1977 and 1983. Though album releases have been more sporadic over the last two decades, he continues to perform today (see his website,, for info about his current activities).

“I just think he’s one of the most talented singer-songwriters, and from the beginning, had his own sound vocally and his own writing style,” summarizes Cuscuna. “I know he always put his all into it. It’s kind of a shame, even in retrospect, that his reputation hasn’t grown among people that like to look back and find obscure people to rediscover.”
– Richie Unterberger

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