Garland Jeffreys, 70 anni, mezzo newyorkese e mezzo portoricano, è un’icona della lotta statunitense al razzismo e punto di sintesi tra la cultura afro-americana e la poetica metropolitana di New York. Alcuni suoi brani sono diventati veri inni antirazzisti a partire dagli anni ‘70. Le sue canzoni di denuncia sociale rappresentano il ponte tra la musica reggae di Bob Marley e il rock'n'roll urbano di Lou Reed, artisti coi quali Garland ha collaborato a lungo. È stato il primo americano a registrare a Kingston in Jamaica. Ha collaborato anche con Sonny Rollins, John Cale, Bruce Springsteen e Dr John. La sua “Wild in the street” (1973), canzone-manifesto prodotta da Dr John, che racconta le strade violente del Bronx, è stata di recente ripresa dal giovanissimo gruppo hardcore punk Circle Jerks.
Le canzoni di Garland che denunciano le discriminazioni razziali sono la naturale espressione di un mulatto cresciuto nei quartieri periferici di New York, un ragazzo dalla pelle scura, dalla folta chioma afro e dagli occhi azzurri.
Garland Jeffreys esplora ogni tipo di contaminazione anche dal punto di vista musicale, mischiando rock, blues, reggae e folk. Un sound originale che in Italia attirò l'attenzione di Edoardo Bennato, il quale si fece produrre da Jeffreys il disco “E' arrivato un bastimento”. Il regista Wim Wenders gli ha dedicato un capitolo del suo viaggio cinematografico nella musica nera “The Soul of a Man”, così come Martin Scorsese l’ha voluto nella sua serie di documentari dedicati al blues e alle sue radici.
Il prossimo 3 ottobre Garland Jeffreys riceverà a Sanremo il prestigioso Premio Tenco e comincerà un tour europeo per presentere il nuovo disco “Truth Serum”, che vede la partecipazione Larry Campbell (che aveva interamente prodootto il disco precedente) chitarrista e violinista per molti anni di Bob Dylan e Levon Helm (The Band).
The King Of In Between is the work of a mature artist and the distillation of Garland Jeffreys’ long career dedicated to addressing socially conscious themes across a broad range of musical styles. He’s been called an edgy urban poet, the sound of New York, a confessional singer-songwriter, and an explorer of the links between rock, race and rebellion whose work should be taught in schools. With songs covered by artists as diverse as punk pioneers The Circle Jerks (“Wild in the Streets”) and the neo-folk band Vetiver (“Lon Chaney”), Jeffreys is truly unclassifiable.
“Before Beck, there was Garland Jeffreys.” — Toronto Star
“Had he been born earlier, Mr. Jeffreys could have had a career as a jazz singer…had he been born later, he might have been a peer to Citizen Cope and Ben Harper, who mix up their playlists and benefit from followings not bound by the dictates of radio.” — Wall Street Journal
“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.”
Co-produced by Larry Campbell (Grammy-winning producer with Levon Helm), The King Of In Between marks a return to the more rootsy sounds of Jeffreys’ earlier work, especially his acclaimed 1977 album Ghost Writer.
“I wanted to have a warm, spontaneous sound, and mostly live, one-take vocals. Being in the studio with Steve Jordan, Mike Merritt, Duke Levine and the rest of the players was a gas, and Larry blew me away with his virtuosity,” Jeffreys enthuses. Campbell wrote, arranged and played the strings on the epic Philadelphia sound-inspired Streetwise and played what Jeffreys calls “every kind of guitar you can think of” including the trembling Revelator on “In God’s Waiting Room,” the haunting closer of the record, a meditation on mortality that features Jeffreys’ chilling falsetto. “I’m glad I can still sing,” he says, and indeed his versatile voice ranges from tough, full-on rock on “I’m Alive,” to a more soulful blues sound on “‘Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me” and “Love Is Not a Cliché” and the plaintive and deeply personal “The Beautiful Truth.”
Long known for his amazing roster of supporting musicians on every record, with names such as Stan Getz, Dr. John, Sonny Rollins, James Taylor, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Phoebe Snow, and Sly and Robbie, The King of In Between doesn’t disappoint. Among the contributors are Duncan Sheik, with caterwauling guitar on “I’m Alive,” and old friend Lou Reed on the somewhat ironic, insinuating doo-doo-doo backing vocals on “The Contortionist.” “My fourteen-year old daughter Savannah came to the studio and laid down a doubling vocal on top of Lou’s part. I don’t think she understands how cool that really is—yet,” muses Jeffreys.
One of the first Americans to travel to Jamaica and record in Kingston, Jeffreys has long included reggae as part of his musical lexicon. “I tracked down Junior Marvin of the Wailers and he came to the city for a couple of days,” says Jeffreys. “All Around the World,” with its infectious melody and lilting horn section, sounds upbeat and cheerful and yet when you listen closely to the lyrics you hear the darker notes, of people struggling to keep a toehold in the crumbling economy. “Bankers on the brink of disaster/jumping out of windows, they’re moving much faster/used to be a universe master/but now they lost everything.”
The second reggae-influenced tune, “Roller Coaster Town,” is an exuberant love song to New York City and Jeffreys’ Coney Island roots.
“Another theme that emerged was the strong connection to my childhood and growing up in Sheepshead Bay right next to Coney Island. It had everything a kid could want – schoolyard playgrounds, the beach, Mrs. Stahl’s knishes when you had some extra pocket money, and most of all, Coney Island.”
That affection led to the ripping last-minute one-take track and what ended up being the first single, “Coney Island Winter.” “I was literally rifling through pages of notes to finish the lyrics in the studio. Mark Bosch created the insistent guitar motif and laid down some fantastic funky piano and the seagull squawking sounds on the fade, and Rich Pagano gave it the loosey-goosey drum feel.” The song is a wintry clarion call to the powers that be, to the politicians who “say they’re going to fix this town,” but meanwhile “Jobs are gone, they came and went/all the money has been spent/all the games are broken down.”
The King of In Between was mixed by legendary Roy Cicala (John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen) of New York’s Record Plant, who years ago shipped the entire soundboard of the venerable studio down to his new studio in São Paulo, Brazil. Cicala mixed two of Jeffreys’ best-known songs; “Wild in the Streets” and the European radio hit “Matador.” “I trust Roy. We decided to try mixing long distance over the computer. I’d email him a track, he’d do a rough mix, email it back, I’d listen, make suggestions, and we’d finally come to final mixes. It took a while, but we came out with a big, rich sound, classic Roy.”
After a string of records in the seventies including American Boy and Girl, One-Eyed Jack and Ghost Writer, the eighties brought the fiercely rocking Escape Artist, which yielded radio favorites “R.O.C.K.” and a cover of garage classic “96 Tears.” After Guts for Love, a record chronicling the ups and downs of a long-term relationship, Jeffreys took a long hiatus before returning with Don’t Call Me Buckwheat, a complex and searingly honest exploration of being biracial in America.
It’s been thirteen years since Jeffreys put out a full album of new music, the last being Wildlife Dictionary, released only in Europe. He took a number of years off to spend time raising his daughter. “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.
“I’m at a wonderful point in my life. I couldn’t be happier with the new record. It’s been a labor of love and it’s completely true to me, a real reflection of everything I stand for."
In between the cracks
In between the lies and the facts
In between the secrets and the lies
The other side of the tracks
Between the mansions and the shacks
Between the whites and the blacks
The king of in between