WHEN LEGENDARY ELECTRIC GUITARIST RICHARD LLOYD announced in May of last year that he was officially leaving Television after 34 years, it was a dispiriting blow for those of us who’ve followed the peripatetic career of that seminal punk rock band.
True, they’d only played a few handfuls of shows in the U.S. since their unexpected 1992 reunion (following a lengthy, semi-acrimonious hiatus dating to 1978), but the quartet of Lloyd, front-man/guitarist Tom Verlaine, drummer Billy Ficca and bassist Fred Smith —hailed internationally as perhaps the finest, most musically ambitious and technically proficient band ever in a genre maligned as devoid of serious chops or progressive vision— never lost its awesome power as a live entity.
Known for a jazzy-but-rock-solid rhythm section and syncopated, interlocking lead guitar parts which combined Verlaine’s spacey atmospherics with Lloyd’s explosive and aggressive soloing style, the band personified downtown NYC cool (post-Velvet Underground), and spotlighted the musical connections shared between ‘60s British Invasion groups like The Rolling Stones, trashy, psychedelic Texas garage rock like the 13th Floor Elevators and the imagistic, Beat lyricism of Bob Dylan.
While Lloyd released his first solo LP (Alchemy) in ‘79, soon after Television split —or agreed to take a sabbatical, depending on who you choose to believe— it quickly fell out of print and until its belated reissue a few years back regularly hovered near the top of internet petitions pleading for the CD release of classic, forgotten albums.
Lloyd last toured the Southeast in 1985, supporting his second solo disc, Field of Fire (recently reissued as well on the Parasol label as an expanded 2-CD set featuring bonus tracks and a complete, recent re-working of the entire album by Lloyd in his own studio), and now he returns as the leader of The Sufi-Monkey Trio to promote his brand-new album The Radiant Monkey.
Hailed by critics as the finest record to spring from Television’s lineage since that group’s timeless debut Marquee Moon (commonly regarded as one of the most unique and trendsetting albums in the history of rock and roll), it’s easily more muscular, raunchy and biting than anything Verlaine has offered since, and those who may have mistakenly relegated Lloyd to the role of sideman in that band will be forced to reconsider that assumption.
The Radiant Monkey is an exuberant avant-pop and hard rock record which veers between angular, funky guitar riffs worthy of early-’70s Stones gems, stomping pomposity worthy of middle-period Led Zeppelin and frenetic, paint-peeling solos filled with the same kind of controlled recklessness Lloyd —as a favorite hired hand— has sprayed all over the very best Matthew Sweet records (such as Girlfriend, 100% Fun and Kimi Ga Suki).
In concert, Lloyd (who also handles vocal duties) draws on material from his entire solo career, Television nuggets and tracks from his recently completed and soon-to-be-released album of Jimi Hendrix covers. (A longtime Hendrix acolyte, Lloyd was tutored in his youth by the late Velvert Turner, a protégé of Hendrix, who shared with Richard many of the iconic guitarist’s personal lessons and theories.)
Joining him onstage will be longtime Television drummer Ficca and bassist Keith Harshtel. Opening for The Sufi-Monkey Trio will be The Supreme Court, a critically-acclaimed Atlanta group featuring frontman Jeff Calder (best known as the leader of new-wave legends The Swimming Pool Q’s, who celebrate their 30th Anniversary this year) and famed fusion guitarist Glenn Phillips (formerly of Col. Bruce Hampton’s late-’60s Zappa-esque freak-rockoutfit Hampton Grease Band), both of whom made massive waves on the Savannah music scene in the late ‘70s through early ‘90s at both the Night Flight Café and Congress St. Station.
The reliably engaging Richard Lloyd spoke to me by phone before a gig in Virginia.
This is the first proper solo tour you’ve done of this part of the country in a long, long time. Was there anything in particular that precipitated this return to playing live gigs more frequently than you have in the past few decades?
Richard Lloyd: It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? Yeah, having quit Television helps a great deal. Sorry, there’s a guy running a vacuum cleaner in the lobby. I couldn’t have known he’d be here now. Hope you can hear me.
Where are you at right now.
Richard Lloyd: I’m in Virginia Beach.
What was it about Television that was preventing you from building a solo career? To most of us who followed the group, it seemed like it took very little time, and would only get together every couple of years to play a few high profile dates and then the members would retreat to their neutral corners.
Richard Lloyd: Well, we booked a lot in Europe. We’d play between 12 and 25 dates a year, which is not that much, but, um, how can I put it? Since 1973 it’s been my first loyalty, and um, you know, it’s weird. It’s a weird, weird kind of a relationship where anytime it seems like I get something going on my own, then all of a sudden Television rears its head. It’s like a bad girlfriend: it doesn’t do anything when you’re not doing well, but then as soon as you get something good going for yourself — BANG! Oh, we got something goin’ now. You know what I mean? And now that my loyalty is gone from that band, I just can’t tell you... I’m free! I’m free from it and free from Tom. It hasn’t really been a band for many, many years.
I feel like a group is something where you view the other people’s dreams and hopes as just as important as your own. But you know, Tom’s just not like that. I hate to put it in terms like that. You know, I really do love the guy. But working with him is like going to the dentist! He’s what’s called “the crazy maker” for me, and after 34 years, I just can’t stand it anymore.
I’m a late bloomer. I did great work when I was younger with Television, but it’s also now time for me to do great work. I’m older than most people think when they think about someone becoming a success. And yet, you know how apple trees take a certain length of time to produce an apple? Oak trees take much longer to produce an acorn. Even though rock and roll music is kinda seen as a youth culture (laughs), most things that are successful are sexually choreographed semi-porno teenage dance rock bordering on Broadway. Or, it’s heavy metal where people play the guitar not like it’s an instrument, but like it’s a video game. People with buckets on their head or bloody masks or 1,000 tattoos. That’s crap, as far as I’m concerned.
I must tell you that I saw Television on the 1992 reunion tour, and the album you were promoting at the time, the self-titled LP is one of my all-time favorite rock records. I have no idea what the circumstances were surrounding the making of that record, but I find it to be beautifully written, played and recorded. I have gotten no end of inspiration and joy out of it, and continue to do so to this day.
Richard Lloyd: Yeah. The 1992 record. All those songs were delicious to play live and we did it for 12 years. But I don’t want to spend my time on Television and Tom Verlaine. We go off on it, and then it gets reported like it’s a tell-all or something. That’s garbage in the past.----- Here's an extremely rare clip of Richard and Billy Ficca live with Television on Jools Holland's BBC-TV show "Later" in 1992 (Richard's the guitarist on the right-hand side of the screen): -----
Your first solo LP Alchemy was out of print for ages, and had the distinction of being one of the most requested records ion need of a CD reissue before finally coming out a couple of years back. Was it frustrating to not have those songs easily available to those who wanted to hear them, or are things like that of much concern to you?
Richard Lloyd: There was some concern, and I would have liked it to have been in print. Alchemy is the record you’re talking about. That was an interesting record because when Tom made his first solo record and I made mine, they were both taken up under the original Television contract. We were contracted for seven records, and both of those were taken by the label and used as the third Television album. They had me make some demos, and then we made Alchemy, which is a very personal and romantic record, really. In place of the brisk and powerful colors of Television, I kind of wanted to explore another side of things. You know, Picasso had a blue period and a red period. And during that time I left out a lot of my own heritage on purpose. So, it’s kind of a juvenile, romantic and very pop record, and I love it for itself and for what it is. But that’s now a very long time ago.
As someone who owns both the original Field of Fire and the live LP Real Time on vinyl, I’m very interested in hearing the updated version of Field of Fire. The few cuts I’ve heard so far are really intriguing. Do you view either version as being the definitive one, or are they merely flip-sides of the same coin?
Richard Lloyd: They’re definitely flip sides of the same coin. The main factor was that I was the producer on that one. The engineer was great, but he was one of the slowest people on earth. When we started to mix, just getting the first song done took 25 straight hours in the studio and I still wasn’t happy! I asked the record company president if he would have somebody fix it for me, and he had his partner Stefan Glaumann mix it with me. I said, if you mix it with me, I’ll give you production credit. I’m generous and Catholic and spread the wealth, blah, blah, blah. But he had been mixing a lot of Euro disco at the time, so there’s a lot of reverb and gated toms (drums) and chintzy... well, maybe not chintzy touches, but things that date the record in the ‘80s.
So, when I got a chance to reissue it, I had the tapes baked and sent over into my studio. Then I recut all the vocals. See, I was gonna be signed to A & M right after that record came out. That album literally would have put me in the category of arena rock. It was the time of Bruce Springsteen, Bryan Adams and Tom Petty. They were all big, and its sound was right up that alley. A & M wanted to sign me, but somebody blackballed it because of my manager at the time and the deal feel through.
So, I thought I could go back and do the whole record in a more timeless manner. I could take out the Rev-7 reverbs and drum machines. Plus, I had a bunch of outtakes that weren’t finished because they wouldn’t fit on a vinyl record. Now, on the CD format, I could add three songs. The solos are completely different. I reconstructed a number of them and the ones that sort of wore on me the most, I took them into absolutely, completely different arrangements. Some on the record use a drum machine and on the new one it’s the original drum tracks. And I re-did everything except for the drums on four or five of those songs.
The tour for that record was probably my last big tour of the Southeast. I had just come back to America for Field of Fire and I did eight cities in the Southeast and Mideast and then some on the West Coast. The band was very powerful at the time. My life has had a series of conflicts. I’ve had moments when large success was just around the corner, and for whatever reason it hasn’t meant to be. So now I’m free and I do my own thing and I love it. I’m happier on stage.
We’re playing in a trio. No two guitarists competing or doing jigsaw puzzle parts with each other. It’s fantastic. I’m happier than I’ve ever been and the music is astounding. We played NYC a few weeks ago and at the conclusion of the show, I heard an audience sound I haven’t heard in 25 years. They were standing there with their jaws on the floor, not knowing to applaud, scream or jump up and down. They were going crazy, and that’s the reaction we’re getting everywhere. I’m having a blast.----- Here's the promo video for Matthew Sweet's hit 1991 single "I've Been Waiting", featuring Richard on lead guitar: -----
Most people know you from your work in Television, and at the core of that band’s sound is a twin-guitar attack that constantly shifts from being cooperative to almost combative. I think of you and Tom almost like Keith Richards and Mick Taylor - although I’m not sure who’s who at any given moment. When Keith went off and did his X-Pensive Winos thing, he had Waddy Wachtel there to play off of, and on this new album, you’re acting as your own foil, but live it’s just you. Was there ever any thought of bringing a second guitarist along on the road, to push things to another level, or if only so you wouldn’t have to try and comp so many of the rhythm parts along with the leads?
Richard Lloyd: No! Really, the only band that Tom and I ever agreed had anything like the synergistic jigsaw puzzle work of Television was Richards and Brian Jones. Not Mick Taylor! He’s nothing but a lead guitar player. Now, I love him and I know him personally, but he simply wasn’t the push and pull for Keith that Brian was.
Even though you’re having so much fun as the only guitarist in the group, the new album has you playing all sorts of rhythm and lead parts on each song. Was there ever any serious consideration towards finding another great guitar player for live gigs, so you could still have the twin guitar attack, without having to comp a lot of the licks yourself? Someone to help take things to another level entirely?
Richard Lloyd: Taking things to another level is the exact opposite of what’s happening when you bring another guitarist into the picture. All the great classic rock bands were trios — except maybe Television. Cream? A trio. The Jimi Hendrix Experience? A trio. Led Zeppelin? Trio with a singer. The Who? Trio with a singer. The Jeff Beck Group? Trio with a singer! You can just go on and on and on. Last year we did a short tour as a quartet. It went fine, but I don’t need that. I can play both parts simultaneously and it’s fine. I have a Hendrix cover record coming out next year and of all the songs on the The Radiant Monkey, not one of them have more than two or three different guitar parts at a time. I played the whole damn thing and sung it myself, so who needs another guitarist? You don’t see Jimmy Page looking for another guitarist, do you? Can you imagine Jimi Hendrix thinking he needed an extra guitarist to fill in the blanks? As a trio —if you’ll pardon me saying it— we’re as powerful as anything you’ve ever seen.----- Here's an amateur video shot by an audience member of Richard Lloyd & The Sufi-Monkey Trio live a few months back, performing a new song off The Radiant Monkey LP: -----
Matthew Sweet told me back in 1993 that when you were out on the road with him you’d sometimes show him material you’d been working on and it was mostly catchy, hooky pop songs. Do any of the songs on this new record date back to that period, or were they written recently?
Richard Lloyd: Both. One was written for the acoustic guitar and slide in 1979. Some of the stuff was written four years ago specifically for Rocket From The Tombs which was a band I joined as a replacement for the dead Peter Laughner. Some were brand new and written specifically for this record. “Only Friend” I wrote in 1980. You have a backlog of songs and you don’t get to make a record every year. “Wicked Son”, “Glurp” and “Monkey” were all written and demoed practically during the recording process.
Tell me a bit about the Hendrix project you’re working on right now.
Richard Lloyd: I’ve made a record that tries to do what Chas Chandler did with Jimi. What Chas did went extremely under-recognized at the time for how powerful it was. He took Jimi, who was this rolling genius but didn’t know how to write concise, power-packed pop stuff. Chas showed him how to craft songs with an explosion of hooks and melodies and great guitar playing that all arrived within three minutes! So, all the songs I’m doing on my Hendrix cover record, which is due out early next year, are of that style. I’m playing a number of them live as we go along — and let me ask you: do you think I’d play a Hendrix song next to my own if I thought my own didn’t stand up to his? For God’s sakes, they do! That’s what makes this music so powerful.
So, that record is actually completed?
Richard Lloyd: It’s done. We’re talking with the Hendrix estate, and I have a warm relationship with Janie (Hendrix), because my best friend was Jimi’s only guitar student and protégé. He’d come over to my house and show me the stuff with Jimi’s permission. I hid that stuff and that influence very well in Television, but I knew all that stuff at the time, and people who understand Jimi’s playing and his techniques can find it on the Television records. If you know it, you’ll hear it. My friend Velvert is gone now, and Jimi’s been gone a long time. It’s time for me to pay that musical debt.
Jimi and Velvert also taught me a great deal of magic. “Voodoo Chile” was no joke. I’m talking about real magic. Like Jimmy Page was into the occult. People think he’s a Devil worshipper and all that. But he doesn’t sit in a pentagram and swallow children. That’s a bunch of crap! But he did put a spell around Led Zeppelin and it worked. And I put a spell around Television and a spell around CBGB’s and look what came of all that. A lot of that stuff came from Jimi Hendrix and my good friend Anita Pallenberg who was one of the most powerful women in rock. You know, girlfriend to Brian Jones and Keith Richards. We were dear, dear friends.
I know you’re a spiritual seeker and interest in alchemy. I was wondering if you were familiar with the writings and films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, who often speaks of such things in his own mystical art.
Richard Lloyd: I am primarily a follower of a man named Gurdjieff. I’ve always called myself a gnostic as opposed to an agnostic. You know the difference? Gnostic means to know. So, when people say do you believe in God, I say no. What, are you kidding? I know things! I have understanding. That’s a compound word. What does it stand under? Otherwise, knowledge is just information.
There is a very real link between rock and roll and religion. You see Al Green, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis — they all became preachers. I was born a Catholic and I’m a gnostic. I’m an esoteric Christian, if anyone can dare call themselves a Christian. I don’t think anyone should dare call themselves a Christian and if they do, then they should be working to prevent the Second Coming. Why should he have to come back here? You know what I mean?
Tiny Team & Connect Savannah Present: Richard Lloyd & The Sufi-Monkey Trio with Special Guests The Supreme Court
Where: Savannah Smiles
When: 8 pm, Mon., Aug. 4
Cost: $16 adv. / $18 at door for 21+ (tix on sale at Primary Art Supply, AMR Music, Le Chai galerie du vin in Starland, Silly Mad CDs and Marigold Beauty Concepts, or charge online at www.tinyteamconcerts.org)