Received word last night that Richard Lloyd has cancelled his June 19 performance at Cosmic Charlie’s and has scrapped the remaining dates of his summer tour due to “health reasons.”
I interviewed Lloyd a few days ago for a story that was scheduled to run on Sunday to advance the concert. Though polite and welcoming throughout the conversation, Lloyd was a frustrating interviewee, offering only outlines of remembrances, observations and comments before latching onto entirely unrelated topics and running at length with them. But here is what was hammered out of the fractured pieces of that discussion.
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Long before he became co-guitarist in the long-celebrated New York post-punk band Television – in fact, prior to taking up the guitar at all – Richard Lloyd was a drummer. And when he played, he saw colors.
Now, what comes next in this ongoing saga of an acclaimed musical journeyman might seem a little fanciful. That’s because, like his guitarwork, Lloyd’s sense of conversation doesn’t operate on a constant or conventional plain. Not surprisingly, he referred to himself in a recent phone interview as an alchemist as much as a musician. Nonetheless, when the colors he saw as he played started to fade, his true musical path was revealed.
“Sometimes when I heard tones, I heard colors,” said Lloyd, 60. “So one day I was practicing on the drums and all the color went out. That’s when I had a psychedelic experience, an auditory hallucination.
“A voice came. It has come to me before from time to time and has never told me anything that was incorrect. This time, it said, ‘You will need to play a stringed melody instrument – the guitar.”
And so Lloyd was diverted from potentially joining his cousins in a rockabilly band based out of his native Pittsburgh. Ahead instead was a booming club scene in New York that used a soon-to-be-famous Bowery club by the name of CBGB’s as it de-facto performance headquarters.
Out of a scene that cultivated garage rock, punk and eventually New Wave came The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, The Patti Smith Group and a quartet that teamed Lloyd with fellow guitar pioneer Tom Verlaine, Lexington-born bassist Richard Hell (soon replaced by Fred Smith) and drummer Billy Ficca. The band became known as Television. In 1977, it released a debut album, Marquee Moon, that remains a cornerstone work of the punk era even though its music reflected a dual guitar sound that was artful and harmonically progressive. Today, Marquee Moon sits at No. 123 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest all-time rock recordings.
“There were times when Television would play and I would come offstage and think to myself, ‘Four human beings cannot do what we just did.’ The synergy was so profound because the music always involved the audience. All that energy was reciprocated.”
While so many punk followers were rebelling against music of the past, Lloyd embraced it. His teen years included a diet of The Who, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck and The Allman Brothers Band. Lloyd also proudly declared himself an attendee of Woodstock that stayed awake for the entire three-day festival save for a nodding-off period during Sly and the Family Stone’s set (“They were singing I Want to Take You Higher and I just kept going lower”).
“You know what the gloaming is? It’s that very strange, beautiful blur between daylight and night time. Well, a lot of us growing up at the time were caught in the gloaming between the beatniks and the hippies.”
Among those who shared his musical likes was a Brooklyn youth Lloyd befriended named Velvert Turner. Turner was unusually connected. He was a protégé of Jimi Hendrix and was given permission to pass on to Lloyd what he learned on guitar from the legendary artist. As a memoriam to Turner, Lloyd recorded a striking selection of Hendrix tunes for his 2009 solo album The Jamie Neverts Story (Neverts was an alias Hendrix sometimes used while touring).
“Velvert and I used to follow Jimi Hendrix around,” Lloyd recalled. “We would also go see The Chambers Brothers and Buddy Guy a lot. We were always backstage at the Fillmore (East). I remember one day the supermarket next door caught fire and everybody left the building except Velvert and I. He said, ‘You smell smoke?’ I said, ‘Nope.’ He said, ‘You want to leave?’ I said, ‘Nope.’ That was part of our adventures together. So I made that record to kind of pay off my debt to him.’
Lloyd’s current tour with Danny Tamberelli on bass and longtime Television mate Ficca on drums will feature songs off of the seven solo albums he has recorded over the last 33 years (from 1979’s Alchemy to the recent rarities compilation Lodestones). But unlike the Television years, Lloyd will be the only guitar voice on display.
“Jimi was once asked in an interview, ‘Why do you play so loud?’ And his reply was, ‘Man, we’re just trying to get a message across. But there are so many sleeping people.’ I think there still are.”