By ROB NAGY
For 21st Century Media
Blessed with a distinctive voice and a passion for words, singer songwriter Garland Jeffreys is a voice for humanitarian, social and political issues.
Possessing a musical versatility touching on R&B, rock, dance and reggae, Jeffreys’ live performance has earned him praise from audiences around the globe. He has garnered the respect of musical peers and friends Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, David Johansen and the late Lou Reed.
With of the release of the 2013 album “Truth Serum” (featuring the single ”Truth Rain),” Jeffreys is back on the road doing what gratifies him most — performing in front of a live audience.
“I’m a singer songwriter,” says Jeffreys. “That means I want to really write lyrics that really mean something to me. Recording and making records and writing songs — all that is fun to say the least; but performing and getting out on stage in front of people is really, to me, the bottom line. It’s about how good you can be in front of your audience.”
“It’s all about putting yourself out there,” added Jeffreys. “I believe in these songs. I believe in the stories behind them. It’s not just a bunch of songs, and you just do it. It has a lot to do with the meaning of the song for me.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Jeffreys’ African American and Puerto Rican roots exposed him to the vagaries of a multicultural upbringing. He has a compassionate understanding of the victims of racial backlash.
Exposed to the music of Louie Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Nat King Cole and Billie Holiday early on, Jeffrey’s as a young teenager gravitated to the doo-wop and R&B sounds of the 50’s. Frankie Lyman became, and still is, his favorite artist of all-time.
With the arrival the 60s, soul music and Bob Dylan caught Jeffrey’s attention.
“I remember when I was just writing one of my first songs and first getting serious about it and thinking that I could actually do it,” recalls Jeffreys. “I wrote a song called ‘Insides.’ I remember very little about it, but the title was really the future for me. My songwriting was going to be about what was going on with me. How I feel about things. How I feel about certain standards. How I feel about race. How I feel about sex. How I feel about the various things that exist in the world and generally wanting to make an impression of improvement. Kind of sending out the message that, ‘Hey, you’ve gotta love your brother. You’ve gotta reach out to your friends, to your people. You’ve gotta help your neighbor. I can’t tell you how strong I feel about this. For a person to give up his entire career and write songs and talk about things like this, I’ve gotta mean it.”
It wasn’t long before Jeffreys began performing in New York City’s vibrant club scene. The now legendary Bitter End, Gerde’s Folk City and Gaslight all played host to the budding artist.
As the 60’s came to a close, Jeffreys formed his first band, “Grinder’s Switch.” The late John Cale of “Cocaine” fame enlisted them as the backing band on his debut solo album “Vintage Violence.”
Working as a solo performer, Jeffreys signed with Atlantic Records in 1973 and soon released a solo self-titled debut album. While the album wasn’t a commercial success, the single “Wild in the Streets” became an underground hit.
After signing with A&M Records in 1977, Jeffreys entered his most prolific period. His debut album for the label, “Ghost Writer,” earned him the title “Best New Artist of the Year” by Rolling Stone Magazine. His “American Boy and Girl” (1979) album yielded the single “Matador,” a major hit in Europe and the U.K., which solidified Jeffreys’ following.
A move to Epic Records in the early 80s led to Jeffreys attaining commercial success here in the States with the “Escape Artist” (1981) album. Featuring appearances by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Graham Parker’s “Rumour,” Lou Reed, David Johansen and Linton Kwesi Johnson, the album achieved moderate success with a cover version of the song “96 Tears.”
Disappointed by the lack of commercial success, Jeffreys did not return to the recording studio for nearly a decade when he released the racially motivated album “Don’t Call Me Buckwheat” (1992). That same year, Jeffreys’ recording of “Hail Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll” reached #72 on the U.K. singles chart.
Jeffreys was featured in Martin Scorsese’s 2003 documentary “The Soul of a Man” as part of the film series “The Blues.”
Eventually, recording was put on hold and performing became sporadic so that Jeffreys and his wife and business manager Claire could focus on raising their young daughter. With the exception of “I’m Alive” (2006), a compilation of his solo recordings, he did not release new material until the “The King of In Between” in 2011.
Today, Jeffreys is back on the road performing for his fans, old and young alike. The gifted troubadour has enjoyed a storied life and realized a remarkable career.
“I’m a very fortunate guy,” says Jeffreys. “As long as there are people who come to pay their money, I’m there to deliver what they came to get. I’m going to be playing until I can’t play anymore.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Garland Jeffreys
WHERE: Steel City Coffee House, 203 Bridge St., Phoenixville.
WHEN: Friday May 23 at 8 p.m.
TICKETS: Call (610) 933-4043 or check www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com