Garland Jeffreys’ artist recommendation: “When I was a boy coming up in Brooklyn, there was no one out there like Frankie Lymon. Frankie was like the Michael Jackson of his day, only more unschooled. I not only loved the sound of Frankie’s voice, the songs and his swagger, even the corny varsity sweaters – I wanted to be him. Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers; it doesn’t get any more aspirational. He was only one year older than me, he was a New Yorker, we had similar skin color, similar backgrounds; we were even the same height, all of which made him seem like someone I could have known, or even more, someone I could be. No one had a voice like his; yearning, pure, with a unique, controlled vibrato. I did a cover of I’m Not a Know It All on my Don’t Call Me Buckwheat album. When I was a kid I imitated him as much as I could, and to this day, fifty-five years later, you can still hear an echo of his vibrato in my voice.”
Not familiar with Frankie Lymon? Garland suggests you start here: With Frankie it’s all about the singles as there were no albums to speak of. I’m Not a Know It All and Why Do Fools Fall in Love were both songs that were the most incredible pop confections. When he hits the “why” on “tell me why” there’s an almost preternaturally genuine youthful questioning contained in it. He really wants to know. Both songs get at the idea that as a kid, you really don’t know much of anything about the world – you just want to be in love and start learning. Am I Fooling Myself Again is another gem, with a plinkety piano part and an incredibly complex and layered doowop vocal arrangement. He had a way of hanging on to the last word at the end of a phrase to milk it just enough. On this tune in particular you can hear how his voice so powerfully influenced the sound of the girl groups and the whole Berry Gordy sound and presentation, with an emotional, sweet but streetwise front man (or woman) whose voice had the ability to convey youth and longing – Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, even Smokey. Some of his genius has been obfuscated by the tragic story of his life, but when in doubt about any artist, just go back and listen. Frankie was the original.
About our guest author, Garland Jeffreys: When asked to rattle off the names of consummate New York street poets, critics always place Lou Reed and Garland Jeffreys at the top the list. Reed and Jeffreys actually met at Syracuse University in the sixties, bonded over a love for street corner music (Frankie Lymon, anyone?) and have continued to collaborate since (see the video of the duo below performing Jeffreys’ hit Hail Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll below). But Jeffreys’ unique style and loyal fan base has catapulted him beyond just being a synonym for Reed. A lot of his music soars past straight rock arrangements by incorporating reggae rhythms and his lyrics inspire punk legends like The Circle Jerks as well as folk up-and-comers like Vetiver to cover his material. His career is one that any young musician would kill for: he’s collaborated on record with the likes of Dr. John, Sonny Rollins and reggae great Junior Murvin, not to mention the numerous times he’s shared the stage with Bruce Springsteen (YouTube, show us those clips!). Jeffrey’s still makes relevant and urgent music today that continues to win praise; NPR said that his last record, The King of in Between is “as good a classic roots rock record as you’re going to hear from anybody this year.” Garland has a new record coming out, and he’s funding it through Pledge Music. There’s some very cool extras included with some of the pledge levels (dinner at Garland’s!), so act fast. Garland’s electrifying live show is also in high gear, so you definitely want to check his tour page. With a new Garland record and tour schedule, 2013 is shaping up to looking pretty sweet both for him and his fans.