Mondo Sonoro (Spain), May 11, 2021The Essential Gary Lucas
8 / 10
Eduardo Izquierdo - 11-05-2021
Company - Knitting Factory
Genre - Rock
Gary Lucas is a curious case. Many people didn't know about him until 2002, when his album of collaborations with Jeff Buckley was released. Then many people seemed to realize the existence of an artist who not only had been a prominent history of a band like Captain Beefheart, with whom he began collaborating in 1980, but whose career accumulates more than forty years of experience. It doesn't hurt, therefore, to have material like this. Yes, it's a greatest hits, but you can tell that it has been designed with more care than other releases of the same type.
To begin with, the album is divided into two parts in the form of a disc. The first, entitled "Gods and Monsters", like the band Lucas had at the end of the eighties, offers that trademark instrumental jazz rock - for those of us who know him - and which led to his name being on many of the lists of the best guitarists of the century, considering his avant-gardism as a real breath of fresh air for many instrumentalists. Lucas shows his virtuosity whether entering acoustic terrains like "Skin Diving", or more intense like "After Strange Gods". On the other hand, the second album, entitled "Solo, Rarities and Collaborations" lives up to its name. I, a pro-Dylanian, can only recommend, among all their songs, their version of "All Along The Watchtower", sung by Feifei Yang and a reliable sample of what it means to take a well-known song to new grounds. So enjoy them without too many prejudices. Because Gary Lucas is an indefinable guitarist. Open and restless, and that makes an album like this one heterogeneous like few others, although that, in the end, is part of its greatness.
Mercadeo Pop (Spain), May 2021Review of THE ESSENTIAL GARY LUCAS
"A phenomenal guitarist," says Bruce Springsteen . "An incredible guitarist," says Nick Cave . "Man can play guitar!"exclaims Captain Beefheart. "I could listen to you play for hours," concluded Lou Reed back in the day. Oh yeah. That we talk about Gary Lucas.
Because now comes 'The Essential Gary Lucas' (Knitting Factory Records, 2021), a compilation of the career of the American musician with 36 tracks that span forty years of songs. Featuring unreleased classics and rarities like Bob Dylan's version of 'All along the watchtower' sung in Mandarin Chinese.
Drawing on a wealth of material, including rare and never-before-released tracks, the deluxe double-disc pack offers ample evidence of this hipster artist's pioneering and unique career . Going back to his first record and stage appearances with Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) in the early eighties.
Those performances put him on the map. And so he came to work with Jeff Buckley, please remember that Gary Lucas co-wrote and played Jeff's famous hymns 'Grace' and 'Mojo Pin'. Through his extensive catalog of various genres, Gary Lucas has a legacy of more than 35 albums that cover all arenas in creative ways.
The first CD is dedicated to songs recorded with Gary Lucas' psychedelic art-rock supergroup Gods and Monsters. In the second, we find themes of solos, rarities and collaborations.
So we have psychedelic rock and world music tours (1930s Chinese pop, Hungarian folk, Indian blues ragas, and more). Also film music, classical music, electronic music, jazz, blues, folk, avant-garde, whatever, Gary Lucas has nailed it: his virtuoso guitar and his soulful spirit; blues that unifies everything.
Special guests on 'The Essential Gary Lucas' include Jeff Buckley, Alan Vega (Suicide), David Johansen (New York Dolls), Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads), Ernie Brooks (Modern Lovers), Billy Ficca (Television), Nona Hendryx (Labelle), the Chinese pop star Feifei Yang and the French punk diva Elli Medeiros.
Also featured are the avant-garde legend Mary Margaret O'Hara, Cuba's number one dance band, Los Van Van, led by Cuban stars Haydee and Suylen Milanes, British dub master Adrian Sherwood, avant composer / keyboardist Walter Horn, vocalist Rolo McGinty (of the peculiar English pop band The Woodentops) and the 65-piece Metropole Orkestra.
Live dates are being planned internationally in support of their new retrospective, pandemic permitting. Meanwhile, Gary continues to broadcast live and solo on Facebook from his apartment in West Village NYC every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 3pm EST.
Ouest-France (France), May 2021THE ESSENTIAL GARY LUCAS
If he has recorded thirty albums, guitarist Gary Lucas, remains above all known for his participation in the Magic Band of Captain Beefheart, in the last incarnation of the group, and even more as a mentor and accomplice of Jeff Buckley. . To remember how Grace's stunt guitars came from, we can refer to the demo of the song included here, but also to the first track, Fata Morgana, a 2006 draw. If he's not a pristine singer, Lucas ensures the job gets done on the tracks of blues-country-swamp rock which occupy the first disc condensing the best titles of his informal group Gods & Monsters. But it is the great elegance of his guitar playing that stands out. The second disc mixes titles from his solo albums, unpublished songs, contributions to film soundtracks and reminds us that he approaches jazz, contemporary music or Asian music with openness and fluidity. The kaleidoscopic aspect of this second disc can be disorienting, but we can only take our hat off.
Prog-Mania (France), May/June 2021 issueReview of THE ESSENTIAL GARY LUCAS
The name of Gary Lucas is one of the references in the timeless universe of rock, even if it is undoubtedly less known by music lovers of the new generation. This American artist has a track record and a CV that would make more than a musician pale! He was the guitarist of CAPTAIN BEEFHEART , he founded the psyche group GODS & MONSTERS , he had a busy solo career… He also met and worked with Jeff Buckley , for whom he notably composed the melodies "Mojo Pin" and "Grace". This musician, songwriter, innovative guitarist and excellent technician recognized by his peers, has accumulated nearly 30 albums to his credit. He has also collaborated with a myriad of artists from all walks of life including Lou Reed, John Cale, Warren Haynes, Nick Cave, Leonard Bernstein, etc.
To put forward an artist such as Gary Lucas through a compilation of two CDs is therefore an excellent thing! The first CD brings together tracks recorded with the group GODS & MONSTERS, while the second CD is dedicated to his solo career, with 12 unreleased tracks.
The choice to split this compilation into 2 CDs is particularly judicious. This allows us to see and appreciate that his very prolific musical personality has asserted itself over the years from different angles and in complete freedom. The first CD (17 tracks) offers very accessible, shimmering rock songs, often deliciously vintage. Note the 12 th title, "Grace" version Demo Studio, and a sublime "Lady Of Shalott" in acoustic version. The second CD (19 tracks) emphasizes the creative side of the musician who expresses himself as well with assertive folk, blues / soul / funk (Out From Under), experimental and even fusion (Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro) aspects. .This second CD is more guitar oriented, with a number of only instrumental tracks. It allows you to reconnect with your incredible feeling and sense of creation. Very present female songs mainly decorate it, as for example on the very beautiful and very original cover of "All Along The Watchtower".
If you don't know the different sides of Gary Lucas perfectly, this double CD is a great way to (re) discover them in an atmosphere that sometimes smacks of vintage.
Live & Tracks (France), May/June 2021 issueReview of THE ESSENTIAL GARY LUCAS
For the neophyte that I am, I must admit that I did not know Gary Lucas. Or barely. I knew he had discovered Jeff Buckley, I also knew he was a guitarist. But at this level, we no longer speak of a "guitarist" but of a "guitar reference". A guitar heroe even to be more precise. Whether for his solo career, (Leonard Bernstein, Lou Reed, John Cale, Nick Cave, Chris Cornell, Warren Haynes and many others) or as a guitarist of groups, the guy is among what is better in the field. So how do you realize the full extent of his talent?
Simply by you throwing on "The Essential Gary Lucas", double CD of 36 titles which will take you through the musical universe of this great man.
On the first CD, 17 tracks essentially drawn from the journey he had with his group God's and Monsters. From the picking of "Fata Morgana" to the fabulous solo of "One Man's Meat" he demonstrates why he is this guitarist of great talent that so many artists have been looking for.
The second CD is dedicated to his career through "collaborations and other "unreleased" on which he shared the stage or the studios. This second album begins with an astonishing version of" "All Along The Watchtower" by Dylan whom I invite you to discover.
As the name of this double album "The Essential Gary Lucas" suggests, you will find part of the long musical career of this discreet guitar heroe, who has put his stamp on all styles of music and has collaborated with a multitude of artsites from different universes. Special guests include Jeff Buckley, Alan Vega (Suicide), David Johansen (New York Dolls), Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads), Ernie Brooks (Modern Lovers), Billy Ficca (Television), Nona Hendryx (Labelle), Chinese pop star Feifei Yang, French punk diva Elli Medeiros, forward legend MaryMargaret O'Hara, Cuba's No.1 dance group Los Van Van led by Cuban stars Haydée Milanés and Suylen Milanés Benett, British mixologist Adrian Maxwell Sherwood, composer / keyboardist Walter Horn,singer Rolo McGinty (from English pop group The Woodentops), the 65-piece Metropole Orkest and others.
An artist and an album to discover absolutely.
Vinyle & Audio (France), May/June 2021 issueReview of THE ESSENTIAL GARY LUCAS
This compilation is the perfect introduction to the abundant work of Gary Lucas. If the general public especially knows his work alongside Jeff Buckley, Lucas is first of all the accomplice of Captain Beefheart whom he accompanies on his last two albums, and has since taken his unique guitar playing to the five continents, in search of adventures and meetings, with a predilection for New York, its home port. The first part of The Essential Gary Lucas highlights his work within God and Monsters, an informal group which, depending on the era, welcomes around its hard core (Billy Ficca, ex-Television, and Ernie Brooks, ex-Modern Lovers ) guests as diverse as Jerry Harrison, Jon Spencer Spencer or Lenny Kaye. As for the vocalists, the cast is just as brilliant: Richard Barone, Rolo McGinty of the Woodentops, Nona Hendryx, David Johansen, Elli Medeiros...when Lucas does not himself pass in front of the microphone. The second part, Solo, Rarities and Collaborations, disrupts our landmarks by making forays into what is called, for lack of anything better, world music: Cuban music, Shanghai pop from the 1930s or Indian music with the singer in her voice. angelic Najma Akhtar. We also discover an unreleased track composed by Buckley and Lucas, recorded in a symphonic version at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, the guitar adaptation of "Largo" from Antonin Dvořák's New World Symphony and a haunted "Life Kills" by the spectral voice of Alan Vega.
Stadtzeitung Wien (Austria), April 2021Review of THE ESSENTIAL GARY LUCAS
The US guitarist and Songwriter Gary Lucas moves in the wide field between Art rock, Americana and eagerness to experiment; expedient in the repertoire of virtuosity.His career began alongside the Adventurer Captain Beefheart, later Lucas played with the young Jeff Buckley. The present retrospective gathered 36 pieces from four decades, various cooperations included. The basic mood is relaxed and pleasurable.
Paris-Move (France), April 18, 2021THE ESSENTIAL GARY LUCAS
Since first appearing to the general public as the discoverer and mentor of the late Jeff Buckley, guitarist Gary Lucas has grown beyond cult musician status to living legend. But rather than resting on his laurels, this tireless activist has continued to develop a versatility that very few of his fellow graduates have proven capable of. As proof, doesn't he host since the beginnings of the current pandemic (and the resulting lockdowns) a program on Facebook where he broadcasts his own lives and unpublished? With more than thirty albums to his credit, and a track record aligning collaborations with (in addition to Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley) the master Leonard Bernstein, but also Lou Reed, John Cale, Nick Cave, Kevin Coyne, John Zorn, Alan Vega, Peter Hammill, Chris Cornell and Warren Haynes (to name a few…), this native of Syracuse (New York State) was spoiled for choice to put together this anthology in 36 meticulously chosen titles. The first CD consists of 17 selections from the group Gods & Monsters, which he assembled after his participation in Beefheart's Magic Band (with which he had worked for five years, and recorded two albums). The dazzling picking of his opening “Fata Morgana” will already leave cohorts of apprentice guitarists on the side (or even a number of confirmed players too, at the same time). A good half of these tracks come from the albums “The Ordeal Of Civility” and “Coming Clean”. On “Coming Clean”, Skin Diving ”and the instrumental“ King Strong ”(which briefly quotes the Allman Brothers), the acid fluidity of his electric playing joins that of great psychedelic stylists like Jerry Garcia and John Cippolina, while the The erupting “Let's Go Swimming” features a bass part to wake up Stanley Clarke in person. We will mention the presence of the jubilant David Johansen (now the ultimate survivor of the New York Dolls) on “One Man's Meat”, where Lucas's solo joins these stratospheres where John Zorn and Vernon Reid sail (just like on the supercharged “Whip Named Lash” ). The initial demo of “Grace” co-written by Lucas and Jeff Buckley (with the latter on vocals, second guitar and harmonica) stealthily illustrates the fruitful collaboration these two giants had initiated. It is only time to clarify that despite his dazzling talents as an instrumentalist, Gary Lucas is not only an astounding technician, but also a remarkable melodist and composer, as evidenced here. the splendid “Lady Of Shalott” and “Follow Me”. The second CD traces his solo career, as well as some of his collaborations with other artists. Opening with the Mandarin adaptation of Dylan's “All Along The Watchtower”, it illustrates Gary's singular penchant for Shanghai pop (“The Wall”, “The Moon Represents My Heart”, with Chinese vocalist Feifei Yang). There is also the copper and swaying “Out From Under”, with Haydee and Suylen Milanes and Los Van Van, in the Louisianan vein of Little Feat and the Neville Brothers, or the cover of “Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Eyes” of Beefheart with Nona Hendryx, as well as a few rare live versions of his own solo efforts (“Flavor Bud Living”, from his album “Dust Sucker”, or the instrumental “Evening Bell”, originally released on the “Icecream For Crow ”from the Captain, and the mind-blowing“ Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro ”). Acoustic picking feats such as “Fool's Cap” (Duane Allman's “Little Martha” at double-speed!) And “Will 'O The Wisp”, in instrumental acoustic country-blues Ry Cooder style circa “Paris Texas” ( “Guanguanco”), and adaptations of classical themes such as Allegro No. 15 “On An Overgrown Path” by Janacek, or “Largo” from Dvorak's “New World Symphony” to the Hindi transciption of “ That's The Way ”by Led Zep (“ Rishte ”, with Indian singer Najma Akhtar) or the soundtrack he performed live to accompany the screening in LA of the silent film“ The Golem ”, Lucas deploys here the whole extent of its palette. To try to describe his game, we have to imagine the versatility of a Richard Thompson allied to that of a Jorma Kaukonen, served by the virtuosity inspired by stylists such as Leo Kottke, Adrian Belew and Larry Coryell, all in a context of both New Yorker, experimental and pan-cultural… In other words, to get a concrete idea, nothing beats listening! A truly essential compilation, where pieces of bravery, incunabula and unreleased material come together, and the ideal companion to the now sought-after “Songs To No One 1991-1992” (bringing together eleven unreleased tracks, lives and demos captured with Buckley before his own “Grace”) . If you until then regarded Mark Knopfler, Joe Bonamassa or Joe Satriani as paragons of modern guitar dexterity, you are likely to reassess your judgment.
Paris-Move, Blues Magazine, Illi
AudioReview (Italy), April 2021The Essential Gary Lucas
Knitting Factory Records
Artistic Quality: 9 out of 10
Audio Quality: 7.5 out of 10
Gary Lucas has always been an electrifying, omnivorous, unshackled artist—and for me, trying to depict a portrait of somebody like that, I can’t say any other thing but “high”, “large, and “abundantly overflowing”, like these two cd’s actually are, both of which tell you, without benefit of any chronological or thematic order, all about 40-plus years of this guitarist, composer and artist’s freewheeling career.
Lucas is famous for having have been in the last edition of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, which he also managed, and to have discovered Jeff Buckley, when Jeff—the mysterious angel—was a hidden secret. In this double anthology those two artists do not fail to appear of course, and in the company of many other talents such as Arthur Russell (“Let’s Go Swimming”), a cult artist from the New York alternative scene, of which Lucas is the virtual mayor, and also David Johansen (“One Man’s Meat”), Jerry Harrison (“Chime On”, “Swamp T’ing”) and Mary Margaret O’Hara, who draws one of the best songs of the batch with her magical voice (“Poison Tree”).
One disc is dedicated to “Solos, Rarities and Collaborations”, the other one to Gods and Monsters in all its variations—a modular creature invented in 1992 that “sings all night long about everything under the sun”. Expect the unexpected, because our Dj can’t stand still, and his crackling radio broadcasts an unbelievable Dylan (“All Along The Watchtower” in Mandarin!) and also Chinese music, Cuban music, and Dvorak-ian fragments—along with psychedelic phantasies (“King Strong” is a wonder of an homage to Zappa’s memory), a soundtrack for the silent “Golem” film from the '20s, and a bold translation for guitar of “Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro”, via the solo piano composition by Abdullah Ibrahim. Music that boasts “blood and sinew, guts and fireworks”—well said Glenn Kenny!
English translation by Verdiana Garau
Cultura Blues (Mexico), March 2021GARY LUCAS: THE SOUNDS OF THE HUMAN PSYCHE
Gary Lucas is a great world-class guitarist, songwriter and composer who has even been nominated for a Grammy, an international session artist, composer of soundtracks for film and television. Recently, he was named in the "100 Greatest Guitarists Alive" list by Classic Rock magazine (UK). He has performed multiple and successful performances in China, Cuba, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, South Korea, and the Canary Islands, as well as extensive tours of Europe and the United States. During his long career, he has played and collaborated with artists such as: Leonard Bernstein, Captain Beefheart, Jeff Buckley, Lou Reed, John Cale, Peter Hammill (Van der Graaf Generator), Robyn Hitchock, Nick Cave, Steve Swallow, Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, Bob Holman, Marc Ribot, John Zorn, Peter Stampfel, Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, Jon Spencer, Kevin Coyne, Iggy Pop, Van Dyke Parks, Adrian Sherwood, Bryan Ferry, Geoff Muldaur, John Sebastian, Allen Ginsberg, Damo Suzuki and Michael Karoli (Can), Dr. John, Graham Parker, Bob Weir and many others.
His new album is a compiled double album: “The Essential Gary Lucas” (2021, Knitting Factory Records) with 36 tracks spanning 40 years of his music. Gary currently performs live as a solo artist on his Facebook page every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 3pm EST; videos are archived and continually updated.
Mike How has the counterculture of blues, jazz and rock influenced your view of the world and the travels you have taken?
Gary. I think I was stuck in the spirit of the blues since I was born, you know— “no one here gets out alive". Blues expresses all the pain and joy in the universe. I love to travel, see the world, and play music for people, so I guess that stems from seeing a lot of great musicians on tour in my hometown of Syracuse as a kid. Wanting to be one of them and live that life, for me it was like running away to join the circus.
Mike Where does your creative drive come from? What do you like the most about writing music for movies?
Gary. I believe I have a powerful life force that needs to express itself and communicate the joy and wonder of life to people. This is where it comes from. For me, music is the ideal medium to achieve this. It is so visceral that immediately you forge a connection with people instantly. I love film music, because it's like trying to bring dead actors to life on the screen, I feel like a reanimator.
Mike How would you describe your repertoire and your sound? What characterizes your musical philosophy?
Gary. I would say that my sound and everything I play, be it psychedelic rock, jazz, 1930s Chinese pop, Wagner arrangements, etc., has a touch of blues. The blues is part of my life and my way of playing. I believe that it is the essence of communication between cultures and peoples, it is universally shared and appreciated, it is the thread that unites the world. My philosophy is to make my guitar sound like a person who struggles and cries, or cries with joy, I want to communicate these sounds to the listeners, and these sounds are the essence of blues for me.
Mike Why do you think Captain Beefheart's music continues to generate a loyal following?
Gary. Because it's totally unique, it doesn't sound remotely like anyone else's music. You listen to any of his tracks, even the so-called Tragic Band era stuff, and there's a touch to his voice that is absolutely authentic. The way he put the music together was more like a sculptor than a composer. Endlessly fascinating to me.
Mike What is the most interesting period of your life? What was the best and worst moment of your career?
Gary. I think the most interesting was at the beginning of my work with Captain Beefheart, everything he did had a magical aura in terms of his perceptions and the way he spoke, the way he perceived the world and of course the way in which he manifested it in his music, his paintings and drawings. And for me, as a young musician, being around this person gave me a real buzz of joy. I knew I was involved with a great man and artist.
The best moment of my career was playing live as a soloist before the UN General Assembly for Holocaust Remembrance Day a couple of years ago. I played my arrangement of Allegro number 15 of Leos Janacek's “On An Overgrown Path”.
The worst gig of my life could have been in Glasgow in November 1990, at a place that called itself the Basement Jazz Cafe, which was basically a pub with a music room in the basement. The only promotion for this concert was my name written in chalk on the blackboard outside the pub: “An Evening of Jazz with Gary Lucas.”
The only people at this concert were two psychedelic fans who somehow found out about this event taking place, through the Beefheart Underground Telegraph, that's the only way they could have heard about it (and in those days there weren't any Beefheart websites, heck, there wasn't even a world wide web).
Opening the concert, were three musicians who played in a Scottish band called, Deacon Blue, trying to play real jazz. They had zero audience. Then the promoter stiffed me on the guarantee (which was very low anyway), smiling with a heavy Scottish accent he said to me: “You've got a roof over your head tonight, doncha? You're gettin' breakfast tomorrow morning, ain't cha?"
Mike With which acquaintances have you had the most important experiences? What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Gary. Meeting Jeff Buckley changed my life, had a similar impact on my life as Don Van Vliet did, even though he was much younger, growing up and not yet fully formed as an artist. He told me after recording Grace and Mojo Pin at Woodstock that I should collaborate with as many people as possible. The late Arthur Russell was also an amazing artist and character, and he told me that I should play guitar full time, as he realized that I was very happy with a guitar in my hands!
Mike Are there any memories from concerts, jams, performances or in the studio that you would like to share with us?
Gary. Playing on stage with Captain Beefheart in New Haven in 1980, which is where I had gone to school (Yale University Class of '74) was a joy, but it was also confusing for me. How did I get from here to "here"? Playing in Moscow on the banks of the river in front of 7,000 people was another incredible experience. Opening for, Living Colour in London at the Town and Country Club in 1988 and convincing a skeptical crowd that didn't know who I was was another thing too. The first time I played at the Knitting Factory in New York in 1988 and they had me do 3 encores, it was a turning point in my life, as I knew I was cut out to play guitar full time. Many memories!
Mike What do you miss most about the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future?
Gary. A lot of music seems to have lost the quality or the "sacred" aura that it had in the late 60's. I think this is due to digitization and the massive proliferation of it. It's like a tap now that you can't turn off, musically. Therefore, it does not have the same impact as it did when it was available in more limited grades. I hope this trend changes as I think it robs people of the primary experience of listening to music with total joy and awareness. Now there is a lot of second-class music in most cases. People are sick of that music, as there is a lot of bad music, anyone can make a recording and put it online to share, they are your peers and competitors, even if they have no skills. I hope to continue playing and exciting people with my guitar until the end.
Mike What memories of Leonard Bernstein, Captain Beefheart, and Allen Ginsberg make you smile?
Gary. Of Bernstein telling me "Man, you were really wailing!" regarding my electric guitar performance at the 1973 European premiere in Vienna of his “Mass”. The highest compliment I have ever received at the time. Of Beefheart exclaiming "Man can play guitar!" on the New Haven stage after playing "Flavor Bud Living." From Allen Ginsberg who gave me an autographed copy of his poem "Ballad of the Skeletons" after I accompanied him in a performance of this song, at the World War III Gallery in New York.
Mike If you could change one thing in the musical world and it became reality, what would it be?
Gary. Making sure artists and writers are paid for their music, rather than people being able to steal it for nothing.
Mike Are there any memories from the Harry Smith Project sessions that you would like to share with us?
Gary. Yes, it was a fantastic time for me to connect and collaborate with people that I had admired in music for many years: Nick Cave, Bryan Ferry, Van Dyke Parks, the McGarrigle sisters, etc. So many great artists. Also, the music we were delving into is the bedrock foundation of American folk music, and I've always loved this music, it resonates with my playing and my life.
Mike What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Psychedelia and continue with Jazz and World Music?
Gary. The notes that are bent. Bending on a string produces a vibration in tune with your nervous system and the way it changes your mood, from pain to ecstasy. It sounds like a primordial wail or an ecstatic human cry. These things are common in Blues, Psychedelia, Jazz and World Music. It is the sound of human pain and joy.
Mike Are there any memories of Peter Hammill and Frank Zappa that you would like to share with us?
Gary. I met Frank a couple of times, I loved his music when he was a kid. The circumstances in which I met him were not the best. I was working there for Beefheart at the time and working on a project that involved Frank Zappa’s cooperation, which he agreed to and then reneged on.
It is a complicated story and it did not have a satisfactory conclusion, there was a bit of consternation between Frank and Van Vliet. But Frank Zappa was a fantastic artist, he had an inimitable creative force. He had a much greater effect on more people than Don Van Vliet frankly and he was more successful in this aspect. They both had some similarities and big differences. I wish I had spent more time with him. It would be more interesting to have been there as a young boy, as a fan and as a musician, and not as Don’s manager/ guitarist.
Peter Hammill has been one of my idols since I was a kid. I think I bought the first Van der Graaf Generator album in 69 maybe or 70, I was still in high school. Then I saw him during one of my first trips to the UK, in 1973 in a little club in Aylesbury England and we met and I interviewed him because I was a rock writer for a music paper at the time and he was very, very kind. He did a great, incredible solo show. Later, I saw the Van der Graaf reunion at Royal Festival Hall in 2005. I had to get a ticket, he was in London. And he really impressed me how cool he was. He was better than ever. He was musically superb. I got in touch with him on Twitter. And I made a proposal to him to make a recording when he was in London. This is how we came together. He had the idea of me coming to his country house and his studio in Bath and it was like a dream, playing together and fitting together like a glove.
Mike You have traveled all over the world. What are your conclusions? What has excited you?
Gary. People are people wherever you go. They are looking for something unique, at least sensitive and thoughtful people. The vast majority, however, are sleeping the sleep of machines, as they say. Sensitive people love to be challenged, confused, amazed, and hopefully entertained simultaneously, and I try to do it with my guitar. I've been called the 6-string wizard, so I try to live up to my reputation live and make people leave feeling good about life, as if my performance lifts them out of depression. Many people are really suffering and are searching for authentic experiences in music after so much synthetic and lifeless garbage that has clouded the scene for many years.
Mike What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience on the path of music?
Gary. There is no right or wrong way to make music, and no music is better than any other. It's whatever comes your way and you resonate with, different strokes for different folks, like Sly Stone said.
Mike How do you want your music to affect people?
Gary. I want people to be surprised, to marvel at the world, and to leave hoping to remain in a happier frame of mind than they were when they entered. The best thing I've heard from people after a show is that they were depressed, then they heard I was going to play, they risked going to my show, and then they felt much better afterwards to face things.
Mike What were the reasons that made Jewish artists (musicians, poets) the center of avant-garde experimentation?
Gary. An incessant search for knowledge, a drive to push the boundaries and disrupt the status quo of so-called normal society, to move the game forward. It is in the blood. There is a very good book on this called, "The Ordeal of Civility" by John Murray Cuddihy, which I titled my last studio album with Gods and Monsters.
Mike Do you consider spoken music to be a specific genre and artistic movement, or do you think it is a state of mind?
Gary. You mean the poetry recited over music? If so, I think it can be very valid as an art form, yes.
Mike Is there a film director you would like to work with for a soundtrack?
Gary. With David Lynch, of course, that would be one. Lars von Trier, is a phenomenal director. Amoldovar, I love his movies. Recently, there is a movie that Peter Hammill liked, and I like it too, that has Scarlett Johansson starring in it, a science fiction horror film called "Under the Skin" and it has a very edgy soundtrack. And I thought we could have made a really good soundtrack. I think the director is Jonathan Glazer, who did "Sexy Beast." It has a lot of beautiful and impressive cutting edge sounds. I like to hear it now more and more.
Mike What has made you laugh lately and what has excited you about the music scene?
Gary. I love watching John Stewart and Stephen Colbert's shows in the United States. Political satire of commentaries on news programs, very sharp and funny critiques of the present day. About music, the last artist I heard that I fell in love with is Lhasa, her voice sounds ancient and modern at the same time, the album to get is called “The Living Road”. She died very young and very tragically.
Mike Why is NYC connected to avant-garde and underground culture and what characterizes its local scene?
Gary. I guess because there are so many people there and it is considered a melting pot of influences. But the scene has changed a lot there, and not for the better in my opinion. There are far fewer places to play now.
Mike What would be a dream project that you would most like to do? What projects are you working on right now?
Gary. Well, I've always liked organizing new music and coming up with projects like anyone under pressure to earn a living from music. I'm by no means rich, you know. I work a lot on songwriting and soundtracks. It is very expensive to be alive in the world of music, so I am motivated to creatively reinvent myself and become immersed in new projects. It is like any other person. What motivates someone to get out of bed? To work and make a living from it. That is why we are here, that is why we were born.
Mike Let's take a trip with a time machine, so...where and why would you want to go for a whole day?
Gary. To Paris in the early 1920s, when the modern art scene was booming, I would have loved to hang out with all the wonderful painters, writers, musicians and authors that passed through that city. Picasso, Dali, Buñuel, Joyce, Ernst, etc., etc., etc.!
Mike Is there a memory of your presentations in Mexico City that you would like to share with us?
Gary. Yes! I remember going to play my live live solo guitar score for the legendary 1931 Spanish film “Dracula” that was filmed at night on the sets of Bela Lugosi's “Dracula” which was being shot during the day. I was hired to play at the Cineteca Nacional, and all tickets for both shows were sold out on the same day! Young people loved it, especially for my musical participation (there is no music in the film's soundtrack, only dialoguein Spanish).
The next time I went to Mexico, I played as a duo with Peter Hammill from progressive group, Van Der Graaf Generator, we presented our album “Otherworld” in an old theater in the center of Mexico City. I have returned to play several times, but perhaps the best of all has been when I have played for low-income disadvantaged Mexican children at the 'Benjamin Franklin’ Library in Mexico City. I do this for free and it is very rewarding for me, as well I believe for the Library that is operated by the United States Embassy.
In general, there is always a large presence of Mexican children at my concerts there--they have at times bussed them in from all over Mexico--and I have always received an incredible response from these kids, who otherwise would not be able to appreciate my work, and probably would never have been able to see me play elsewhere.
Interview by Michael Limnios
Blow Up (Italy), March 2021A WIZARD, A TRUE STAR
The Essential 2CD - Knitting Factory ( 36 tracks - 2:33:04)
8 out of 9
So easy to get lost into the “not so out in the open” career of Gary Lucas. Half a century from his first real approach to the music world, and exactly 41 years from his debut record. This extraordinary American guitar player – born in Syracuse NY – boasts a hyper-broad production: over thirty albums on his behalf (sometimes in duo or more collaborators with illustrious musicians or not), featuring dozens of many contributions, in a stylistic range from rock to soundtracks, from jazz to world music, from classical to avant-garde.
An unbelievable eclecticism marching along with a superb instrumental technique, a special gift of writing, a beautiful voice and very expressive one, all bound by a significant background, both human and cultural.
An authentic character, he deserves much more from the general public, despite that he is often remembered for his crucial collaborations, such as the one with Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, and his Jeff Buckley composing brotherhood.
Basically an introduction, but this very rich collection gives us full-on the manifold activities of Lucas, offering huge batches of stimulus to dive into.
A double album, the first cd, full of inspired and polyhedric rock, focuses on his work as a leader of his Gods and Monsters band: songs flow, many of them performed by guests like Jeff Buckley, Rolo McGinty from The Woodentops, David Johansen, Mary Margaret O’Hara, and Elli Medeiros. The second album includes instrumental episodes, is entitled "Solo, Rarities and Collaborations", and is a much more visionary and unpredictable side: here we find Alan Vega, Nona Hendryx, Adrian Sherwood, reinterpretations of Janàcek and Dvoràk, and a special and splendid "All Along the Watchtower" interpreted in Mandarin(!) by Feifei Yang. After two and a half hours of pure emotion, pleasantly confused, if maybe knowing a little the path of Ours, we stand astonished by the quantity of what still remains out of the album. It might be possible to compile four times the amount of this stuff without losing a gram of quality. Pure amazement.
—translation by Verdiana Garau
COOLMAG (Italy), March 2021Review of "The Essential Gary Lucas"
Ok, "discovered" by Captain Beefheart just before Don Van Vliet dropped the music for painting. Okay, Jeff Buckley's closest associate - and who knows what the 2 might have done if the waters of the Mississippi hadn't deprived us of Tim's son well ahead of time. Music listeners limited to Wikipedia notes do not know what they lose by not delving into a true explorer of music like Gary Lucas - exceptional guitarist among the most sensational today on the square (now 4 decades!) And composer capable of 1,000 moons and 1,000 collaborations : for confirmation, ask Nick Cave, Alabama 3, Bob Neuwirth, John Zorn, our Alessio Franchini, Alan Vega, Mary Margaret O'Hara, Bob Weir, DJ Spooky, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Peter Hammill, David Johansen, Hal Willner, John Cale, Dr. John, Nona Hendryx, Patti Smith, Najma Akhtar, Lou Reed, Bryan Ferry, Allen Ginsberg, Van Dyke Parks, Emir Kusturica and we don't know more about it.
The Essential Gary Lucas (KFR) manages to fill the gap for all those who have missed the thirty albums that the Syracuse, New York musician has recorded, offering a beautiful retrospective of 36 songs that put together a puzzle made of everything. bit, with pindaric flights that combine blues and classical, psychedelic and world music, jazz and rock, klezmer and avant-garde - all seamlessly but, of course, with the registered trademark Gary Lucas, true gold prospector who it's a bit like the synthesis between Jimmy Page and David Lindley, John Fahey and Ry Cooder. 2 CDs that are truly a sound show by those who have traveled music from within, with careful research both in their own compositions and in the painstaking (re) discovery by a true expert on unknown motifs (in the 70s, better remember , Lucas was the pen for the legendary musical periodical Zig Zag, founded and directed by Mister Rock Family Trees Pete Frame), unique chord structures and a complex range of tones and textures. In summary, for those willing to go beyond superficial listening, Lucas' work offers a fascinating glimpse into a musical world that allows those imaginative instincts to spark in ways that seem simply boundless. Everyone likes this - really likes it.
The 1st Cd is an excursus on Gods And Monsters, his creature-alter ego that starting from the very early 90's in New York and its surroundings was really one of the most exciting new things around (the name was inspired by The Bride of Frankenstein , James Whale's 1935 film with Boris Karloff) - and not for nothing did the young Buckley end up in the shirts of Gods and Monsters, so much so that the posthumous Songs To No One 1991-1992 (2002 ). And the pearls are countless: from the angry blues with a train song step One Man's Meat with a more than ballsy David Johansen, to the folk launched towards unknown worlds Poison Tree with Mary Margaret O'Hara (the Canadian sciura really remains a mystery - immense talent for a rather small discography ...); from the chases for guitar and voice Fata Morgana, to the splendid Evangeline that best sums up the most Arcadian Led Zeppelin; from the perfect demo of Grace with Gary and Jeff who already dominate with their song-masterpiece (moreover, the pair could also be fished out of the demo of Mojo Pin or the thrilling live cover of the evergreen country-folk A Satisfied Mind), to the delicate Lady Of Shalott by the nineteenth-century English poet Alfred Tennyson suspended between Pentangle and Van Der Graaf Generator as well as with Jenni Muldaur on vocal; from the thin cut Serge Gainsbourg of Skin Diving (and does that very Page guitar staff really enjoy - or are we talking about Big Jim Sullivan? A few words to the wise ...), to the frenzied dance Skin The Rabbit; from the contagious jammin ’Let’s Go Swimming, to the folk-world watercolor The Wall with the Austrian Gisburg in the uvula.
The 2nd Cd, on the other hand, does a string of solos, rarities and collaborations - as per the subtitle. An exotic, adventurous journey - where you do not know the destiny but that to do everything is simply to be there to live the moment: we bet you missed Bob Dylan's All Along The Watchtower in Chinese? Here it is instead with Feifei Yang where the vocal impulses are perfectly balanced between Klezmer touches and Rolling Thunder Revue, capable of giving that something unprecedented to 1 of the great and most revisited rock standards; what about Captain Cuordibistecca's Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles overturned in a soul-jazz key with ex Labelle Nona Hendryx (the 2 in 2017 recorded 1 entire album, The World Of Captain Beefheart); easy to melt listening to Rishte's raga perfection with the Indian Najma Akhtar who floats immaculate in the air between Buckley, the Zep and Ravi Shankar; go in search of unknown pleasures in collaboration with Adrian Sherwood (Depeche Mode, Primal Scream, Ministry), see the sophisticated electronics of Guanguanco; immerse oneself in Suicide paranoia as in Life Kills, with Alan Vega as a guest; or render the classic by Antonín Dvořák, see Largo from Symphony No. 9, to a desert blues oscillating between Rainer Ptacek, John Fahey and Ry Cooder. As old, convinced admirers of Lucas that we are, it's just a pity that nothing has been found in the duo album with Peter Hammill, the excellent Other World (2014) - as neither is anything taken from Stereopticon (2016), a little songwriting gem with the German Jann Klose. But let's be satisfied. We are relaunching, indeed: we hope that one day Gary will take away the satisfaction of collaborating with the one who has confided in us to be his all-time favorite artist, none other than the lawyer Paolo Conte.
In the liner notes the artist assures that: “Having released a wild number of music in practically every genre known to mankind since my 1st album in 1990, Skeleton At The Feast, it is difficult for me to describe my music: I could say that it is based on the guitar and it all comes in any "shade of blue", from Chinese pop music to Hungarian folk, without forgetting the soundtracks that have fueled my whole life. To complicate matters even more as a compiler of this double compilation, I have to say that I like everything I've done - and that's why I haven't titled it The Best Of GL or The Definitive GL, as I wouldn't have the point of view anymore honest about my production. It was hard to make a choice - a bit like asking a father to choose among his children ".
To us, above all, it turns out to be a potpourri of mysteriously audacious sounds and extraordinarily ambitious intentions - the household goods of those who haven't given a damn about the mainstream to look for notes that always feed different possibilities. Indeed, the whole could easily be titled takin ’chances with Gary Lucas.
NTB Newswire (Scandinavia), March 2021Cult guitarist sums up the collaboration with Jeff Buckley: - Felt like an atomic bomb in his pocket
He is best known as a "heavy gun" for cult artists such as Captain Beefheart (1941–2010) and Jeff Buckley (1966-1997). Now New York guitarist Gary Lucas is focusing on himself, with the "Essential" compilation album summarizing a 40-year career.
- Call it a dictionary, a road map, a kindergarten lesson about my music, Lucas says to NTB from the home office in Manhattan.
- The purpose of it is that it will help to maintain my live profile vis a vis future concerts - which is my biggest passion - as soon concerts are allowed again, he sincerely adds.
He has performed with everyone from underground rocker Lou Reed to the classical phenomenon Leonard Bernstein. But asked to pick out the biggest musical upswings, Lucas grabs just Beefheart and Buckley.
The collaboration with the latter started in 1991 and was immortalized on the "Grace" album (1994). The album appears on both Rolling Stone magazine and the VH1 channel's overview of "the best albums of all time".
- I left the demo studio after hearing Jeff sing his butt off, with raw mixes of "Grace" and "Mojo Pin" in DAT format. I remember thinking that "these songs are going to change the world." It felt like I had the atomic bomb in my pocket.
Lucas talks - almost - just as nicely about Beefheart, also known as Don Van Vliet. If anyone deserves the stamp of "musician musician," it's probably him, given declared high-profile fans like Tom Waits and The White Stripes.
- Don was the best artist I ever met, but a demanding taskmaster who was extremely strict if you did not play exactly the way he wanted it. On a good day he could be incredibly nice - but on a bad one: "Watch out!"
The bottom point
Lucas has many career highlights to report, and he also likes to highlight a bottom - which took place on tour in Scotland in 1990.
- I had driven six hours from the Midlands to Glasgow to play in what turned out to be a pub basement, without any kind of advance advertising. The audience consisted of three or four people - and afterwards the promoter cheated me for the fee. The guy laughed in my face and said: “Don't you have a place to sleep tonight?"
- What has made you such a sought-after partner?
- I think I offer the X-factor. Everything I play is based on the blues and quarter tones you find between the white and black keys on the piano. This is how you can emulate the human voice as it howls in ecstasy or in pain, Lucas answers poetically.
- And that's where you find the feelings we all know on planet Earth - what unites us as a race.
OOR Magazine (Netherlands), February 2021Review of "The Essential Gary Lucas"
The American Gary Lucas is a remarkable guitarist with a remarkable career, which started in 1980 in the band of Captain Beefheart. Forty years and about as many albums later, he's left his mark on almost all musical genres, and collaborated with a huge amount of people.
On the double CD THE ESSENTIAL Gary Lucas, he's collected 36 tracks that gave color to his 40-year career.
Many of these tracks have never been released before, including a live version from 1980 of "Flavor Bud Living", a solo piece from the Beefheart album "Doc At The Radar Station".
Lucas has developed his own style of fingerpicking. Which is strikingly present in the primal version of Jeff Buckley’s "Grace" here, but also in songs he recorded with funk singer Nona Hendryx, Alan Vega ( Suicide) and David Johansen ( New York Dolls).
The most notable track is his version of "All Along The Watchtower", sung in Mandarin by Chinese singer Feifei Yang.
Gary is a welcome guest in our country. He's done a number of projects with the Metropole Orkestra, from which the beautiful recorded at the Paradiso performance of Buckley’s "Story Without Words" originates. These kinds of live tracks, giving a unique view of the artistry of Gary Lucas, makes this album essential.
Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter, January 2021Review of "The Essential Gary Lucas"
GARY LUCAS with GODS and MONSTERS / ERNIE BROOKS / BILLY FICCA / JONATHAN KANE / JERRY HARRISON / JASON CANDLER / FRANK LONDON / JEAN CHAINE / JARED NICKERSON / ALAN VEGA + DAVID JOHANSEN / ROLO McGINTY / DINA EMERSON / MARY MARGARET O’HARA / FEIFEI YANG / NONA HENDRYX / NAJMA AKHTAR / et al - The Essential Gary Lucas (Knitting Factory Records 018; USA)
The collective personnel for this collection features Gary Lucas on guitars & vocals, Ernie Brooks & Jean Chaine on electric bass, Jerry Harrison on keyboards, Jason Candler on sax and Billy Ficca & Jonathan Kane on drums. For as long as I can remember (mid-sixties), I have been on a mission to find the perfect rock guitar solo. Starting around 1966, I became infatuated with lead guitar plays: Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck, Jorma Kaukonen, Jerry Garcia, etc. I can still feel that adrenalin rush when one of those pickers plays that classic solo that tells a short story and leaves you breathless. I’ve been checking out Downtown guitar great Gary Lucas, since his days with Captain Beefheart (around 1980) and then emerging as part of the Downtown/Knitting Factory Scene in 1990. I recall his early solo sets at the Knit as well as when he put together the amazing Gods and Monsters band, a band which had some revolving personnel which included the late Jeff Buckley. New York has long been a stronghold for gifted electric guitarists: from John McLaughlin to Danny Kalb to Leslie West fast forwarding to the early Downtown Scene: Fred Frith, Eugene Chadbourne, Bill Frisell, Sonny Sharrock, Robert Quine, Elliott Sharp, Marc Ribot, Vernon Reid and Nels Cline. What makes all of these players great is that they are all unique and beyond the regular categories. Making great music as well as taking powerful guitar solos. Gary is the king of this.
Gary Lucas never ceases to surprise me. Mr. Lucas has recorded around 30 discs since his early solo efforts around 1990. His playing is consistently strong but not so easy to pin down, to any one category. This splendid two CD set starts in 1980 and shows many different sides of Mr. Lucas’ vast palette. Disc One is called ‘Gods and Monsters’ and it consists of several versions of Gods and Monsters, each one very different sound-wise and personnel-wise. “Fata Morgana” opens and shows off Mr. Lucas’ spirited acoustic guitar prowess with some sly slide lines thrown in for good measure. “Evangeline” sounds like a King Arthur-ish fairy tale with nifty laid-back vocals and layers of swirling guitars buzzing together. Although Mr. Lucas vocals have a limited range, he knows how to use them just right by becoming a different character on each song. Lucas also does a fine job of adding various layers of acoustic and electric guitars with selective use of effects, which change from song to song, both his voice and his guitar(s) use different shades and effects throughout. There a number of highlights here: the soul chorus on “Chime On”, the horn section on “Climb the Highest Mountain” and the quietly cosmic e-bow guitar solo on “Let’s Go Swimming”, a rare Arthur Russell cover. Considering that Disc One has some 17 tracks and 78+ minutes long, there is quite a bit to recommend here.
Disc 2 is called ’Solo, Rarities and Collaborations’ and it is again very long with some 19 songs. Mr. Lucas does a number of select covers on this disc: Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart, Chinese pop music, Dollar Brand and Leos Janacek. The two Chinese pop songs are done with great care and are touching. The three Captain Beefheart covers are highlights for me. Mr. Lucas was both a manager & a bandmember of the Magic Band in the late seventies/early eighties. Beefheart’s song are idiosyncratic and often difficult to play but Mr. Lucas does a great job of bringing them back to life. Again this disc is very long, more than 70 minutes and I thought it was completely captivating throughout! Mucho bravo to Gary Lucas and his Cosmic Clan!
—Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG
Rolling Stone (Italy), 1/29/2021Gary Lucas, La Mia Vita in 10 Canzoni (My Life in 10 Songs)
Translated into Italian, in which I discuss 10 songs from my new 40-year retrospective album that their editors selected—big thanks to Verdiana Garau.
Here is my original piece in English:
Most people probably know my songwriting through “Grace” and “Mojo Pin”—the first two songs on Jeff Buckley’s 2-million selling “Grace” album.
Which is a pity as I have written several hundred songs—in checking now, I see I have 340 compositions listed on the BMI data-base.
And in all modesty, I think some of these songs are right up there with my Jeff Buckley collaborations.
All of these songs of mine are there waiting to be discovered—hopefully via my new 40-year retrospective double album THE ESSENTIAL GARY LUCAS.
Of course I'm very proud of the songs I co-wrote with Jeff, which were 50/50 collaborations.
In fact I wrote a dozen songs with him, which were finally realized in the studio last year on an album I recorded with two great Italian artists, The Niro (Davide Combusti) on vocals and producer Francesco Arpino on keyboards.
Our album “The Complete Jeff Buckley and Gary Lucas Songbook” on the Esordisco label was named Album of the Year by Classic Rock Italia.
The key takeaway here is that all of my song collaborations with other artists—as well as my own songs, where I've written all the words and music—began originally as my own solo guitar instrumentals.
In creating songs, the music of these guitar instrumentals always come first—the lyrics, second.
My rule of thumb generally is that after writing what I think is an intriguing instrumental, I sleep on it...and if I can remember the music the next morning, I have a solid foundation for a new song.
I believe if you strip these instrumentals away from my songs, they can stand alone as evocative, pictorial music.
I have many influences instrumentally. I am passionate about all sorts of music from all over the world, in pretty much every single genre—including rock (especially psychedelic rock), blues, jazz, folk, electronic, classical, and world music.
Regarding my acoustic guitar-playing, I revere folks like the great Deta bluesman Skip James, and English folk guitarists like Bert Jansch and Davy Graham, as well as the American folk master John Fahey.
All these artists used open tunings and very active fingerpicking—a hallmark of my guitar instrumentals—and subsequently most of my songs.
On electric guitar, I love the frenetic “going for the Godhead” approach of folks like Syd Barrett, Lou Reed, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Peter Green, all the guitarists who worked with my original mentor Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart), Hubert Sumlin, Freddy King, and on and on.
The overall main influence on my music is the Blues—the foundational of just about everything I ever have composed or arranged.
The essence of the blues is sliding pitches, microtonal slurs, the cracked or slightly bent note—and I know how to do this expertly on guitar.
It's an emulation of the human voice basically—sobbing or wailing in pain or ecstasy.
This is the essence of humanity to me, the common ground upon which everyone can claim, as we’ve all been there—and which we repeatedly visit throughout our journey forward.
I believe the experience of the Blues is something that unites us as fellow humans on This Island Earth.
Even when I am playing such seemingly disparate music as operatic themes of Richard Wagner, or 30’s Chinese pop on the guitar, there is always a blues element underlying it.
Re my lyric writing. I have been a voracious reader and writer since I was a little boy—writing is second nature to me. Playing with language in my lyrics is in my blood.
I actually was accepted by Yale University after winning a National Council of Teachers of English Award while in high school—and when I arrived at Yale I naturally chose English literature as my major.
So I would cite James Joyce, Shakespeare, Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer, Vladimir Nabokov, Wyndham Lewis, TS Eliot, and both the Old and New Testaments as significant influences on my lyric writing—particularly in the songs I write for my longtime avant-rock band Gods and Monsters.
These writers are also an influence on my music as well, in spirit. As is the influence of cinema. It all goes into the mix!
James Joyce, who passed away 80 years ago, is my all-time favorite writer. And “Ulysses” is my favorite book. I have found a lot of strength and comfort reading this book, and have re-read and studied it intensely over many years.
Some of my favorite lines from this amazing journey into the heart and mind of Leopold Bloom, a lower middle-class Irish-Jewish person, include:
“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”
“Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves.”
And my favorite:
“God is a shout in the street.”
The spirit of these sentiments animates my songs, although I have never quoted from them directly in my lyrics.
But they are a big influence on my songwriting, as they view the Game of Life as an ongoing mythology—the quotidian behavior of us all mirroring the cosmic dance and struggle of the Greek and Roman gods.
Here are some thoughts on 10 of my songs featured on THE ESSENTIAL GARY LUCAS as told from the inside:
FATA MORGANA—The Italian name given to a particular kind of optical illusion—a chimera, a will ‘o the wisp. In nautical terms, a Fata Morgana is a mirage of land that appears upon the surface of the ocean when meteorological conditions are ripe. Such a mirage has been known to lure sailors to their death—sailors who think they have spotted land in treacherous, uncharted waters, and then run their ships aground on hidden reefs. The name itself comes from Arthurian legend and concerns Morgan Le Fay, an evil sorceress in King Arthur’s Court who was condemned to live in a palace under the sea, where she plotted to shipwreck unsuspecting vessels who came to close to the mirages she summoned up. I was inspired to write the music for this song in 2002 while I was Artist in Residence at the Quebec City Summer Festival for an entire week. One night in the hotel (hotels being my favorite place to compose and write new music), I hit on the fingerpicked guitar motif in a C modal tuning of my own devise. They suggested a turbulent emotional storm, and conjured the image to me of a Succubus, a Femme Fatale, a malevolent temptress whose sweet and deadly allure summons deluded men to their doom. Gods and Monsters really rocked out on this one in the studio, with drummer Billy Ficca (Television) particularly doing a cool take on a Gene Krupa style of drumming, and Ernie Brooks (Modern Lovers) seriously pumping that bass. One of my better vocals I think (I had to perfect my singing when I realized I could not count on permanent singers over the long haul).
EVANGELINE—This song was written when I was at a very low point around 1995. I first recorded it for a solo acoustic album of the same name which came out the following year. After releasing three well-regarded albums—“Skeleton at the Feast”, “Gods and Monsters”, and “Bad Boys of the Arctic”—I felt that I'd exhausted my creative faculties—and was seriously worried about my future in music. I’d left a very boring but secure day-job in order to immerse myself in music full-time at the ripe old age of 36—and now I was up to my neck in music! And I felt like my prospects were dim. The whole enterprise just seemed so unstable, the financial rewards few and far between. I loved touring, especially in Europe, but my shows didn’t seem to be leading anywhere, reliable agents turned out to be not so reliable, etc. At what I thought was the very end of my tether, somehow I was inspired to write this song, which is really a paean to the Holy Spirit of Creativity—in my case personified by an unknown Female Muse whom I called Evangeline in this song—whose very name implies the divine and the numinous. This transcendental female energy (known in the Jewish faith as the Shekinah) in my view is the underlying spiritual force of the Universe—and drawing on Her energy pulled me through some very hard times, and gave me the strength to keep going in music when I was ready to quit. I re- recorded this song with Gods and Monsters around 2003 which came out on my album “Coming Clean”—this is the version you are listening to here with Ernie Brooks and Jonathan Kane on bass and drums respectively, and my recording engineer Sasha Van Oertzen providing the wordless background vocals. “Trust in Her / you must endure / the seasons ever changing / face the frost / the hollow cost / of life spent re-arranging / evening bells and wishing well the one who won’t need naming / Evangeline comes claiming”—did you notice the Holocaust reference in line 4? As well as the reference to the Beefheart solo piece that put me on the musical map as a guitarist in line 8? I thought you did!
COMING CLEAN—the title track of my 2006 God and Monsters studio album, the lyrics have a similar theme as “Evangeline”: “Riding on a steel rail / twisting past oblivion / you bend before the wind so frail / giving me the strength to live again.” Strength given by one to the Other, and vice versa. This song also posits the notion of spiritual rebirth and reincarnation: “Like a pebble on the beach / unto a grain of sand / thrown and sown just out of reach / moving freely in His hand / All of us come clean you know / There at journey’s end / waiting for the wave to flow / waiting for a sign to start again”. Although unlike “Evangeline”, here it’s a He, not a Her, that’s being referenced (God is a shout in the street). “Journey’s End” was a play by R.C. Sherriff set in the trenches of World War I and later made into a film directed by the great James Whale (“Bride of Frankenstein”). In fact the very name of my band Gods and Monsters derives from a line in “The Bride of Frankenstein” (one of my favorite films) when one mad scientist toasts another—“To a New World of Gods and Monsters!" “Rising from oblivion / Do not go gentle into that good night”—one of Dylan Thomas’ best known and most beloved poems, and one of Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart)’s favorite quotes (Don was no slouch with lyrics himself). See how everything cross references everything else in my songs? It all adds up. I really enjoyed recording this song and layering various guitar leads in the instrumental break. I then sent it to our friend Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads) to re-mix it, and he and his engineer ET Thorngren did an incredible job. So much so that I invited Jerry into the group as keyboardist and producer for our next studio album “The Ordeal of Civility”—and took him with us on tour to the Netherlands and Russia. But that’s another story...
FOLLOW—This may be my most gentle ballad. It was written to be a comfort for people afflicted by AIDS. Since 1977 I've lived in the West Village of Manhattan, where the community was heavily hit by the AIDS plague in the 80’s. My best friend from my college days was one of the first victims. I had him in mind when I wrote this song. It starts very gently and rocks out as well. “When you're feeling low / got no place to go / when the love light doesn’t show / and your friends don’t want to know / Follow “. A lot of my song lyrics are filled with positive energy meant to uplift folks afflicted with feelings of despair (we’ve all been there—the price of being Human). A quiet anthem to cheer people up and hopefully help heal them, which is the best thing I think one can do for anybody. I wrote the words and music in the early 90’s and used to perform this song with the singer Richard Barone, who was my immediate vocal replacement after Jeff left my band in 1992. Richard sang it beautifully and then he too departed. So when it came time to record this with Gods and Monsters in the early 2000’s, guess who the vocalizing fell on? The song has resonance for a lot of folks, even though I never spell out AIDS directly in the lyrics—there’s only an allusion in the line “And you will fast endure / the sickness without cure / Follow free follow sure / In this run through in this race / in this time and in this space / rise to break this petty pace / choose to find a state of Grace”. This line references both a famous passage in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” (“and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow / creeps in this petty pace day by day / to the last syllable of recorded time”) and also Jeff and Gary’s song “Grace”. I can’t help it, it’s the English literature major in me! Some years after I released this, the comedian Sandra Bernhard, who was so good in Martin Scorsese’s film “The King of Comedy”, invited me to perform ivy song with her singing at a rally in support of Gay Marriage here in NYC, where my friend Lou Reed also performed. She introduced me as “This is the guy who wrote hits for Jeff Buckley!” I was really touched by the crowd response.
GRACE—Perhaps my best ever, certainly my most famous, collaboration. Working with an artist of the caliber of the young Jeff was a total joy, at least in the beginning. I applied my same rule of thumb as I do with everyone I collaborate with in a one-on-one; namely, let them have their total artistic freedom to do whatever feels right to them regarding the music I give them. I am not a dictator—and when it comes to a collaboration you have to respect the choices of your partner, especially if you are not in the same room with them hashing a song out line by line (something I rarely have done). With “Grace”, I had the underlying instrumental halfway written already before I even met or knew that there was a Jeff Buckley. After we hooked up and Jeff agreed to be the singer in Gods and Monsters when my major label deal with a female singer went south, I had to come up with song material for my new partner. In one week in June of 1991 I finished composing this instrumental, which I titled “Rise Up to Be”, and wrote another instrumental which I titled “And You Will”. I gave them these provisional titles as place-markers only—but you can see from their positive message as titles alone that I was trying to “vibe up” Jeff, encouraging him to come to NYC to fulfill his potential in our new collaboration as Gods and Monsters—a name he loved. In August that summer Jeff passed through NYC and come by with full lyrics and top-line melodies for these two solo guitar instrumentals I’d mailed to him on cassette. They sounded totally cool to me—so I arranged for us to go in to Krypton Studios with my then rhythm section—Jared Nickerson on bass and Tony Lewis on drums—to demo them up. This is the “Grace” demo. Sitting there in the studio listening to Jeff wail the lyrics and add some Dylan-esque harmonica gave me chills—and when I left the studio with the rough mixes of the two songs on DAT I thought to myself: “This music is going to shake the world!” Which it did!
AFTER STRANGE GODS—the title of an infamous 1934 book by the iconic poet T.S. Eliot (“The Wasteland”)—the full title of which is “After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy”. Here the conservative modernist with a strong Anglican Church bent delivers an overview of contemporary literature in the form of a book-long essay in which he delves into what he considers moral and immoral fiction. It contains the following line, widely interpreted as being anti-semitic: “ Reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable”. Eliot later recanted this sentiment, but the shock of this line was a stain on his career for many years. As a free-thinking Jewish person with a fierce passion for literature I happen to like most of Eliot’s poetry a lot, but abhor the traces of anti-Semitism in his early poems. The title of his book stuck with me though, and I thought it would make a good title for a song about my band, given the name of my group—and as you can't copyright a title…”Around the world / around the horn / the cup is filled / the lamb is born / into a flock / a herd a show / of hands now please / mind how you go.” There is plenty of Biblical imagery and a little bit of Arthur Miller in my lyrics : “After the climb / before the fall / you feel a chill / the hounds all call you” and “So take up fast / thy staff and rod / and hurry now / After Strange Gods”. And a little Led Zeppelin reference: “Outside the pearl / inside the song / remains the same / until it's gone”. Leading the charge is the exceptional avant-garde vocalist Dina Emerson who had previously worked with Meredith Monk before hooking up with me, and she really gives her all here. Plus Jonathan Kane drums and Ernie Brooks bass—and Jonathan’s brother Anthony on wailing harmonica and Gregg Bendian on percussion. This song opens my second Gods and Monsters album “Bad Boys of the Arctic” released in 1994—an album which received an A+ in Stereo Review for both the songs and the sonics (go figure, as much of that album was recorded in dodgy demo studios and jingle houses for very little money).
KING STRONG—this was the first “official” Gods and Monsters track, which was recorded around 1988 at Unique Studios here in NYC. The group at this time was purely a construct of my imagination, which I then envisioned as a kind of jazz-rocky fusion ensemble with two basses. A couple of years earlier in London I had recorded two songs, “Skin the Rabbit” and a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine” with Rolo McGinty of The Woodentops on vocals—and, happy with the results, I got the bug to keep going! I was looking to burst out of the confines of my boring day-job as a copywriter at CBS Records after 5 years spent playing with and managing Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) on the side. Don Van Vliet (an excellent painter as well as the most visionary composer, singer and poet) and I had split up in '84 after I'd placed him with a big-time art gallery in NYC. I'd joined Captain Beefhart and the Magic Band strictly for the music, not to become his art pimp—and all he wanted to do by 1982 after a long hard slog in the avant-garde rock game was paint. We parted, and I plunged full steam ahead with an eye to making my own music—an idea which was strictly verboten if you wanted to play with Don, who did not take kindly to his charges making their own music. On this instrumental I decided to act on an idea I'd had for a souped-up and metalized “jazz-waltz” a la John Coltrane's version of Mongo Santamaria's “Afro-Blue”, which imho was the inspiration for Zappa’s “King Kong”—both of which themes I quote smack dab in the middle of this track, once and once only, just to see if anybody was paying attention. 95% of the rest of the music on this track is my own. Joining me on this excursion is the amazing Keith Leblanc (Tackhead) on drums, and Jared Nickerson and Paul Now on bass. Tackhead’s guitarist Skip McDonald ws very helpful also in the recording in helping me format the track. Basically after recording the drums and bass, I just plugged into a Marshall and let her rip, layering track upon track—a real wall of wailing guitars. I took a rough mix given to me on cassette, had some copies duped up, and left the cassette at a few of the more free-form radio stations in the area, like WFMU, WKCR, and WNYU. And by God, they played the hell out of this track! It even got a write-up in Billboard Magazine. I was encouraged. I was on my way.
DREAM OF A RUSSIAN PRINCESS—New Year’s Eve 1991. I woke up in my Dutch friend Joep Ver’s atelier in Amsterdam at 4am (technically now 1992, in the Netherlands anyway). Joep was my very best friend in the Netherlands—my very favorite country to play in Europe at that time. The first country in Europe I had been recognized successfully in as an artist—the Dutch "got me” and my live solo act right away, going back to my earliest appearances there in 1990 when I was more or less discovered. I’m sure the Beefheart connection helped shoe-horn me through the door, as they revered Don as a fellow Dutchman (albeit his being born in the USA)—and in fact I had toured with him in 1980 all over the country. Flash forward to 1991. I'd just come off a grueling 3-month solo tour of the UK and Europe and was catching some r&r in the studio of my friend Joep, a fantastic painter who many years earlier had squatted an old disused mustard factory set on the edge of a canal and converted it into artist studios and living spaces for his friends. So at 4am on the dawn of the first day of the year 1992, I awoke from a dream whose central image was the radiant visage of an elegant, bejeweled Russian noblewoman out of the 19th century—a beauty further illuminated by strange and intense acoustic guitar music that rang in my ears. I rolled over and picked up my acoustic guitar which lay on the side of my mattress on the floor, and began working on my composition. It was mournful and sad, with intense fingerpicked passages and passionate strumming—and it rose to a positive surge of triumphant, almost noble emotion—before sinking back into the dissonant gloom. Bittersweet! Like most of my music. I think it’s one of my most memorable compositions—a love letter to an unknown and mysterious lady. Maybe the fact of her being a Russian princess was something planted deep in my subconscious mind by Don Van Vliet, who once told me that his ideal female would be of Russian-Jewish extraction.
FLAVOR BUD LIVING—this is a composition by Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) which put me on the grid as a guitarist. I’d wanted to join Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band ever since catching their debut concert in NYC over three nights at a little club called Ungano’s on the upper west side of Manhattan. I’d first heard about this guy while in high school from a new acquaintance named Fred Perry, whose brother Richard had produced Don's first album “Safe as Milk” in 1967. Fred spotted me on a street corner near Syracuse University and (a fellow Anglophile), noticed that I was carrying the first album by the English group The Move under my arm. He was carrying an acoustic guitar in a cardboard case upon which was written in red magic marker CAPTAIN BEEFHEART AND HIS MAGIC BAND, who I'd never heard of before. A few years later after seeing their NYC debut live, I walked away from the club thinking: “If I ever do anything in music, I want to play with this guy!”. He and his group were that amazing. I’d seen some excellent rock shows in my life up to that moment, including the Rolling Stones with Brian Jones, Janis Joplin and Paul Butterfield, and Frank Zappa and the Mothers—but this was in a completely different category altogether —they were just so outrageously good, and very very tight as an ensemble. As a result of this first concert, any time the band toured anywhere near me I would make a point to go and see them play. I later interviewed and began hanging out with Don, who was exceedingly friendly. Meantime I was working in secret trying to master some of Don's very complicated music. In 1974 Don appeared onstage in my hometown as a special guest vocalist with Frank Zappa at the Syracuse War Memorial. I took him for a midnight snack of spare-ribs at a fugitive barbecue joint operating out of the backyard of a rickety house located in the Black ghetto of Syracuse. During our meal I told him I wanted a shot to audition for him for his new Magic Band lineup. He invited me to come up to Boston a few days later with my guitar, and I played for him in his hotel room after his gig with Frank. It still took a few years to get into his group, but eventually he invited me out to LA for the recoding of his 1980 album “Doc at the Radar Station”—where I nailed this instrumental he’d sent me called “Flavor Bud Living” in one take! My performance of this on his “Doc at the Radar Station” album received much attention in the international music press., and I was bumped up to full Magic Band member status for his next album, 1982’s “Ice Cream for Crow”. The painstaking process of learning his music on guitar forced me to stretch out and develop an extended technique on guitar which I applied to my own music once I split with Don. The version on this retrospective album was recorded live at the Beacon Theater in NYC in NOv. 1980 during our extensive US and European tour which took place from the full of the year to the end of January 1981. The theater was packed, and I recall David Byrne sitting in the audience. During this tour Don would introduce me on stage, I’d walk out and then he and the band would walk off stage and leave me to face the crowd on my own. I was always nervous, but truly I loved the feeling of playing solo on stage—one man against the world—I felt like a gladiator in the arena. You can hear the crowd roar at the end—the most gratifying feedback an artist can get. From this experience I became addicted to playing on stage—and I can’t wait to get back on the road and play for people again once we get through this pandemic.
MUSIC FOR “THE GOLEM”—I love film music soundtracks—a passion inherited from my folks who collected many: Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack to “Exodus” and Michel Legrand’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” for starters. Following their lead I began collecting many of John Barry’s James Bond soundtracks (“From Russia with Love” was my particular favorite). From this it was a short step to creating my own soundtracks, which I began realizing at a very tender age with my childhood partner in crime, keyboardist/composer Walter Horn. We used to make dark musique concrete tapes together—and then on Halloween perch on the second floor of my parents’ house over the entrance and play the tape loudly to frighten unsuspecting trick or treaters! Fast forward many years later to 1989, when I was one year into my solo career. I received a commission from the Brooklyn Academy of Music to combine my music with another art-form—and I immediately flashed on composing a live score to accompany the 1920 German expressionist silent horror film “The Golem”—and then invited Walter in on the project. I’d read about this legendary film as a boy in the pages of a horror movie magazine, and thought to myself then: “A Jewish Frankenstein! How cool is that??”. Because of my love for both classic cinema and Jewish folk legends, I somehow intuitively knew that this was the film for me to score—it was calling out to me! I tracked down a print at the Museum of Modern Art here in NYC, had it transferred to VHS cassette, and duped a copy for Walter, who had moved to Boston. We were like a pair of tag-team wrestlers! We divided the film into various sequences which we worked on apart from each other before combining forces to work the whole thing out as a seamless live score—which we debuted at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria in Fall of 1989. Included here is the opening sequence of themes, which is taken directly from the live recording made that night at the world premiere. Our live score was a big hit, needless to say—and I subsequently worked the whole thing out on solo guitar, as Walter had a day job which precluded ongoing duo performances—and I am in the Golem business (amongst other things)...I’ve subsequently played the soundtrack live to the film at festivals and venues all over the world, in over 20 countries—at Royal Festival Hall in London, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Moscow and St. Petersburg, at the Venice Biennale and the Teatro Verdi in Firenze—and in Prague, home of The Golem. In fact, my last concert before lockdown last March was playing with the film up at Cornell University in Ithaca NY. Ithaca as you may recall is a small island in the Ionian sea—an island where the warrior Ulysses (Odysseus) is sailing home to in the famous Greek and Roman myths. It all adds up!