The Independent (Ireland), May 20, 2022
Gary Lucas isn’t a name that trips off the tongue of your average rock music fan. He’s a man that can walk down the street and remain largely unbothered, but you almost certainly know his music.
Amid releasing over 50 albums and collaborating with artists like Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Nick Cave, Lucas is also the man behind two standout tracks on one of the most universally adored albums in music history.
If you know and love Jeff Buckley’s only studio album Grace, Lucas’ signature guitar playing can be heard on Mojo Pin and Grace, the songs he co-wrote with Buckley. In the end, Lucas wrote over a dozen songs with Buckley, some of which were released in 2002 as an album, Songs To No One.
“All of our songs began as my guitar instrumentals — that’s something people may not know,” says Lucas in a Zoom call from the very New York apartment where he co-wrote those songs. “How I worked with him was I would, separate from Jeff, compose these pieces thinking of his voice, and I would send them to him on cassette via snail mail.
“He would get them and normally he would call and say, ‘I’m gonna put some melody and lyrics on this’. That’s how we divided up the labour there.”
As Buckley was hailed as a mighty singer-songwriter during his lifetime, Lucas felt himself become further removed from the origin story of those two songs.
“Columbia Records sort of disappeared me out of the [story] — they issued a press release that mentioned almost everyone down to the janitor in the studio,” Lucas say. The slight still stings. “I just take the time to try and remind people I was there, in a nice way. I’m just happy to be out there to remind people of Jeff’s brilliance.”
The two met back in the early 90s at a tribute night at St Ann’s Church in Brooklyn for Jeff’s father Tim Buckley. Jeff was a relative unknown, still trying to shake off the shadow of the folk singer father whom he’d barely known. At that point, Yale-educated Lucas was an established guitarist and member of Captain Beefheart — something that endeared him to the young singer.
“This kid just walks up to me and he’s pumping his eyes — he’s really, like, electric. He’s making faces and dancing around me,” says Lucas. “I’m like, ‘this must be Jeff’, because I knew he was coming and he just looked like a much younger Tim. We had this great moment and he was just super enthusiastic.”
A day later, Buckley went to Lucas’s apartment to work on a cover of The King’s Chain, one of Tim’s last recordings before his own death in 1975, aged 28.
“I hand him a mike and he opens his mouth to sing,” says Lucas. “It’s just unearthly. He’s wailing and he’s really possessed and he’s hitting all these really high notes. I was just blown away. He looked over at me sheepishly and he said, ‘was it any good?’. I just said, ‘man, you’re a f***ing star’. Believe it or not, he sort of needed reinforcement in those days.”
At the time, Buckley was a guitar tech with the touring band for The Commitments, alongside Kenneth McCluskey, the Dubliner who played Derek ‘Meatman’ Scully in the hit film. It was during the New York date of this tour that Lucas and Buckley worked on a song called Rise Up To Be, which would eventually become Grace. After parting ways with The Commitments band, Buckley joined Lucas’s band Gods & Monsters for a short spell before deciding he wanted to go solo.
According to Lucas, his time in The Commitments touring band wasn’t the only Irish connection Buckley had. In addition to his iconic performance at New York bar Sin É (run by Dubliner Karl Geary), Irish influences writ large across his music.
“He reflected so much of the Irish tradition of great singers — I mean, you got John McCormack, and he loved people like The Pogues.” Katell Keineg, the Breton-Welsh singer who made Ireland her base for many years, also sang at Buckley’s funeral in 1997.
Jeff was just 30 and was working on the follow-up to his massively successful debut album, with varying degrees of success, when he went swimming fully dressed in Memphis’s Wolf River Harbour and drowned. His death caused shockwaves across the world, with fans anguished at the thought that the singer was cut down at the prime of his life, with so much more to offer creatively. For Lucas, a friend and collaborator, the news was especially hard.
Gary Lucas will invite singers up onstage to perform Buckley's songs.
“I got a call from my friend, who said, ‘I’ve got some really tragic news. Jeff’s missing’. I just shrieked,” Lucas says. “I was in denial, thinking he’d maybe played a prank. You know, he was capable of that, he was kind of a joker. And then the body turned up. I cried every day for about a month. I never got a chance to say the things I would have said, had we had another encounter.”
Two months before his death, Buckley played a secret gig at the Knitting Factory in New York. “He was onstage and he said, ‘Gary Lucas, will you please come up here to the stage’, and we did Grace and I brought the house down,” Lucas says. “I was like, ‘that meant so much to me. Thank you’. He told me he was going to Memphis the day after.
“About a month after that, I get a call from Jeff’s A&R guy at Columbia Records to say, ‘you may be getting a call to come to Memphis to work with Jeff because Grace was such a beautiful thing’. I was like, ‘okay’. I was hoping that would happen, but I wasn’t going to put any pressure on Jeff.
“I’ve learned the hard way, the more I would pursue Jeff, or anyone really, to do anything… it’s usually not a good look. So I was hoping to hear from Jeff, but in a let’s-see-what-happens way.
“Had there not been so much pressure on him to come up with a commercial follow-up album, he might still be here. But again, it’s all speculation.”
May 29 marks the 25th anniversary of his death and Lucas will spend that night in Dublin’s Whelan’s venue, celebrating the life and music of Buckley. Lucas likes to collaborate with local artists at venues and will present a personal look at his collaborations with Buckley, projecting rare archival footage of the pair together.
“I’m going to bring up [to the stage] whoever Whelan’s has come up with as their designated singers,” he says. “I’ve loved playing alongside anyone who has a real burning desire to sing these songs on stage.
“I like to do these events because it just reinvigorates the material. I give them a shot. I’ve had some great success, and had some people who were maybe not the best, but I think it takes a lot of spunk to get up there on stage and sing because [Jeff’s] vocals are pretty iconic.”
Of course, a small part of Lucas hopes that someone will take the stage during one of these dates and blow him away, just as Buckley did. “What I just love to do is keep these collaborations going,” he says. “I do hope that such a person is out there.”
‘I Heart Jeff Buckley Feat Gary Lucas’ is on May 29 at Whelan’s, Dublin. Gary Lucas’s memoir of Jeff Buckley ‘Touched By Grace’ (Jawbone Books) is out now.
Yale Alumni Magazine, May-June 2022 issueClass Notes - courtesy Alec Haverstick and Tom Strumolo
Class of 1974
On a happier note, Gary Lucas sent me a note announcing the release of his new album DOUBLE DARE which will also be released in vinyl this summer. Since Gary tells me I will enjoy it, and I always believe him, I plan to download it shortly.
In light of Gary’s announcement, this from Tom Strumolo: “Our 45th reunion was full of ‘reunification exuberance,’ I thought, and it was there I had my first chat, since graduation, with Gary Lucas as he set up to play for us with Geoffrey Menin, Joel Bluestein, and Jonathon Rose. Until that encounter Gary and I were bound together mostly by our Things that go Bump in the Night experience at Yale, which you remember was produced by Gary and Bill Moseley and for which my roommate Jack Jones and I provided all the necessary condiments, legal and illegal, if I can put it in those terms, to turn the horror movie experience into an entirely satisfying evening. (It turns out selling beer out of buckets of ice on the floor in Linsly-Chittenden was against some dumb state law.) Since 2019 I have had time to catch up with Gary through his music, his compelling and detailed Wiki pages, his website, and in person. Gary is approachable, indefatigable, and prolific. You should listen to some of his music, his guitar magic, online or download it—or go see (hear) him play.
“When much of the talk among us is about retirement or adapting to elder change, Gary—through talent and tenacity—had a great year in 2021 during a debilitating pandemic. In January he released his 40-year retrospective double album THE ESSENTIAL GARY LUCAS, which surveys his massive multi-genre output (over 50 albums to date) and received glowing reviews all around the earth and made a bunch of best-of-the-year lists. (How many of you remember Gary on Yale’s 94.3 WYBC where he was DJ and groundbreaking music director?) This is an incredible album, like an autobiography with just the soundtrack. In September last year, Gary’s song ‘Grace,’ cowritten with the late Jeff Buckley, was named one of the ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’ by Rolling Stone magazine. In December Gary gave a private solo concert at Winfield House in Regent’s Park, London, for acting US Ambassador Philip Reeker (Yale ’86) and invited guests. And despite the pandemic, Gary found time to tour solo—a man with a guitar—in Italy, the Netherlands, France, and the UK, and also to live-stream solo concerts three times a week from his apartment in the West Village! What really blows me away—besides listening to the prodigious skill and range in Essential—is that this was just another of 20 similar big years in his career. Gary is better known in Europe and on a couple of other continents than here at home, which says something. I recently got an email from him from his Hungarian dentist’s office—from Budapest, I mean, not the Village. Gary is keeping up the pace in 2022 with several new albums already underway. We are talking about reprising Things as an environmental horror short which horror film superstar Moseley would act in, Gary would lay down the soundtrack, and I would of course provide the condiments, now all legal in most states.
Written in Music (Netherlands), May 2022Review of "Double Dare" by Gary Lucas and Peter Willems (ZenneZ ZR2203014, Netherlands)
4.5 out 5 Stars
As a student at the Maastricht Conservatory, are you normally likely to cross musical sentiments with an icon from music history? It's pretty small. Yet 22-year-old bassist, vocalist Peter Willems happened last year after his second prize at the Princess Christina Jazz Competition. This book ends in a collaboration and an album with Gary Lucas.
Gary Lucas was once Captain Beefheart's chef d'orchestre. Lucas has toured in more than 40 countries and has recorded over 50 albums to his name, yet he has remained in relative anonymity before the general public. He has worked with such artists as Nick Cave, Chris Cornell, Jeff Buckley, Peter Hammill and Kevin Coyne.
Van Vliet has since passed on, as well as Lou Reed, with whom Gary was very good friends. Reed once said of his guitar playing: "I could listen to you play for hours, Gary". Not to mention the beautiful album "Songs to No One" that Gary Lucas made with Jeff Buckley, the singer-songwriter whom he also helped with tracks for his only album Grace. Lucas is a man of some stature, something that is not apparent from his humble attitude. Musically, he is not to be caught in one hole. He has mastered almost all styles of jazz and blues to more avant-garde rock and folky-americana. Lucas' most recent album Double Dare Volume 1 & 2 begins with this last genre.
"Spoonful" by Willie Dixon every music lover of course know in the performance of Howlin' Wolf. On Spoonful, Willems shines completely, both on the vocal and on the double bass, and recalls Jeff Buckley, whose spirit appears at different times on Double Dare. In the early 1990s, Lucas recorded with Jeff Buckley.
"Hey Mr. Rain" of The Velvet Underground, which is textually only two sentences, gets something incantatory with the beautiful arrangement. The song is from the legendary The Velvet Underground & Nico album [no it is not—GL], which included that beautiful banana cover designed by Andy Warhol. Many musicians started a band after listening to this album from '67.
Hey, Mr. Rain,
Ain't you gonna come down
I've been working baby oh so hard,
Starin' up at the sky
The rationality of Willems and the intuition of Lucas are almost self-evident on this record. This is also true of how both men approach the songs. Where Lucas uses an approach that sits between talking and singing, Peter Willems takes care of the layering and a piece of sophistication. This is especially well reflected in songs like Better Than You Were and I'm So Glad. It's a song we know originally from Skip James.
The second part of the album and rearranged pieces by Franz Schubert are played. That this album is also topical is evident from Peter Willems' song "Thin Ice", in which we are reminded as a listener that time is pressing and that we should take care of Mother Earth seriously: "Still Burning Coal, cutting trees, the melting snow. You know we've been here before, we know, they know...". In other words, we see a lot of failures to act.
Bluestown (Netherlands), April 2022Review of "Double Dare" by Gary Lucas and Peter Willems (ZenneZ ZR2203014, Netherlands)
The adventurous and headstrong Dutch label ZenneZ Records is well on its way to conquering the honorary title / nickname 'The Queen of Less Is More'. The label includes music by the duo Blue Sands (see review elsewhere on this site), a duo consisting of singer Esther van Hees and bassist Reindert Kragt.
Guitarist Gary Lucas (New York) and bassist Peter Willems (Maastricht) don't even have a band name… They're just called 'Gary Lucas and Peter Willems'.
Where Blue Sands makes modest, introverted music on their album 'No Longer Blue', Lucas and Willems use a completely different approach. Although they only play a few songs of their own, it goes too far to simply call their rendition of Spoonful (Dixon) a 'cover'. The fragments of recognizable text indeed 'prove' that Willie Dixon is indeed the composer of Spoonful, but the reference to the original pretty much ends there. Interesting - and therefore fascinating - if musicians can resuscitate such a blues stop-lap. After their version of Spoonful first sounds civilized a bit towards Fever, the song then derails in a pleasant way. I'm So Glad (Skip James), also a song that caused a furore in the performance of the Cream at the end of the sixties, gets a similar, but very different makeover.
Polished madness: The quirkiness of L&W's music is somewhat understandable when you know that Lucas has played with John Zorn, Captain Beefheart, Jeff Buckley, Joan Osborne, Nick Cave and Leonard Bernstein. (See * for a more extensive list) All of these musicians don't care much about boundaries and boxes. Add a dash of a cross between Richard Thompson and Robert Fripp; and possibly a little Bill Frisell. But above all some craziness, unpredictability and maladjustment and then you come close to the music on 'Double Dare Volume 1 & 2'.
Lucas and Willems met at the initiative of music connoisseur and producer Co De Kloet, who invited them to one of his musical activities. Lucas & Willems also played at the adventurous So What's New festival. Then they got to work doing a thing all their own together. The recordings on ‘Double Dare Volume 1’ are the first part of the result of their collaboration. The six tracks were recorded live and are proof of the unbridled musical freedom that L&W allow themselves. For example, in addition to Spoonful and I'm So Glad, you can also find a cover of a fairly obscure song by the Velvet Underground (Hey Mr. Rain).
The musical exploration is expanded even further on 'Double Dare Volume 2', when Lucas and Willems get to work in the studio. Then songs by Franz Schubert are also played and the field of ambient music is entered. Again no easy listening stuff, but fascinating interpretations, also of a song by Lucas and Buckley (Harem Man).
Extremes: Not only in terms of age, but also instrumentally and vocally, Lucas and Willems cover two extremes of the musical spectrum. Lucas is an old (69) hand, tried and tested by playing with very different musical greats. He has a dark, low rock voice. Bassist and singer Willems is 22 years young and his voice sounds angelic high. All in all, 'Double Dare Volume 1 & 2' is the result of a very unusual collaboration between musicians with an age difference of almost 50 years. Musicians who understand each other without any problems and who confidently embark on a musical adventure together. They play/interpret folk traditionals such as Fare Thee Well just as easily in their own way as psychedelic blues & jazz. Listen to the contrasting and glorious 'Double Dare Volume 1 & 2' and go on an adventure with Lucas and Willems.
Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter, March 2022Review of "Double Dare" by Gary Lucas and Peter Willems (ZenneZ ZR2203014, Netherlands)
Featuring Gary Lucas on guitars & vocals and Peter Willems on contrabass & vocals. Gary Lucas and Peter Willems first met on a live radio show hosted by Co de Kloet, a Dutch radio producer & documentary maker who worked with Frank Zappa. Longtime Downtown guitar legend has done some fifty records since his first album was released in 1991: many solo efforts, a handful of duos (w/Jeff Buckley, Najma Akhtar & Peter Hammill), several collaborations (w/ Urfaust & The Dark Poets), several Capt. Beefheart tribute bands (Fast N’ Bulbous & The Magic Band) and more often with his own Gods and Monsters band. Aside from being a master guitar player, Mr. Lucas has vastly diverse tastes, influenced by and drawing from many sources: 60’s rock music & 70’s prog-rock, the blues, folk, jazz, classical and film music from different eras.
This disc features a varied playlist: early blues, traditional & contemporary folk, a rare Velvet Underground cover, a Gillian Welch cover, songs by Franz Schubert and original songs by Gary Lucas and Peter Willems. The first two songs here are blues standards, “I’m So Glad” and “Spoonful”, were both covered by Cream in the late sixties. Yet, these versions are completely different than the Cream versions. Both Gary, with his world-weary voice and Peter (with a voice rather like Jeff Buckley), sing here and sound great together, their different voices somehow connected most soulfully. Mr. Lucas plays acoustic guitar while Mr. Willems plays contrabass, another combination that works especially well together. Mr. Williams sings lead on “Spoonful” and sings most righteously, especially given his young age. Although this song is stripped down, the spirit is just right with Mr. Lucas adding some sly slide licks like succulent spice. “Dance of Destiny” is an old instrumental written by Mr. Lucas which I haven’t heard in a long while. The version here works well with just these two acoustic instruments united as one unique force. “Hey Mr. Rain” is a rare Velvet Underground cover which is only found on one of their outtakes albums. Both Lucas and Willems sing together, their voices in strong harmony, the music around them most hypnotic and dream-like. It turns out that fifties TV comedian, Jackie Gleason, also was a composer/producer of a handful of eclectic albums. The duo cover his song, “Melancholy Serenade”, which is a quaint gem. Mr. Willems sings lead on the traditional song, “Fare Thee Well” and does a fine job with a voice that fits the song's sentiment just right. The duo also do “Scarlett Town” by Gillian Welch & David Rawlings. It turns that yours truly is a big fan of Ms. Welch, whose album called, ’Time (The Revelator)’(2001), I continue to play often since it touches me so deeply. “Scarlet Town” is from a later record but no less enchanting. The version here by Gary & Peter is well done, different, but no less enchanting, rather ghost-like in sound with some immensely eerie slide guitar hovering in the distance and some scary guitar sounds before it ends. Gary Lucas and Jeff Buckley collaborated on a song called “Harem Man” which is covered here. Their version is most haunting with Mr. Willem’s voice in great form and Lucas’ echoed guitar evoking many different ghosts. “Better Than You Were” is the real jewel here with strong lyrics about the existential crisis that many of us have been living through since the pandemic began, great vocals by Mr. Willems and strong support from Lucas’ magic guitar. There are many different duo collaborations that work on different levels. This works especially since both of these musicians sound connected to a similar spirit which is inside all of us, but is not so easily translated into our regular lives. A very special disc indeed!
—Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG
CD $15 [we are having a Gary Lucas sale of a dozen of his back-catalogue CD’s which will be listed in next week’s newsletter]
OOR Magazine (Netherlands), March 2022Review of "Double Dare" by Gary Lucas and Peter Willems
Gary Lucas is not a man to sit still. During the corona-era he is definitely the most traveling American musician. In 2020 he did several concerts in The Netherlands and recorded a record with the young Maastricht double bass player Peter Willems. Both musicians don’t get pinned down easily and their chemistry leads to extremely original and inspired music.
Initially their jam-sessions in the studio flowed because of their love for the blues. Hence the opening track “I’m So Glad” (known from Cream) and the Willie Dixon classic “Spoonful”. Their music spectrum gradually expanded. So “Hey, Mr. Rain” is a nice cover of an unknown Velvet Underground-song. “Scarlett Town” is from country singer Gillian Welch, and becomes a sinister song with subtle bass notes and almost ambient-like guitar playing. As proof of his craftsmanship Peter sings in an icy way a piece by Schubert. In turn Lucas releases all the brakes in the impressive “Verklärte Kristallnacht”. Together they excel again in “Harem Man”, a track which Lucas recorded before with Jeff Buckley.
Double Dare is an album filled with adventurous music, that certainly deserves a place of honor between the more than fifty records which Gary Lucas has recorded in his long career.