“When you ask me what time it is, I say ‘now,’” guitarist extraordinaire Richard Lloyd says over the phone from Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood. “People find it funny, but I never know what day it is. It’s just not necessary in my brain catalog.” That’s just one quirky facet to Lloyd, who’s most famous for his trenchant guitar solos, serpentine solos, and yeoman backing vocals on Television’s Marquee Moon (a consensus all-time classic of expansive art rock cut at the height of the punk era), and their very good follow-ups from 1978 and 1992, respectively, Adventure and Television. Beginning with 1979’s Alchemy, Lloyd’s forged a solid, if largely under-the-radar, solo career. He’s also provided crucial six-string augmentation to several power-pop records by Matthew Sweet and paid homage to his ax hero, Jimi Hendrix, with an LP of covers called The Jamie Neverts Story. The 63-year-old Lloyd left Television in 2007 and hasn’t played Seattle since the ’90s, so tonight is a rare opportunity to catch the master up close and personal at Columbia City Theater. I interviewed the outspoken guitarist/vocalist about several topics, including his relationship with Television frontman Tom Verlaine, guitar theory, music-biz corruption, and a helluva lot more.
In preparing for this interview, I searched and contacted 11 Seattle record stores trying to find your albums or CDs. I had no luck until I hit a record show over the weekend and found Real Time on vinyl. What this tells me is that your back catalog is in dire need of reissuing. Is anything happening on that front?
Richard Lloyd: Not at the moment. I’ll be selling CDs at the gigs, but that’s about it for now. There are some plans afoot, but I can’t talk about them. They’re having to do with some other things. They’re in dire need, but they’re also in need of audience support. I haven’t played Seattle since Television played there at the EXP doodad [EMP Museum]. I haven’t played the Northwest on my own in many years.
Is music your sole way of existing or do you anything else?
I’ve been doing a lot of painting of late. I post the paintings on a Facebook group page. I have 5,000 friends. [laughs] I’ve got 3,800 followers. My fan club has 12,000 members, so there are people out there who are interested in what I’m doing. And I have written new songs. But having not played the Northwest in so long, we’re going to be going through some of my whole catalog. I write down a list and it’s like 38 songs. Then the band goes, “We can’t learn 38 songs for this tour! We’re not the Grateful Dead. We’re not Bruce Springsteen. We don’t take an intermission.”
The best acts I’ve ever seen have given short concerts. Forty minutes is about as much as I can stomach out of anybody. We’re gonna hit hard.
What's your set in Seattle going to be like? Will you be doing songs from every phase of your solo career? Full band? Any Television songs?
Yeah, pretty much. We’re gonna do a couple of Television songs—the ones I can sing easily and play.
If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise. [Relenting] We’ll probably do “Friction” and “See No Evil,” at least.
“Friction” is probably my favorite.
Oh. The line the whole song is poised upon… Of course, I never got songwriting credit because that’s the way it was with Tom.
You feel like you got shafted in that regard?
Oh, yeah. Of course! But the thing is, you have to pick your battles. I was more interested in the band in a different way. When I was 17, I made a conscious wish that I wanted to become a world-renowned electric lead guitarist and have an irrevocable impact on the history of rock and roll. I did that with formulating Television. Marquee Moon’s never been out of print in 38 years. Uncut, the English magazine, named it number two of debut albums of all time, followed by Hendrix’s at number three. You can argue with all these lists, but we’re almost always on those greatest-albums lists.
I don’t wallow in the past. I live in the now.
Finding CBGB, which was a dump, and making ourselves the house band there was a brilliant idea. Have two bands play two sets a night and that’s it. You’d go to see Talking Heads and you’d have to see Television, and vice versa. Or the Ramones and Blondie. You could stick around all night on one fee. We wanted to play more. How did the Beatles get good? They played five sets a night in Hamburg. That’s the kind of thing we wanted. We didn’t know that there were all these bands that wanted to play original music that were going to crawl out of the woodwork from all over the world. We knew that we needed a place to build an audience. It took about a year and a half to pack the place. When we left when Elektra signed us, for me, because I was there almost every night, it was like throwing a three-and-a-half-year new year’s eve party. How many times in your life do you get moments like that?
Do you view Marquee Moon as an albatross or the gift that keeps on giving?
Both. For Tom, it’s more of an albatross than it is for me. When I left the band in 2007, Television hadn’t put out a record since 1992 and had written eight songs in that whole time. Tom would start a song and he had no lyrics and he didn’t want to sing and he didn’t want to tour and he didn’t want to do this or that. I had a studio where we could have made a reasonably good-sounding record for free. But he didn’t want to use it, and he kept making excuses, even though he would come over and we would spend hours testing microphones. We both had quite a collection of microphones.
So I have an eight-song demo, but with no lyrics. But they sound great.
What’s going to happen to those eight songs?
They’re just going to remain unreleased?
[Voice shifting into high-pitched tone of resignation] Yeeeaaaah, that’s probably the way it’s going to be. Because they’re not my sole property. I can’t just release them as a bootleg.
Is Tom just not interested in getting those things out into the world?
Correct. He’s run out of lyrics. He has his best buddy [Jimmy Rip] replace me, who’s this brown-nose hired hand, and he all of a sudden starts touring all over the place doing Marquee Moon. If I had to play Marquee Moon one more time, well… I’d play it. That’s all. But I’m glad I don’t have to play that every night the rest of my life. I used to think what a curse it was for Chuck Berry to play "Johnny B. Goode"; it’s a blessing and a curse.
But look at the statistics. The ratio of people who are in bands compared with the ratio of people who actually make a dent in musical history… it’s so skewed in favor of failure that it’s ridiculous. Not only do you have to be extraordinary, you have to have something extraordinary around you, like an aura that pulls things in. I’m a great believer in a kind of magical power that we have. You could use the New Testament: If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, and say to the mountain ‘move,’ it would move. I used to say to people, if I wanted the Eiffel Tower upside down in my backyard tomorrow, it would be there. France should send me a thank-you note.
Do you consider your talent as a guitarist “god-given,” like a lot of gifted musicians do?
No. I had to sweat like a motherf*ck*r for it. [Lloyd has an odd aversion for swearing; he refused to enunciate the last two syllables of motherfucker.] I used to go to bed and you know how you pray for grandma and grandpa? I used to pray that during my sleep I would go into the closet and play guitar for a thousand years and come out with that practice under my belt. I mean, I did nothing but play guitar. Nothing! I’d rather be homeless than not playing my guitar. I’ve quit jobs because it interfered with my partying and guitar playing. I’m serious. Being serious in my definition means you’re serious about your aim and not anything else. Then [success] might happen. But most people have these conflicting desires. I want a family and I also want to be a rock-and-roll star. Sorry!
I saw Tom play and I thought, ‘He’s got IT.’ And I knew I had IT. But I was missing something and so was he. What he was missing, I could supply. And vice versa.
What did you provide that Tom couldn’t?
The fleshing out of all the songs. All the filigrees and arabesques on Marquee Moon are all mine. Even though the solos are maybe different, during the verses, when Tom’s singing, I’m playing all the melody. I brought a rock-and-roll heart. Tom has some strange tastes. He likes cowboy music—I don't mean country & western; I mean cowboy music, and county fair music and TV theme songs and crap like that. He comes in and says, "Look what I got for 99 cents!' I'll look at it and think, 'Oh my god. Thank god I don't have a record player.'"
A lot of people wondered why you didn't play on Television's latest Marquee Moon tour. Can you elaborate on the story behind that?
Well, I quit in 2007 and they immediately replaced me with Tom's best pal and the guy who'd been doing shows with him at museums providing music for silent films for 25 years. Jimmy Rip, the guy who took my position on tour, is a marvelous guitar player. He's not ME, but it'll suffice. He's playing all my parts. He can't help it.
Do you want to be in a band that has not recorded an album in 25 years? [23, actually, but point taken.] Since then, I've put out FIVE albums. They're not big sellers. Like you say, you couldn't find 'em in Seattle. They're great and if you get them online or somehow get a copy at one of the shows we do, they're really good albums. I could not ride two horses anymore. I've got to put this Television thing to bed. Even CBGB closed. So they're going around playing Marquee Moon all over the world, and my record royalties go up. Of course, I'm not benefiting from the financial rewards of touring, but that's not what I ever wanted. I didn't get into this for the money. Some people did. I got into it to become a renowned guitarist who's made an irrevocable impact on rock-and-roll history.
I grew up in the '60s, so I got to meet all of the incoming English rock-star guitar players, as well as the bluesmen. My first performance in front of a paying audience was with John Lee Hooker in 1970. He started talking to me backstage after he found out I was a guitar player and demanded that I come up onstage. I swear, you could've put cymbals between my legs and you'd have another hi-hat. I was NERVOUS. Then he's doing a boogie; all the musicians are taking a solos. He gets to me and he doesn't give me one round of a 12-bar blues; he takes me around THREE times before letting me go. My fingers are falling off. Hooker also gave me some great advice.
I also knew Jimi Hendrix's only, like, little brother, best friend, his only guitar student [Velvert Turner]. I learned a lot from hanging around Jimi, Zeppelin, Traffic, and all the rest of the bands. We had a club where you had to be backstage at any show you were at. I was at a Led Zeppelin concert in Central Park. I kept saying the mantra, "I'm not an audience member. I belong backstage. I'm an artist." There was this girl walking up and down the aisles, talking to various people. I called her over and asked, "What are you looking for?" She told me and said,"'I've got that." And she said, "Come with me." I ended up backstage. It's magic. Magical thinking. But SERIOUS magical thinking. That's serious, and nothing else is.
I've been backstage with the Who, the Allman Brothers, the Grateful Dead, you name it. I was in the studio with Hendrix. Et cetera. I picked up a lot of savvy that way. I have an aura. I didn't want to become close to these people to become their friends, because when you're young, even a year or two separates you significantly. I was 15, 16 and they were like 25, 26. I thought, if I was the fly on the wall and didn't say anything, I'd last longer.
All this is fodder for my memoirs, which, god knows... I have such a good memory, it's hard to write, because I go off on detours. I need an editor and some backing. I don't need a ghostwriter. Everyone has told me, from David Fricke at Rolling Stone to Bill Flanagan at VH1, that I'm a good writer. I'm writing this in vignettes, because I have an episodic memory. Like bumping into Keith Moon backstage at a Mott the Hoople concert. We got into a fight over who was dressed better. This was in 1972. It's in Ian Hunter's book about Mott. I'm a rock guy all the way down. People used to say, "You play and rock and roll?" I said, "Yeah, but I don't roll." I rock. You move me from place to place like the blocks of a pyramid. Because that's how heavy it is.
What compelled you to record a tribute album to Jimi Hendrix, The Jamie Neverts Story? It seems like a daunting task for a guitarist, no matter how skillful. What did you learn from Hendrix’s musicianship?
First of all, his first two albums were recorded lickety-split. So there's a lot of reverb and weird stuff on them. You can't really hear the beauty of his songwriting in the way that I wanted to be able to present it. Second of all, I owed a debt to Hendrix and to Velvert Turner, my best friend. They're both deceased and I thought, it's time to pay. I learned all those songs in 1968, '69. It took a year to get permission from Jamie Hendrix and the family. Jamie Neverts was our secret name for Jimi Hendrix, to prevent all the kids from following us when we were going to visit Jimi.
Do you think you've gotten a raw deal from the music industry?
Noooooo. I think everybody gets a raw deal from the music industry. I got the same as everybody else. But, I also got success from it. So its six of one, half dozen of the other. You go into one of those record companies and everything is gold-plated. If you're smart, one day you go into the bathroom and it's all high tech and you say, "Hey, this is my money. I should have this. What is the record company doing looking like the Taj Mahal?" In the meantime they're telling us [Television] we haven't broken even yet? We had to fight Elektra for seven years to get royalties. They had to pay us quite a lot, all at once. How can a record that had such a small budget and no videos and one tour support when we opened for Peter Gabriel...
We did 30 shows with Peter Gabriel, his first tour after leaving Genesis. During our show, the crowd would be yelling “Peter Gabriel! Peter Gabriel! You suck! Get off the stage!” After Gabriel went onstage, about three songs in, you'd hear one or two people shout, “Genesis! Genesis!” The poor guy can't win.
Robert Fripp was on that tour. He wanted to join Television. He thought we could be a three-guitar band. Tom and I looked at each other and went, 'Uh-uh. No. We're okay as is.' [laughs]
That would be too much greatness.
Too many cooks. With two, we sounded like five anyway, so what would three sound like? [Goes on a tangent] I like to put the high strings on my guitar and forgo the low strings. It's called Nashville tuning. Boy is that sweet. The chiming stuff, you know. But there's a difference because of the way you're playing the octaves, picking up and down. On the 12-string, you get that chiming effect on the octave slipping.
Who's playing with you on this tour?
David Leonard, who's on Real Time with me, plays rhythm guitar. He's toured Sweden and some other places with me. On drums, Chris Butler, who was in the Waitresses and played on The Cover Doesn't Matter. He wrote "I Know What Boys Like." He also wrote "Christmas Wrapping," which the Spice Girls covered [in 1998]. Keith Hartel is an astounding bass player, a real rock-and-roll kid. It's a great band. We tear the place down, blow the roof off, whatever you want to call it. We play for ourselves and if there's anybody there, that's gravy. We hope it pays for itself.
Maybe in some way you and Verlaine are like Jagger and Richards: Your solo works never equaled what you did together.
Yeah, except all the credits read "Jagger." We're like Mick and Keith or John and Paul. I can sing, but Tom doesn't want that. He wants to be the center, he wants to be everything. I got sick of somebody else being the decider. I've seen him turn down things that no person in their right mind would turn down, because he was wealthy. Because he took all the publishing. He would say no to all this stuff, when the band could've been building an audience and making money and making more records. But he ran out of juice. We wrote these eight songs and he never put lyrics to them. There are just wacky little titles to them. He had this alter ego named Shirley [said in a high-pitched voice]. It was this little doll he would play. If you tried to talk to him about anything serious, he would just start making jokes.
I love Tom! I wouldn't have spent 35 years with him if I didn't honestly love him. But I can't deal with him anymore. It's like going to the dentist, playing with him, especially in the studio. He's what's called a crazymaker for me.
What drives you crazy about him?
He thinks he has super-human hearing. He hears stuff that's not there or that doesn't matter in rock and roll. He has us playing on one. The Capitol record, the third eponymous album that came out in 1992, has great songs on it: "1880" and "Call Mr. Lee," which is a tour de force for me. I don't think they can play that one live, because replicating my parts is beyond Jimmy Rip's talent. But it's like Television lite. And I'm a rocker.
Tom can be one of the funniest men on Earth.
I left Television because there was nothing new coming down the pike. Then he released two records at the same time: one of songs [Songs and Other Things] and one of instrumentals [Around]. That kind of ticked me off. He could've put his energy into a Television record. Instead he puts out two of his own, to make money. Probably the best song on the record is based on a riff that was a Television song that he said he didn't like anymore. That's a bit underhanded.
[Irritated] I don't know anymore. I don't listen to Tom's material. You'll get truth from me, but I'm not going to answer every question you pose to me. Some things break other people's privacy. I'm not a gossiper.
Can you make a living off Television royalties?
Barely. I need additional income. I teach guitar, sometimes over Skype because I don't have a studio anymore. I'm writing my book. I've got like 400 pages of vignettes. I've got another 800 pages in me, at least. It's not going to be one of these tell-all CBGB books. It's going to be a real book with some intellectual interest.
[Off on another tangent] You can divide rock-and-roll players into two camps: those who play because they don't want to grow up and those who play because they haven't grown up. I'm in the first series and the bandana heads are in the other series. Some people just don't mature. Television was mature right away. And serious right away.