Forty years ago, Garland Jeffreys thought he was on the brink of stardom.
He soon learned that Atlantic didn’t want to push “Wild in the Streets” because it didn’t want it to compete with Jeffreys’ label mates, the Stones, and their new album “Goats Head Soup.”
“A guy who worked with Atlantic met me at the airport and he was going to take me on a tour of radio stations that were supporting the record in the Midwest,” Jeffreys says. “He looked like he could be my relative – obviously mixed race like me. We looked at each other and giggled.
“He took me around to all the stations he could. One thing that he said that stuck with me was, ‘You’re too black to be white, and you’re too white to be black.’ Right then, I knew I wouldn’t get any label support or radio airplay … only stations like WMMS in Cleveland and WCOL in Columbus would play it.
“There was nothing I could do about it. Bottom line, it was the beginning of the rock ‘n’ roll experience for me. You must have a thick skin as an artist if you want it to continue. There’s always going to be disappointments in general but in music in particular.”
Atlantic released “Garland Jeffreys” in 1973, sans “Wild in the Streets,” much to his dismay.
“The song made me proud. It made its mark,” he says. “It gave me confidence and songwriting cred. I made a decision – I had a lawyer, a very good lawyer. I was unhappy with Atlantic, so I bought the master for maybe $5,000. When I made the next album (1977’s ‘Ghost Writer’) on A&M, I pushed Jerry Moss to put it on the album. He agreed to it. The song was special, and it boosted the album.
“I can go anywhere in the world and people know that song. That makes me feel great.”
Over the next several decades, mainstream success eluded Jeffreys in his homeland, while overseas, the street poet was a big name. In 1979, “Matador” – a track off his album “American Boy & Girl” – topped the charts in several European countries.
“All these years later, I’m getting royalties for that song and it’s going to help pay my daughter’s college tuition,” he says, with a laugh.
Finally, Jeffreys is moving beyond cult status in the states. His 2011 album, “The King of In Between” was a favorite of critics, and his latest album, “Truth Serum,” out this week, is likely to win over many more.
“I’m so happy with this record,” he says. “But it’s different from anything I’ve ever done. We recorded it over three days, and each song was done in one take. I had never done that before. We didn’t want to mess with any of it.”
He’s having the time of his life and has no thoughts of retiring.
“What would I do?” he says. “I’m so blessed to be able to still do this.”
(Photo by Mary Ellen Matthews)