Garland Jeffreys: Still “Wild in the Streets” at 75
By Etan Rosenbloom, Director & Deputy Editor, Marketing & Communications • June 29, 2018
People get older, but great songs can be timeless. So when you find out that ASCAP singer-songwriter Garland Jeffreys turned 75 on June 29, 2018, the proper reaction isn’t “Wow, Garland Jeffreys is 75?!” It’s “Wow, Garland Jeffreys has been writing great songs for five decades.”
And it’s true. Between his early days, playing the New York folk circuit and founding roots-rock band Grinder’s Switch, on to his prolific string of solo albums in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and his post-millennial resurgence, starting with 2011’s The King of In Between, Jeffreys has given us several lifetimes worth of unforgettable music.
Jeffreys has always been a musical polyglot, building his sturdy songs from rock ‘n’ roll and deep soul, blues and folk, reggae and roots music. On occasion, he’s flirted with chart success -- his 1981 cover of “96 Tears” was a hit in the US, while 1979’s brilliant “Matador” and 1991’s “Hail Hail Rock ‘N’ Roll” each hit the charts across Europe. But even Jeffreys’ less well-known music is eternally relevant, because he is unafraid to tackle issues of identity, injustice and life struggles that we continue to grapple with. “Hail Hail Rock ‘N’ Roll” is a pledge for racial unity, couched in a history of the black roots of rock music; or the story of interracial romance in “I May Not Be Your Kind,” set to a reggae groove leagues deep. 35 years after it was released, “El Salvador” still speaks powerfully to the plight of immigrants trying to find a better life.
Younger generations of musicians have heard Jeffreys’ call. He’s been covered by everyone from LA punkers The Circle Jerks (who gave his song “Wild in the Streets” a hardcore makeover, turning it into an unofficial anthem of the skatepunk community) to neo-folk act Vetiver. And he continues to be a staple for TV and commercial placements. As but one example, a recent episode of 13 Reasons Why features both the Circle Jerks cover of “Wild in the Streets” and a raucous reinterpretation by the Peruvian-American psych-punk band Los Huaycos.
At 75 years young, Jeffreys isn’t even close to slowing down. His latest album, the autobiographical 14 Steps to Harlem, is another collection of keenly observed songs that landed on many critics’ best-of lists in 2017. He was recently interviewed for the Yale Oral History of American Music Archives. There’s a new documentary in the works about his life and music (check out the Pledge Music campaign here), and he continues to connect with fans old and new on tour.
ASCAP is proud to be a small part of Garland Jeffreys’ story. In 2012, he brought the house down at our annual Sundance ASCAP Music Café at the Sundance Film Festival, a few months after the release of his comeback record, The King of In Between. Check out a performance from his set above, followed by an interview we shot with him a few months earlier.
Happy 75th birthday to Garland Jeffreys - a true original, an absolute treasure of a songwriter, and an ASCAP member for 48 years. May you forever stay wild in the streets.
Visit Garland online at garlandjeffreys.com
Wish Garland “Happy Birthday” in person at one of his upcoming shows in New York:
July 13 - The Iridium, NYC
August 3 - Indian Lake Theater, Indian Lake, NY
August 10 - Stephen Talkhouse, Amagansett, NY