Decades After Punk Rock's Birth, Television's Richard Lloyd Says Playing Music Has Been A 'Great Adventure'
We started hearing the rumbling of punk rock in the mid-‘70s out of the ever-grungy, long-shuttered, now-fabled Bowery bar CBGB. Television, a band co-fronted by Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd that would become a mainstay of the venue, first had to convince the club’s owner to forego the original programming idea: Country, BlueGrass and Blues.
Lloyd recounts what he told the owner, Hilly Kristal: "We said we play a little blues, a little bluegrass and a little rock.” (A lie.) “We don’t sound like anybody else.” (Truth.) He still said no. Their manager then tried: “ ‘How does your bar do on your best night? Let my band play and I’ll invite all alcoholics to come down and see them and you’ll have a better bar night.’ We played and it came true.” Soon, bands like The Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie would make the 350-capacity railcar-like New York City dive the nexus of the movement.
In those days, Lloyd had a lot of fun, played a lot of beautiful music and wreaked a fair amount of self-inflicted damage. “The whole thing bleeds together and it was like a three years long New Year’s Eve party at which we were one of the hosts,” he says on the phone from his home in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Now, those first-generation CBGB bands — those that have survived — have gotten older and are considered iconic. The punk ethos of DIY remains and the genre's sound has touched everyone from Nirvana to Green Day to The Armed.
Lloyd is starting an eight-date solo tour singing and playing electric guitar. (He comes to Boston’s City Winery on Tuesday, Jan. 29.) A deft guitarist, Lloyd has a keen melodic pop sense, which he balances with distortion and an aesthetic that melds garage and art-rock.
He made three studio albums with Television, though had a checkered history with Verlaine, the band's main writer, singer and guitarist. Their debut album, “Marquee Moon,” from 1977 is a classic; their second, “Adventure,” not so much. They reunited in 1991 and recorded an eponymous third album. Lloyd left in 2007, and the band continues on.
Lloyd, believing he never got the songwriting credit (or publishing money) he deserved, felt he and the other band members were being treated as hired hands. And he was frustrated by what he saw as Verlaine’s lackadaisical attitude toward making new music.
“Every year Tom would say, ‘We’re gonna do an album,’ and the years would float by and there was never an attempt to go in the studio or anything,” Lloyd says, adding that they recorded 10 songs but Verlaine wouldn’t do vocals. “He wanted to get away with as little as possible and make money.”
As a solo artist, Lloyd's made 10 albums — the latest being last November's release of "The Countdown." On stage, he can't do a lot of Television songs, which are based on two guitar parts intertwining. But he does use a looper pedal that will let him lay down a riff to perform the classic “Marquee Moon.”
“I have a lot of fun playing without a drummer, a bass player or [another] guitarist,” he adds. “I can slow things down, I can speed things up, I can play with the dynamics. I have a lot of freedom. If I want to play a song and stop halfway through and play another one, there’s no one to stop me.”
Sober for decades now, Lloyd muses on our existence — offering that you could either view life as a tragedy, or a divine comedy.
“The funny thing is, if you’ve lived through everything it’s a divine comedy. If it’s all a tragedy, you’re just going to end up with self-pity, blaming everybody else," he says. "I don’t blame anybody for my faults. I also don’t regret the past.”
He gives an example, something that likely happened in 1979 at a club he can’t recall the name of when he was on tour debuting his brilliant solo album, “Alchemy.” Back then, heroin and alcohol were his frequent companions. “I remember one time waking up in the dressing room and telling the band, ‘Do we really have to do an encore?’ because people were clapping. They said, 'You haven’t been on yet.’ ... I had nodded out and dreamt we had played a show.
"Everybody had a life and mine was as much spontaneous combustion as anybody else’s," Lloyd says. "I just didn’t go down with the rest because I had guardian angels looking out.”
For Lloyd, life is about experience and adventure. When he was young, he knew he’d never climb mountains or be astronaut and thought, “Well, I can do drugs and become an adventurer, a mystic, a chemist, a doctor and a criminal — all in one!' ” Now, he says, "Playing music in any way shape or form is a great adventure. One of my definitions of a successful musician you go to places where tourists have to pay to go and when you get there, they’re more likely to applaud than boo. What kind of a great life is that?"