Richard Lloyd Tells a Vision: A Q&A with the Celebrated Guitarist | Music
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Friday, February 3, 2017

Richard Lloyd Tells a Vision: A Q&A with the Celebrated Guitarist

Posted by on Fri, Feb 3, 2017 at 1:00 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF HEAD ON MANAGEMENT AND BOOKING
  • Photo courtesy of Head On Management and Booking
As one-quarter of the seminal New York City band Television, Richard Lloyd wasn’t just there for the birth of punk in the States: it wouldn’t have happened without him. Television didn’t last long, and they weren't really punk, but they were the first band to play at CBGBs. The band's 1977 LP, Marquee Moon, is a singular achievement that continues to bedazzle, with its thrilling admixture of Lloyd and Verlaine's guitars meshing in almost impossible ways.

Lloyd has since distinguished himself on record, in the solo realm and as a fiery sideman (his riveting playing on Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend is a career highlight). On the eve of two local gigs at Slim's tonight and The Cave on Saturday, Lloyd shared a John Lee Hooker story, elucidated his guitar teaching method, and explained why he’s cool with a John Varvatos store standing where CBGBs once was.

INDY: Over the years you’ve gone out with your own band as well as played with the temporarily reunited Television. When you’ve played with Television, you’re kind of locked into a script—do you enjoy your own gigs more because you can just play what you want?

RICHARD LLOYD: I like playing period, so it doesn’t matter whether it’s with Television or with my own thing or Matthew Sweet or whatever. And in fact, those gigs are easier because I don’t have to sing. But of course, I love doing my own thing. Got a really crack band and we’re ready to play.

Are you dusting off any songs that you haven’t played live before?
I have a pretty big catalog, actually. It’s more a matter of what songs don’t we play.

When guitar players play together it seems like a conversation. How would you describe the interplay between you and Tom Verlaine?
I think of it as gears, like in a wristwatch or motorcars traveling at different speeds to get someplace. Or a jigsaw puzzle. Your part might not make sense on its own, but connected with the other part, it fits.

Marquee Moon was made without pedals.
I don’t use much pedaling now, just a gain boost, basically.

So do you find shoegaze and such not interesting?

It’s more a matter of personal taste. I think a good fuzzbox can be used very effectively, as can all these other effects. It really depends. To me an effect is most effective [laughs] if it’s used in spots, to provide something I would call ear candy, keep the brain interested in the music. So it wouldn’t go through the whole thing, it would just be here and there. But people don’t know how to turn their machines off. They’re dependent on the mechanism rather than what they’re doing.

I think Johnny Marr said something like, once you go into overdrive, where do you go from there? Maybe you’re saying something similar.
It’s similar certainly, because once you have the overdrive on, it’s just psychologically defeating to turn it off. You’ve gotta be able to turn it on and off to use it effectively.

Some within the punk movement said they were sort of stripping the blackness out of rock 'n' roll. Was R&B an influence for you?
Of course. All kinds of music influenced me. I listened to everything from rural blues to rock ’n’ roll to country. Anything with an electric guitar, really, was my meat.

Do you keep an acoustic guitar around, and do you ever play it?

I have one, and I’ve been known to play it, and I’ve been known to do acoustic solo gigs, but no, I don’t really see it as an instrument I can speak through. I say I’m a guitarist and people say what kind of a guitarist are you, and I say I’m an electrical guitarist. I play the electricity, the electricity plays me, and then we dance. And the guitar is the instrument through which I dance with the electricity. I don’t simply play the guitar.

You did an album of Hendrix covers. What are the unique challenges of playing Hendrix?

Well, first of all, he’s much more melodic than people give him credit for. Two, there’s a certain vertical knowledge of the guitar one needs to have and start with. John Lee Hooker once told me, “I’ll tell you the secret of playing the electric guitar. What he said to me was, “Take off all the strings but one, and learn one string up and down and down and up, until the girls go, ‘Woooo!’ Then put on a second string and play those two strings up and down, and down and up and shake 'em and bend 'em until the women go ‘Woooo!’' and the men go ‘Aaaaaah.’ And by the time you get to six, you’ll be a great guitarist.

Jimi played vertically, which is what differentiated him from all the English blues guitarists who played in, its called positional play, where your wrist doesn’t move beyond your board.

He used his thumb a lot, didn’t he?
He had huge hands, and sure, he used the thumb to build chords, either by playing the low E string with his thumb or even the A string.

Hand size is obviously an asset for a guitar player.
I don’t have big hands. Neither does Jimmy Page. And we both seem to do well with it. But they’re not teeny either.

I wonder if Donald Trump could even play the guitar.
I doubt it.

If Melania called you and asked you to come by for a weekend and give him lessons, like you did for Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, would you refuse?
Yes. I would not want to be in the same room with that man for any length of time whatsoever. The atmosphere around him is poisonous.

You’ve been teaching guitar for a long time. That really requires empathy. I took lessons from a guy who foisted jazz chords on me and I quit.
Oh yeah. I take people back to the one-string approach. You can’t learn the major scale or even the pentatonic scale, really thoroughly understand the instrument, without vertical knowledge. And once you have a sense of the other thoroughly abiding laws of music, and there aren’t that many, there’s like two or three laws of music, but once you know the laws, then you can break ‘em or not. Learning the major scale on one string because when you cross the strings, you’re doing an interval, and you don’t see the interval. So it’s difficult to learn truly what a major scale is, which is two whole steps and a half step, then three whole steps and a half step. Two and a half, three and a half, two and a half, three and a half, in either direction. Learning that can really dispel a lot of ignorance.

The importance of CBGB’s is one of the few indisputable facts in the history of punk rock.

Well, the history of rock ‘n’ roll in general.

A lot of people have a connection to major movements, but discovering the venue itself was something you did personally, along with Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell. That’s a rare kind of involvement. Does it gall you to see that John Varvatos store where CBs once was?
Listen, CBGBs had run its life course. And everything has a time. So I was happy to see its last night. I was at its first night, and I was at its last night, and many nights in between. People ask me, Was I sorry to see it go? I was like, no: When was the last time something important came out of it? It had become an anachronism.

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