lenny kaye

[contributed by Jimmie Purvis, w/ additions by Bruce Hanson and Fiona W.]

Lenny Kaye was born and bred in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and initially recorded as a solo artist under the pseudonym Link Cromwell (Particularly worthwhile seeking out is the single "Crazy Like a Fox" b/w "Shock Me", recorded Fall 1965 -- a surprising little piece of folky-tinged slighty proto-psychedelic acapella-cum-garage rock-n-roll)

He and Patti met after he had published an article in Jazz & Pop called "The Best of Acapella" (now anthologized in The Penguin Book of Rock and Roll Writing), and she called him to express admiration for the piece. She started to visit him in the record store he worked in (Village Oldies, in NYC), and eventually asked him if he was interested in playing guitar behind some of her poems.

Over a period of more than twenty-five years Lenny Kaye has collaborated with Patti Smith on a wide variety of musical and art projects. According to him, his first poetry reading with Patti took place at St. Mark's Church in New York City. In 1973 the two performers opted to transform their recitations into a musical act.

Kaye became the lead guitarist for the Patti Smith Group and helped the band establish itself as an influential force on the seventies rock scene. Smith, Kaye, Richard Sohl (piano), Ivan Kral (guitar and bass), and Jay Dee Daugherty (drums) played regularly at such legendary venues as Max's Kansas Cityand CBGB's. They made four albums during the decade and received a considerable amount of critical acclaim.

Kaye said much of the music of the Patti Smith Group was the result of experimentation and improvisation. In his words,

A lot of songs started off as jams and soon we found that things would organically come together. "Gloria" started as a jam. We'd do chordal riffs over which Patti would chant, poeticize, and tell stories. We never thought about it becoming as big as it did. We were satisfied playing for local art audiences. We just liked doing what we were doing. It didn't have a category. It was an attitude.
Throughout the existence of the Patti Smith Group Lenny viewed Patti with unabashed reverence and awe. He stated:
Patti was extremely inspirational. She had great enthusiasm for the creative energy of art. There was the personal side of her, which was very warm and funny. We used to giggle a lot and tell jokes and sit around and have good times. There was something very little-girlish about her. She also had very set ideas about pushing herself and making sure that neither she nor anyone else she was working with was content with what was. She was working for what could be. That's why the band split up. When there was nowhere else to go we decided to go on to new things.

I first got into Patti as a fan when she was an actress in a Jackie Curtis play at La Mama. I still remained a fan throughout my association with her. She's one of the great creative minds of our generation. . .

Lenny is also highly regarded for having produced the Nuggets compilation of seminal psychedelic music, about which he has said, "I just hope you have as much fun letting it spin as I did putting it together." Julian Cope writes:
For the time being, I shall presume that everyone has a copy of 'Nuggets'. If you know nothing else about psychedelia, you should know this. If not, put the paper down and go and listen to all the basics: The first Pink Floyd, 'Revolver', Traffic, The 13th Floor Elevators, 'Sgt. Pepper', 'A Web of Sound', 'Forever Changes', etc.

'Nuggets' was and still is the basic introduction. It gave us groups that were then so obscure but now, to a mass of people, are favourite listening. It introduced us to The Seeds, Chocolate Watchband, Elevators, Remains, Standells, Electric Prunes and so many others who had classic but unknown songs released. By now we know that they had also recorded classic LP's.

But during the '70's, these LP's were sold next to garbage like Strawberry Alarm Clock, Josephus, Blue Cheer, Bubble Puppy, anything on International Artists. You had to listen to all the I.A. catalogue to find out that the only things necessary were the 13th Floor Elevators LP's.

Psychedelia was being sold as hippy music by charlatans who thought any journey-thru-my-inner-mind-man nonsense was hip.

But the influence of 'Nuggets' was deep-rooted. This supposed 2nd Division music was the real psychedelia.

Along with the Nuggets compilation project, he also compiled the box set titled "Electrock", which gleaned the best from Electra's high point of roster creativity (Earth Opera, Tim Buckley, Love, MC5, Stooges, etc.), and a three-record set of Anglo-American/Appalachian mountain balladry (PSG's "Ghost Dance" is a good representation of the influence of this genre of music on Lenny)

After the Patti Smith Group broke up, Kaye remained a rock'n'roller and devoted most of his energy to a couple of enterprises. In 1980, he formed the Lenny Kaye Connection. The band played gigs at the Ritz, Irving Plaza, and the Peppermint Lounge. Describing the music resulting from this period as "more traditional than Patti's," Kaye said he didn't want to try and become more avant-garde because that would not be true to himself. (The Lenny Kaye Connection's I've Got a Right LP was Giorno Poetry Systems #032, in 1984.) Additionally, the talented performer produced the first two albums of Suzanne Vega, a rising new star in the eighties, and in the process garnered numerous critical kudos.

Lenny has also played guitar with a number of other bands, including those of Eugene Chadbourne and Jim Carroll. In addition to working with Suzanne Vega, he has done production work for Kristin Hersh.

In 1986, he returned to Rutgers University (he earned his bachelors degree there in 1969, and eventually earned his masters degree in history years later) to teach an American Studies course entitled "Rock Music and American Culture". The course broke registration office records, and was a remarkably well-formed and thoughtful critical survey of rock history.

And if all that weren't impressive enough, Lenny Kaye has been a talented rock critic for many years, writing for such magazines as Rolling Stone and Creem. He is currently a contributing editor to the web rock magazine Addicted to Noise.

Presently, Kaye plays on Patti's new album Gone Again and is a member of the group that backs her up in concert. He also recently finished the project of writing Waylon Jennings' autobiography.

If you wanna bring a smile to his face, ask him about his first car (a '59 dark blue Impala, with wings on the back), or about his lovely daughter Annalea.

[Note: Some of the information above comes from Robbie Woliver, Bringing It All Back Home: 25 Years of American Music at Folk City, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986).]

Some links:

interview in '78 Hit Parader

interview in '79 Creem

interview from '79 in R 'N' R Magazine

interview in March '96

interview in June '96 Addicted to Noise

interview in 6/6/96 issue of Boston Phoenix

interview in March '97

some record reviews by Lenny Kaye:  Green Day's Insomniac | Angel Corpus Christi's White Courtesy Phone | The Everly Brothers' Heartaches & Harmonies

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