"My outer life is that of a rock and roll guitarist and minor rock star... but that's not my main interest in being on earth," says musical mystic Richard Lloyd. "Everybody has to have a gig, so that's mine." His next gig is tonight, Thursday the 14th, at the Velvet Lounge in Washington, DC, and it's not often you get to see one of the legends of the guitar for $10. He's a man worth seeing live.
Of course, he should be more than a minor rock star. He was a founding member of Television, the first house band at CBGB's, the band that turned a dump on the Bowery (initially founded as a country, bluegrass, and blues joint) into the most famous punk club in the world. The band released Marquee Moon, one of the great rock debuts, and one of the great guitar albums, of all time. Then the band broke up in 1978, having existed long enough to be legendary, but not quite long enough to be famous.
Lloyd's main interest on this earth, though, is mysticism. His first album after leaving Television was called Alchemy. Listening to him talk about mysticism can make a listener feel like a lyric from Alchemy's titular track: "And I'm sinking in mysteries that I cannot quite unfold." His current band is called the Sufi Monkeys, and he's touring behind an album he released last year called Radiant Monkey, which comes complete with a website explaining the Nietzsche-influenced philosophy behind the name. The guitar on the songs is what he calls his outer life; his inner life is the philosophy informing them.
Television was known for its two-guitar attack, the interplay between Lloyd and Tom Verlaine, fueled by the chemistry and friction between the two men that caused the band to form, then to break up, then to re-form in 1992, then to break up again last year. On stage, "We would be like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, we would fit together perfectly," he says, and describes the way he felt when they first met: "'This guy's got something, but he's missing something. What he's missing I've got... And I'm missing something, and what I'm missing he's got.'" What they had was combustible, but it was incredible, a sublime guitar interplay that reached toward nirvana.
Lloyd's solo work is much less well-known than his work with Television, and in many ways much simpler: he calls it "heavy, heavy pop." He's a rock guitarist, and the songs he writes are chunky and riff-based, straightforward, unpretentious, and amp-shakingly good. As his influences, he names Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, and Mike Bloomfield. But he also had a pretty good teacher: Jimi Hendrix.
Few people other than Richard Lloyd now remember Velvert Turner, Lloyd's best friend growing up who also happened to be a student and protege of Jimi Hendrix. Lloyd studied guitar with Velvert and with Jimi himself, and the songs have stayed with him ever since: next year, he's releasing an album of Jimi Hendrix covers, which he calls "paying a debt of an influence that I always kept hidden."
Unfortunately, part of the reason it's hidden is that he hasn't recorded much. Television put out three albums and broke up twice. Between Television's break-up and reunion, Lloyd released three solo albums, but then experienced what he calls "a personal downturn": drugs. He played as a session guitarist for artists like Matthew Sweet and John Doe, and you can hear his guitar on their records, though neither his songwriting nor his voice. He joined a reunion tour for the fabled proto-punk supergroup Rocket from the Tombs; they didn't record either.
But he has gotten his life back on firmer footing. He's a father, a guitar teacher and guitar lesson columnist for Guitar World magazine. He's got a new album out, and another one coming out next year, and he's "never been happier."
He's not shy about assessing his place in history. "Your chances are next to nil to make it at any kind of historical level, to have an impact on the history of rock and roll, which is what I wanted from very early on. And, basically, I achieved that, so now the rest is just kind of gravy. I'm having the time of my life."
For $10 at the Velvet Lounge, you can enjoy the gravy -- especially if you love electric guitar.