Across his nearly 50-year resume Garland Jeffreys has only briefly tasted the mainstream American success he so richly deserves. While he’s had several self-penned hits in Europe and the UK, over here he’s probably best known for his 1981 cover of ? and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears,” an early MTV favorite. But while leagues of flash-in-the-pan rockers have struck gold only to plummet back down to pumping gas, Jeffreys has hung in there, cultivating a solid-gold rep as a singer-songwriter’s singer-songwriter and building an unshakeable fan base that includes peers like Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, and John Cale. Fitting, then, that such a consummate craftsman as Jeffreys, who will perform at the Towne Crier Cafe in Pawling on February 3, should be among the final acts to play the venerated venue, which will close its doors at the end of the month.
“Our lease expired and the owner put the building up for sale, and [the process of preparing to close] has been bittersweet,” says Towne Crier
owner Phil Ciganer, who began the club in 1972 and opened the Pawling location in 1989. “Garland really wanted to play a farewell show for the club. He and I have another connection: We grew up in the same area of Brooklyn and went to the same high school.”
Jeffreys was raised in the borough’s Sheepshead Bay section. While in his early teens he followed doo-wop and R&B, and by the time he finished high school was a devoted fan of soul music and Bob Dylan—the two most audible influences on his own style. He studied art at Syracuse University, where he befriended two other students and aspiring songwriters: Lou Reed and future Young Rascals front man Felix Cavaliere. After college, Jeffreys began playing New York clubs and in 1969 formed the band Grinder’s Switch with Woodstock players Ernie Corallo, Stan Szelest, and Sandy Konikoff. The group cut a lone 1970 LP for Vanguard Records before splitting up.
Jeffreys signed with Atlantic for his self-titled solo debut in 1973, following it up with the underground smash single “Wild in the Streets” (famously covered 10 years later by LA hardcore punks the Circle Jerks). The tune reappeared on the singer’s classic 1977 A&M album, Ghost Writer
, which sums up his method: soulful, character-driven street operas à la Bruce Springsteen—but with Jeffreys' own uniquely confessional bent. (Members of the Boss’s E Street Band, along with Reed and others, backed Jeffreys on his 1981 Epic Records masterpiece, Escape Artist). Subsequent years have seen more acclaimed outings from Jeffreys, 2011’s The King of In Between
(Luna Park Records) being the latest.
Although February marks last call for the Town Crier’s Pawling incarnation, Ciganer insists it’s not the end. “We’ve had offers from more populated areas in the region about opening our next place,” he says, adding that a string of Towne Crier 40th-anniversary concerts at other locations is being planned for the interim. “When we moved into [the present space] it felt rushed. This time, we want to take our time and make the right move. And, hopefully, the final one.”
Garland Jeffreys will play at the Towne Crier Cafe in Pawling on February 3 at 8:30pm. Tickets are $25 and $30. (845) 855-1300.Townecrier.com