At 71 years old, singer-songwriter Garland Jeffreys holds playing with Bruce Springsteen, Levon Helm and Lou Reed as his claims to fame.
Jeffreys gained acclaim in the ’70s with singles such as “Wild in the Streets” and “Matador,” the latter of which hit the top five on European music charts. His style mixes rhythm and blues, reggae and country vibes.
After a 13-year hiatus, Jeffreys released “The King of In Between” in 2011, followed by “Truth Serum” in 2013. He said he expects to finish another record within the next two months, and he will visit Minneapolis as part of his current tour.
Jeffreys grew up in New York and studied Renaissance art at Syracuse University, where he met Lou Reed.
“I wasn’t one of those guys that, you know, went for the first two semesters and quit. Lou Reed and I graduated,” Jeffreys said.
Lou Reed performed backup vocals for Jeffreys’ 2011 track “The Contortionist,” in which he softly “doo’s” with Jeffreys’ daughter, Savannah Jeffreys.
Garland Jeffreys recognized his passion for performing music at a young age, but he didn’t seriously pursue music until after graduating college.
“When I was in kindergarten, 5 years old, I would stand in front of the class and sing,” he said. “The other students, they’d say, ‘Let Jeffreys sing.’”
As a kid, he heard his parents’ recordings of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Count Basie. He said he used to idolize Frankie Lymon, who heavily influenced his voice.
After he graduated from Syracuse, he lived in New York City’s East Village, where he saw esteemed jazz artists Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Nina Simone and John Coltrane play in small clubs.
He said that while these performances were incredible, music alone inspired him to perform, rather than a specific artist.
“I’m essentially a student of music, a lover of music,” he said. “I’ve loved music, and I’ve always been attracted to it.”
Similarly, his work concerning racial identity also stems from his experiences from a young age. Jeffreys identifies as biracial, which he said led to personal confusion during the ’60s and ’70s. Though he often touches on issues of race and identity in many of his songs, his 1991 album “Don’t Call Me Buckwheat” specifically focuses on race.
The album cover displays a 7-year-old Jeffreys in his baseball uniform posing for his parents’ camera in front of Ebbets Field during Jackie Robinson’s first major-league game.
“[The album cover] is very symbolic for me,” Jeffreys said. “It seemed that from that moment on … I was very aware of black and white. I began to become aware of rejection of black. It’s very interesting, as a man now, approaching 72, I have been writing about race all these years. It began back then.”
Jeffreys uses a cassette recorder as a primary tool for his career.
“I’ll carry one with me in my pocket,” he said. “I just kinda catalogue my stuff, my ideas, and I get back to them.”
His successful single “Matador” relied on this cassette technique. But after documenting his initial musical idea, Jeffreys lost the recording. He later remembered it, and he immediately re-recorded it.
Still, he faced a battle with his record label that didn’t want him to use it as a single. But it eventually received support and airplay, topping European music charts. The song still occasionally gets airplay today.
Along with releasing a new album soon, Jeffreys plans to continue touring worldwide.
He said he still considers his college education an important component of his career.
“This is all added stuff that came from the beginning of going to school and then making the decision to be a musician,” Jeffreys said.
What: Garland Jeffreys
Where: The Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant, 1010 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis
When: 7 p.m. Friday