Sep 092011

RTH: Over time did any of the bands, especially the more obscure bands, ever cross paths with you? Did they ever express a sense of debt for inclusion on the compilation? And on the other hand, were there any bands that turned down the opportunity and were now kicking themselves?

LK: Well, you know mostly we were dealing with the rights. ? and the Mysterions‘ “96 Tears” should have been on there, and nobody’s been able to get the rights to put it where it should be. In subsequent editions, a lot of times I couldn’t get the rights, like I couldn’t get the rights to The Five Americans‘ “I See the Light.” There were a couple of others that I couldn’t get the rights that I put on the list for what would have been Nuggets 2. So when I gave that future wish list—of course by then Michael Kapp wasn’t working on Nuggets—to whatever music business lawyer was assigned to it, they didn’t have the dedication. You know, it was before Rhino, when there were very specific ways to license stuff. It was uncharted territory.

The tracks they got for Nuggets, there’s not one that I would change. Sometimes I feel like I was weirdly perverse, you know I didn’t put “Gloria” by The Shadows of Knight, I put “Oh Yeah.” I didn’t put “We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet,” by The Blues Magoos, I put “Tobacco Road”—mostly because I liked them and felt they were a little weirder. Who knows? The truth of the matter is that whatever I did, in my kind of intuitive way, has stood the test of time. I often think that if I really understood what I was doing and tried to do something more self-consciously “garage-ic” it would have been a lesser mix. The fact that it’s all over the place and there are a lot of things happening in it that can go in many different directions…I mean, as a record producer I like that too. I like things that don’t fit into any specific pattern.

It was a great revelation the minute I formed my first chord and sang my first song and took energy from these great songs that were there to teach me how to do it.

RTH: A couple of years ago I saw you with Patti for the first time at a year-end show at the Bowery Ballroom. I’d already owned a number of Patti Smith albums, but seeing you live was so much better. She’s such a force, just being in her presence and seeing how you in the band interacted made the night. As I was thinking about Nuggets and your cover of “Gloria” and the merging of that ’60s rock with poetry, I wondered, was it a natural fit, did anyone in the band need convincing early on that this would be your direction?

LK: No, I mean, it wasn’t much of a band in the beginning. It was me, Patti, and Richard Sohl, our piano player. Nobody needed convincing because we were all on the same page. We had already done these poetry to classics segues before, especially in our version of “Hey Joe” in ’74. We were starting to meld these different streams. For Patti we bought Richard Hell‘s bass guitar from him for $40, sometime in ’74. We’re in the practice room, and Patti wanted to play it. She his a bit E note: boinnnggg! She recited a bit of “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.” You know, moving into “Gloria” seemed like a natural progression. Especially when we began, there was not a lot of forethought into what we did. We were in territory that we hardly understood, the same way with Nuggets. We had the time and the space and the performance energy to expand it at will. We never thought we’d have a rock ‘n roll band, it was the furthest thing from our minds that we would have a real band, in the classic sense. We were a strange cabaret-poet-performance thing.

That’s the kind of seed you nuture. You try not to outsmart yourself. It’s like my book on the crooners. I had an idea of what it should be. At first I thought it should be like Michael Ondaatje‘s book on Buddy Bolden, Coming Through Slaughter, a very poetic, strange narrative on the life of a crooner. But as I started writing it my musicological research kicked in. I didn’t even try to sell the book the first 3 or 4 years I was writing it. I like when things develop organically, when they don’t go into expected areas. It was nice to be able to just watch something become something, in the same way that Nuggets became something. I didn’t have a brief; I had a place, a kind of podium to broadcast this music, like a strange DJ on a late-night FM station playing music that I myself would like to hear. The fact that it tapped at the heart of what makes rock ‘n roll special is a true prophesy, one that has bought me beer all over the world and seems to have inspired many people to make music as the music on Nuggets inspired me to make. That passing along of tradition is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

I’m very grateful for Jac Holtzman to give me the opportunity to follow my instincts and also to give me the space in which to do it. I don’t think the album was what he originally envisioned, when he presented me the concept of Nuggets, but he let it happen, in the same way he let The Doors happen. He provided a forum for this, and the fact that you and I are talking about it 4 decades after I thought that The Magic Mushrooms were a fitting finale for it is a really incredible thing. It’s one of the touchstones of my life.

Next, Lenny takes part in a lightning round of Dugout Chatter…after the jump!


  21 Responses to “The Rock Town Hall Interview: Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets of Inspiration”

  1. bostonhistorian

    Absolutely fantastic Mr. Moderator! Thank you, and thanks to Lenny Kaye.

  2. That’s really cool.

    It’s interesting that his take on the Nuggets scene (for lack of a better phrase), is similar to the Punk scene that he would help launch. Both were just a disparate collection of songs/groups, who’s main similarity was that they didn’t fit in anywhere else, before they were codified after the fact.

  3. Excellent Work, Mr Mod!

  4. misterioso

    That was great. I did not know the Nuggets comp as such when I was growing up, but a big part of my rock history education came from an “oldies” show on a New Hampshire rock station, and it was only later that I realized how much that drew from Nuggets.

  5. Top shelf, Moddy! Glad Lenny got to straighten our asses out as to the original intent of the comp. Cool guy, that Mr. Kaye!

  6. Very nice, thank you!

  7. 2000 Man

    That was great! Lenny certainly deserves Good Egg status, and it’s awesome that he really answered all the questions, especially about something he did so long ago. So many people would just be brief and say they don’t remember, but Lenny really explained a lot. Great job, Mr. Mod!

  8. mockcarr

    AHA! Lenny liked these “songs”. So my methodology was correct in not paying too much attention to nuggeticity and nuggettorifferey.

  9. hrrundivbakshi

    What a cool interview of a cool guy. Well done, and thanks, Lenny!

  10. Great job . . . .and the fact he wanted 96 Tears on the original is priceless.

  11. machinery

    Nice job Mr. Mod.

  12. An excellent interview. Hopefully one that will come up anytime someone Googles Nuggets + Lenny Kaye. So, once and for all the best song on Nuggets is “Psychotic Reaction” AND “Pushin’ Too Hard”.

  13. BigSteve

    I really enjoyed that. It’s interesting to hear how the tracklisting was not the result of a clear philosophy. It’s also good to be reminded how recent these ‘forgotten’ tracks were when the LP came out.

  14. tonyola

    Great interview. I’m still carrying a torch for “Liar, Liar”, though.

  15. A fine interview, and really fun to read. I thought the most fascinating moment was when Kaye pointed out that the songs were only a few years old at the time he was putting the collection together. It’s so easy to assume that it was some kind of musical history recovery project, like going to the south to find aging bluesmen, but it wasn’t that at all.

  16. That is an interesting point, but just look how drastically music changed in the years 1965 to 1972. One-off singles didn’t take long to drop off the radar of people’s memory. If it hadn’t been for Kaye’s efforts, a lot of marginal music would probably have remained undiscovered for a long time.

  17. BigSteve

    I hate to pince nez Lenny Kaye, but Brian Jones plays dulcimer, not sitar, on Lady Jane.

  18. Pince nez REJECTED! Maybe my transcription didn’t do his words justice, but he was throwing out generalities: the era when Jones would play sitar and when the band played songs featuring Jones’ sensibilities, like “Lady Jane.”

  19. Interesting as well how bands like the Patti Smith Group and the Flamin’ Groovies et al embraced the cover tune not just live but on their records. Bands these days seem so afraid of not just copping to, but celebrating what made them want to rock out in the first place.

  20. misterioso

    That is a good point. A similar point dawned on me when I bought the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music, when it was reissued in the 90s. The time separating the first release of the compilation in 1952 and the recordings is larger than the gap between Nuggets and the “Nuggets era”: the Anthology recordings date from 1927 to 1933. Still, 20-25 years is not that long, and one gets the sense that even in the early 50s those records already sounded like they came from a different century.

  21. shawnkilroy

    That was GREAT!

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