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!