It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and on Friday, a wonderful sound will be coming from Casino Arizona at Talking Stick during what promises to be a festive event with maybe some surprises.
At 8 p.m., Rock-reggae and soul musician Garland Jeffreys is headlining the Danny Zelisko Presents Christmas Party at Talking Stick, 9800 E. Indian Bend Road, Scottsdale, in a performance that will cover decades of his work inspired by 1950s singer Frankie Lyman and later influences by his piano player, Stan Szelest, in 1969.
Tickets range in price from $35 to $59 for the approximately two-hour show with Jeffreys’ four-piece band and can be purchased at the casino box office or ordered at www.dannyzeliskopresents.com.
Jeffreys, 69, who wasn’t afraid to incorporate socially conscious or racial overtones in his music during an era when it still was cutting edge and touchy, said during a recent telephone interview with the Tribune, before he leaving his New York home for Europe, he will play some songs from his latest album, “King of Inbetween,”
It is his first album in 13 years, one he’s happy with and said they “nailed it,” by recording about nine out 12 tracks as “one-take” songs, recorded in one try in the studio.
“An album of mine wouldn’t be an album if I didn’t have anything to say,” said the Brooklyn-based Jeffreys, who well remembers moving Hammond organs up stairways for tenants living in high-rise apartments in New York’s east Village in the 1960s.
“If you’re pleased with it, you know it has character. I think we ought to do the right thing by others and be a straight shooter,” Jeffreys said.
“I’m not one caught up in mistakes,” Jeffreys added. “We’d run the machines and nail it. I worked with some great musicians on it — Steve Jordan on drums, Duke Levine on guitar and Larry Campbell on bass.”
Lou Reed, one of Jeffreys boyhood friends, sings back up vocals on a track on “King of Inbetween.”
Some of the songs Jeffreys said he would likely play off his 11-track current album are: “Coney Island Winter,” “The Contortionist,” and “‘til John Lee Hooker Calls Me.”
Facing mostly a digital world after being played on album-oriented radio stations and before performers of his genre had entourages, Jeffreys, who is of African-American and Puerto Rican descent, made a name for himself in the 1970s with his outspoken rock and blues songs.
In the early 1990s, he kept the theme going, including with “Don’t Call Me Buckwheat,” a song he went home and wrote after a baseball fan at Shea Stadium in New York called him Buckwheat when he was walking to get his friends some hot dogs.
Jeffreys’ wife, Claire, is his manager, and he seeks social-media advice from his daughter, Savannah, 16, a singer in her own right.
Jeffreys said he’ll also play standbys such as “Ghostwriter,” “The Escape Artist,” and “Spanish Town,” as well as some older songs.
“I like to do a variety of songs I’ve recorded,” said Jeffreys. “I have some secrets I can’t reveal. I’ve been blessed with health, energy and desire. I’m not doing this just to make money.”
Jeffreys’ first album, “Grinder Switch,” was released in 1969.
That year was a defining moment for Jeffreys, thanks to Szelest, who Jeffreys described as a “gifted” player from the Buffalo music scene one rarely sees in a band that helped influence and shape his music early on, a presence in his band for just one year when Jeffreys was finding his way with songs like “Seven Sleeper’s Den,” and “Don’t Be Late.”
“He was very transparent; he was very serious,” Jeffreys said of Szelest, who died at age 47 in 1991. “He was a gifted player you rarely see. I recently saw some footage from a video when he played that piano — it was beyond what a piano would sound like. He was a genius. He definitely taught me a lot. Maybe it’s not the music you learn, but the attitude. You step up and take charge.”
“I would write a song and Szelest would know what to do with it in the arrangements,” Jeffreys added. “I was going for a beginning. The 70s came, and I was ready to make my own album. I grew into a solo artist.”
On growing up listening to Frankie Lyman (of Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers), Jeffreys said, “When I was little, I wanted to be like him. He was my vision of what I should be. Sadly, he died of a heroin overdose at age 25, but he was another great teacher.”
And through Jeffreys’ legacy, others will learn from him.
Jeffreys was featured in the 2003 documentary, “The Soul of a Man”, directed by Wim Wenders as the fourth installment of the documentary film series, “The Blues” produced by Martin Scorsese. The film explored the musical careers of blues musicians Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson and J. B. Lenoir. Jeffreys was also featured on the cover of Beyond Race Magazine in February, 2007.
“Wild in the Streets” can be heard in the 2012 video game Max Payne 3.
Jeffreys also said he’s going to be at Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s last show on their Wrecking Ball Tour in Glendale on Thursday.
It remains to be seen if Springsteen will show up at Jeffreys’ performance for a reunion of sorts.
On May 28, 2012, at the Pinkpop Festival in Landgraaf, Holland, Jeffreys joined Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band onstage for a couple of songs.
“Who knows what will happen in a situation like that?” said Jeffreys when asked if he anticipates taking the stage with “The Boss” again.
“The people who come to my show will be pleased with their experience,” Jeffreys said.
If you go:
Garland Jeffreys at Danny Zelisko Presents Christmas Party
When: Friday, Dec. 7, 8 p.m.
Where: Talking Stick Resort, 9800 E. Indian Bend Road, Scottsdale
Cost: $35 to $59.
For more information, visit: www.dannyzeliskopresents.com or purchase tickets at the casino box office
Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or firstname.lastname@example.org