Richard Lloyd: 'Scuse Me While I Hit This Guy
Fuck if I know. In my entire life, I’ve met one person, a paranoid schizophrenic, who was crazier than Richard Lloyd. And I never encountered anyone who was a bigger pain in the ass. He is also one of the best electric guitar players I ever heard, and he’s one of the smartest people I ever talked to. As readers of this magazine know from his Alchemical Guitarist column (now on hiatus), he can teach as well as play. When he’s focused, he can explain scales and harmony and the circle of fifths so that almost any non-bonehead can figure it out. He has all kinds of interesting mystical theories about the physics of it all. He’s writing a book called Alchemical Guitar for Alfred, and I have no doubt I’ll learn lots of useful, fascinating stuff.
He has interesting theories about almost everything.
Richard’s most immediate big project is the anomalously named Jamie Neverts Story (Parasol), an album of Jimi Hendrix covers to be released in September. The obvious question here is “Why?” Hendrix is one of the most influential guitarists of all time. Anyone who cares about electric guitar already knows his stuff intimately. It’s part of the canon. Nobody can improve it. And Richard has his own vibrant musical imagination, always erupting with new lyrics and riffs. He doesn’t need to cover anybody.
For an explanation, we shall back up. Richard Lloyd was born in 1951 in Pittsburgh, when everything was still covered with soot from the steel mills. His parents married and divorced young, and he spent his early years in the care of his grandparents. In early grade school, he moved to New York to join his mother, an aspiring actress, and stepfather, a film editor. The family moved from neighborhood to neighborhood as their fortunes improved, and ended up in Greenwich Village just in time for the Sixties to flower. Pretty much everything that was cool about the counterculture was within walking distance, and Richard had the stratospheric IQ and sense of adventure to ingest it all.
One afternoon, probably in early 1968, Richard and his buddies pooled their money to buy some hash. While they were waiting for the delivery, the phone rang, but it wasn’t the guy with the hash; it was some black kid from Brooklyn that a few of them knew, though he was unknown to Richard at the time. His name was Velvert Turner, and he preposterously claimed to know Jimi Hendrix. Velvert asked if he could come up, and while the hash investors waited for him, they agreed to make fun of Velvert when he arrived, because no mere teenager could know Jimi Hendrix.
“About 10 minutes later, the doorbell rang,” says Richard, sitting in his Manhattan rehearsal space about a month after the aforementioned tour. He is wearing a Michael Jackson–type fedora, massive amounts of bling, and the same parachute pants that he’s been wearing every day for months. “When Velvert came in, I knew to an absolute degree of certainty that he knew Jimi Hendrix. He carried something with him that only belonged to Jimi.” Richard starts crying at the memory. “And they laughed at him. And I knew they were wrong. I was like, ‘Why are you cats treating him so poorly? Why can’t he know Jimi Hendrix? Jimi doesn’t live on Mars. He has to know somebody.’ ”
Velvert picked up the phone, dialed the Warwick Hotel, asked for a name nobody had heard of and explained to the boys that Jimi had to travel under assumed names. The phone rang and rang, and Velvert was near tears. He passed the phone from guy to guy so they could at least hear it wasn’t a dial tone.
“When it was my turn to listen, it rang one and a half times,” Richard says. “Somebody picked up, and this sleepy voice said, ‘Hey man, what’s up? Who is this?’ He must have been really asleep, ’cause it rang about 14 times. I couldn’t say, ‘Hi Jimi, it’s Richard Lloyd,’ so I said, ‘It’s Velvert,’ and handed off the phone. Velvert took it and went into the kitchen to talk, and everybody else was like, ‘Was that really Jimi Hendrix? How could you tell?’ Well, I could tell. No one had that voice except that man.”
Velvert returned from the kitchen transformed from an object of scorn to one of worship. He announced that he was on the guest list for Jimi’s concert that night and asked would anyone care to accompany him? The room went crazy, and Velvert took his time, choosing the quiet kid in the corner who refused to beg. That kid was Richard Lloyd, and they indeed saw Hendrix that night.
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