Richard Lloyd "Monkey" from the album The Radiant Monkey
Television "See No Evil" from the album Marquee Moon
Richard Lloyd is a veritable rock legend, known best as the skillful guitarist for the influential band Television. A longtime audio engineer and session guy, he's considered to be one of the more artfully-inclined players to emerge from the earliest U.S. punk scene.
And who are The SufiMonkey Trio? It's Lloyd's latest power trio, comprised of former Television drummer Billy Ficca (also formerly of The Waitresses and The Neon Boys) and bassist Keith Harshtel. The band visits town in support of Lloyd's new solo album, The Radiant Monkey (Parasol).
"I've been playing in a trio setting for quite some time," says Lloyd, speaking by phone from the road last week. "I can cover all the guitar parts on most of the songs on my new album and most of the older material. We have some tunes from a Jimi Hendrix cover album as well — and his band was a trio. Listen to most classic rock bands with great guitarists in them; most of them were trios. Even bands like Zeppelin, The Who, The Faces, and even Van Halen were instrumental trios with a vocalist. You could go on and on."
Alongside the Talking Heads, Blondie, Richard Hell, and The Ramones, Television was a vital band within the tight-knit N.Y.C. scene of the mid-'70s. The legendary CBGB's club was the headquarters. Television's first gig there was in 1974.
"Television wore torn T-shirts and stuff," says Lloyd of the band's early days in Manhattan's Bowery neighborhood. "To me, we were like runaways who joined the circus. Finding a place like CBGB's and building it up was like hosting a four-year New Year's Eve party. We were more or less the house band. We wanted to be like the Beatles playing in Hamburg."
Television's 1977 album Marquee Moon was a stunning debut for such an underground act at the time. The collection featured intricate guitar interplay between Lloyd and singer/guitarist Tom Verlaine, dynamic drumming, and a loose groove devoid of some of the more stiff and straightforward "punk rock" of their colleagues.
"Television was completely different," remembers Lloyd. "The guitars were like a jigsaw puzzle."
Marquee Moon was a huge influence on underground bands at the time and through the next two decades. The raw, chiming, melodic phrases of such songs as the 10 minute-long title track, "Venus," and "See No Evil" are detectable in much of the post-punk music of R.E.M., Pavement, and The Strokes ... but not so much so in the contemporary "punk" world.
"Punk rock nowadays is a Ponzi scheme," scoffs Lloyd. "Half the country under the age of 24 are in bands — and they all think they've got a chance. They all have MySpace, my-face, my-ass websites. You really gotta love poverty to be a musician, because your chances of making it are slim. The chances of making it into the pantheon of historical developments in music ... you have a better chance of hitting the state lotto."
The Radiant Monkey rocks with a bit more soul, swagger, and drive than the more delicate stuff in Television's catalog.
"Some of it sounds like the Stones or Zeppelin, some of it sounds like me, and some of it's a little Television-esque," says Lloyd. "The whole thing is a tremendous amount of fun."