SARATOGA SPRINGS — It is Friday afternoon. A steel-silver sky dangles over a blacktop lot that cradles a motorcar blazoned in gunmetal gray.
Inside the car, the beautiful tone fragments that flow from Richard Lloyd’s guitar gush from the speakers. The band is Television. The music is “Marquee Moon.”
“I remember, how the darkness doubled. I recall, lightning struck itself.
I was listening, listening to the rain. I was hearing, hearing something else…”
Just at that moment, the ring of the phone cuts through all sweetness and melancholy, and bullies its way across the Bluetooth, sounding over the speakers of the car.
“This is Richard Lloyd,” the voice says. “It looks like it’s going to rain here. Is it raining where you are?”
The wondrous season lands in Saratoga early this year. Richard Lloyd performs Saturday, May 14 at Putnam Den with his four-piece band. “Kevin Tooley, David Leonard and a new guy, Steve Geller. Two guitars, bass and drums,” Lloyd explains. Local favorites Family Tree opens the show. Lloyd says the show will feature songs from across his career. And a rich career it is.
There are more than a half-dozen solo albums to his credit, loaded with anthemic guitars and tuneful gems that in a just and more welcoming country would have returned innumerable radio hits. His craftsmanship as a six-string practitioner is showcased in a popular YouTube site someone put up heralding guitar drone theory and “the use the mixolydian scale to create a Richard Lloyd style solo.”
Then there is Television. The four-member ensemble produced two albums – “Marquee Moon” and “Adventure” during their initial forage through the late 1970s - and a created a presence whose influence to this very day cannot be overstated.
“Marquee Moon” in particular is hailed far-and-wide as a musical masterpiece. You have to wonder if he’s tired of talking about. “I’m just glad it still sells,” Lloyd responds, with a chuckle. “Forty-five years later, and I still get paid.”
He was born in the fall of 1951 in Pittsburgh – six years after the end of World War II, and at the start of the Cold War. “People at that time were in a strange halfway state – between the exhilaration of recovery from war and the threat of nuclear annihilation,” he reflects in his 2017 memoir “Everything Is Combustible.”
Lloyd was a New York City kid at a time when the city was ripping apart at the seams. He hung out at Max’s Kansas City and memorably recalls going to see the New York Dolls at the Hotel Diplomat.
“I was taken aback by the audience,” Lloyd says. “Everybody was dressed to the nines - and they were more interested in each other than they were in the band. The band facilitated this scene, but it wasn’t like a normal concert where people are paying attention to what’s onstage.” It was a time when bands were starting to play in front of big crowds in large arenas. “It was very cut-and-dried. Performer. Audience. Performer. Audience. All of a sudden there was a break in that. And that’s what it was like at CB’s as well, because if you played there regularly you got in for free, so there was always a lot of talented people there – not just musicians, but journalists and photographers and actors and writers. It was a very interesting time in New York.”
Lloyd and Television were instrumental in what was to transpire at CBGB. The Mercer Arts Center – the only showplace in town for creatives in 1973 – had collapsed in a heap of rubble on an August afternoon.
“It fell down, while I was on my way (there), in a car driving from L.A. to New York,” said Lloyd, while sitting in a car traveling from New York to New Haven.
“And you’re in a car now. Hopefully nothing’s falling down anywhere,” was the sequence of words that tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop them.
“I. Hope. Not,” he replied.
Lloyd was living in Chinatown with Terry Ork. An assistant to Andy Warhol, Ork was perhaps inspired by Warhol’s sponsorship that had initiated the blooming of the Velvet Underground a decade earlier and engaged in doing something with a band in a similar way. It was their visit to a Manhattan club on an audition night, that produced the first meeting between Lloyd and transplanted Delaware schoolmates Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine.
“It was a cabaret club. People like Liza Minelli and Peter Lemongello played there,” Lloyd says. Verlaine played three songs on his audition night. That 10-minute set led to the collaborative formation that eventually became Television.
Looking for a place that would let them play on a public stage, they found a dive on the Bowery and approached the owner – as the story goes - while he stood atop a stepladder fiddling with the canopy in front of his bar, convincing him he should showcase live original music in his bar. That owner was Hilly Kristal. The club was CBGB. Despite the moniker depicting what Kristal had imagined his bar showcasing (the acronym represents Country, BlueGrass and Blues), a new wave of creative people would discover the venue as a place to unveil their talents – Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Blondie and The Ramones, among scores of others.
“It was like throwing a three-year-long New Year’s Eve party. It was a lot of fun. We made a rule that you had to play original music. No covers. Maybe one, if you did two - you’d never play there again,” Lloyd says. “We weren’t very good in the beginning. Technically we were pretty crappy. But there was an impulse there.”
By the spring of 1975 and a few short years since Lloyd had gone to watch the New York Dolls perform, Television was opening for the band.
“It seemed that time represented a sort-of changing-of-the-guard. What do you recall of those shows?” I asked Lloyd.
“Well, somebody’s got to go on first, so, yeah, we did,” he said.
“Any memories that stand out?”
“Malcolm McLaren wanted to manage us, and we said no,” he says of the British impresario who worked with designer Vivienne Westwood and was at that point working with the Dolls.
“So, he went back home to England to get his own band going.”
“He put together a band based on all of the things we were doing,” Lloyd says. That band was The Sex Pistols.
“Does that ever bug you?”
“Ah, only when it got written up as history - that it started in London. And it didn’t. It started in New York,” Lloyd says. “America is so big that you disappear in it, whereas if you’re in England and you make a splash, you’re in the daily papers for Crissakes.”
In early 1977, Television’s debut, “Marquee Moon” was released and hit the Top 30 in the U.K. But America was asleep. The second album, “Adventure,” was issued in 1978. Later that year I smuggled myself (nobody checked ID’s in those days) and a palm-size Instamatic camera into the Bottom Line club to watch the band play. Lloyd wore a black button-up shirt, which I know not from memory but in a blurred, ghostly image that somehow has survived to this day. Patti Smith sat across the table, transfixed by the music coming from the stage. We all were. The band was mesmerizing. The next day the band was no more.
“We broke up. That’s right. That was our swan song,” Lloyd says. “We didn’t tell anybody, but we already knew we were going to disband.”
The members of the group embarked on their respective solo careers, and there have been a few get- togethers resulting in one studio album. He puts little chance in the band getting together in the future.
“It’s amicable, but we’re not going to be playing together again. I don’t see that happening. Tom’s semi-retired, or retired completely,” Lloyd says.
Lloyd estimates he worked about two weeks in the first two years of the initial wave of the pandemic, but he’s now back out on stage performing. So far, so good. He says he continues to carry close-to-heart the works of philosopher and mystic G.I. Gurdjieff.
“He was a very interesting fellow and well worth looking up,” Lloyd says. “It was all about being aware. Being conscious. Inhabiting your life more fully. I don’t go to church, so it’s my spiritual interest.”
An interest in visual art has seen him produce his own works. He’s sold a couple of hundred of his paintings in recent years.
“I color. I’m crazy about rich, vibrant color,” Lloyd says.
“The same could be said about sound.”
“You bet. Sound and light – they’re related. They’re just octaves away from each other.”
Richard Lloyd performs with his band Saturday, May 14 at Putnam Place, 63A Putnam St., Saratoga Springs. Also appearing: Family Tree. Doors open 8 p.m., show starts at 9. Tickets: $15, putnamplace.com.