Growing up in New York in the 1960s, Richard Lloyd had a friend named Velvert Turner who claimed to know Jimi Hendrix. Nobody but Lloyd believed him. It turned out, though, that Turner not only knew Hendrix, but Hendrix was teaching him to play guitar. Lloyd's faith in his friend's story was repaid when Turner, in turn, taught him what he had learned from Hendrix. Later, Lloyd even got to meet the '60s guitar hero. The other kids, the ones who didn't believe Turner, were never allowed inside the secret circle. Lloyd and Turner even refused to talk about Hendrix in front of their classmates. Instead, they referred to him by the secret code name Jamie Neverts.
"That was just the made-up name we had for Hendrix so we could talk about him without a slew of kids who didn't even believe Velvert in the first place drooling," Lloyd says.
It was a pivotal moment for Lloyd. A decade later he was playing regularly at CBGB in the Bowery alongside Tom Verlaine in the band Television; their weird guitar vocabulary on the classic debut Marquee Moon (1978) and the follow-up Adventure (1978) was mostly unlike Hendrix—the interlocking rhythms and the mash-up of art rock and punk were unlike anything else, really, before or since—but Lloyd had adopted an aggressive, expressive tone on rhythm guitar that worked against Verlaine's clean, fluid precision on lead. It's easy to imagine that he learned at least some of that from Turner and Hendrix.
"My favorite record of all time is Axis: Bold as Love, and Are You Experienced?, parts of it as well," Lloyd says. "When somebody you admire in a certain field, Einstein or something, makes that benchmark of what is good, what is achievement, what is mastery, Jimi was like that for me. In his essence, not in any particular riff or song—the vibrations of his soul and his expressionism and his facility on the instrument. He was the benchmark of greatness for me. I love Django Reinhardt, too, but it's a completely different style. Hendrix's music is the music I grew up with as a late teenager. Things happen then that have more of an impact than what you hear when you're 30 or hear when you're 4. It's the wooden rabbit at the dog run for me. I'm always chasing it."
So when Lloyd got back in touch with Turner in the 1990s, it prompted thoughts of a joint tribute to both Turner and Hendrix. The result is The Jamie Neverts Story, a collection of Hendrix covers Lloyd released in September.
"Velvert died in December 2000," Lloyd says. "Just about then I thought, ‘Man, I really owe him and Jimi a great deal.' That's where this originally came from, the idea that I owed them something."
The Jamie Neverts Story is vastly different from Lloyd's work with Television—raw, loose, dirty, and expansive. The versions pale next to Hendrix's original recordings, but Lloyd's impassioned performances make it clear how much the project meant to him. "It was actually a marvelous feeling, a feeling of freedom, a feeling of complete joy to be able to execute those songs and play those leads," he says.
This is just the latest step in Lloyd's low-key but productive career since Television broke up after Adventure. He's been a solo artist (six solo albums, including Jamie Neverts), a producer, and a session player (most notably on nine Matthew Sweet albums and, since 2003, as a member of the reformed Cleveland proto-punk legends Rocket From the Tombs). Between 1992 and 2007 he even maintained an irregular schedule in the reunited Television with Verlaine, bassist Fred Smith, and drummer Billy Ficca—the lineup that appeared on Marquee Moon and Adventure. The group recorded one more album, Television, in 1992 and performed a couple of dozen times a year, but Lloyd finally stepped away permanently two years ago. Ficca played on one song on The Jamie Neverts Story–he'd been a touring member of Lloyd's most recent band, the Sufi Monkeys—but it sounds like that might be the last time Lloyd will perform with any of his former bandmates. The 30-year burden of Marquee Moon might finally have become too much to bear.
"I was going out and seeing posters that said, ‘Richard Lloyd and Billy Ficca, formerly of Television,'" he says. "I thought, ‘Holy crap. I don't want this to continue. This can't continue.' So that was one reason. The other was that I'd been with the guy almost 40 years. I just wanted new blood."