JONATHAN 88 biography - 'First 20 years in Showbusiness'
"Mr. Richman was born in Boston in 1951. He started to draw pictures all day long from the age of 5. Played baseball all day long from the age of 9. This would not leave time for anything else, would it?
He took up guitar at 15, started playing in public at 16, and by 17 had caused many people to leave coffee-houses... quickly... with their hands over their ears, and by 18 was sure he wanted to sing professionally. He promised himself that if it ever became work instead of fun he'd quit that day. And... if it ever does, he will.
He left home at age 18, moving to New York. Since he was ten years old and first was taken there by his parents, he wanted to live there and also his favorite rock band The Velvet Underground was there along with the artist Andy Warhol (since deceased). Now this band we just mentioned... they had a big effect on young Richman. Yes, he admired their sincerity, their dark sound, and their ability to improvise both lyrics and music onstage.
His first place to stay in Manhattan was on the couch of the personal manager of this Velvet Underground. After two weeks the manager and his wife and the other person staying there felt that Jonathan... well... might be more appropriately situated somewhere else. (Since this is me writing this thing I can say that this means I was such a stinking disgusting slob that even my friends couldn't stand it and two weeks must have been plenty.) (Of course now I'm much more mature.) His next move was to New York's legendary (and rat infested) Hotel Albert which is where he lived until he left New York nine months later. He immediately found work as a busboy (unbelievably incompetent) and as a foot messenger on Wall St. and later for Esquire magazine.
One afternoon in frustration at not being able to find a place to sing his new songs, (among which were "Roadrunner," "Pablo Picasso," and "Girlfriend" later to become popular when he sang them with his band), he went up to the roof of the cockroach infested Hotel Albert. Strumming an electric guitar without any amplifier, (that means ya can't hear it), he stood near the edge of the roof and yelled his music at the pedestrians eight stories below. Mr. Richman was delighted with the attention he was getting as the crowded sidewalk on University Place at 10th St. started to overflow with people staring up at him. But... he thought it was 'cause he was so great and not the real reason which was they thought he was maybe going to JUMP or at least that he should be giving the matter some serious consideration. Then the police arrived. (I knew it was time for my show-stopper, so to speak.)
Wanting now to put together a band, Richman moved back to Boston in late summer of '70. He missed New York but realized that since he had played for more people in Boston and had more friends there, that Boston would be the more likely place. Besides, John Felice lived there. John was his next door neighbor for eight years before Jonathan moved to New York. Now John was 15 and they decided to put a band together. Jonathan already had the name for it: The Modern Lovers. They now needed a drummer and a bass player.
The very first place Richman tried was a music store in Kenmore Square. He asked somebody for a three by five card. He was writing out the card, got to the word drummer. Right then came a voice from behind the counter. The guy who worked behind the counter recognized Richman because he'd seen him play by himself on the Cambridge Common. He said words like, "If you ever put a band together I want to be the drummer!" Richman showed him the card and said something like, "Now's your chance!"
And what a drummer. David Robinson - drummer for the Cars for the last ten years - had a basement to practice in down the road a bit, a new silver Slingerland kit with double bass drums, a love for the bands that were getting Jonathan excited (like The Stooges, The Velvet Underground, The Kinks, The Stones) a dynamic snare drum sound, a sense of drama... hell, he even had a cousin who became The Modern Lovers first bass player, Rolfe Anderson.
The group played its first show in Sept. 1970 and lasted six months before Ernie Brooks replaced Rolfe and Jerry Harrison joined. John Felice left. He rejoined for a few gigs in the coming months and again for the last part of '72 or so. In the fall of '71 a Warner Bros. record executive named Stuart Love took the band into a Boston studio and recorded them. The version of the song "Hospital" which appeared on the LP The Modern Lovers comes from this session. Jerry Harrison kept the tapes of this session so when it says on the back "'Hospital' donated by Jerry Harrison" that's what it means.
Jerry masterminded a record-industry first, in the spring of '72. Since both A&M and Warner Bros. were interested in us, Jerry talked them both into splitting the money for us to fly out to California so they could show us the studios and producers each company had been acclaiming. What he said to them over the phone was, "Since you are all such important executives we wouldn't want to waste your valuable time by making you come out to Boston. It would be so much simpler if we took the time to come visit you." New and exotic women, palm trees, beaches, and warm nights on Sunset Strip were just a few of the things that never crossed anyone's mind as Jerry made his gallant gesture.
Jonathan reminisces: The suckers went for it!! HA-HA-HA!... I mean, the executives involved concurred in their analyses with Mr. Harrison and thus came the recordings by John Cale and Alan Mason which, with the aforementioned "Hospital," made up the LP The Modern Lovers which Beserkley bought and finally released in 1976.
We didn't always like each other when we played. We lived together for one thing and you know about that right? It means we were a band not just musicians; not just a case of me paying them for their professional services. We were just this side o' twenty and out to explore the world. We didn't love the actual singing and playing of music as much as the Leroy, Curly, D. Sharpe and me band; but boy, could we hang out at your local college-age Jimmy Page-Keith Richard imitator bar. I was even snottier than the other three so I'd be disgusted at how fake everyone was. But not disgusted enough to stay home. So like I said, we didn't always like each other. But we were not musicians, we were a band. More like four brothers or a romance or something and I loved every minute.
People who wonder why I'm not that proud of The Modern Lovers LP should know that on a good night we did "Roadrunner" ten times better than you ever heard it recorded. We got this kind of dark Rolling Stones vibe in our rhythm sometimes. And Ernie and Jerry and David were way handsome and the girls flipped. Just ask anyone who was there. Me, I looked more uptight and weird than the other three. But I could always dance great. Ernie was the one I could talk to the best. He was a poetry fan and he'd recommend guys for me to read. But my days as a brooding lonely adolescent were numbered.
Then, three months later a producer named Kim Fowley called up Richman from California asking if he could fly into Boston and hang out and record the band and stuff. (Especially the "and stuff" part.) Why not? So Kim came out and was terrific at hanging out. He slept on David's parents' floor for what must have seemed to them like 500 years. A few of the tracks he recorded made their way to a bootleg LP - the so-called Original Modern Lovers. But most of what's on this are tracks stolen from Warner Bros. Mr. Fowley was sent by Warner Bros. to try and get some product from a band not getting along with the intended producer Cale, and which Warner's knew was on the verge of breaking up - this was in fall '73. What Warner's didn't know was that Richman had in fact already decided to quit. And for the audio-masochists who purchased this item this should explain the listless, sleepy vocals by Richman. He was way sick of these old songs.
So this band broke up. Richman, among other things, wanted to play at a much lower volume than the other three did. This was no sudden change. In fact, remember that manager's sofa in New York that Richman slept on? Well, that guy - a mature 26 - told Richman that one day he wouldn't need loud volume or want it. And Richman... reacted like 18-year-olds do when someone older talks to them about volume. But by the age of 22, having played a few hospital shows for kids and an elementary school or two with just himself and his acoustic guitar, he was convinced that high volume was not a necessity but a hindrance to communication and intimacy. (And not only that, you don't even need it.)
Having very much enjoyed his twenty-first and twenty-second years, Richman wanted some happier songs for his twenty-third. After all, he wrote the lonely, brooding pieces that were most of his old band's repertoire when he was a pre-twenty year old and... times had changed for the better. You know what they say: "The more success a young man has with young women, the less he has the need to point his finger at others." So, he needed less songs putting down hippies and college students and more songs with like, melody. And... he needed some songs which would make pre-teens laugh. See, he'd already started playing a lot for kids and the regular "children's songs" just weren't funny enough. Richman's idea was not to make songs aimed specifically at children but ones they could enjoy along with the rest of an audience. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't and Mr. Richman sure doesn't consider all his efforts in this to be successful - especially the earliest ones. But the larger part of his songs still had more or less adult subject matter - those songs which had subject matter.
In the fall of '73, Richman and Warner Bros. split. In spring of '74 Jonathan was staying in Boston on the floor of patient John Felice. He was invited West by Beserkley Records with whom he recorded 'til '81. He took the train out to California and moved back up from the floor to another sofa. This one in a house in Berkeley that was the Beserkley office. Beserkley had three other acts on their roster: The Rubinoos, Earthquake and Greg Kihn. Jonathan became friends with The Rubinoos. If he had a show they were his back-up band. It's them backing him on "The New Teller" and "Government Center" on the LP Beserkley Chartbusters. This LP had three or four songs each by the acts on the roster. Released in '75, it was Richman's first appearance on a record. The bass player for The Rubinoos was Curly Keranen - then 17. He has played bass with Jonathan off and on from then to now. He plays with Jonathan better than any other musician.
Richman's first album was Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers. The record, released in '76, showed some of the '50's doowop, the "outdoor- backyard" flavor, the emotional guitar playing and some of the typical melodies that today characterize Richman's style.
In '76 like we said, Beserkley also released the LP The Modern Lovers. Mistakenly called "the first album" it was really a collection of demo tapes, already four and five years old at the time of release. It did cause quite a stir in England, where it paved the way for Richman's first English and European tour.
Then in September '76 was recorded Rock 'n' Roll With The Modern Lovers featuring the remarkable drumming and percussion of D. Sharpe. D. Sharpe (since deceased) made up a unique drum kit tailored to Richman's need for low-volume but hard hitting percussion. The band that made this record: Leroy Radcliffe, Curly, D. Sharpe and Jonathan practiced more and loved to play together more than any of the other bands before or since. Rock 'n' Roll With... had only acoustic instruments on it and to hear what this band could do with them, listen to the beginning of "Summer Morning" on this record. This record had on it the rockin' "Egyptian Reggae" which became a smash disco hit in Europe in early '78 and the biggest hit parade success Richman has yet made.
In summer '78 Richman, after D. Sharpe had left to be in Carla Bley's jazz group and Curly went back to school, went solo again. See, Jonathan's fussy. (You can't mean that. After reading this thing so far he seems so... easy-going... almost egoless.) He loves for people to dance but... he wants them to not just hear every word but feel every nuance. (Impossible demands like this, both on the audience and musicians is one of the many reasons you don't want me for your boss. If I hire you - quit! There's also my style of decision making. The good news is that once I've made a decision I'm sure I'm right. The bad news is that 24 hours later I'm still sure I'm right but now I have the opposite point of view. One time in, oh... '84 at The Bottom Line night club in New York, we were at a soundcheck and Guardabascio noticed me looking at his drum kit. Even I wasn't sure what I was thinking - but Michael knew. "You want me to tear this down and just use the dumbek tonight. Right?" [A dumbek being a small Mideastern type hand drum he happened to have with him]. I nodded sorta sadly, And I would do stuff like this all the time. Take it from me-- it's better for everyone that I'm a solo act.) So he figured he'd play a lot of smaller places for a while and just do it solo. But he didn't "retire" as you may have read. No, he was playing at least as much as ever and in places like New York, Los Angeles for the first time ever (!), Paris... London... and he was working on records every year but since none of these came out it got written that he'd quit for a while. No way."