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Rock legend Lenny Kaye brings garage rock 'Nuggets' to City Winery

New York rock legend Lenny Kaye is kicking off a series of monthly residency concerts at City Winery on June 18 with It’s a Nugget If You Dug It—Nuggets’ 40th + 2 Anniversary.

Lenny Kaye's "Nuggets"
Elektra Records

The show celebrates Kaye’s historic compilation Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968, originally a double-LP anthology of 1960s garage rock gems, often by one- or two-hit wonders, released on Elektra Records in 1972. It contained classics like The Standells “Dirty Water,” Count Five’s “Pscyhotic Reaction” and The Leaves’ “Hey Joe,” and was reissued on Sire in 1976 and as an expanded four-CD box set from Rhino in 1998.

Accompanying Kaye on guitar is his residency’s house band, Symphony for the Devils, made up of fellow members of the Patti Smith Band in bassist Tony Shanahan and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty, and Fab Faux keyboardist Jack Petruzelli. They came together originally as the house band for City Winery’s Rolling Stones tribute at Carnegie Hall in 2012.

Each residency show will involve similar song themes and feature special guest artists, with Joan Osborne, Marshall Crenshaw, Glen Burtnik, Kevn Kinney and Steve Wynn sitting in on June 18.

“It should be a really fun show, actually,” says Kaye, a well-known rock critic before finding fame with Smith and in other artistic musical endeavors.

“I’ve spent the last two days with the boys practicing almost 30 Nuggets songs, and they’re great to play: The secret of Nuggets is that beyond ‘garage rock’ or whatever, they’re all really great songs when you take them out of the concept--really well-crafted, hooky singles that are very creative, that speak to a moment of time but also beyond a moment of time.”

Hearing a Nuggets song, Kaye continues, “is like hearing a great girl group song, or a great reggae song or hip-hop--or any other genre where you’re hearing the best. That was [Elektra’s founder] Jac Holzman's brief: Get songs that were great, that perhaps you didn’t have—or want--the rest of the album. Of course nowadays we want the rest of the record.”

Kaye recalls picking “favorite tracks that I played when I was working at [Greenwich Village record shop] Village Oldies in the ‘70s. I paid my dues in the record world!”

He adds: “These songs are great songs and fun to play, and of course, Nuggets--Lord love it--has had a lifeline that’s remarkable for an oldies album: two score and two more--42 years since the Elektra release. I always think that if I go back 42 years from it, I’d have a 1930 record of mid-‘20s music. So the fact that this music has lasted as long as it has is a remarkable thing.”

Indeed. The venerable Standells were just in New York, touring behind their acclaimed album Bump. Meanwhile, garage rock/punk promoter CAVESTOMP! The Garage Rock Festacular! recently pacted with RockBeat Records to present new artist and reissue recordings spanning garage and retro rock, punk and soul--and will also promote live events in these genres.

“It’s the longevity of rock ‘n’ roll,” observes Kaye. It’s a Nugget If You Dug It, he says, will be “an old-fashioned songfest. We’ll play all these great songs: ‘Too Much to Dream (Last Night)’ by the Electric Prunes, ‘No Time Like the Right Time’ by Blues Project, The Seeds’ ‘Pushin’ Too Hard,’ Blues Magoos' ‘(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet,’ The Strangeloves' ‘Night Time,’ The Rationals’ ‘I Need You,’ the Amboy Dukes’ ‘Journey to the Center of the Mind’—all the hits. A lot from the original release and the Rhino box.”

While Kaye went on to find his own greatness in rock ‘n’ roll history as an artist, he notes that the Nuggets project remains a personal “touchstone” in formulating a compilation that “was both academic—as us rock critics like—and a great listening experience. I tried to walk that fine line in my mind on the original Nuggets of a Yazoo Records compilation of blues records from 1927: something very specific like that--or those oldies albums with motorcycle guys on the front cover and containing 12 hits of the day.”

“Those were my two templates,and Elektra--Lord love them--gave me space to do something like this,” adds Kaye. “They went along as I departed from the original concept and allowed it to become the worldwide milestone that it has become. I've had more beer bought for me because of Nuggets!"

Kaye recognizes that Nuggets, as a genre compilation, wasn’t innovative.

“But I had the opportunity to do it first,” he says of the garage rock theme, “and had the record collection to draw from. The story of Nuggets is my story growing up as a wild animal in New Jersey trying to find a place in the world, learning guitar and driving around constantly in my car and pulling in stations on the radio and trying to find who I could become.”

Of his remaining monthly City Winery Symphony for the Devils shows, Kaye realizes they won’t be as easy to decide on as It's a Nugget If You Dug It.

“I’ve had 42 years to think about it and see how it’s impacted my own life and philosophy,” says Kaye, also acknowledging his good fortune as a musician to be playing with “one of the greatest artists of our time” in Patti Smith.

“But I could probably use another two weeks to get all the songs down right,” he concludes. “But that’s really the essence of garage rock.”

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