Posts Tagged ‘Billy Ficca’

Nothing beats meeting your heroes especially when they’re happy to share their secrets. In the late 1960s, then-teenaged Richard Lloyd, Television co-guitarist and new wave pioneer, managed to get backstage and into the dressing rooms and inner circles of people like Jimi Hendrix and John Lee Hooker. He asked questions, took mental notes, and absorbed lifelong lessons about the guitar. He put those lessons to good use, too, and developed an alternative, holistic approach to the instrument. That approach was enhanced by his left-brain orientation, plus his never-ending spiritual quest.

Lloyd also studied the teachings of mid-20th-century mystical teacher George Gurdjieff, and those studies—in addition to the impact they’ve had on his spiritual life—transformed his understanding of music. The result, which you can check out in a series of instructional videos and columns that appeared in Guitar World about a decade ago (now on DVD as The Alchemical Guitarist), is a complex, pattern-focused, vertical approach to the instrument based on an idiosyncratic understanding of the major scale.

Lloyd came to prominence in the mid 1970s withNew York band Television, a group he founded with Tom Verlaine, Billy Ficca, and Richard Hell in 1973. (Fred Smith replaced Hell on bass in 1975.) Television, along with the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, and others, were integral to New York City’s burgeoning punk scene. That scene—which, except for a few bands like the Ramones, wasn’t really punk—was based out of CBGB, a club on the Bowery. The black-walled rectangular-box-shaped venue supported a smorgasbord of styles, like new wave, post punk, and art rock, that dominated the Top 40 in the ’80s, albeit in a more plastic, synth-drenched incarnation.

But those sounds in their pure, distilled form were Television’s home. Television was a guitar band—no wailing synths or bad hair for them—and their debut, 1977’s “Marquee Moon”, is an iconic testament to the early, pre-sellout days of new wave. Lloyd and Verlaine shared guitar duties and crafted tight, interwoven parts, and the band was a huge influence on later acts like the Pixies, Sonic Youth, R.E.M, and many others. Lloyd’s tone with Television, while often overdriven and warm, sounds sharp and somewhat stark when appreciated in context—and given his roots and early association with Hendrix, it was a clean break with the past.

Lloyd left Television for the first time in 1978, after the band released its second album, Adventure. They reunited in 1992, and Lloyd stayed in Television until 2007. Along the way, he’s worked with other artists, including Matthew Sweet and X’s John Doe, released solo albums, and established himself as a sought-after teacher and alternative-rock elder statesman. His new solo album, The Countdown, is a collection of fuzzy, mid-tempo rockers that, along with the paperback edition of his 2017 memoir, Everything Is Combustible, was released in November.

“Before, everything was sacred about music. Personally, I think it still is something sacred, because you’re dealing with vibrations, and the universe is made of vibrations.”

John Lee Hooker once gave him advice about guitar playing—specifically about learning how to play one string at a time. Lloyd walked into the dressing room and sat down. Eventually, he took notice of me and he said—he pointed his finger at me, and he said, “And you, young man, what do you do?” I said, “I play guitar.” He said, “Are you good?” I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “No, no, no. You’re great. I can tell. Come over here and I’ll tell you the secret of playing the electric guitar.”

Then he cupped his hands and he whispered in my ear, “Take off all the strings but one and learn the one string up and down and down and up and bend it and shake it until the women go ‘oooo.’ Then put two strings on and learn two strings up and down and down and up.” I went home, but I didn’t take the strings off. I couldn’t afford to take them off—I didn’t have a replacement set. But I did practice what I call vertical knowledge, which is up and down pitch on a single string, a great deal. Jimi Hendrix had also suggested that to us—that we learn the neck that way.


To learn the single string. In fact, some of Jimi’s solos … like on “May This Be Love,” are all on the B string. The entire solo. There’s another one that’s all on the G string: “I Don’t Live Today.” Except for the last note, it’s all on the G string. It’s a very cool way to play. My solo on “Elevation” [from Marquee Moon] does the same thing on the G string. It goes up in A minor from the second fret to the 17th fret.

A lot of the guitarists in the New York City bands that you came up with were so different: Television, Talking Heads, Blondie, the Ramones. The scene was that everybody played original music and no covers. That was the basis of it, and there were an amazing number of bands who did not sound the same: the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Television, Mink DeVille, the Shirts, the Dead Boys … there were tons and they all sounded different, which was fantastic. Pretty much everyone got signed, that’s right. It took three years for Television to get signed. A lot of the bands had been signed, but we kept turning record companies down. We didn’t want to have a producer come in and we didn’t want to have to make a record on a $2 budget. We waited and went with Elektra because they had Love, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and the Doors.

MARQUEE MOON - LIVE! Yes! I’m sure someone, somewhere has done this before. But I haven’t! So here you go, Marquee Moon performed live onstage by Tom Verlaine, Richard Lloyd, Billy Ficca and Fred Smith, 1976-77. Most of the album’s eight songs became...

The last thing you’d expect to rise from the world of ’70s punk would be a band centered on snaking, psychedelic guitar solos. But that’s just what the very first of the CBGB bands, Television, put forth. Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd jammed at lengths you’d sooner expect from the Grateful Dead than the Dead Boys. In the process, they offered a terse rebuke to anyone who conflates every early “punk” band. Their 1977 debut Marquee Moon  remains one of the smartest, and catchiest, salutes to the six-string guitar ever released. All of its songs anchor on interlocking riffs as catchy and tight. Songs like “See No Evil” or “Prove It”  coil their double guitar riffs intricately.  The greatest solo showcase appeared in the album’s luminescent title track. At over 10 minutes, “Marquee Moon” centered on two serrated riffs which flickered over a funky rhythm section. Lloyd took the first run, which rises after the second chorus; Verlaine peeled out after the third verse in a stretch that eats up half of the song. Lloyd’s showcase may be brief, but it’s bracing, while Verlaine’s more generous stretch touches the hem of the heavens. For those who want even more interplay, there’s  a near fifteen minute version of the song on the live album “Blow Up” recorded in 1978. The sound quality here may be harsh but the versions of songs off the ‘Marquee Moon’ album and its ravishing follow-up, “Adventure” , allows each guitarist to showcase his style in its most explorative guise.

Marquee Moon performed live onstage by Tom Verlaine, Richard Lloyd, Billy Ficca and Fred Smith, 1976-77. Most of the album’s eight songs became standard inclusions in Television’s sets, with the exception of “Torn Curtain” (which they rarely played after the album was released) and “Guiding Light” (which was only played a handful of times). I think this live companion runs a bit shorter than the album track  Don’t worry, though, dudes, it’s still totally epic.

Marquee Moon – LIVE!

1. See No Evil (1977-04-05 Whiskey A Go Go, LA)
2. Venus de Milo (1977-08-31, 1st Set, Hartsdale, NY)
3. Friction (1977-03-13 Masonic Auditorium, Detroit)
4. Marquee Moon (1976-12-29 CBGB, NYC)
5. Elevation (1976-12-29 CBGB, NYC)
6. Guiding Light (1976-03-11 CBGB, NYC)
7. Prove It (1977-03-13 Masonic Auditorium, Detroit)
8. Torn Curtain (1976-07-31 CBGB, NYC)

Television, St.Marks Place NYC 1977 L to R: Billy Ficca, Tom Verlaine, Fred Smith, Richard Lloyd

Released on February 8th in 1977: New York CBGB’s-scene band Television released one of rock’s all-time most influential guitar albums, ‘Marquee Moon’, on Elektra Records; made up of tense garage rockers that spiral into heady intellectual territory, the band fused blues structures with avant-garde flourishes while stripping away any sense of swing or groove; led by the 10:40 title track, the dual guitar work of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd abandoned power chords in favor of almost jazz-like interplay, melodic lines & counter-melodies; it was crucial to the development of the post punk scene that followed; though critically-acclaimed at the time of release, it was not a commercial success – it is now widely regarded as one of the greatest & most influential statements in the history of alternative rock music…As founding fathers of the ’70s New York City underground rock scene, among the first bands who played CBGB, Television found themselves sticking out even among the out crowd.

Television delivered a tangled, serpentine guitar spar over Marquee Moon‘s eight sprawling songs, and in twice the length of your conventional punk album, the final running time coming in at 46 minutes (and more than 10 of those minutes are reserved for the title track alone).

While that all might sound like a formula for an esoteric mess, guitarist/frontman Tom Verlaine, his six-string foil Richard Lloyd, and the indomitable rhythm section of Fred Smith on bass and Billy Ficca on drums could just as easily write catchy songs. The album’s longest track, its title cut, comes across as a sort of sonic response to Verlaine’s old girlfriend Patti Smith and her 1975 solo debut masterpiece Horses in its patterns and rhythms.

The band chose acclaimed English engineer Andy Johns to produce the album on account of his work on such early-’70s classics as Mott The Hoople’s Brain Capers and the Stones “Goats Head Soup” . However a lifestyle clash with Johns and Television produced studio tension from the outset. Once they got on the same page, Johns and Television created a literal master’s class in the kind of crisp yet sharp production that enhanced the angularity of their rhythms without losing their sense of melody and pop appeal.

“We wanted to rent a rotating speaker to get the sound for [‘Elevation’],” Lloyd explained. “But the rental people wanted way too much. So Andy came up with an idea. He took a microphone, and while I did the guitar solo to ‘Elevation,’ he stood in front of me in the studio, swinging this microphone around his head like a lasso. He nearly took my fucking nose off. I was backing up while I was playing.”

The risks Johns and the band took in the studio paid off. Marquee Moon became an iconic record for its mythical, godlike status amongst both music critics and young musicians, a select few of whom would go on to form bands