Lenny Kaye

Greatly Appreciated

Lenny Kaye  (born December 27, 1946) is an American guitarist, composer and writer who is best known as a member of the Patti Smith Group.  As musician, writer, and record producer, Lenny Kaye has been intimately involved with an array of artists and bands.  He has been a guitarist for poet-rocker Patti Smith since her band’s inception in 1974, and is the co-author of Waylon, The Life Story of Waylon Jennings.  His seminal anthology of sixties’ garage-rock, Nuggets, has long been regarded as defining a genre.  You Call It Madness: The Sensuous Song of the Croon, an impressionistic study of the romantic singers of the 1930s, was published by Villard/Random House in 2004.  (More from Wikipedia)
By 1971, the term “punk rock” had already been applied retrospectively by Greg Shaw as well as Greil Marcus to American bands such as Question Mark and the Mysterians, the Standells, the Seeds, the Shadows of Knight, and the Kingsmen who managed to score some hit songs during the height of the British Invasion.  In 1972, Lenny Kaye popularized the term in the first definitive compilation album that he helped assemble for this music, called Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968; his liner notes are almost as legendary as the double-album itself.  (This music is now referred to as garage rock and psychedelic rock). 
As it turned out, three competing and complementary strains of music arose seemingly overnight by 1974:  In addition to power pop, they were what most of us know as “punk rock” – e.g., RamonesSex PistolsPatti Smith Group (with Lenny Kaye on lead guitar), Dead Boys – and “new wave” – e.g., Elvis Costello, BlondieTalking Heads, the Runaways – the latter band, the first successful all-female rock band, is now the subject of a major motion picture.
(April 2010) 
*       *       *
Lenny Kaye, who would later be the guitarist for Patti Smith Group, helped put Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 together and wrote the liner notes that are almost as well known as the album itself.  
In an introductory note, Lenny Kaye expressed something that I felt as well while I was reading it:  that there was this wonderful music floating around among the British Invasion bands and the girl groups and the Motown sound, and it was gone before we even knew what we were hearing, and wouldn’t it be great to hear all of these songs again in one place.  Kaye called the music “punk rock” – the first high-profile use of that term – but these days, it is called garage rock and psychedelic rock.  It is no exaggeration to say that this album told my soul what kind of music I really love. 


(January 2011)
*       *       *
Back when Wikipedia was just a little over one-third its current size (as measured by the number of articles in the English-language version at least), I spotted a glaring hole in the rock band articles when I tried to look up something on Mouse and the Trapsa wonderful Texas garage rock band that I have long admired.  (At that time, there were articles on maybe half of the bands on Nuggets).  Their Nuggets entry “A Public Execution” sounds a lot like Bob Dylan, so you can imagine the appeal of that to me; as Lenny Kaye’s liner notes put it:  “There are some who say that Mouse does Dylan’s Highway 61 period better than The Master himself”.  On that band I found plenty on the Internet, including websites by at least one of the founding members of the group.  Someone in the Wikipedia community even awarded me a Barnstar award for that “long awaited” (as they put it) article, and that sure felt good. 
 (December 2011)
*       *       *
American teenagers (mostly white suburban kids) were also invigorated by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and all the rest; and they responded by launching a counter-assault, when seemingly every kid in America wanted to be in a band.  This era is now known as the garage rock era (that was the most available practice space for most of these would-be rock stars, hence the name); this time period also saw the beginnings of the psychedelic rock movement on both sides of the Atlantic.  I didn’t know exactly what I was hearing at the time, but the music by bands like the SeedsBlues Magoosthe Electric Prunes, Question Mark and the Mysteriansthe StandellsCount Five, and Strawberry Alarm Clock (among many other bands) was grabbing me almost immediately.  I don’t know that I even realized immediately how bizarre many of these American band names were, as compared to those of British Invasion bands like the AnimalsFreddie and the Dreamers, and the Dave Clark Five
Thankfully, in 1972 (though if I’m not mistaken, the album was actually not released in the US until 1976), Lenny Kaye – later the guitarist for the seminal Patti Smith Group – helped assemble hit songs by all of these diverse bands plus plenty more into what is now regarded as one of the greatest compilation albums of all times:  Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968.  It remains one of my favorite records, and I have spoken of it several times before in these posts. 
(January 2013)
*       *       *

Patti Smith began performing rock music in 1974 – another year that popular music changed irrevocably, much like 1963 with the Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion – with music archivist and guitarist Lenny Kaye.  While not actually inventing the term “punk rock”, he had popularized it in his liner notes for the first compilation album of garage rock and psychedelic rock music, Nuggets, so this was most appropriate. 


The band that became the Patti Smith Group was created when Ivan Kral (guitar and bass), Jay Dee Daugherty (drums) and Richard Sohl (piano) joined Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye.  The piano player’s name is fitting, since his understated work at the ivories is in many ways the soul of the Patti Smith Group.  The proto-punk band Iggy and the Stooges added Scott Thurston as a frantic pianist in 1973, but a keyboard player in a punk rock band is rare. 


Many years ago, I wrote of Patti Smith that she resembled nothing so much as the Beat poets of the 1950’s; but that really is only one side of her music persona.  She is a rocker pure and simple as well as a poet and a first-rate vocalist and one hell of a writer besides.  


(February 2014)


*       *       *


The Wikipedia article on the album starts out this way: “Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 is a groundbreaking compilation album of American psychedelic and garage rock singles released in the mid-to-late 1960s. It was assembled by Jac Holzman, founder of Elektra Records, and Lenny Kayelater lead guitarist for the Patti Smith Group. The original double album was released on LP by Elektra in 1972 with liner notes by Kaye that contained one of the first uses of the term ‘punk rock’. It was reissued with a new cover design by Sire Records in 1976 and expanded into a four-CD box set by Rhino Records in 1998.”  
(December 2016)

Last edited: March 22, 2021