Lenny Kaye has done pretty much everyting in rock ‘n’ roll, from writing songs to performing and recording them (often in collaboraton with Patti Smith, for whom he has long served as her band’s guitarist), putting together other historic recordings, and writing about them, as well as producing them (he most recently produced last year’s acclaimed The Psalms for Jessi Colter, whose late husband Waylon Jennings’ Waylon: An Autobiography he co-wrote).
But until last night Lenny Kaye had never hosted a rock radio show.
His new daily music show (The Lenny Kaye Program) premiered on Steven Van Zandt’s SiriusXM satellite radio Underground Garage channel last night at 8 p.m. ET, where it is running until midnight every weeknight. According to Van Zandt, Kaye’s show “closes the circle” in that Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965–1968, Kaye’s own now classic 1972 double-album compilation of garage rock classics, “remains the center of the garage rock universe and a major part of our format.”
Indeed, Nuggets contained such mid-to-late ‘60s psychedelic and garage rock artifacts as The Standells’ “Dirty Water,” Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” and The Leaves’ “Hey Joe”—songs that defined a genre and have now provided the foundation for Kaye’s new endeavor.
“I’ve never really done radio other than being interviewed on it,” says Kaye. “I’ve never had the microphone all to myself, ‘directing traffic’ and developing an on-air persona. So I’m just settling into it and seeing who I can be as a New Jersey kid who used to sleep with a radio under his pillow listening to New York’s great rock stations –WMCA, WABC and WINS—and great disc jockeys like Cousin Brucie, Scott Muni and Murray the K.”
So far, it’s been “interesting figuring it out,” notes Kaye, lauding Van Zandt’s Underground Garage as “the perfect place” for him to do so.
“Garage rock really is the sweet spot of rock ‘n’ roll—and a really broad format with a lot of fascinating stuff to choose from: You can go from old blues covers and Curtis Mayfield R&B to ‘60s garage rock and modern garage rock bands—anything with that certain rock ‘n’ roll energy.”
“Look at Nuggets,” Kaye continues. “It’s all over the place: There’s a garage rock sensibility of fuzz-tone guitars, yowling lead singers and Farfisa organs, but like Underground Garage, many forms feed into what we call ‘garage rock,’ and it pans out from there. So the show I’m working on today has an old Willie Dixon blues song, new bands coming out with old rock ‘n’ roll energy, the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, some obscure bands and other bands we know and love like The Muffs.”
He credits Van Zandt for “waving the flag and providing a way to access all this music with a sense of lineage and history, and most of all, commitment.” Acknowledging his honorific “Godfather of Garage” gleaned from Nuggets—which was expanded into a four-CD set in 1998 and followed in 2001 by the four-CD Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts from the British Empire and Beyond, 1964-1969—he says, “I don’t know how I did it, but there really are some beautiful nuggets there.”
Of his original Nuggets set, Kaye adds, “It’s amazing that an album that is an oldies compilation is remembered more than 45 years after it initially came out. But I don’t take credit for it: I was given the opportunity to gather together songs that in some way formed the soundtrack of my life when I was first learning how to be who I might want to be—and not dare hope that I might be. It was an incredible creative time for rock ‘n’ roll in its great, sprawling adolescence, and I was an adolescent and it affected me deeply and the music I made with Patti and leaned toward as a rock journalist.”
He notes that this music likewise impacted others who were experiencing “their own sense of yearning and becoming.”
“I’m glad I have the opportunity to bounce off the satellite and into radios across America, having had the opportunity with Nuggets to spin songs that gave me inspiration as a young wild animal in New Jersey.”
Kaye, of course, continues touring with Smith, while writing another book and sorting through a massive collection of vinyl singles. Regarding his new five-nights-a-week gig, he concludes, “I’m just trying to ‘get into the groove,’ as they say.”