With a formidable music knowledge and a performing career that spans over three decades, Dave Graney knows precisely what turns his ears on.
“I like music that has a groove,” he says. “And I’m not spewing out my feelings all the time.”
He may not get his kicks from personal introspection when making music, but he gets great enjoyment diving into the impact and allure of the key tracks that have inspired his work.
Like a bowerbird, he has picked out lyrical phrases and melodic licks from songs like ‘Saturday Night’ by Schoolly D, which he turned into ‘Feelin Kinda Sporty’. Then there was Public Enemy’s ‘Miuzi Weighs a Ton’ which inspired ‘My Schtick Weighs a Ton.’
But the song which Dave Graney cites as a most precious musical time piece is almost too perfect to touch. And it comes from a group whose backstory captured his young imagination.
The story of boyhood friends Richard Meyer and Tom Miller running away from Delaware in 1972, assuming the names Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine and starting a band piqued his curiosity. The fact that they were heavily influenced by poetry and books added to their appeal.
Graney remembers, as a younger man, reading an enthusiastically worded article in Rolling Stone about this band called Television whose singer/guitarist Tom Verlaine had such an aura of mystery about him.
“It was like he was a person on the run from the law,” he recalls. “It had all these intimations that he’d dodged the draft and he was a very furtive figure full of mystery.
“The images of Television were a very glamorous looking band. Me and my mates listening to Marquee Moon when it came out, it was just a head spinning album and people will forever spin side one of that record and it’s just mind-blowing.”
‘Little Johnny Jewel’ was the influential group’s debut single and preceded their classic debut LP. Graney doesn’t have a copy in his own collection but it’s been lodged in his head since he first heard it.
“I never owned it,” he says. It’s in my mind. People would put it on if they had it, and it would go for three and a half minutes and it would go through this dramatic two verses.
“The singer Tom Verlaine says, ‘And he run down to the airport/The rush, the roar/And he crouched down behind a fence/With a chest full of lights…’
“Then it fades out and you’d have to get up and turn it over to find out what happens next. And it would go into this blazing guitar solo!
“So, as an artefact, it was teasing in a way. It was beyond the technology. It was too big, the ideas were too immense.”
At seven-minutes long, this single was ahead of its time in many ways. Released in 1975, it’s really satisfying to feel this song’s impact to this day.
“If ever I was to justify my life and say what was good about post-punk, you could just drop the needle on ‘Little Johnny Jewel’ and drop the mic and walk off,” Graney surmises. “That’s it! Boom!”
Hear more about the song that changed it all for Dave Graney on Don't Look Back.