Almost Everyone In The Famous 'Harlem 1958' Jazz Photograph Is Gone. This 96-Year-Old Vibraphonist Remembers Most Of Them.
"A Great Day In Harlem"

Photo: Art Kane Archive


Almost Everyone In The Famous 'Harlem 1958' Jazz Photograph Is Gone. This 96-Year-Old Vibraphonist Remembers Most Of Them.

All but two of the 57 jazz legends in the 'Harlem 1958' photo have passed on. But although the 96-year-old vibraphone master Terry Gibbs wasn't in it, he remembers many of the figures therein

GRAMMYs/Aug 26, 2021 - 01:44 am

Sixty-three years after 57 jazz musicians assembled for a genre-encapsulating photograph in front of an Upper East Harlem brownstone, a crowd was set to convene on that very block for a street co-naming ceremony. Because of a blazing 107-degree heat index that day—which could be potentially life-threatening to anyone elderly or infirm in the crowd—it didn't happen.

By now, that Esquire photo by freelancer Art Kane—called Harlem 1958—has inspired doo-wop and rap homages, not to mention a 1994 documentary. But rather than seeing a gaggle of music fans on East 126th Street between Fifth and Madison—along with readings of prepared statements by saxophone legends Benny Golson and Sonny Rollins—it was crickets on what might have been otherwise rechristened as Art Kane 1958 Harlem Place.

While the event will likely be rescheduled, the abrupt cancelation serves as a reminder of how tenuous this heritage is in 2021. Kane died in 1995; Golson, 92, and Rollins, 90, are the only living musicians in the photo. While New York clubs remain full of young visionaries with something to prove, the lively camaraderie in the photo—as shown in Kane’s son Jonathan’s 2018 coffeetable book, Art Kane: Harlem 1958—can feel inaccessible, like a relic of the distant past.

That is, if you're not Terry Gibbs, the 96-year-old vibraphonist who played with everyone from Charlie Parker to Benny Goodman to Buddy Rich over a seven-decade career.

Read More: Gerry Gibbs Assembled Jazz Legends To Honor His Father's Music. The Result Contained Chick Corea's Final Recordings.

With an acerbic sense of humor, needle-sharp recollection of the mid-20th century and all his wits about him, Gibbs is one of the last living threads to this quickly-fading era of American innovation. Granted, he wasn't actually in the photo, but it hardly matters: These people were his colleagues, with many of them his close friends.

It’s worth noting that Harlem 1958 isn't just household names, like Count Basie and Gene Krupa. Some of the more obscure members of the lineup, like Gigi Gryce, were brilliant composers overshadowed in their day. To say nothing of the genius pianist and arranger Mary Lou Williams, who, despite crafting immersive works like 1964's The Black Christ of the Andes, was bizarrely benched from the discourse for decades—perhaps thanks in part to her race and gender.

Gibbs speaks in a discursive style he's called his "Brooklynese," and as an eyewitness to the jazz revolution, his reflections should provide a foundation of knowledge before you Google the rest of the story. Out of almost 8 billion people on the planet, he’s one of the only living primary sources on this subject. Even if he only knew of someone in the photo, it’s captivating to hear from him.

Here's a guide to A Great Day in Harlem with help from the one and only Terry Gibbs.

Read More: How The Jazz Coalition Commission Fund Is Helping More Than 100 Jazz Musicians In Need As The Pandemic Wears On

Gibbs: I have the picture hanging on my wall. I know practically everybody in the picture.

Would you be interested in going through the names and giving me your impression of each person?

Gibbs: Give me the names and I'll tell you what I know about them.

Red Allen (trumpet, 1908-1967)

Gibbs: I didn't know him. That was the era before, the Louis Armstrong era. I was too young.

Buster Bailey (clarinet, 1902-1967)

Gibbs: Also from that era. I knew about him because he played with [bassist] John Kirby.

Count Basie (piano, 1904-1984)

Gibbs: A major bandleader and band.

Emmett Berry (trumpet, 1915-1993)

Gibbs: A great trumpet player.

Art Blakey (drums, 1919-1990)

Gibbs: He worked in my quartet. One of my two favorite New York drummers.

Was he as cantankerous as legend paints him?

Gibbs: Want to hear a funny story about Art Blakey?

You know it.

Gibbs: Art worked for me in New York and knew what type of player I was. I was a New York hard swinger. When I moved out to California, I was still the same type of person, but supposedly, California was known as West Coast jazz, y'know. A lot softer style. He came by here with his group and I went to see him and he introduced me and he put me down. "I don't know what Terry Gibbs is doing in California! He belongs in New York! Why is he out here with this bull* West Coast jazz, played like a bunch of sissies?" But he loved what I did.

Lawrence Brown (trombone, 1907-1988)

Gibbs: He worked with Duke. A very good trombone player.

Scoville Browne (reeds, 1909-1994)

Gibbs: Sco-gil Browne?

Scoville Browne.

Gibbs: Where is he in the photo?

He's near the bottom, next to Joe Thomas and Stuff Smith.

Gibbs: Let me look at the picture. I'm in my office right now. Ah, I didn't know him at all.

Buck Clayton (trumpet)

Gibbs: Well, I knew of him. I worked opposite him, probably. He may have been an underrated name in the jazz field.

Bill Crump (saxophone, birth/death unknown)

This guy is really obscure.

Gibbs: I don't know that name at all.

I think he was just some dude looking for work.

Gibbs: He probably sounded like his last name!

Vic Dickenson (trombone, 1906-1984)

Gibbs: Also a renowned trombone player. From that era, he was great.

Roy Eldridge (trumpet, 1911-1989)

Gibbs: Roy Eldridge and Lester Young were my two favorite musicians growing up.

I know Roy was a massive influence on Dizzy Gillespie.

Gibbs: Yeah, it went from Louis to Roy to Dizzy, you know?

I love that Roy and Dizzy are together in the photo. Dizzy's got his arm around him with his tongue extended.

Gibbs: I loved Roy. We became real good friends and worked a show at the Apollo Theater. Ella [Fitzgerald] used to come in to see me when I had the Dream Band going and she told Norman Granz about me. Norman asked if I would put a big band together. So I took Mel Lewis and had my New York friend get me the best [local] players to play in the big band.

It was a great show. Ella Fitzgerald had [pianist] Ray Bryant, [guitarist] Herb Ellis and [bassist] Wilfred Middlebrooks playing for her. And then there was the Oscar Peterson Trio with [bassist] Ray Brown and [drummer] Ed Thigpen, and then it was my Dream Band, and [saxophonist] Sonny Stitt and Roy Eldridge. That was the show.

That's amazing.

Gibbs: Yeah, it really was.

Art Farmer (trumpet/flugelhorn, 1928-1999)

Did you know Art?

Gibbs: Yes, a very good player. Also sort of an underrated player. He was very lyrical.

Nice guy?

Gibbs: Yeah, a sweetheart.

Bud Freeman (tenor saxophone/clarinet, 1906-1991)

Gibbs: I met him once, but not really. In fact, I think our conversation was about boxing because he boxed and I boxed. He was a nice guy. I'm really not familiar with his playing. I maybe should be.

Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet, 1917-1993)

I know you knew Dizzy. What did you appreciate the most about him?

Gibbs: He was one of the stars, along with Bird, in that music called bebop. He was way ahead. First, Charlie Parker, and then Dizzy, were way ahead of anybody in the folks who knew the bebop language. [Pianist] Bud Powell also. Those three are the most responsible for that music.

Tyree Glenn (trombone/vibraphone, 1912-1974)

I don't know this name.

Gibbs: Oh, great trombone player. He also played vibes. Real good friend of mine. He was with Louis Armstrong. In fact, I'm very good friends with one of his sons, Roger Glenn.

Benny Golson (tenor saxophone, b. 1929)

A living legend. Did you know him back when?

Gibbs: Oh, yeah. Very good arranger, very good tenor player. It's the cliché: He had it all.

Sonny Greer (drums/vocals, 1895-1982)

Gibbs: Oh, yeah. All I know is that he played with Duke Ellington. I never really heard him with the band because when I worked opposite Duke, he had different drummers.

Johnny Griffin (tenor saxophone, 1928-2009)

I love his playing with Wes Montgomery.

Gibbs: He was scary, Johnny Griffin.

Was he?

Gibbs: Well, I'm talking about playing. When he lived in Chicago, I don't think any tenor players wanted to get onstage with him.

Gigi Gryce (reeds, 1925-1983)

Another underrated guy.

Gibbs: You know what it was? Charlie Parker was so far ahead of everybody that came after him. Everybody who came after him was underrated only because they weren't Charlie Parker! They tried to play that style!

Coleman Hawkins (tenor saxophone, 1904-1969)

Gibbs: Let's face it. He, at one time, was probably the most famous saxophone player in the world. He made a song famous without ever playing one note of the melody. Coleman Hawkins called it "Body and Soul" only because he played all the chord changes, but he made that song famous by his chorus. I don't think there was a tenor player that came after him that couldn't play his chorus. How far are you in my book?

I just finished the chapter about the Woody Herman band.

Gibbs: OK, you haven't gotten to the place where they gave me a band and my sidemen were Roy Eldridge and Coleman Hawkins.

When I think about Hawkins, I think of how tenor saxophonists are either from the Prez school or Hawk school. Obviously, so many were influenced by both.

Gibbs: Prez was my favorite because of the style he played, but Coleman Hawkins could go through chord changes very well. Everybody thinks of him with "Body and Soul," but they've got to hear other songs he played. It wasn't my style of playing, but he could sure play beautiful chord changes. He was a great player!

J.C. Heard (drums, 1917-1988)

Gibbs: He was with the Woody Herman band for about two or three days, four days. A week. Good drummer.

Jay C. Higginbotham (trombone, 1906-1973)

Gibbs: From that era, he was a respected trombone player.

Milt Hinton (bass, 1910-2000)

Gibbs: He played the heck out of the slap bass. He worked with me for three weeks at a club in New York. It was Milt Hinton, [pianist] Barry Harris and [drummer] Ray Mosca. We were there for three weeks or a month at a place called Michael's Pub. I went in the next day with Barry Harris, [drummer] Alan Dawson and [bassist Sam Jones] and recorded my favorite album, called Bopstacle Course. Milt Hinton was a great guy.

Chubby Jackson (bass, 1918-2003)

I know you knew this guy!

Gibbs: Oh, yeah. He was responsible for getting me in Woody Herman's band. He had a great little band. The first time I ever went out of the country, to Sweden, with [trumpeter] Conte Candoli and [pianist] Lou Levy, this was the first time I knew these people. We had the greatest time in the world. Young kids who didn't know anything about money and just wanted to play music.

Hilton Jefferson (alto saxophone, 1903-1968)

Gibbs: I don't know much about him. I know these names, by the way. You notice how young kids today know everybody on the baseball or football team? I knew everybody in every band. I didn't know them, but I knew their names.

Osie Johnson (drums, 1923-1966)

Gibbs: Great drummer. Osie Johnson and Milt Hinton were called "the rhythm section." Osie Johnson, Milt Hinton and [pianist] Hank Jones would do all the record dates in New York at one time, the three of them. You get stuck with anything, you call those three guys.

I got a chance to record a big band in 1954 or 1955. I tried to use the drummer that was playing with my quartet that really didn't know how to play with a big band. I just wanted to use the same guy that played with me on the road all the time. He said to me, "Terry, I don't think I'm making it if you want to get another drummer." I got Osie Johnson. He came in immediately and the band sounded great.

Hank Jones (piano, 1918-2010)

Gibbs: One of the most respected piano players of all time.

Jimmy Jones (piano, 1918-1982)

Gibbs: Also one of the most respected piano players. He worked with Sarah Vaughan. We were on tour for two months with him, [drummer] Roy Haynes, and I forget the bass player's name, as Sarah Vaughan's rhythm section.

Jo Jones (drums, 1911-1985)

Gibbs: He's who I and [drummer] Tiny Kahn learned to play with a big band from. He played with Basie.

Taft Jordan (trumpet, 1915-1981)

Gibbs: A great player. Played with Basie.

Max Kaminsky (trumpet, 1908-1994)

Gibbs: He was a Dixieland trumpet player.

This photo really shows the old guard as well as then-modern players, huh?

Gibbs: There was a time when the guys who played like Coleman Hawkins—that school—and Dizzy beboppers … [Loses track of thought.] I think I just got old. Prejudiced! The beboppers were the most prejudiced musicians. If you didn't play bebop, forget about it. We didn't want to hear anything but bebop.

Gene Krupa (drums, 1909-1973)

Did you know Krupa?

Gibbs: Oh, yeah. Besides being a starter in a way of playing drums, I can tell you great stories about Gene Krupa.

Eddie Locke (drums, 1930-2009)

Gibbs: I think he played drums. I didn't know him.

Marian McPartland (piano, 1918-2013)

Gibbs: She was a very good piano player and also a sweetheart of a person.

Charles Mingus (bass, 1922-1979)

Gibbs: He would explode and hit a few people. He and I got along great!

You know the wildest thing, Morgan? Hiring [pianist and vibraphonist] Terry Pollard. Those were bad days for Black musicians. Hiring a girl who was Black to go on the road, they thought was crazy. I could have gotten killed! But I didn't give a s*. She was great! If she had two heads and one of them was green, I wanted to play with her. I got the most respect from them as far as what I did. They called me the Abe Lincoln of Detroit.

Miff Mole (trombone, 1898-1961)

Gibbs: He was a trombonist from that era. I don't know much about him.

Thelonious Monk (piano, 1917-1982)

The one and only Monk. Did you know him?

Gibbs: Yeah, I worked opposite Monk. Monk was Monk! Let's put it that way.

Gerry Mulligan (baritone saxophone, 1996)

Gibbs: Yeah, I knew Gerry very well. When my son [drummer Gerry Gibbs] was born, he called me to thank him for naming him after him because he spelled "Gerry" with a G also! Everybody else spelled "Jerry" with a J in those days!

He wasn't actually named after him, right?

Gibbs: No, no. He just called me to put me on. Gerry was a very natural, melodic player.

Oscar Pettiford (bass, 1922-1960)

Gibbs: First, there was [bassist] Jimmy Blanton in Duke Ellington's band. Then, it was Oscar Pettiford, and then Ray Brown. The three greatest bass players, in my estimation.

Rudy Powell (reeds, 1907-1976)

Gibbs: I didn't know Rudy Powell, but I know the name.

Luckey Roberts (piano, 1887-1968)

Gibbs: Oh, no, I didn't know him at all.

Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone, b. 1930)

Did you know Newk back in the day?

Gibbs: Oh, yeah. Sure. The old style of Sonny Rollins, to me, was outstanding.

Have you kept in touch with him through the decades?

Gibbs: No. People like Sonny and myself traveled in different areas. We never played together. First, he played with [drummer] Max Roach and [trumpeter] Clifford Brown. In those days, if I played in Toronto and Max played in Detroit, I would go to Detroit and then he'd go to Toronto and we'd meet in the middle and hang out for a few hours at Howard Johnson's restaurant.

Jimmy Rushing (vocals, 1901-1972)

Gibbs: Oh, he was a blues singer with Basie! Great blues singer.

Pee Wee Russell (reeds, 1906-1969)

Did you know Pee Wee?

Gibbs: Yeah. A player from that other school also. Actually, Pee Wee Russell played with a lot of people, but he was mostly known for that Dixieland school.

I'm noticing that you don't have a bad word to say about any of these people.

Gibbs: Well, the people I knew I got along with great. I got along with practically everybody! I didn't hang out with anybody I didn't get along with. I never hired musicians in my band if I couldn't get along with off the stage, you know? If I couldn't have a laugh with someone off the stage, how much fun could I have with them on the stage?

Sahib Shihab (saxophones and flute, 1925-1989)

Gibbs: He changed his name [when he converted to Islam]. He was an alto player who played baritone. Good player.

Horace Silver (piano, 1928-2014)

Gibbs: He worked in my band! Horace Silver was one of the biggest talents that ever played in my band and one of the nicest people. We were very close until he died.

Zutty Singleton (drums, 1898-1975)

Gibbs: That was another era, too, that I don't know too much about.

Stuff Smith (violin, 1909-1967)

Gibbs: I didn't know Stuff Smith, but I know his playing! He was one of the first violin players that could swing that hard.

Rex Stewart (cornet, 1907-1967)

Gibbs: Another good jazz cornet player.

Maxine Sullivan (vocals, 1911-1987)

Gibbs: I didn't know her at all, but she was considered one of the best singers of the day. She was a stylist.

Joe Thomas (trumpet, 1909-1984)

Gibbs: I didn't know him, but I know he was very respected.

Wilbur Ware (bass, 1923-1979)

Gibbs: Bass player. Very good.

Dickie Wells (trombone, 1907-1985)

Gibbs: I didn't know him at all.

George Wettling (drums, 1907-1968)

Gibbs: I didn't know him at all. He was a drummer from that old school.

Ernie Wilkins (saxophone, 1919-1999)

Gibbs: Ernie Wilkins was great with Basie! He wrote some great arrangements.

Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981)

She was so underrated.

Gibbs: Yeah, she was for those days.

What was the issue? Her gender?

Gibbs: Could've been. The girls were considered "good for a girl." She wasn't getting much play. It was different in those days, too, especially when the bebop era came in. They were very prejudiced. If you didn't play bebop, we didn't want to play with you.

I noticed in the photo that she's with Marian McPartland. As two of the only women in the photo, I wonder if they were buds, sticking together.

Gibbs: There weren't many girl jazz musicians in those days, anyhow.

Lester Young (tenor saxophone, 1909-1959)

Last but definitely not least. Did you know him?

Gibbs: Yeah. He probably set a style that tenor players who ever played after that copied [the most].

Do you think of him mostly in that languid, laid-back style he was famous for?

Gibbs: Listen to old Count Basie records, like "Every Tub" and "Lester Leaps In"! He was fiery as heck! He had that sound and feel. Coleman Hawkins could be a little choppy, but Lester Young played straight eighth notes.

We covered everybody! That was great.

Gibbs: Was that the whole lineup there?

That's the whole photo.

Gibbs: Where do I send the bill to?

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A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
Franc Moody

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 


A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea

James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.

Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.

Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.

In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.

Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.

There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.

Say She She

Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.

While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."


Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.

Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.

Shiro Schwarz

Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.

Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.


L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.

During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.

Franc Moody

Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.

Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.

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Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
Billy Idol

Photo: Steven Sebring


Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage

"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:19 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP,  Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.

Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.  

Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face." 

But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life. 

His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves. 

Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)

Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") —  their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.

While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens. 

Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.

Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up. 

Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically. 

"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?

We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds. 

We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick. 

I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?

Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol. 

You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way. 

Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about  freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?

I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier. 

I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff. 

So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.

[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.

I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.

Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?

I did, yes.

You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?

I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.

It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.

But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is]  informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.

Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.

We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.

It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].

We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.

You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.

It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.

When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.

You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?

Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."

We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.

You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.

With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.

Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.

You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?

I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.

But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.

I remember when you went on "Viva La Bamback in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?

I think it was his car.

Did he get over it later on?

He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.

Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?

In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.

We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.

The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.

There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.

It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.

It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.

Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?

Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.

The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.

The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?

Yeah.  Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].

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Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
2023 GRAMMYs

Graphic: The Recording Academy


Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards

The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.

GRAMMYs/Nov 23, 2022 - 03:01 pm

Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.

Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.

Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."

Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business. 

As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.

Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"

In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.

Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt." 

There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.

Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"

Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.

After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon. 

"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"

Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.

In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."

Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall. 

Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"

When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.

Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production. 

Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.

Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"

Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."

Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar. 

Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.

2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List

Listen: All Of The Latin Music 2023 GRAMMY Nominees In One Playlist
The Recording Academy

Graphic: The Recording Academy


Listen: All Of The Latin Music 2023 GRAMMY Nominees In One Playlist

Ahead of Music's Biggest Night on Feb. 5, 2023, celebrate with this immersive playlist of every Latin Field nominee at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

GRAMMYs/Nov 22, 2022 - 11:48 pm

The Latin GRAMMYs may have just honored the genre's trailblazers in Las Vegas on Nov. 17, but the celebration will continue at the upcoming 65th GRAMMY Awards ceremony in February. There are five categories in the Latin Field of the 2023 GRAMMY nominations — and you can hear all of the nominees in one playlist.

In the Best Latin Pop Album category, are Christina Aguilera's Latin GRAMMY-winning AGUILERA will compete with Rubén Blades & Boca Livre's Pasieros, Camilo's De Adendro Pa Afuera, Fonseca's VIAJANTE, and Sebastián Yatra's Dharma+. Channeling their lively Latin roots while traversing pop landscapes, these albums all magnetically merge tradition and modernity.

Reggaeton, dancehall, hip hop, and funk coalesce in the nominated works for Best Música Urbana Album: Rauw Alejandro's Trap Cake, Vol. 2, Bad Bunny's Un Verano Sin Ti, Daddy Yankee's LEGENDADDY, Farruko's La 167, and Maluma's The Love & Sex Tape.

The genre-blending jubilation continues with the Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album category. This year's nominees are Cimafunk's El Alimento, Jorge Drexler's Tinta y Tiempo, Mon Laferte's 1940 Carmen, Gaby Moreno's Alegoría, Fito Paez's Los Años Salvajes, and Rosalía's MOTOMAMI.

For Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano), 2021 winner Natalia Lafourcade's Un Canto por México - El Musical is up against Chiquis' Abeja Reina, Los Tigres Del Norte's La Reunión (Deluxe), Christian Nodal's EP #1 Forajido, and Marco Antonio Solís' ​​Qué Ganas de Verte (Deluxe)

As for Best Tropical Latin Album, Marc Anthony — a two-time winner in the category — returns as a nominee with Pa'lla Voy, alongside pioneers Tito Nieves (nominated for Legendario), La Santa Cecilia (Quiero Verte Feliz), Víctor Manuelle (Lado A Lado B), Spanish Harlem Orchestra (Imágenes Latinas), and Carlos Vives (Cumbiana II).

Listen to all of the above albums in this comprehensive, 338-song playlist of the Latin music GRAMMY nominees at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

​​Check it out on Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music — and we'll see you at Music's Biggest Night on Sunday, Feb. 5!

2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List