is an American singer, songwriter and guitarist. In 1970, he foundedthe Modern Lovers, an influentialproto-punkband. Since the mid-1970s, Richman has worked either solo or with low-key, acoustic and electric, backing. Currently, he plays only acoustic to protect his hearing. He is known for his wide-eyed,unaffected and childlike outlook, and music that, while rooted inrock and roll, is influenced by music from around the world.
Born inNatick, Massachusetts, into aJewishfamily,4Richman began playing music and writing his own songs in the mid-1960s. He became infatuated withthe Velvet Underground, and in 1969, he moved to New York City, lived on the couch of their manager,Steve Sesnick, worked odd jobs and tried to break in as a professional musician. Failing at this, he returned toBoston.
While in Boston, Richman formedthe Modern Lovers, aband. Other notable members of the group were keyboard playerJerry Harrisonand drummerDavid Robinson, who later joinedTalking Headsandthe Cars, respectively.2
In 1972, they recorded a series of demos with producerJohn Cale(formerly of theVelvet Underground). Among these songs were the seminalRoadrunnerandPablo Picassowhich were eventually released on the groups post-breakup album,The Modern Lovers(August 1976).2The album was strange for its time, featuring Velvets-influenced basic three-chord rock (Roadrunner based on just two chords is an homage toSister Ray) at a time whenglamandprogressive rockwere the norm.
Later in 1972, the group also recorded with producerKim Fowley; these demos were eventually released in 1981 asThe Original Modern Lovers. Despite playing live regularly, the Modern Lovers had a difficult time securing arecording contract. By late 1973, Richman wanted to scrap the recorded tracks and start again with a mellower, more lyrical sound, influenced by the laid-back local music he had heard when the band had a residency at the Inverurie Hotel inBermudaearlier in the year. These stymied efforts to complete a debut album led to the breakup of the original Modern Lovers in February 1974.
In 1975, Richman moved to California to record as a solo singer/songwriter with the independentBeserkley Recordslabel. His first released recordings appeared on 1975sBeserkley Chartbusterscompilation, where he was backed by members ofEarth Quakeand the Rubinoos. The four songs on the compilation also appeared on singles released by Beserkley.
In January 1976, Richman put together a new version of the Modern Lovers, which included original Modern Lovers drummer,David Robinson, formerRubinoosbassistGreg Curly Keranenand Leroy Radcliffe on guitar. The new group, now billed as Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers, found Richman turning away from the harder, Velvet Underground-influenced electric rock of the original Modern Lovers, toward gentler sound mixing pop with 1950s rock and roll, and including a bigger emphasis on harmony vocals. During this period, Richman recorded a mix of original songs and material by other writers, such asChuck Berrys Back in the USA, the traditional spiritual songs Amazing Grace and Angels Watching Over Me, and older pop songs like Emaline, Buzz, Buzz, Buzz, and Lydia.
Richmans own songs continued to mix straightforward love themes with more whimsical themes likeMartians(Here Come the Martian Martians),Leprechauns(Rockin Rockin Leprechauns), theAbominable Snowman(Abominable Snowman in the Market), and mosquitoes (Im Natures Moquito). Richmans 1977 recording of thechildrens musicstandardThe Wheels on the Busmade explicit his interest in making music for listeners of all ages.
The albumJonathan Richman and the Modern Loverswas released in May 1976, three months before the olderThe Modern Loverssessions were finally released. Drummer David Robinson left the group soon thereafter, due to frustration with Richmans quest for lower volume levels, and joined withRic Ocasekin forming the bandthe Cars.
After several months as a trio, Richman found a new drummer, D. Sharpe, an avant-garde jazz player on the Boston scene, who later went on to become a member of pianistCarla Bleys band.
Rock and Roll with the Modern Loverswas released in 1977 and, just as this record began to climb the charts in Europe, Keranen left the group to attend college. A subsequent live album,Modern Lovers Live, was released in 1978, with Asa Brebner on bass.2
In the United Kingdom, Richman was recognised as a progenitor of thepunk rockscene, and several of his singles became hits. Roadrunner reached Number 11 in theUK Singles Chart, and its follow-up, the instrumental Egyptian Reggae, made Number 5 in late 1977.5Egyptian Reggae was a version of Jamaican musicianEarl Zeroreggaesong None Shall Escape the Judgment; Zero was credited as co-writer on Richmans later versions of the track.67
Back in Your Lifewas released in 1979 under the Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers moniker, but only about half the disc featured a backup band. The balance of the album was Richman playing solo. Following this version of The Modern Lovers final breakup, Richman went on sabbatical for a few years, staying inAppleton, Maine, and playing at local bars inBelfast, Maine.
By 1981, Richman was recording and touring once again with various combinations of musicians under the band name Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. The touring band was as large as five backup musicians during parts of 1981, when the group had bassist Curly Keranen once again, along with drummer Michael Guardabascio, keyboard player Ken Forfia, vocalist and guitarist Ellie Marshall, and vocalist Beth Harrington for a gig at New YorksBottom Line. This expanded Modern Lovers group would go on to record much of the music on theJonathan Sings(1983),Rockin & Romance(1985), andIts Time for Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers(1986) albums.
From 1981 to 1984, Richman most often played live in a trio with Keranen and Marshall. In 1985, the group was reconfigured, and consisted of bassist Asa Brebner and drummer Andy Paley. From 1986 to 1988, most of Richmans concerts were played with guitarist Brennan Totten and drummer Johnny Avila. Signing withRounder Recordsin 1987, Richaman recorded his final album using the Modern Lovers group name (Modern Lovers 88). After this, the Modern Lovers moniker was retired.
From 1988 to 1992, Richman performed mostly as a solo act to support his Rounder albumsJonathan Richman(1989),Jonathan Goes Country(1990), andHaving a Party with Jonathan Richman(1991). Around the time of hisI, Jonathanalbum (1992), he formed his performance duo with drummer Tommy Larkin, who would continue to play and record with Richman for more than 25 years.
In 1993, he contributed the track Hot Nights to the AIDS-Benefit AlbumNo Alternativeproduced by theRed Hot Organization.
Always possessing an ardentcult following, Richman has become better known in recent years thanks to a series of appearances onLate Night with Conan OBrien.
Another career boost came in the form of theFarrelly Brothers1998 filmTheres Something About Mary, where Richman played half of a two-manGreek choruswith Tommy Larkins, commenting on the plot while performing in the framed action itself. He also appeared briefly in a bar scene in a previous Farrelly Brothers film,Kingpin, and performed the song As We Walk to Fenway Park for their 2005 comedy,Fever Pitch.
Richman has continued his release schedule all along, with the Spanish-language¡Jonathan, Te Vas a Emocionar!(1994),You Must Ask the Heart(1995),Surrender to Jonathan(1996),Im So Confused(1998),Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow(2001), andNot So Much to Be Loved as to Love(2004). In 1998, a live album of Modern Lovers recordings from the early 1970s was released,Live at the Long Branch & More. A live filmed performance,Take Me to the Plaza, was released onDVDin 2002.
His most recent albums are on theCleveland, Ohiobased Blue Arrow Records: 2016sIshkode! Ishkode!and 2018sSA.8
Richmans minimalist songwriting style has been described as whimsical and childlike.9He himself has stated, I dont write, really. I just make up songs.10
Richman has played a variety of electric and acoustic guitars throughout his career. In promotional and concert photos from the early 1970s (such as those reproduced in the albumPrecise Modern Lovers Order), Richman is frequently seen using a white Fender Stratocaster. He later wrote a song (Fender Stratocaster) expressing his affection for the Stratocaster design.
In the late 1970s, working with his group The Modern Lovers, Richman often played a Fender Jazzmaster. He can be seen playing this guitar in the DutchTopPopTV program filmed on September 16, 1978.11A contemporaneous stage photo used on the cover of the Egyptian Reggaesingleshows Richman playing sunburst Stratocaster.
Late-1970s studio recordings, such as theRock and Roll with the Modern Loversalbum, also featured Richman playing nylon-stringed acoustic guitar. On a 1979 performance on French television, and in the cover photo ofThe Best of Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers, Richman plays a late-1970s Ibanez model 2453CW hollow-body electric guitar, a guitar similar in style to the Epiphone he would use extensively a decade later.12
In the early- and mid-1980s, working with The Modern Lovers, Richman was frequently photographed playing a Harmony Hollywood hollow-body electric guitar. This guitar is seen on the back cover of RichmansIts Time Foralbum. By the late 1980s, Richman was frequently performing solo concerts using a blonde 1980s Epiphone Regent hollow-body electric guitar. He can be seen holding this guitar on the back cover of theHaving a Party with Jonathan RichmanCD.
Richman was still using his Ephiphone Regent on stage when he began performing as a duo with drummer Tommy Larkin in 1992. After a short stint playing other electric guitars on stage including a Gibson SG, Richman switched to exclusively playing nylon-stringed acoustic guitars (of the classical and flamenco styles) in concert. Richman has played a number of different nylon-stringed guitars since the mid-1990s.
After switching to nylon-stringed acoustic guitars, Richman initially used apickand played in a style close to that of his electric guitar playing. Eventually, he stopped using both a guitar pick and a guitar strap in concert, preferring to play only with his fingers, and to move frequently between playing guitar, dancing, and playing percussion instruments.1314
Richman has also been photographed playing a Fender Telecaster and other electric and acoustic guitars, and he does not consider any specific instrument to be essential to his sound. In a 2006 interview with musician Chuck Prophet, Richman said Its not the guitar, its the player. In fact, my most recent Flamenco guitar isnt even a real Flamenco guitar. Its not made out of the right woods. Made out of walnut. Its twangy. I bought it and I like it.15
During the early- and mid-1980s, Richman frequently played tenor saxophone during his concerts with The Modern Lovers. He can be heard playing the instrument on California Desert Party, a song on hisModern Lovers 88album. The album also shows him holding the instrument in the cover photograph.
His first marriage was to Gail Clook ofVermont, in 1982, with whom he has a daughter, Jenny Rae, and son, Jason (Gails son from a previous relationship). This marriage ended in divorce sometime shortly before the release ofSurrender to Jonathan(1996).
In 2003, Richman married Nicole Montalbano ofChico, California.1617She contributed backing vocals to the albumNot So Much to Be Loved as to Love(2004).
Richmans work with the first incarnation of Modern Lovers is a major influence on punk rock. One critic called him the Godfather of Punk.18Artists as diverse as theSex PistolsandJoan JetthavecoveredRoadrunner. Bostonska-punkbandBig D and the Kids Tablehave covered New England live and on theirGypsy HillEP. A version of Pablo Picasso performed byBurning Sensationswas included in the 1984 cult film,Repo Man.David Bowiecovered Pablo Picasso on his albumReality.Velvet Undergroundfounding memberJohn Calehas a version of the song on his 1975 album,Helen of Troy, and continues to include the song in his live shows.Iggy Pophas performed Pablo Picasso live and wrote an extra verse for it.Echo and the Bunnymencovered She Cracked in concert in 1984 and 1985 andSiouxsie and the Bansheeshave a version of the song onDownside Up.
Richmans music has set the tone for manyalternative rockbands, such asViolent FemmesGalaxie 500They Might Be Giants(Roadrunner reportedly inspiredJohn Flansburghto become a musician),WeezerTullycraftJens Lekman, singerFrank Black(who composed the tribute song The Man Who Was Too Loud),Brandon FlowersArt BrutCraig Finnofthe Hold SteadyLifter PullerMac DeMarcoandNerf Herderwho composed a song about him, titled Jonathan, which appeared on the bands second albumHow To Meet Girls. British country rock bandthe Rockingbirdsreleased the single Jonathan, Jonathan in tribute to Richman in 1992. The Silos also covered the Modern Lovers Im Straight.
As a producer himself, Richman and drummer Tommy Larkins producedVic Chesnutts final albumSkitter on Take-Offin 2009 which appeared on Vapor Records. Chesnutt opened for Richman at concerts many times during his later years.
Roadrunner is on theSchool of Rocksoundtrack. In the commentary, directorRichard Linklatermentions it is often called the first punk song and wanted to include it for that reason, along with all the other seminal rock songs in that film.
A tribute album,If I Were a Richman: a Tribute to the Music of Jonathan Richman, was released byWampus Multimediain 2001.
RapperM.I.A.featured the opening lyrics from Roadrunner in the song Bamboo Banga on her 2007 album,Kala.
Jonathan Richman in Tokyo, in the late 1980s, playing an Epiphone Regent
The Best Of Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers
Radio On/Stop And Shop with the Modern Lovers (2 on 1)
(These last three live albums are from the same three 1971-3 performances, but add and subtract a few different songs. The last two, combined, contain all the songs.)2
Alternate versions of Roadrunner and Government Center, along with The New Teller, and It Will Stand, first appeared on the
Im Straight and Government Center, from the Modern Lovers Kim Fowley-produced Beserkley sessions, first appeared on theWarner Bros. Recordscompilation
1993, contributed Hot Nights (live) to the AIDS-Benefit AlbumNo Alternativeproduced by theRed Hot Organization.
Performs Stop Your Sobbing on the 2002Kinkstribute album
Our Dog Is Getting Older Now on thecharity album
Roadrunner / It Will Stand (United Artists UP36006, 1975)
Roadrunner/ (Friday on My MindbyEarth Quake) (Beserkley B-4701, 1976)
Roadrunner (Once) / Roadrunner (Twice) (Beserkley BZZ 1, UK, 1976) UK No. 11
Roadrunner /Pablo Picasso(Beserkley PA-205, 1976)
New England / Here Come The Martian Martians (Beserkley B-5743, 1976)
Egyptian Reggae / Ice Cream Man (Beserkley 6.12 217, 1977)
Egyptian Reggae / Rollercoaster by the Sea (Beserkley BZZ 2, UK, 1977) UK No. 5
The Morning of Our Lives (Live) / Roadrunner (Thrice) (Live) (Beserkley BZZ 7, UK, 1977) UK No. 29
New England (Live) / Astral Plane (Live) (Beserkley BZZ 14, UK, 1978)
Abdul and Cleopatra / Astral Plane (Live) (Beserkley 11813, 1978)
Abdul and Cleopatra / Oh Carol (Beserkley BZZ 19, UK, 1978)
Buzz, Buzz, Buzz/ Abdul and Cleopatra (Beserkley 6.12 311, 1978)
Buzz, Buzz, Buzz / Hospital (Live) (BZZ 25, UK, 1978)
My Little Kookenhaken / Roadrunner (Thrice) (Live) (Beserkley 11819, 1978)
South American Folk Song (Live) / Ice Cream Man (Live) (1978)
Lydia / Important in Your Life (BZZ 28, UK, 1979)
That Summer Feeling / This Kind of Music (1984)
That Summer Feeling / This Kind of Music / Tag Game (Rough Trade RTT 152, UK, 1984)
Im Just Beginning To Live / Circle I / Shirin and Fahrad (Rough Trade RTT 154, UK, 1985)
California Desert Party / When Harpo Played His Harp (DRD 1D474, Spain, 1988)
(5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp.814815.ISBN
The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGBs: A Secret History of Jewish Punk
(19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p.462.ISBN
View topic Egyptian Reggae Jonathan Richman video clip!.
Interview With Jonathan Richman Synthesis Weekly
Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – TopPop Special.
Jonathan Richman, truly one of a kind, entrances crowd at White Eagle Hall.
CN&R Music 2 big sets, 2 big nights 01.30.03.
Jojo Blog long running community-authored blog
Live recordings of rare songs not found on studio albums
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This page was last edited on 18 May 2019, at 14:37