He has also worked with Adrian Sherwood, Allen Ginsberg, Billy Bang, Bob Neuwirth, Bob Weir, Bryan Ferry, Damo Suzuki, Dave Liebman, DJ Spooky, Dr. John, Fred Schneider, Future Sound of London, Geoff Muldaur, Graham Parker, Iggy Pop, Jann Klose, Joe Lovano, John Sebastian, John Zorn, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Kristin Diable, Mary Margaret O'Hara, Matthew Sweet, Melissa Mars, Onetwo, Patti Smith, Peter Hammill, Peter Stampfel, Richard Barone, Roswell Rudd, Sebastian Doggart, Steve Swallow, The Dark Poets, Van Dyke Parks, and Warren Haynes.
Some of these collaborations appear on his retrospective album Improve the Shining Hour, which also features his film and TV music for ABC News, 20/20 and Turning Point. He has produced albums for composer/saxophonists Tim Berne and Peter Gordon, and for the French avant-rock band Tanger. He co-wrote Joan Osborne's Grammy-nominated song "Spider Web" from her triple platinum album Relish.
Lucas was born in Syracuse, New York. He obtained a degree in English from Yale University (1974), before establishing his career in music first as a college DJ and then as music director at his college radio station, WYBC FM.
According to his website, Lucas was encouraged by his father to try the guitar at the age of nine, briefly dabbled with other instruments at school, and played with various groups and combos in the 1960s, during his teens.
During his last year in high school he played for the documentary film unit of the Upstate Medical Center and wrote the musical score on his first film assignment. He travelled on what he calls a "pilgrimage" to see childhood hero Captain Beefheart, with whom he became close friends. From being a Beefheart fan, he eventually became his co-manager and occasionally performed on stage during the 1980–81 tours – reciting a poem (usually "One Man Sentence", sometimes "Untitled") or performing the solo guitar piece "Flavor Bud Living".
After gaining his degree, Lucas played for a few years with the O-Bay-Gone Band before gaining a significant step in his career during 1980–82, when he was engaged to record on two Beefheart albums released by Virgin Records, on one of which he was full-time lead alongside Moris Tepper. Lucas performed over a period of five years with the last incarnation of Beefheart's Magic Band. His solo guitar pieces on Doc at the Radar Station (1980) and Ice Cream for Crow (1982) were his renditions of Beefheart's instrumental compositions, "Flavor Bud Living" and "Evening Bell".
After Captain Beefheart retired in the 1980s, Lucas continued to be associated with the Magic Band's former members. Several of Beefheart's former band members reformed the group, touring as the Magic Band from 2003–2006. Their 2007 double album and DVD, 21st Century Mirror Men, followed up their debut album Back to the Front, which was chosen as one of the best albums of 2004 by The Wire. In 1988, Lucas performed at New York's Knitting Factory. Shortly after, he was invited to appear at the 1988 JazzFest Berlin.
In 2006 Lucas co-leads a Beefheart tribute band, Fast 'n' Bulbous: the Captain Beefheart Project, which appeared at the Frankfurt Jazz Festival and the Jazz Em Agosto Festival in Lisbon during 2006. Their debut album Pork Chop Blue Around the Rind was profiled on NPR and charted on college radio in the United States. In Fall 2006, they toured Europe extensively, selling out shows at the London Jazz Festival, in Amsterdam's Bimhuis, as well as playing in Bern, Switzerland; Vienna and Schwaz, Austria; and Ljubljana, Slovenia. The group released its second album, Waxed Oop, on Cuneiform Records in 2008.
In 2006, Lucas toured Europe with Phillip Johnston and five other jazz musicians as the Gary Lucas and Phillip Johnston Septet. The group performed jazz arrangements of Captain Beefheart's work in London, Amsterdam, Bern, Vienna, Schwaz (Austria) and Ljubljana.
Lucas first met Jeff Buckley in New York at the 1990 Tim Buckley tribute concert. Jeff Buckley stayed in New York and joined Lucas's band, Gods and Monsters. Lucas composed solo guitar instrumentals for "Rise Up to Be" and "And You Will", which later became the musical templates for "Grace" and "Mojo Pin", which Lucas co-wrote with Buckley for his popular and critically acclaimed album Grace. Early collaborations can also be heard on the Jeff Buckley and Gary Lucas album Songs to No One, which charted internationally with worldwide sales approaching 100,000. In the film Greetings from Tim Buckley] (2013), Penn Badgely plays Buckley, and Tony Award winner Frank Wood plays Gary Lucas.
In May 2011, Lucas released a new studio album with his band, Gods and Monsters, entitled The Ordeal of Civility. Gods and Monsters celebrated their 25th anniversary in June 2014 with a special performance at (Le) Poisson Rouge.
In 2003–2004 Lucas collaborated with Dutch lutist Jozef van Wissem on the Universe of Absence and Diplopia. They have performed live on Dutch national TV together.
In 2007, Lucas collaborated on an album with underground electronic producer James R Hunter's project The Dark Poets, produced by British label manager Stevo Pearce of Some Bizzare Records. The album, Gary Lucas vs the Dark Poets – Beyond the Pale, features an eclectic mixture of moody drum and bass, techno and rock tracks (notably "Prime Time", featuring vocals by Sarah Hilliard and James R. Hunter) as well as many early Lucas tracks and collaborations (including "Procuress from Karmelitska Street" featuring vocalist Pat Fulgoni of Kava Kava and original sketches of songs that went on to be used on Jeff Buckley's Grace album, including "Grace" and "Mojo Pin").
In 2009, Lucas collaborated on a world music collaboration with Indian vocalist Najma Akhtar. Their album RISHTE combines rock, blues, folk, and raga, on Harmonia Mundi/World Village. It was number 4 in the European World Music charts in 2009.
In 2009, he collaborated with Juan Galeano on his album El Peregrino, which debuted April 2010.
In 2010, Lucas collaborated with vocalist Dean Bowman on their "spiritual roots project" and gospel album, "CHASE THE DEVIL". The duo performed an amalgam of Hebrew and African American blues live in the United States and Europe.
In 2013 Lucas performed in several special collaborations in late 2013, including with Mother Falcon and Amanda Palmer, with Richard Mader and Pat Fulgoni as the Ghosts of Prague at Jazz Dock, and with Toni Deszo, deBORT's lead saxophonist, at the Budapest Jazz Club.
In 2013, Lucas performed with his 1930s Chinese pop project, the Edge of Heaven, in a sold-out show at the Fishman Space at BAM with vocalists Sally Kwok and Mo Hai Jing and his group Gods and Monsters. The project was also performed as a trio featuring Lucas, Sally Kwok, and Mo Hai Jing at the 1930 Club in Shanghai. October also say Lucas performing in Federico García Lorca's "La Casa de Bernarda Alba" at the Gaia Arts Center in Havana.
In 2014 Fleischerei: Music From Max Fleischer Cartoons, a collaboration between Lucas, Tony Award-nominee Sarah Stiles, and Joe Fiedler, is a musical tribute to Max Fleischer and the jazz and swing scores that accompanied his animated work. Their public debut came at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Cafe in November 2014. The project features Stiles as Betty Boop. An album of the songs was released on February 5, 2015 on Cuneiform Records.
In 2015 Lucas's psychedelic world music trio, Pearly Clouds, released their debut album on Discovery Records on March 15, 2015. The project features Hungarian traditional folk vocalist Enikő Szabó and Serbian saxophonist Toni Dezso.
In early 2017, Gary Lucas traveled to England to produce a new album from Ed Laurie.
During his fourth tour of Russia in 2005, he performed his original solo guitar adaptation of the Lucas/Horn score accompanying the silent classic German horror film The Golem (1920) in Moscow and Saint Petersburg and appeared on national TV before an estimated 50 million viewers, as well as being feted in the Russian edition of Rolling Stone. He's played with The Golem solo globally since the live debut of the duet score he and keyboardist Walter Horn wrote for the movie in 1989 for the Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival. He has performed it at the Venice Biennale, London's Royal Festival Hall, the New York Jewish Film Festival at Lincoln Center, as part of a weeklong artist-in-residency at the Quebec City Summer Festival, at the Alien artist H. R. Giger's Retrospective in Prague (home of the Golem), at Atlanta's Dragon Con 2002, the largest science fiction festival in the world, and at the fifth annual Pop Montreal music and film festival.
Other recent concert appearances include a concert at the Czech Embassy in Washington, D.C., by invitation of the Czech ambassador spotlighting Lucas's solo guitar arrangements of Czech classical music in honor of the 14th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.
Gary Lucas's January 2012 solo tour of Europe began in Spain with a program on National Basque Radio Euskadi, and a performance of the "Spanish Dracula for Bilbao's Musiketan Festival" in Sala BBK. In England, Lucas conducted his Captain Beefheart Symposium two nights in a row at Liverpool's Philharmonic and record 8 tracks in a collaboration with Bryan Ferry at Olympia Studios. Two solo performances followed in Lisbon and Porto, Portugal, with guest performer Diana Silviera. The tour finished in Paris with a surprise performance at La Feline, and solo show at the New Morning with Cheyenne Schiavone, Beatrice Demi-Mondaine, Jean-Francis Pauvros, and Daniel Yvinec, reviewed favorably by E. Corvee, 12 February 2012, in Politis.
Lucas returned to Europe for a debut solo in Sardinia at the Santa Arresi Jazz Festival, and a special concert at the Paradiso in Amsterdam on September 2, 2012, in a collaboration with the Metropole Orkest and Dutch singers entitled "The music of Jeff Buckley and Gary Lucas" and featuring Italian vocalist Alessio Franchini; this coincided with publication of his first book, Touched by Grace—La Mia Musica con Jeff Buckley. He then performed a week of shows in the Czech Republic, headlining Prague's Alternativa Festival solo, appearing live for three hours of interviews and performance on national Beat Radio, performing in Jablonec, Bohemia, with his "Monsters from the Id" music and film project. He also performed at Shakespeare and Company, the legendary Paris bookstore.
Fleischerei was performed throughout 2016 at the Jewish Film Festival in Washington, D.C., the Porgy and Bess Jazz Club in Wien, the Boston Jewish Film Festival, the City Winery NYC and City Winery Chicago seders, as well as at the City Winery NYC klemzer brunch.
Lucas headlined the Pisa Internet Festival with a solo acoustic concert at Teatro Lumiere. He also performed with guest vocalist Danae Villanueva Blanco at the Gaia Arts Center Havana Cuba in May 2016. In December 2016, Lucas reunited with members of Plastic People of the Universe, DG 307, and Urfaust at the Blues Bahnof Prague.
On October 1, 2016, Lucas performed an acoustic solo concert to close the Jewish Museume of Vienna's exhibition "Stars of David."
Lucas returned to New York City to play with the Les Paul Trio and singer Jann Klose in NYC's Iridium Jazz Club, with high-profile solo appearances at Le Poisson Rouge and Joe's Pub with M'Lumbo as well as on their new release Popular Science, and headlining a tribute to avant-garde band The Shaggs at The Bellhouse in Brooklyn, where he performed with Gods and Monsters. The year wrapped with a trip to Havana—Lucas' fifth appearance there—where he performed three nights at the Gaia Arts Center in a tribute to Michelangelo Antonioni on the occasion of his 100th anniversary; performed live on national Radio Havana and Radio Taino; and was interviewed and filmed performing live by national Austrian television ORF for a program which aired 2013.
Additional touring in 2013 included special performances focused on well-known collaborators Jeff Buckley and Captain Beefheart. Lucas performed a tribute concert to Buckley at the Barezzi Festival in Parma, Italy, with Vinicio Caposella and Alessio Franchini, where he was also presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Lucas performed with the Metropole Orkest at the Paradiso in Amsterdam as part of "The World of Captain Beefheart", a tribute to Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet), that also featured Nona Hendryx, Jolene Grunberg, and Tom Trapp.
Lucas returned to Italy in Summer 2015, performing across the country with Italian singer/songwriter Alessio Franchini, including as part of Franchini's Touch of Grace Tribute to Jeff Buckley at the Teatro della Luna in Milan, as well as an appearance at Italian singer-songwriter Vinicio Caposella's "Moon in June Festival" in Umbria.
In 2015 Lucas led Gods and Monsters as Music Director of A State of Grace, a multi-artist tribute to both Tim and Jeff Buckley. The tribute saw Gary perform with singer/songwriter Martha Wainwright, Steve Kilbey (of The Church (band)), and other vocalists over 6 nights in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and at the Brisbane Festival.
In July 2012, Lucas performed live before an estimated viewing audience of 70 million on CNBC in a segment devoted to Gibson Guitars; later that summer the national French ARTE Channel interviewed him for the documentary "Rock Attitude". He was also interviewed and filmed performing live by National Austrian Television ORF for a program which will air in 2013.
At the Peace Hotel in November 2016, Lucas and collaborator Sally Kwok performed a tribute Chinese pop of the 1930s. Later that month, Lucas performed as part of the "Hendrix in Harlem" Tribute at the Apollo Theater, alongside Fishbone, Nona Hendryx, and Ernie Isley.
Summer 2017 will see the release of a new Captain Beefheart tribute album, The World of Captain Beefheart, featuring Lucas and Nona Hendryx, on Knitting Factory Records.
Lucas has spoken widely on his life and career. He also lectures widely on the mechanics of songwriting, extensive collaborations, composing for film, and the music business at the Amsterdam Music Conservatorum, Yale University (his alma mater), the University of Hawaii, New York University, and Columbia University. He has given guitar master classes since the late 1990s at such institutions as the Amsterdam Music Conservatory and in Honolulu at the University of Hawaii. He has also lectured at Rogers State University in Oklahoma, and McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
In Fall 2012, Lucas gave a masterclass and a concert in Paris with French guitarist David Konopnicki and his band at the Henri Dutilleux Music Conservatoire. In April 2014, Lucas gave a masterclass at Rutgers University Mason Gross School of the Arts, with students noting that "his guitar playing and compositions were unlike anything else I have heard before" and that "he has some great ideas about life and music." December 2016 saw Lucas giving a Guitar Masterclass alongside a seminar on songwriting at Conservatorium van Amsterdam.
While touring Mexico in 2014, Lucas was invited by the United States Ambassador to Mexico Earl Anthony Wayne to perform a concert at the Benjamin Franklin Library in Mexico City as part of the ambassador's outreach program for disadvantaged youth. Following the performance, Lucas received an official letter of endorsement and appreciation from Ambassador Wayne. Lucas returned to perform again in December 2015 and November 2016, both at the invitation of the U.S. ambassador.
Lucas has continually conducted a popular symposium on his former mentor and collaborator, Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet), both in the U.S. and in Europe. The symposium focuses not only on Van Vliet's music, but also his work as a visual artist. Lucas discusses the history of Vliet's band, collaborations, personality, and techniques in addition to sharing archival footage and unreleased music. His two symposia in Liverpool in January 2012 were sold out. He presented at the Zappanale in Bad Doberan, Germany in August 2012, followed by a reunion of jazz-rock Beefheart tribute ensemble Fast 'N' Bulbous co-led by Phillip Johnston.
The symposium has been given at numerous venues, including the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, the Independent in San Francisco, Echoplex in Los Angeles, and Casa Del Lago in Mexico City, and often features notable guests, which have previously included Matt Groening, Robert Williams, Terry Van Vliet, Francis McCarthy, Gary Marker, Kristine McKenna, Bill Moseley, and many others.
Lucas was named Artist in Residence at Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool England in December, 2015. During this residency, Lucas performed numerous solo works and presented his new Jeff Buckley Symposium.
Lucas has composed and performed live accompaniment for several films throughout his career, the first having been a score to the 1920 silent film The Golem: How He Came into the World, composed with Walter Horn and debuted in 1989 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival. Since that premiere, a solo, guitar version of the accompaniment to The Golem has been performed at numerous venues and festivals around the world. He has gone on to compose live guitar accompaniments for several films, sometimes in collaboration with other artists.
Throughout 2013, Lucas extensively toured his live film accompaniments. His long-running live score to George Melford's Dracula was performed at the Jerusalem Film Festival, the Silent Movie Theatre in Hollywood, the Cineteca Nacional in Mexico City, the United Palace Theatre in Harlem, Kino Aero in Prague, and Kino Siska in Slovenia. Lucas's live score to José Mojica Marins' "Esta Noite Encarnerei no teu Cadaver" saw its European debut at the Melkweg in Amsterdam in May 2013.
Lucas has continued to perform his live film accompaniments, including Monsters of the Id at Monsterpalooza in Burbank, and This Night I will Possess Your Corpse at the Wexner Center for the Arts. He also premiered live accompaniment to the 1934 silent, Chinese film The Goddess in early 2014. Fall of 2014 saw the premiere of new live scores to Frankenstein and Vampyr.
In Fall 2009, Gary Lucas debuted his new live program of solo guitar arrangements of famous film music at the 5th Jecheon International Music & Film Festival in South Korea. He was also invited by the Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamerica to preview his score for the Spanish version of Dracula (1931) at the 31st Havana Film Festival in Havana, Cuba. Lucas performs the European premiere of his Spanish "Dracula" project at the 9th Transylvania International Film Festival in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, on May 30, 2010, in the open-air outside the Banfi Botzida Castle.
Lucas returned to Cuba in December 2010 for the 32nd Havana Film Festival, and debuted a new live score accompanying a Brazilian horror classic, Esta Noite Encarnerei no teu Cadaver ("Tonight I will Possess Your Corpse").
In 2016, Gary premiered a new live, solo score to The Goddess (1934 film) at Pioneer Works. His live accompaniment to The Exterminating Angel (film) was also debuted in the United States at Pioneer Works.
Lucas was the subject of Klaus Totzler's documentary Gary Lucas in Havana, which aired on Austrian national television ORF and on 3SAT TV in May 2013.
In the last few years Lucas has been profiled in the International Herald Tribune, Libération, and featured on the cover of The Forward as well as the national Dutch newspaper Het Parool. According to the Beefheart website: "Since the end of the Magic Band, he has been very prolific in his own right, solo and within a band, releasing almost an album a year since 1991. His virtuoso solo live shows are awesome in the sounds he extracts from his guitar."
In 2009, Classic Rock named Lucas one of the "100 Greatest Living Guitarists". In October 2013, Lucas received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Barezzi Festival in Parma, Italy. Lucas was given an Acker Award for Achievement in Avant Garde Music in June 2014.
The U.S. Consul General of Milan, Philip T. Reeker, presented Lucas with the Consul General's Award for Cultural Diplomacy on March 21, 2015, following a special performance and reception at U.S. Consulate in Milan.
Lucas received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Premio Ciampi Festival in Tuscany, named for legendary Italian songwriter Piero Ciampi, in December 2015.
Consultant for Greetings from Tim Buckley about Jeff Buckley's early days working in NYC, directed by Dan Algrant and starring Penn Badgley ("Gossip Girl") as Jeff. Character of Gary Lucas played by Tony Award-winning actor Frank Wood. Lucas plays his own guitar parts for the film. The film was released worldwide in cinemas in 2013.
2013 saw the publishing of Lucas's book Touched by Grace: My Time with Jeff Buckley published in English by Jawbone Press. In support of this, Lucas performed a string of shows in the United Kingdom, as well as two performances and signings at Shakespeare and Company in Paris.
Arcana Books (Italy) published Gary Lucas' book, Touched by Grace—La Mia Musica con Jeff Buckley, in September 2012. The book received excellent reviews in the Italian press. Publication was supported with several Italian in store appearances and concerts by Lucas, including Feltrinelli in Trieste, the Fnac Megastore in Milan, and the Madame Guitar Festival in Tricesimo (Lucas' third appearance there). Touched by Grace was published in English by Jawbone Press in October 2013. Mojo gave the book four stars. Roy Trakin of Hits (magazine) named the book among his top 10 of 2014.
Lucas draws from the blues tradition and includes styles such as psychedelic rock, world music, and jazz, as well as classical works. The New York Times described his guitar playing: "Gary Lucas plays guitar the way Salvador Dali painted, with dazzling displays of technique, wicked humor, and a thirst to completely refashion his art from its basic elements".
Lucas has been described as a "guitarist with a global guitar" (Larry Rohter, 9 May 2011, New York Times) "one of the best and most original guitarists in America" (David Fricke, 16 November 2006, Rolling Stone); a "legendary leftfield guitarist" (The Guardian, 24 December 2005); "the thinking man's guitar hero" (The New Yorker, 8 January 2007), "perhaps the greatest living electric guitar player" (Daniel Levitin) and one of "the most innovative and challenging guitarists playing today" (fRoots, March 2002). Lucas' style melds easily into rock and blues, has "avant-garde affinities", but is "not easily typecast" according to the Wall Street Journal.
Lucas has collaborated intermittently with DJ Cosmo (Colleen Murphy) as Wild Rumpus. Having worked together in the Manhattan rave scene, their work focuses on incorporating Lucas's electric guitar work and various other genre influences into electronic dance music. In 2014 the duo released the double-vinyl album Musical Blaze-up on Bitches Brew. Curious Animal gave the LP a seven out of ten, saying "the international sound is the album's...big defining feature". I House U called Musical Blaze-Up a "rawkus musical mash-up" and the video for lead single "Rock the Joint" was named BBC 6 Music Video of the Week.
February 2014 saw the release of Otherworld, an experimental collaboration between Lucas and Peter Hammill. The album was well received by critics, with MAX Magazine Italy writing, "Guitars, abstract landscapes, breathtaking texts (as always when a true poet as Hammill gathers in the field), spectral songs, layers, all conspire to create something unexpectedly powerful and disarming". Lucas and Hammill were featured on the covers of Guitar Player magazine and Rock Society magazine for the project, in addition to featured coverage in Prog magazine. Record Collector gave the album four stars (out of four), and Uncut marked it seven out of ten. In support of the collaboration, Lucas and Hammill performed together at the Gouveia Art Rock Festival in Portugal and at the Teatro de la Ciudad in Mexico City.
The Edge of Heaven, is an album of Lucas's lush arrangements of classic Chinese pop tunes from the 1930s, with a distinctly bluesy feel. It received positive international reviews from Rolling Stone to The Wall Street Journal to the Hong Kong Music Weekly. It was #1 on the World Music Charts in Canada and garnered international attention, England's Q magazine awarding it 4 stars, and Mojo writing: "It is simply gorgeous". The album was chosen as one of the best discs of the year in France's Libération newspaper. There was a lengthy profile for the album in The Wall Street Journal, as well as an NPR interview. Lucas recently released an expanded concert version of The Edge of Heaven with his band, Gods and Monsters, and vocalists Sally Kwok and Mo Hai Jin, both from Shanghai. The group received standing ovations at the Holland Festival in Amsterdam in June 2011.
2016 saw the release of 3 new releases to positive critical response. Fleischerei: Music from Max Fleischer Cartoons, featuring Joe Fiedler, Jeff Lederer, Michael Bates, Rob Garcia, and Sarah Stiles, was named "One of the Best Albums of 2016" by Down Beat and "One of the Best Indie Albums of 2016" by Goldmine (magazine). Pearly Clouds, an exploration of traditional Hungarian folk music, featuring saxophonist Toni Dezso and vocalist Eniko Szabo, was called "a record of spiritual longing and timeless musical transcendence" by FRoots and described as "unusual and compelling listening" by BBC Three. The acoustic folk pop collaboration with Jann Klose, Stereopticon was given four stars by Mojo (magazine). No Depression (magazine) wrote of the record, saying "the harmonies, vocal interactions, and clear precise acoustic guitar provide the listener with enchanting listening.”
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