©2024 By Rick Johnson

Lenny Kaye & Friends – Live At The Cat’s Cradle – A 50th Anniversary Celebration of Nuggets is being released in limited quantities on vinyl only for Record Store Day on April 20th, 2024, with proceeds supporting the non-profit Shalom Project in Winston-Salem, NC! Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group), Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Jon Wurster (Mountain Goats), Tim Nielsen (Drivin n Cryin), Alejandro Escovedo, James Mastro, Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate) and Hugo Burnham (Gang of Four) all descended on the small town of Carrboro, NC in mid-November along with many other local and national musicians (21 in all) to put on this concert for the ages at the legendary Cat’s Cradle! Now you can hear what all the fuss was about by heading out to your local independent record store on Record Store Day and picking up your very own copy. But get there early!

But let’s back up a bit and set the scene for those of you not yet clued in to Nuggets’ half century of greatness! Lenny Kaye’s 50th Anniversary of Nuggets Tour rolled across the country in 2023, a testament to the enduring popularity of the “Nuggets” themselves. “Nuggets” was Lenny’s endearing term for those psychedelic garage rock songs recorded from 1966-1968 that burned ever so brightly yet ever so briefly on 33 and 45 wax at local and regional radio stations across America, and then were largely forgotten with the turn of the decade and the 70’s Flower Power that ensued. Forgotten to everyone that is, except Jac Holzman, president of Electra Records, and Lenny Kaye, an as of yet unknown Vintage Oldies record store clerk. Before he became Patti Smith’s guitarist, bandmate and confidante, Lenny was sifting through the 45’s at his local record store, like so many of us before and after him. Thankfully he took up the cause of the forgotten garage rock song and introduced the music world to Nuggets!

The result of Lenny and Jac’s collaboration was a double LP released in 1972-1973 entitled NUGGETS: ORIGINAL ARTYFACTS FROM THE FIRST PSYCHEDELIC ERA, 1966-1968, and it immortalized songs like “I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)” by The Electric Prunes, “Dirty Water” by The Standells and “Night Time” by The Strangeloves. The original Nuggets double album has grown in popularity over the decades, spawning reissue after reissue as new generations of music fans discover the genius of The Barbarians, The Seeds and heck, even The Magic Mushrooms! Who doesn’t love Magic Mushrooms? But Nuggets became something bigger than itself, and it’s 50th anniversary was celebrated on Record Store Day 2023 with a 5LP box set containing Nuggets Vol 1, the LONG-awaited Nuggets, Vol 2 (Is 50 years long enough to wait for a Volume 2?) and a record of “Also Dug-Its,” like “99th Floor” by The Moving Sidewalks, an early Billy Gibbons’ band.

For the 50th anniversary of his creation, musician, author, songwriter, producer and SiriusXM radio host Lenny Kaye was asked to play several Nuggets concerts with guest musicians in large cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and NYC. I was brave and naïve enough to ask Lenny if he would play a Nuggets show in North Carolina, at The Cat’s Cradle in the little town of Carrboro. He said if I could get it together, he would come and play. So I did, and he did. It was pretty easy to get most of the musicians to agree to come. Everyone loves Lenny Kaye. He’s a legend AND a good person. The Nuggets House Band consisted of Lenny Kaye, James Mastro and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck on guitar, Mountain Goat Jon Wurster on drums, local musician Greg Rice on keyboards and Drivin n Cryin co-founder Tim Nielsen on bass guitar. The lineup was rounded out by a good mix of local and national musicians, including Gang of Four’s Hugo Burnham, Starcrawler guitarist Henri Cash, Don Dixon, Mitch Easter, Alejandro Escovedo, Jeffrey Dean Foster, Jeffro Holshauser, Kevn Kinney, Shawn Lynch, Hope Nicholls, Corey Parks, Kelly Reidy, Luigi Scorcia, Kellie Specter and Steve Wynn. They all came to Carrboro on November 12th and cranked out 30 great songs, most were on the original Nuggets album, but some like “Kick Out The Jams” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog” weren’t, but they fit into the ethos of the night and into the Spirit of Rock and Roll.

The entire concert was recorded for posterity by Steven Raets at Sonark Media on a 26-track console that once graced Electric Lady Studios. How fitting! The recorded tracks were sent to legendary producer and musician Dox Dixon, and he and I culled through the 30 songs to find 12 that represented the night. Mixing was done in November and Danny Kurtz created the album art created in December. Legendary artist Stephen Blickenstaff even drew one of his famous monsters for the front cover. Furnace Pressing pressed the records, Record Store Day handled the particulars, and now we wait for April 20th, when the album can be enjoyed by Nuggets fans young and old!

Photo by Bob Gruen. Lenny Kaye posing at Westbeth Studio, NYC. July 1993.

Lenny Kaye sings lead on three tracks on the album, including the opener, a heart-wrenching rendition of The Electric Prunes’ classic “I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night).” Fueled by the capacity crowd and historic venue, Lenny channels the angst of a teenager who has lost his love and only finds peace when he sleeps. “Oh my God, you were so there with me, you climbed in bed with me, and then I woke up! Where the Hell were you going? C’mon, c’mon, I miss you SO MUCH!” What an opener! Long time North Carolina musician Jeffrey Dean Foster delivers a perfect rendition of “Night Time” by the Stangeloves, complete with call and refrain with Lenny Kaye at the end. “Right time! Night time! Right time! Night time!” The mutual affection between these two musicians is evident, extending back to when they first met in NYC in the late 80’s when Foster’s band The Right Profile was looking for a producer. Forty years and the friendship is still there.

Kaye also performs a great revved-up mash-up of “The Letter” by the Box Tops into “Run Run Run” by the Velvet Underground. If you hear it once, you’ll never forget it! James Mastro’s slide guitar and local musician Greg Rice’s keyboards move through the music, melding the two songs into one freight train of a number. Kaye spits out all the lyrics in a frantic up style that would make both Alex Chilton and Lou Reed proud! He even shouts “Lou! Lou! Lou! Tell me what to do!” before launching into a frantic lead and finishing it out by declaring “Oh, that felt so good!”

Local musician Kelly Reidy follows Lenny with an amazing version of “What A Way To Die” by the Pleasure Seekers, a 60s all-girl teenage rock group out of Detroit (where else) featuring the Quatro Sisters, Patti and her sister Suzi, long before she was famous. The song, which is on the long-awaited volume two of Nuggets, draws a firm but squiggly line in the sand, telling the singer’s boyfriend “Please don’t make me decide baby, between you and a bottle of beer!” Talk about Grrrrl Power!

San Antonio, Texas rock legend Alejandro Escovedo (Nuns, Rank & File, True Believers) tears through his own special rendition of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by The Stooges, accompanied by Hugo Burnham on drums, AND Jon Wurster on sleigh bells! Kaye’s lead guitar snakes back and forth from left to right speaker, through the verse and the chorus. The song ends in chaotic barking by Escovedo and Kaye, neither able to hide their animalistic enthusiasm for the perfect punk song.

To finish off side one of the album, Steve Wynn from The Dream Syndicate and Baseball Project makes “99th Floor” his own, a driving number complete with scathing psychedelic leads played on his own pink paisley guitar. NYC musician Kellie Specter provides plaintive harmonica through the rest of the song, as Jon Wurster pounds away on the drums, leading to a resounding finish.

Side two starts with local music legend Hope Nicholls from Fetchin Bones and It’s Snakes roaring through “Hey Joe” by the Leaves with her distinctive vocals and the help of Brooklyn bred lead guitarist Luigi Scorcia. Former Nashville Pussy bassist and Lemmy Kilmister confidante performs “Time Has Come Today” in a soothing yet powerful performance, complete with backing vocals from a chorus of Nuggetarian friends. Back when she was with Die Hunns, Parks usually augmented her performance of “Time Has Come Today” by spitting fire, a la Gene Simmons. While everyone would have loved to have seen that, Cat’s Cradle club owner Frank Heath did not get on board.

Henri Cash, Starcrawler guitarist and youngest Nuggets musician at 23, is up next with a version of “Little Black Egg” by the Nightcrawlers that rivals the original. Cash also tied for the prize of longest journey to get to Carrboro, NC, having taken the red-eye from his home in Los Angeles for the festivities. R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, who now makes Portland, Oregon his home, may have traveled further, but they both sounded great playing guitar together on a classic Nugget. Cash also had the pleasure of meeting one of his guitar heroes, the late Dexter Romweber on his trip to Carrboro, and Dexter was his honored guest at the Nuggets concert that night.

North Carolina music legend Don Dixon performs a lively and upbeat version of “Wooly Bully,” complete with Sam The Sham-style turban. Before November had ended, Dixon would end up lending his mixing and production magic to this track and the 11 others to get Lenny Kaye & Friends – Live At The Cat’s Cradle ready in a hurry for Record Store Day on April 20th, 2024. Just over five months from live concert to live album!

The ghost of the great Wayne Kramer is certainly smiling in Rock and Roll Heaven over this next track. Two of his friends, Lenny Kaye (who knew Wayne from back in the day when his friend Patti Smith married MC5 bandmate Fred “Sonic” Smith), and Henri Cash (whose band Starcrawler opened for Kramer’s MC50 Tour on the West Coast in 2018) playing dueling guitars, a la “Sonic” Smith and Wayne Kramer on an amazing version of “Kick Out The Jams.” The vocals are handled masterfully by North Carolina’s own Hank Sinatra guitarist and vocalist Jeffro Holshauser and accompanied by BOTH Jon Wurster AND Hugo Burnham on double drum kits, set up just for this purpose. At the end of the song, Jeffro flawlessly name-checks every musician on stage with him, and you can hear the surprise in his voice when he shouts “Hugo Burnham!” Not knowing this special song needed two drummers to make it just right!

Lenny finishes off the night with his own special six-minute version of “Gloria” by the Shadows of Knight, reading during the middle of the song from his fabulous book Lightning Striking. Make sure and pick it up if you haven’t already. It’s about ten transformative moments in music history, ten times when “lightning struck.” As Lenny says during the song “The odds of being struck by lightning are 300,000 to 1. I think that’s an understatement. I’VE been struck by lightning, many a time, many a place!”

Everyone who attended ANY of the seven Nuggets 50th anniversary celebratory concerts in 2023 most likely came away feeling as if THEY had been struck by lightning, or at least had been the recipients of thirty firey sermons in the Church of Lenny The K! Lenny Kaye finishes Lenny Kaye & Friends – Live At The Cat’s Cradle out by paying tribute to the most cherished people at the venue…the fans. “Wow! Thank you so much! It wouldn’t be a Nugget without YOU and YOU and YOU and YOU and YOU and YOU…G-L-O-R-I-AYYYY!!!! Thank you! It’s A Nugget If You Dug It!” We all hope you dig it, and please remember to support your local independent record store EVERY day, but especially on Record Store Day, April 20th, 2024!

Rick Johnson
Record Store Day