Missed Part 1 of this interview? Read it here.
“I used to go into Village Oldies to buy records,” he reminisces. “And one day [owner] Bleecker Bob said, ‘You’re always in here. Why don’t you work here?’ So I started there in 1970 for $10 a day — which is at least $30 now. I remember Patti came in, and asked me to play her some of the records we shared from growing up in central Jersey: ‘My Hero’ by the Blue Notes, ‘Bristol Stomp,’ and Maureen Gray singles. That’s when I really got to know her. And I worked there six days a week. I left right before we went on the Horses tour, but by then I was just working Saturday nights for fun.”
He says Nuggets came out of his time working there. “On Saturday nights, I’d have a beer and start spinning stuff from the racks. I was in my ’60s garage-rock period, and I’d just write down some of the records I found. I get a lot of props for Nuggets. It’s my great unconscious hit.” He laughs. “But I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Not everybody gets to compile an album for Elektra Records using records that are possibly only five years old in 1972. Today, it’d be like making an album of hits from 2008 to 2010. But the key to Nuggets for me was always that those are great songs: ‘Dirty Water,’ ‘Pushin’ Too Hard.’” If they come on the radio, you say ‘Yeah!’
“That’s why me and the boys play some of them live to give Patti a little break during the show. We choose a couple and go wild with them. They’re great hit singles beyond being garage rock.”
But Nuggets isn’t strictly a collection of garage rock. “It’s all over the place stylistically,” Kaye agrees. “It’s funny how garage rock has become defined as a fuzztone, a Farfisa, and a yowling singer. But when I was collating the album, I didn’t have the historical distance, which is probably to the better, because sometimes if you know too much about what you’re doing conceptually, you fuck it up. There’s so many weird wild cards on the original Nuggets that, had I had a clue we’d be listening to it forty years later, I would’ve made a more academic record.”
As it is, Kaye continues, “It allows the parameters to expand, and I think that’s part of its charm. Obviously, a million garage records have been found since then. You have your compilations like Tales From the Crypt, Pebbles, and all the others. And several generations of garage revivalists. It’s a question of rediscovery. Just like the Stones helped America rediscover — at least for white people — what the blues were about, I think everyone needs to be reminded of seismic changes in the music and how they create your future. I still get people coming up to me, buying me a beer, and saying, ‘Yeah, Nuggets changed my life.’ Yeah, not only yours.” He laughs.
The sales figures for the original Nuggets were “miserable,” he says. “The only people who bought it were rock writers and musicians. My advance was $750. And ten years later, Warner-Elektra-Atlantic sent me a note with my non-royalty statement, saying we’re going to stop paying on it ’cause it’s never going to make back your advance. But, just like a lot of records that are not huge commercial sellers, people who heard it took it to heart.”
Which explains why Rhino Records turned Nuggets into a four-CD boxed set in 1998. “They did a great thing and took my list of what would’ve been on the second volume of Nuggets and got the rights to most of them,” says Kaye. “And the best thing was that all I had to do was write how great it was, and I didn’t have to do the work. They carried on the tradition as it should’ve been and completed the story.”
Although Kaye has also produced or co-produced records for other artists, notably Suzanne Vega’s 1987 hit single “Luka,” he says, “When I was at my height as a producer, I only did sixteen or twenty records, all by really idiosyncratic artists, really interesting people whose worldviews I was able to share. And I did an album for the Kingpins, a New York City rockabilly group who didn’t have any money. But I liked them, so I had them move my record collection to my new apartment, which was up three flights of stairs.” He laughs.
“But I didn’t really have a sound, and I never wanted to do more than one album with anyone, ’cause I felt if I did a really good record, they got all my moves and they needed to evolve from there.”
Nevertheless, just last week Kaye was in the studio putting overdubs on an album of psalms sung by Waylon Jennings’s wife, singer-songwriter Jessi Colter of “I’m Not Lisa” fame. “I’d heard her sing them around the house when I was working on Waylon’s autobiography,” he explains. “About eight years ago, I got her into the studio, and her performances — all first or second takes — were just beautiful. It’s King David’s greatest hits. Very spiritual, but it’s not religious per se. I’m just trying to accessorize them without overwhelming how gorgeous they are.”
He also edited a single by Russian feminist punk-protest group Pussy Riot. “They came to New York in December and did a track with Mark Ribot, Nick Zinner from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Le Tigre. It’s called ‘Revolution,’ and it’s so righteous, raw, real hard rock. It’s truly an honor to be working with them and a good example of the range I like to approach with my music.”
Meanwhile, Kaye maintains a tour diary, which is mostly a list of records and books purchased, beers and meals consumed, and local history. He laughs. “Well, that’s what touring is really about: finding a good bookstore or record store — although I still do drunk-buying on eBay at five o’clock in the morning — and becoming part of a culture that you haven’t been exposed to. I try not to talk about interband relationships [in the diary], because that’s personal. And it’s kinda like sending postcards to myself, ’cause I’ve been on the road enough times, I forget what city we’re in or what I did that day.
“And I love writing. When I’m on the road, there’s nothing I long for more than to go into the solitude of my basement, look at the screen, and not have five people tell me where they think the comma should go. But when I’m in the basement too long, I crave the sense of public performance that is music.”
He says it’s good to go between those modes and have them inform each other. “There’s a narrative framework in a good guitar solo. And there’s lots of music, melody, and rhythm in a well-written sentence. We grew up in a time where we tried to write about the music with the same heightened level of sensibility as the music itself. We weren’t journalists or consumer guiders or anything like that.”