By Ken Sharp
As U.S. shores were overtaken by the British Invasion battalion of artists led by The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, The Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, The Animals, The Who and others, not many Stateside acts could weather the seismic storm coming from across the pond. Yet a little duo of acoustic troubadours, Simon & Garfunkel, not only survived but prospered, releasing five albums of exquisite beauty and creativity over a short six-year stretch. Their remarkable work is represented in “Simon & Garfunkel – The Complete Columbia Albums Collection,” a new 6-LP box set containing newly remastered 180-gram audiophile vinyl versions of “Wednesday Morning, 3.A.M.,” “Sounds Of Silence,” “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme,” “Bookends,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits.” Also, out is a CD/DVD and 12-inch vinyl release of “Simon & Garfunkel: The Concert in Central Park,” capturing the duo’s triumphant reunion concert witnessed by more than half-a-million spectators.
Goldmine: Thinking back over 50 years, when did you first realize the vocal blend you had with Paul was magic?
Art Garfunkel: Well, that’s a great question. We met each other in the sixth grade. First, we got off together laughing with the same sense of humor and all this subversive nonsense. We were about 11 years old and we went to junior high school together; they threw us in a big school, so we clung to each other. Then the laughs started turning to rock ‘n’ roll because Alan Freed brought all that dirty music to New York radio, and we knew that was the hip thing. After all, everyone else in the American landscape was pretty corny so you loved Lenny Bruce and you loved the Penguins and the Moonglows. So we listened to the radio at night and we would start rehearsing in my basement to try and copy those records we heard on the radio. When the Everly Brothers came along in 1954, they killed us and we started trying to sound like them, and we did pretty good. We were writing our own songs together and using the Everlys blend of thirds; you know if one guy sings a C the other guys sings an E (sings to demonstrate that harmony). That little interval of thirds was our sound, as well as so many groups. That’s your basic harmony and it’s as close as you can get without being dissonant. I realized right away we had a really good sound. I was the singer in school and I started showing Paul how to blend with me. He took melody and I took the third above. He was essentially Don Everly and I was Phil Everly; some I would do melody and he would have to go below. We almost never had Paul’s voice above; he’s a baritone and I’m a tenor. So that all happened really early, at the beginning of junior high school.
GM: You have the new vinyl box set on your table. Which is the album you’re most likely to lean toward picking to play out of the bunch?
AG: “Bookends” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” are neck and neck; our second-to-last album and our last album are both endeavors to be proud of. Roy Halee, the third member of Simon & Garfunkel – the engineer, the Geoff Emerick that sat with George Martin when The Beatles records were made – Roy Halee was brilliant in the sonics, in making the sound of our records beautifully well-tooled. I like that word; it makes me think of Ferraris (laughs). We spent a lot of time making sure our records had a great sound. In those days you cared a lot about putting the earphones on and playing your vinyl records and hearing something wonderful from moment to moment to moment. So we hit our stride on “Bookends” and on “Bridge.”
GM: When do you feel you and Paul really came into your own and were using the studio as a creative instrument and tool?
AG: Well, I’d have to skip right over the Tom and Jerry high school years as we were teenagers; that was kind of stock harmony thing. So you jump five years into our early 20s when it’s the beginning of the 1960s or getting toward the middle and we had our hit album, “Sounds of Silence.” We were not particularly creative in the way we used the harmony voices. But we started getting world famous. The Beatles showed the whole world how creative an album can be, and we were smitten by all the possibilities. Since we had hit records and the record company would throw us tons of money to take all the time we wanted to make albums, we slowed down and started getting very creative about how to blend and how to use counterpoint and how we could sometimes just sing in unison and it would be effective how one voice would drop out and I would take a solo and all the different combinations you could use for two voices. So that would be around 1967.
GM: Simon & Garfunkel had a dazzling array of hits, but many of the deeper cuts are as strong. With that in mind, pick a lesser known song that you’d point out for the listener to discover.
AG: OK, you want something a little esoteric, so let me pull it out (leaves briefly to grab a copy of the new vinyl box set). When you see this big vinyl record collection, it’s handsome. When I got my hands on it, I felt, “This seems very buyable.” This whole collection is adorable, how nice; I miss vinyl terribly. Here’s “Kathy’s Song” off “Sounds of Silence” album. But that record was cut quickly, so I can’t really say it fell into my wheelhouse where we slowed down and became producers along with Roy. So I jump to the third, fourth and fifth album. “Scarborough Fair” is too famous to fit this question and (laughs) I certainly don’t count “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine;” that’s a throwaway. Is “The Dangling Conversation” a little more hidden? Because that’s a goodie. On “The Dangling Conversation” you can start hearing Roy Halee making Paul’s voice sound quite large. The use of the microphone in the studio to give the sonics something special on Paul is very apparent in “The Dangling Conversation.”
GM: “April Come She Will” is my deep cut selection. For me, it’s one of the most magical songs, not only as a Simon & Garfunkel song, but of any artist. What makes that song special?
AG: I wish I could do it again. It’s a little tame. It’s such a lovely, simple poem, (recites lyrics) “April, May, June, July, August, September she fades…” It’s a very simple poem of birth, maturity and dying.
GM: Your vocal is beautiful.
AG: Oh, I could do it better, give me another chance (laughs). I do it in my solo concerts today, and I think I make more of it these days than the old days but I’ll take your compliment. But I feel there’s a certain innocence in that performance on that record and innocence in the bad sense. I’m just not really selling the sweet simplicity of it. Now that I’m mature and older I could make more of a lovely version of maturity and dying.
GM: Elvis Presley famously covered “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” What was it like hearing a rock icon tackle a song that was your vocal showcase?
AG: You know, I’m not gonna say nice things; I’m a very opinionated son of a gun. I have my own ears and I hear everything in my own way. I look at the age we live in today with a real grain of salt. I see so much mediocrity passing. Now get ready … to me, Elvis was a phenomenon of star quality when he hit the lights and we all became aware of him. He was cooler than cool. I was an Elvis fan and Paul was an extreme Elvis fan; you should have seen him on TV, he knew how to stand, he had attitude and he was brilliant. He had his string of hits in his first few years right through “Don’t Be Cruel” and “All Shook Up,” and these were great rock ‘n’ roll records. Elvis was the king and I bowed to the king and so did The Beatles. Elvis was undeniably an original with thrust. Then he goes into the Army and he comes back and makes “G.I. Blues” and just about everything he does after that is missing the power of a really good singer. From that point on, you have a singer with uncontrolled vibrato, wonderful attitude but not singing. You’re talking to a singer now; I can sing, my ear tells me who can sing good and who can’t. (Linda) Ronstadt was a great singer. When you can really sing you add a real element to the record. You gotta sing, man. McCartney could sing. So I didn’t like Elvis’ version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water;” uncontrolled vibrato, bravura, Vegas.
Paul Simon shares the back story behind writing the Simon & Garfunkel classic, “Bridge Over Troubled Water
GM: Take us back to 1981’s massive “Concert in Central Park.” What were the challenges behind putting on that show of that magnitude?
AG: The challenge is to work the live audience of a half-a-million people and to rest being Mick Jagger who uses the stage as a platform that needs to reach such a large audience. Your tendency is to jump around and move left to right all over the stage, to be in scale with the huge audience. You need to be in scale with the audience but you’re also making a television show. The camera is set up a hundred feet in front of you on a high platform so it’s at your eye level and cameras record nuances. Every little curl of the lip means something to the camera, so the scale of a TV show — and mind you, there’s a half-a-million in front of us — but the TV show is going to reach millions. We were working the camera carefully with fine tuning where nuances matter. If you close your eyes and look a little dreamy at the end of “Scarborough Fair” it’s gonna score on camera. But, of course, it’s meaningless for the large audience, so there’s a duality going through your presentation. That’s the main challenge.
GM: Decades on, what are the most indelible memories you have of that show?
AG: Well, I’m smiling because it is my single happiest memory in show business. Nothing really quite compares to the fun of stepping on a stage and seeing 500,000 people out there. You know that you did something right in the ‘60s, but here it was in 1981, and you immediately realized it has lasting power; the thing we did is carrying on years later. Thank you Lord. Who knew? So I was overjoyed by the size of the audience. Performers get their score by looking at record sales and by looking at audience attendance. It’s the numbers that tell you how much love is out there. So I turned to Paul and said, “I knew we did something right in the ‘60s but I didn’t know it was this right.”
GM: If you could relive one moment in Simon & Garfunkel history again, what would you choose and why?
AG: Good question. When the first two albums, “Wednesday Morning, 3.A.M.” and “Sounds Of Silence,” were out there, and 1965 and ’66 had now turned into 1967, and we started making albums that took many, many months and they were real productions of sound. Finally, we finished that third album, “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme.” Paul and I pulled up our chairs to the console in the control to finally listen and be audiences to all of our hard work. Now we were going to hear what we did all in sequence as an album in completion and we lit up a joint. That was something we never did when we recorded but as an audience member we thought, we’ll get stoned and we’ll listen to what we made. And then on comes “Scarborough Fair” to start that album and I turned to Paul and I don’t know if I said these exact words but I can feel the spirit, “Oh my God, I didn’t realize it was so nice.” “Scarborough Fair’ just killed me; sitting there at the console and listening to our hard work and seeing the organic flow of “Scarborough Fair” sent me over the moon. There it was; that was kind of a high point. GM