Mar 21, 2017

USA Today

Garland Jeffreys, a man on a musical mission

, USA TODAY12:35 p.m. ET March 19, 2017

AUSTIN -- For many artists, South By Southwest serves to launch or revitalize careers. For Garland Jeffreys, the festival is just another waypoint on his lifelong mission to make the world a better place.

With a timeless sounding new album 14 Steps To Harlem, due April 28, Jeffreys played a series of shows here and took time for a chat Thursday night before performing at The Driskill hotel ballroom. Talking with the 73-year-old singer-songwriter is akin to an episode of VH1 Storytellers.

It's the Brooklyn native's first visit to the festival in three years. In 2014, he participated in a tribute to his longtime pal Lou Reed, who died in 2013, and frequently joined another buddy, Texas musician Alejandro Escovedo, on stage here in years past.

A year ago, his wife Claire -- who is overseeing a documentary about Jeffreys' life; more info on PledgeMusic.com -- asked him if he wanted to quit performing. "I said 'No.' I have a message. I feel I'm an expert in telling it."

That message is one of inclusivity, says Jeffreys, born the son of mixed race parents. When it comes to songwriting, Jeffreys often mines his "dream that there would be less racism and more collaborative living and understanding and caring," he said. "There are a lot of people out there who unfortunately are not ready for that, seemingly."

Colored Boy Said, a song on the new album, mentions "I got a president who looks like me" and references the choking death of Eric Garner and the shooting of nine black churchgoers in Charleston (S.C.). read more