Personalities | Tom Verlaine | Experimenter Extraordinaire | Guitar Heroes

A crucial figure in New York’s late 1970s new-wave scene, Tom Verlaine (b. 1949) was born Thomas Miller in New Jersey. At an early age, he learned piano before switching to saxophone, inspired by John Coltrane. He took up the guitar in his teens and began forging his own style, searching for new ways of expressing himself on the instrument.

At boarding school, Verlaine met kindred spirit Richard Hell, and in 1973, they formed the short-lived Neon Boys. The band became Television a few months later, when Verlaine found second guitarist Richard Lloyd. Due to friction with Verlaine, Hell left to found The Heartbreakers. In 1975, Television began playing legendary New York venues Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s, where the city’s new-wave movement began to ferment. Verlaine briefly dated punk poetess Patti Smith. The band released their first single, ‘Little Johnny Jewel’, a tribute to Iggy Pop, independently in 1975. For the recording, Verlaine plugged his guitar straight into the mixing desk.

Television’s debut album, Marquee Moon (1977), was hailed as a masterpiece. After a disappointing follow-up, Adventure (1978), the band split up amidst musical and personal differences. Television’s sound was characterized by dual interlocking guitars, heard to stunning effect on the epic ‘Marquee Moon’. The nominal roles of rhythm (Lloyd) and lead (Verlaine) were largely equivalent, with the backing as vital as the solo instrument. Influences came from twin-guitar bands Love, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Buffalo Springfield and The Rolling Stones.

Verlaine launched a solo career with Tom Verlaine (1979), and has continued to release regular solo albums since. Later albums showcased his sparkling guitar work, highlighted by a fine solo on ‘Ancient Egypt’ from The Wonder (1990) and the all-instrumental Warm And Cool (1992). Television reformed for a third, eponymous album in 1992 and have performed together occasionally since.

Verlaine has consistently sought unconventional guitar sounds. He favours Fender guitars and his use of the company’s Jazzmaster and Jaguar models in Television’s early days inspired Thurston Moore, Kevin Shields and John Frusciante to do likewise.

Essential Recordings

Television: Marquee Moon

Solo: Tom Verlaine

Solo: The Wonder

Television: Television

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