Although it has been over 40 years since Bridge Over Troubled Water was recorded, Art Garfunkel’s image and signature vocal remain among the most instantly recognizable in popular music. His “beautiful countertenor,” as Neil Strauss described Art’s voice in The New York Times, is clear and resonant, surely one of the finest instruments in all of popular music, and a time-honored friend to a world of listeners.
The dialogue began for Art at age four, when his father brought home one of the first wire recorders. “That got me into music more than anything else,” he recalls, “singing and being able to record it.” Seven years later he was singing Everly Brothers songs at school talent shows with a partner, Paul Simon, from his Forest Hills neighborhood in Queens, New York. “Then rhythm ‘n blues, rock ‘n roll came along.” He and Paul set their sights on the Brill Building. “We practiced in the basement so much that we got professional sounding. We made demos in Manhattan and knocked on all the doors of the record companies with our hearts in our throats.” In 1957, ‘Tom and Jerry’ (as they were called then) landed a recording contract. Their first 45, “Hey, Schoolgirl” (which they wrote together) scored a moderate hit and they appeared on “American Bandstand” as high school seniors. “We got a quick education in the record business,” Art recounts.
“But I left and went to college. I was the kid who was going to find some way to make a ‘decent’ living.” He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at Columbia College, majoring in Art History; later he earned his Masters degree in Mathematics at Columbia University. But he never stopped singing, and even recorded several solo singles (as ‘Artie Garr’) while in school. When he met up again with Simon in 1962 and they began to rehearse, the decision was clear to get back together as a duo.
They started performing as Simon & Garfunkel at the height of the folk music boom in late-1963, and within a year were signed to Columbia Records, who paired them with producer/engineer Roy Halee. Simon & Garfunkel maintained a tireless pace in the recording studio and on the road, reaching a wide and loyal international audience. From 1964 to 1970 they recorded a groundbreaking string of classic albums (Wednesday Morning 3 A.M., Sounds Of Silence, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, The Graduate, Bookends, and Bridge Over Troubled Water) and an equally impressive body of songs, many of which became pop standards, among them; “The Sound Of Silence,” “Homeward Bound,” “I Am a Rock,” “Kathy’s Song,” “April Come She Will,” “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her,” “At the Zoo,” “A Hazy Shade of Winter,” “America,” “Scarborough Fair/Canticle,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “The Boxer,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Cecilia,” “El Condor Pasa,” and “My Little Town.”
Simon & Garfunkel won five Grammy awards together, two in 1968 (Record of the Year and Best Contemporary Pop Performance/ Duo or Group for “Mrs. Robinson”); and three in 1970 (Record of the Year, Album of the Year, and Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists for “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which also won Song of the Year and Best Engineered Recording). In 1977, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” received the prestigious Britannia Award for “Best International Pop LP and Single, 1952-77,” as voted by the music industry of Great Britain. In 1972, Simon & Garfunkel Greatest Hits was released, remaining on the charts for 131 weeks in the US and a staggering 179 weeks in the UK. The album has since sold 14 million units – the largest selling album of all time for a duo. In 1990, Paul and Art were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“They were fabulous years,” Art remembers warmly. “I’ll always be happy to say a little on behalf of the duo. I’m proud of singing those great songs. Now they teach Paul Simon songs in churches and schools as part of the curricula… it seems that part of good citizenship is the knowledge of the songs we did. How can I grasp that?”
Having already worked with director Mike Nichols on The Graduate soundtrack, Art went on to feature acting roles in Nichols’ movies Catch-22 (1969) and Carnal Knowledge (’71), opposite Ann-Margret, Candice Bergen and Jack Nicholson. Art also garnered acclaim for his roles in films such as Nicholas Roeg’s Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession (’80) with Theresa Russell and Harvey Keitel, Good to Go (’86) and Jennifer Lynch’s controversial film, Boxing Helena (’93).
Art Garfunkel’s first solo album, Angel Clare, was released in 1973 to critical and commercial acclaim. The album contained the smash-hit Jimmy Webb penned tune “All I Know” and was produced by long time Simon & Garfunkel engineer and co-producer, Roy Halee. Halee also produced “Second Avenue,” which became a hit single in 1974.
Breakaway, co-produced with Richard Perry was released in 1975 and contained the mega-hit “I Only Have Eyes For You.” In addition to the title song, the album contained a treasure trove of hits including, “Looking For The Right One” (background vocals by David Crosby, Graham Nash and Steven Bishop), “Rag Doll,” 99 Miles From LA,” the ex-Beach Boy Bruce Johnston’s “Disney Girls,” as well as a reunion with Paul Simon on “My Little Town.”
In 1976, Garfunkel recalls, “I went to Muscle Shoals, Alabama for my third album, Watermark (1977), an entire album of Jimmy Webb songs with the exception of Sam Cooke’s timeless “What a Wonderful World,” produced by Phil Ramone, with vocals by Art, Paul Simon and James Taylor.
“Bright Eyes,” written and produced by Mike Batt and heavily featured in the animated film version of Watership Down, topped the UK charts in spring 1979. The single sold over a million copies. Fate for Breakfast was released in 1979 and included the hit single “Since I Don’t Have You” featuring the brilliant Michael Brecker on tenor saxophone. The album reached #2 on the UK charts.
Named one of the best albums of 1981 by Rolling Stone Magazine, Scissors Cut included the Gallagher & Lyle hit, “A Heart In New York.” Stephen Holden in Rolling Stone wrote, this is “Art Garfunkel’s finest album, easily justifies his unfashionable formal approach to pop music by its sheer aural beauty.” Shortly after the release of Scissor Cut, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel reunited for a concert in New York’s Central Park before a crowd of 500,000. Following up on the success of the concert, HBO special and live album (Platinum), the duo undertook a worldwide tour in 1982-83.
The Animals’ Christmas, recorded with Amy Grant and the London Symphony Orchestra, was released in 1986. Written by Jimmy Webb and engineered and co-produced by Jeff Emerick (former engineer for The Beatles). Art said at the time, “It’s a gothic cathedral of an album, very ambitious. It was the type of project that would have been done by papal commission long ago.” Emerick continued to work with Art on his sixth solo album, Lefty, released in 1988. It includes a startling remake of Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” and a duet with Kenny Rankin on “I Wonder Why.”
In the mid-1980’s, Art’s obsession with long-distance walking began to come into focus, starting with a three week hike across the rice paddies and back roads of Japan in 1982. By 1984, his walk across America was a major part of his annual schedule. Concurrently, “I became a writer for the first time in my life,” he says, “not a songwriter, but a literary guy.” A collection of his prose poetry, Still Water, was published in 1989.
In the spring of 1990, at the request of the US State Department, Art performed before 1.4 million people at an outdoor rally to support and promote democracy in Sofia, Bulgaria. Enjoying the experience of live performances, Art began touring Europe, Asia and the United States in the early Nineties. “I had horrible stage fright, but just going out there and doing it night after night has brought my adrenaline down to a manageable place. Now I feel I’m just coming into my prime as a stage performer.”
Art’s eighth solo album, up ’til now, offered up a compilation of old Simon & Garfunkel rarities, live Garfunkel recordings, and new studio ballads including Art’s beautiful duet with James Taylor on “Crying In The Rain,” and both the theme for the television series, “Brooklyn Bridge” as well as “Two Sleepy People” from the film A League of Their Own. The albums release in October coincided with a series of 21 sold-out reunion shows with Paul Simon at New York’s Paramount Theater.
Having completed his walk across the United States in 1996, Disney released a documentary-style video that chronicles Art’s 12-year walk as well as a celebratory concert at the Registry Hall on Ellis Island, where Art’s ancestors had first stepped onto American soil. Across America, a live CD of the concert was released later that year. “My goal,” says Art, “was to feel my connection with America, one step at a time.”
Getting a bit restless, Art began his walk across Europe in 1998. Beginning in County Clare on the western coast of Ireland, Art will continue his trek eastward until he eventually reaches Istanbul. Art says he is “not a treadmill guy… this is my way of getting exercise.”
On the heels of Across America, Art recorded Songs From a Parent to a Child, which was nominated for Best Musical Album for Children (1997). The album, inspired by his son James, features renditions of songs by Cat Stevens, Marvin Gaye, Lovin’ Spoonful, James Taylor and Lennon/McCartney.
Everything Waits To Be Noticed, marked Art’s debut as a songwriter, as he collaborated with Buddy Mondlock and Maia Sharp on songs inspired by Still Water. Reviewing the album, Jan Wenner wrote, “I hear elements of everything from the surging folk pop of Buckingham/Nicks-era Fleetwood Mack to the crisp folk-rock sorcery of the Mamas and the Papa to the deft vocal-jazz diction of the Manhattan Transfer. But, above all, I discern a startlingly original chemistry.”
In 2003, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel accepted the Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award and performed “Sound of Silence” to open the live broadcast. Paul and Art decided the time was right for a reunion and announced a worldwide tour that would continue into 2004.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel performed together at Madison Square Garden on September 20, 2005 in “From The Big Apple to The Big Easy,” a concert for long term relief and rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The duo sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Homeward Bound” and “Mrs. Robinson.” The concert raised $9 million for long-term relief from the hurricane.
Art Garfunkel released his 12th solo album, Some Enchanted Evening in January 2007. The CD is a musical celebration of material from the 20th century’s greatest songwriters, including Rodgers & Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, Antonio Carlos Jobim and George Gershwin. “I’ve been loving this stuff all my life,” Art says. The album is the organic next chapter in Art’s life, as he reflects on fatherhood and the chaotic world we live in: “In this nervous world I want to soothe. It’s a great time for moderation, for thoughtfulness, for dialogue, for the great Exhale, for humor. A great time for a sweet sound, a visceral, charming, prayerful sound.”
In teaming with his friend and producer, Richard Perry, Art found a forum for his revered vocal style, recapturing the spirit of their Breakaway sessions, which produced the hit “I Only Have Eyes For You.” “In a sense, Richard and I picked up where we left off. This album is Richard’s elegant production, it fits me good, and I am especially proud of it” says Art. “Some of the songs I brought in like ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ and Harold Arlen’s ‘Let’s Fall In Love.’ I had my favorites and he had his, like ‘Life Is But A Dream’ and ‘Quiet Nights.’ We both love Johnny Mathis and Chet Baker.”
“I feel somewhat different from many people in the extraordinary amount of good fortune that fell into my lap and made up my life,” Art muses. “I rehearsed a lot in my teenage years and really sought after what this country holds, good fortune for those who go after it with hard work. But I do feel as I pass through the country, it’s a charmed life. I grew up with a lot of love in my family, so I have the five senses with which to glean the richness of this land as I pass through it.”