Jeffreys is from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. He majored in art history at Syracuse University where he met Lou Reed, before The Velvet Underground became active. In 1966, Jeffreys began to play in Manhattan nightclubs including Gerde's Folk City, The Bitter End, Gaslight, Kenny's Castaways and later Reno Sweeney, where he began to explore racially conscious themes in his work, sometimes utilizing blackface masks and a rag doll named Ramon in performance. Jeffreys played guitar on John Cale's 1969 debut solo album Vintage Violence and contributed the song "Fairweather Friend". In 1969 he founded Grinder's Switch with Woodstock-area musicians including pianist Stan Szelest, guitarist Ernie Corallo, and percussionist Sandy Konikoff. Lew Merenstein produced this one album before the band dissolved in 1970.
In 1973, he released his first solo album, Garland Jeffreys, on Atlantic Records. Around the same time Atlantic also released a single, "Wild in the Streets", that was not included on the album. Jeffreys wrote the song after hearing about a pre-teen rape and murder in the Bronx. Dr. John played clavinet and helped arranged the song, with backing from guitarist David Spinozza, drummer Rick Marotta, the Brecker Brothers on horns and David Peel on background vocals. The track received airplay on the progressive FM album-oriented rock stations, and has become one of his best-known songs.
"Wild in the Streets" has become something of an unofficial anthem for the skate community and been covered covered by several musicians, including:
The Circle Jerks, on their album Wild in the Streets
Chris Spedding, on the album Hurt
British Lions, on their album British Lions
Hot Water Music, on the album Til the Wheels Fall Off
Hurriganes, on Fortissimo
In 1977 Garland recorded his Ghost Writer album for A&M Records, with "Wild in the Streets" included on side two. Every track on Ghost Writer is beautifully crafted, making the whole album one of the most consistently satisfying works of the entire era. All are autobiographical, encompassing bittersweet tales about coming of age as an artist in the big city ("Ghost Writer"), of racial separatism ("Why-O"), of interracial romance ("I May Not Be Your Kind"), and of overcoming conflict at home ("Cool Down Boy").
Musically, the album traverses strident, yet soulful rock ‘n’ roll ("Rough and Ready", "Wild in the Streets," "Lift Me Up," "35 Millimeter Dreams"), reggae ("I May Not Be Your Kind," "Why-O," "Ghost Writer") and more up-tempo reggae ("Cool Down Boy") to jazz-inflected ballad ("New York Skyline"). Among the players on the record, one key contributor was Winston Grennan – veteran drummer with the Skatalites, early Wailers, Toots and the Maytals and "The Harder They Come" soundtrack – who gave the reggae tracks their unique pulse.
The final track, "Spanish Town," is Garland’s grand epic, a sweeping, atmospheric narrative which juxtaposes recollections of his grandmother Rafaella, father Ray, friend Don Juan and sweetheart Margarita with mention of “revolution in the streets.” It remains a fan favorite. Other contributors to the record are James Taylor (background vocals) and Al Cohn and David Sanborn (sax). Jeffreys was voted best new artist of 1977 by Rolling Stone.
The next years saw a string of albums, five within five years, and released the perennial radio favorite "Matador" which charted in the top five of a number of European countries. This burst of productivity culminated with the criminally underrated Guts for Love, a meditation on the challenges of monogamy and fidelity. After a long hiatus, much of it spend woodshedding, reading and researching, Jeffreys released Don't Call Me Buckwheat, devoted to the complexities of race in America. The title was triggered by an incident at Shea Stadium where Jeffreys was enjoying the game and feeling carefree. He stood to go get a hotdog when a voice shouted "Hey buckwheat, sit down!" The casual epithet was a jolt and it spurred a number of memorable songs including "Don't Call Me Buckwheat, " "I Was Afraid of Malcolm," "Racial Repertoire." In February 1992, Jeffreys' "Hail Hail Rock 'n' Roll" spent one week at #72 in the UK Singles Chart.
Jeffreys was featured in the 2003 documentary The Soul of a Man, directed by Wim Wenders as the fourth installment of the documentary film series The Blues produced by Martin Scorsese. The film explored the musical careers of blues musicians Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson and J. B. Lenoir. Jeffreys was also featured on the cover of Beyond Race Magazine in February 2007.
1969: Grinder's Switch featuring Garland Jeffreys (Vanguard)
1973: Garland Jeffreys (Atlantic)
1977: Ghost Writer (A & M)
1978: One-Eyed Jack (A & M)
1979: American Boy & Girl (A & M)
1980: Escape Artist (Epic)
1982: Rock 'n' Roll Adult (Epic)
1983: Guts for Love (Epic)
1992: Don't Call Me Buckwheat (RCA/BMG)
1992: Matador & More... (A & M)
1997: Wildlife Dictionary (RCA/BMG)
2007: I'm Alive (Universal)
2011: The King of In Between (Luna Park Records)
2013: Truth Serum (Thirty Tigers/Luna Park Records)
Contribution to others:
1980 TImes Square Soundtrack: Innocent, Not Guilty (RSO)
1998 Diamond Cuts: Turning Two (Vol. II) (Hungry For Music)
2003 Johnny's Blues: A Tribute To Johnny Cash (Northern Blues)
2003 Light of Day Tribute To Bruce Springsteen (Schoolhouse Records)
2003 Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: The Soul Of A Man (Sony)
2005 Elliott Murphy: Live Hot Point (Last Call Records)
He has an 18-year-old daughter named Savannah Jeffreys who is an aspiring singer-songwriter as well, with many YouTube videos of her own songs. Altogether, her songs have over 90,000 views.