inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #76 of 150: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Mon 1 Jun 09 13:22
    
>Do you mean that would have been a Warhol idea to disown associations
with the "underground," or that the Velvets wanted to distance
themselves from the kind of "underground" they'd been associated with
when they first emerged in 1966 as part of Warhol's Exploding Plastic
Inevitable?

It just sounds puckish and strange in a way that reminds me of his
general approach to dealing with the public in those years.  Also, the
idea of going after $$, mainstream success, and trying to put out
top-selling singles is pretty much congruent with Warhol's attitude. 
He was very hard working and certainly not averse to making big bux.

But I was just sort of noodling and pondering.  Warhol's whole scene
and attitude is certainly a puzzle for those of us who weren't there,
and probably to some who were.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #77 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Mon 1 Jun 09 13:39
    
In my interview with Paul Morrissey (who was really the co-manager of
the Velvet Underground from early 1966 to mid-1967, though Andy Warhol
was/is often referred to as being their only manager during the time),
he gave the impression that Warhol almost had to be reluctantly cajoled
into handling the Velvets, at least initially. He also said that
making money out of managing a rock'n'roll group was the initial
impetus: "The most unusual idea I had in order to make money with
Andy's name was to have him present a rock'n'roll group, something he
was extremely reluctant to do. The opportunities for getting money from
experimental movies were obviously nonexistent. And therefore the
possibilities in 1965, in the era of the Beatles just coming to
America, the Rolling Stones, and everybody supposedly making a lot of
money, seemed like a very good idea."

Morrissey's memories of Warhol's role in the Velvets -- which he views
as lesser than most historians do -- aren't going to please everyone,
among both VU fans and Warhol fans. But he *was* there in the inner
circle, doing more nuts-and-bolts work with the group than Warhol did,
and I wanted him to be able to give his perspective.

Warhol's place in VU history is viewed in some oddly different ways.
To generalize, some people *still* think of him as the mastermind
behind the group, though they were active and performing many of their
early songs before he properly met them, and he never tried to modify
their music, with the (admittedly notable) exception of getting Nico
into the lineup. Others say he never really *did* anything for them,
except be a kind of figurehead to get them media attention.

But even if he didn't do as much as is often believed, I do think he
made vital contributions to the group during the time he was involved
in their management. At the outset, he helped finance them and get them
equipment at a time when they had virtually no money or work. He also
gave Lou Reed some specific suggestions for songs, and instilled in
Reed (Lou has specifically recalled) a diligent work ethic, always
being after him to write more material. Plus of course he designed the
banana album cover, one of the greatest LP covers of all time.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #78 of 150: Every Acid Dealer Gets Busted Eventually (rik) Mon 1 Jun 09 14:36
    
"Others say he never really *did* anything for them,
 except be a kind of figurehead to get them media attention."

Out here on the left coast, that was major.   That's what got them listened
to.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #79 of 150: outside the law and honest (tbessoir) Mon 1 Jun 09 22:48
    
One of the interesting things I learned from the book was that "Loop," the
song on the 45 record included with Aspen magazine and billed as The
Velvet Underground, was in actuality just Cale. Of course it is fairly
obscure and rarely gets any mention at all. 

At the 1979 CBGBs shows the VU songs Nico performed were "Femme Fatale"  
and "All Tomorrow's Parties." I was at the shows, made cassette tapes, and
took photos.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #80 of 150: What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Tue 2 Jun 09 05:16
    
Nico's version of "Heroes" is gorgeous and moving. I get goosebumps.

But I've never thought if her as integral to the group?

Were there other performers in the VU orbit who, had things broken
differently, could or would have been in the band?
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #81 of 150: outside the law and honest (tbessoir) Tue 2 Jun 09 06:12
    
Angus Maclise, Tony Conrad and Walter DeMaria were in their early musical 
circle and had played with John and Lou. 

BTW I loved The Primitives photo in the trunk of the car. Great find!
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #82 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 2 Jun 09 07:56
    
Angus MacLise was actually in the Velvet Underground for a few months
as their original drummer in 1965, though that lineup (Reed, Cale,
Morrison, and MacLise) don't seem to have played any shows under the
Velvet Underground name. They *did* play some shows, but those were at
avant-garde multimedia happenings where they were apparently playing
more in the way of instrumental improvisations than songs with vocals,
sometimes providing the "soundtrack" to experimental films by playing
behind the screen. MacLise could have stayed in the group when they
started to play more conventional shows billed as the Velvet
Underground, but quit just prior to the first of those in December
1965. He was such a purist he found the very idea of getting paid ($75
for the band as a total) a sellout.

MacLise's widow Hetty told me that she thought "Angus and Lou had some
kind of falling out. 'Cause [with] Angus, everything had to be
immediate. He couldn't really stand the thought of having to rehearse
at a certain time, or turn up for a recording session at a certain
time, because maybe he wasn't actually feeling quite like it or
something. Just when they were about to make a record, or make some
money, then he would pull out. He would get tired of it. He wouldn't
want to be involved with that side of things."

MacLise actually *did* play as part of the Velvet Underground,
however, for about two weeks in mid-1966 at a club in Chicago. Lou Reed
was ill with hepatitis, so Cale moved to lead vocals to cover for him
(also playing more keyboards than usual); Tucker moved to bass and
rhythm guitar; and MacLise filled in temporary on percussion. (Nico
wasn't there for these two weeks either, having gone back to Europe for
a while, possibly while visa problems were being sorted out.)
Apparently MacLise quickly realized that far from selling out, the
Velvets were doing exactly what they wanted without compromises. He
apparently asked to get back into the band, but by that time Tucker was
an integral member of the group, and he was turned down.

MacLise is an interesting figure who did a lot of work in various
media (including film, poetry, and performance art) besides music. His
obscure and complex pre-1971 activities are covered in the book,
including much music which made its way into release after his 1979
death. I think Tucker was certainly better suited for the Velvet
Underground, however. MacLise had a much more
avant-garde/improvisational approach to percussion, sometimes using
exotic world music instruments, that wouldn't have fit into a more
rock-oriented context nearly as well.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #83 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 2 Jun 09 08:08
    
Going on to other musicians in the VU's orbit who might have been
considered possible members of the band, Tony Conrad (who'd worked
extensively with Cale in La Monte Young's group) and Walter De Maria
(on drums, though he became more noted as a conceptual artist) did play
with Reed and Cale in the Primitives. I don't think Conrad, who's gone
on to a lengthy and respected career in experimental music and other
arts, especially wanted to play in a rock band as a career, however. He
certainly hasn't expressed any regrets about this, either in his
interview with me or elsewhere.

De Maria was probably too avant-garde for the Velvets too, but did
comment upon the Primitives in a 1972 interview for the Smithsonian
Institution's Archives of American Art: "I knew that we were really
good and they [Reed/Cale as part of the Velvets] went on to make this
great album. But then I said, do I want to go to rehearsal every day
and every night, you know, take all these drugs? Do I really just keep
playing these rhythms, is that going to be enough? That was really a
painful decision. I said, no, put it down. I'm notgoing to buy another
set of drums; I'm not going to haul these drums to another placd and I
jus can't keep playing these songs. I can't do it. I don't want to go
out on tour."

When the Velvets were playing their legendary month-long residency at
the Dom in St. Mark's Place in April 1966, Richard Mishkin (who'd
played in a group with Reed in college) and another friend of the band,
Helen Byrne, occasionally sat in on bass. As speculation, that might
have been to help cover on the songs when Cale played keyboards or
viola rather than bass; Sterling Morrison often switched to bass on
such numbers, but preferred to play guitar.

When they played more shows in St. Mark's Place about six months
later, Henry Flynt, an experimental musician of note, filled in for
Cale for a few performances. Around that time, he led an avant-garde
rock band, Henry Flynt & the Insurrections, that made the VU sound pop
and commercial in comparison. The drummer in the Insurrections, as an
illustration of the overlapping connections in the bohemian New York
Lower East Side, was Walter De Maria. It surprised me very much,
however, that when I interviewed Flynt for the book, he said he was
unaware that De Maria had played with Reed/Cale/Conrad in the
Primitives until I told him.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #84 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 2 Jun 09 08:19
    
As the most unlikely possible Velvet of all, it's sometimes been
reported that before Nico was enlisted as the group's "chanteuse,"
management was considering Tally Brown for the position. She was a
cabaret singer in her early forties who appeared in an Andy Warhol
film, "Camp." As she was described in the New York Times as a "short,
stout singer with wild black hair," she seems a most odd choice if the
intention was, as has often been reported of the decision to install
Nico, as an attempt to add glamor to the group. Paul Morrissey told me
he didn't remember giving Brown serious consideration for the role, as
"that was one of Andy's dopey suggestions that I paid no attention to."

While a bunch of the musicians just discussed might have been too
experimental/avant-garde to be good fits in the Velvets, it should be
pointed out that John Cale continued to make numerous extremely
avant-garde tapes on his own, outside of the VU, even after joining the
group. A lot of these have since been issued on three CDs (also
available together in the box set "New York in the 1960s"), and are
discussed in the book.

The flexidisc "Loop," which was mentioned a few posts ago, is in my
view the most listenable of these, though it's still further out than
anything that made it onto the VU albums. It's a seven-minute
instrumental of grungy guitar and feedback, issued in late 1966 as part
of the multimedia arts magazine Aspen (which also included a four-page
essay on rock music by Reed in the same issue). Judging from a comment
he made in an interview in late 1968, Reed wasn't too enamored of
"Loop," saying, "I have to make myself perfectly clear on this. That
was something John did, and I'm not interested in that kind of thing,
per se, very much."
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #85 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 2 Jun 09 08:39
    
When Doug Yule joined the Velvets in the early fall of 1968,
apparently no one else was considered. Considering that they were by
that time a pretty high-profile (if commercially underachieving) band,
it's amazing how casual the process was. They needed a replacement for
Cale quickly as they had upcoming shows booked; they knew Yule because
Morrison and Reed sometimes stayed in his apartment when the VU were
playing Boston; and the job was offered to Doug without him even having
to audition. This although Yule had only seen the VU play once; had to
be taught the VU's repertoire in two days before they went off to do
their first shows with him in Cleveland; and, most amazingly of all to
me, had never played electric bass (the instrument he most often played
with the VU) before.

Though I knew all about the Velvets' various lineup changes before
working on the book, in the process of writing it I really started to
marvel at how unlikely and spontaneous the personnel moves were. I
don't think there were any other major bands of the era in which the
three most famous figures (Reed, Cale, and Nico) came from such wildly
disparate backgrounds. Reed, as a Long Island rebellious rocker with a
bohemian literary streak; Cale, a classically trained Welsh musician
who'd become an important figure in downtown New York avant-garde
music; and Nico, born in Germany and a top international model/sporadic
film actress whose limited musical background was in cabaret singing
and, then, a brief foray into mild pop-rock with Rolling Stones
manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham. But somehow they and the rest of
the Velvets came together and made some of the greatest rock music
ever. The unlikely series of connections:

Reed and Cale meet and become close friends and collaborators after
Pickwick Records' Terry Philips meets Cale by chance at a party, thinks
his long hair makes Cale look like a rock musician, and asks him to
join Reed in the Primitives, because he needs a group to perform the
single "The Ostrich" live;

Reed meets Morrison (with whom he's been friends and sometimes played
music, but has been out of touch with for a couple of years or so) by
chance in the New York subway in early 1965, after which Reed, Cale,
Morrison, and MacLise start to play together;

MacLise unexpectedly quits right before their first paid gig, so
Maureen Tucker is hurriedly recruited, mostly because Reed and Morrison
know her brother Jim and know she plays drums. Also because she has a
car that will help them get to gigs.

Nico is unexpectedly installed as occasional lead singer by Warhol and
Paul Morrissey to add glamor to the group;

And Doug Yule is asked to replace Cale even though he's only seen the
VU once, doesn't know their repertoire, and hasn't even played electric
bass before (though he was proficient on other instruments and had
played them as part of rock bands for years).

Yet all of these moves worked out very well. The spark between Reed
and Cale was the most vital one to founding the Velvet Underground.
Morrison became a key member as guitarist and occasional bassist.
Tucker, probably originally envisioned as a temporary fill-in, gave
them a unique percussive style with her stand-up primitive technique
that suited the band ideally (as did the novel visual image of a woman
drummer, rare in rock at that time and to some extent since). Yule was
a very good, and very underrated, bassist/multi-instrumentalist/backup
singer/occasional lead singer who was a better match for the more
straightforward rock and songwriting the VU were moving into by their
third album than Cale would have been.

This is part of what makes writing about rock history and bands like
the Velvets so interesting for me. So much of the modern world seems to
be commodified, preplanned, corporatized, etc. But these are the kind
of unpredictable connections and progressions you couldn't make up, and
took a wild course of their own that couldn't have been the part of
any business plan, even if the initial impetus behind some of them
(Pickwick getting Cale into a quickie exploitation group; Warhol
getting Nico into the lineup; Tucker joining because she had a drum kit
and a car the band needed) had crass economy-conscious elements. 
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #86 of 150: outside the law and honest (tbessoir) Tue 2 Jun 09 08:48
    
Here is a link to Aspen magazine no. 3:
http://www.ubu.com/aspen/aspen3/index.html

Included is Lou Reed's essay "The View from the Bandstand" as well as an
mp3 of "Loop."
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #87 of 150: (dana) Tue 2 Jun 09 09:05
    
Jim Kauffman writes:

Richie, I agree with you about Doug Yule's undervalued contribution to
the Velvets. I saw this lineup a couple of times at LaCave in
Cleveland, and they were incredible. Lou's solos often went into "I
Heard Her Call My Name" territory (on his Gretch), and Doug was
terrific both on bass and organ. They played three shows over the
weekend, including a Sunday matinee where they really stretched out. 

I was a local rock writer at the time, and I interviewed Doug briefly
after an American Flyer show a few years later. I talked to him about
some of the great unreleased songs they did, like "Ferryboat Bill" and
"Hey Mr. Rain". He said "Mr. Rain! I'll bet even Lou's forgotten about
that one. I'll have to remind him next time I see him." They were
obviously still friends after all those years.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #88 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 2 Jun 09 09:33
    
Hey Jim, good to see you here and find another eyewitness to vintage
VU shows. If there's ever a second edition of the book, I'll have more
interviews to do!

The La Cave club in Cleveland was one of the Velvet Underground's
favorite places to play. While a live version of "What Goes On" from
one of Yule's first shows with the VU in October 1968 is on the "Peel
Slowly and See" box set, and audience recordings were made of some of
their La Cave shows that have been bootlegged, it's a shame these
weren't taped in clearer professional fidelity. The bootlegged
recordings from their early 1968 La Cave show are amazingly tight and
powerful considering that these are Yule's first concerts with the
band, and include some songs the VU didn't release at the time, like "I
Can't Stand It," "I'm Gonna Move Right In," and "Foggy Notion."

I asked Doug how he was able to fit into the band and master the
material so quickly, and he said the Velvet Underground's music had "“a
very open structure. When I joined The Grass Menagerie [his previous
band], they had this one tune that they did; they called it
their show-tune, and it was a very structured, arranged song. In order
to play that, you had to learn that structure and arrangement and
work within that, and it was fairly complex. But The Velvet
Underground stuff was very open in terms of its arrangements. I mean,
there were arrangements, but they were not complex or complicated. It
was like, first chorus, play a solo for half an hour, and we’re out.
So it was a lot of easier to fit in, or to sound like you’re fitting
in, because if you make a mistake in a situation like that, it doesn’t
stand out as much. If you miss a chord, [you could] just sort of morph
it into the next one and go with it. As long you don’t stand up and go,
‘Oh my god, no one knows I made a mistake!’ Two months down the road,
stuff was happening that wasn’t happening at that [October 1968 La
Cave] show at all, because I knew what to expect, and we were sort of
getting settled with each other and finding our stride."

One of the good things that came out of a 2007 exhibit at a New York
bookseller of VU memorabilia was that the opening reception marked the
first time Reed and Yule had met for about thirty years. Doug said he
was happy to see that Reed was "much happier than he was when he was
younger, much less uptight."
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #89 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 2 Jun 09 12:30
    
By the way, the previously unpublished photo of Lou Reed and John Cale
sitting with the Primitives in the trunk of a car is on page 25 of the
July issue of Mojo magazine, which has a short rundown of the book.
That issue just went on sale in the UK, and should be available in US
stores within a week or two.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #90 of 150: Ed Ward (captward) Tue 2 Jun 09 13:31
    
Does it also mention that Cale has a huge installation at the Tate
Modern, with photography and music, that deals with Wales? I want to go
see that!
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #91 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 2 Jun 09 13:39
    
It doesn't mention that. Do you know any details about the exhibit and
its dates? Looking on the Web for a few minutes just now, I couldn't
find any. I'm going to be in the UK in July, in part to do a few events
for the book there, and will check out that installation if it's
there.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #92 of 150: It's all done with mirrors... (kafclown) Tue 2 Jun 09 18:04
    
I have a tape off the radio of what I think are the Velvets (or maybe just 
john cale- I wrote on the outside of the tape, and have been under the 
impression all along that it's the VU) playing a song about mailing 
yourself to a loved one in a large  box.  Is that the velvet underground-- 
I've never heard it anywhere else, and would like to find more stuff like 
it.

Also, my take on Andy, Lou and the VU comes from that album that Lou Reed 
and John Cale did about Andy, Songs For Drella.

No matter what I did it never seemed enough
he said I was lazy, I said I was young
He said, "How many songs did you write ?"
I'd written zero, I'd lied and said, "Ten."

"You won't be young forever
You should have written fifteen"
It's work

"You ought to make things big
people like it that way
And the songs with the dirty words
make sure your record them that way"

Andy liked to stir up trouble
he was funny that way
He said, "It's just work

Andy sat down to talk one day
he said decide what you want
Do you want to expand your parameters
or play museums like some dilettante

I fired him on the spot
he got red and called me a rat
It was the worst word that he could think of
And I've never seen him like that
It's work, I thought he said it's just work
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #93 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 2 Jun 09 22:17
    
The song on your tape is "The Gift," from the Velvet Underground's
second album, "White Light/White Heat." Though it's based on a short
story that Lou Reed wrote, the spoken narration is by John Cale. It's
hard to say exactly that the Velvets (or anyone at the time) did much
stuff like that, but the song that follows it on the album, "Lady
Godiva's Operation," has something of the same gruesome storytelling
feel (and John Cale on lead vocals), though the vocal is sung. "The
Murder Mystery," from their third album, also has a lot of spoken
vocals, but it's much more avant-garde in both lyric and musical
backing, and to my taste not as interesting as "The Gift."

The lyric in the post above from "Songs for Drella" seems to be a
pretty accurate summation of what Reed valued most in Warhol (his worth
ethic and encouragement of his songwriting), as well as a pretty
succinct account of how he fired Warhol.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #94 of 150: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 3 Jun 09 04:53
    
That album, BTW, is quite wonderful.  I bought it used for $5 on a
whim not expecting anything at all (I'd never even heard of it) and
it's been perhaps my most listened-to CD over the last few years.  You
have to be the kind of person who listens to lyrics, but if you are, it
tells a great story.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #95 of 150: outside the law and honest (tbessoir) Wed 3 Jun 09 07:04
    
John Cale has another spoken story similar in style to "The Gift" called
"The Jeweller." It is on his 1975 LP "Slow Dazzle," which is available on
CD as part of "The Island Years."
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #96 of 150: (dana) Wed 3 Jun 09 09:55
    
Jim Kauffman writes:

Another memory of those October 69 La Cave shows.

A local blues band opened, and got a pretty good reception. Lou walks
onstage with his Gretch, dressed in a button-down shirt, crewneck
sweater, and penny loafers (don't forget this was 1969). He asks the
audience "Do you like the blues?" A smattering of cheers and applause.
"Well, we hate the blues." And the band launches into "Foggy Notion."

The La Cave shows were all recorded by local musician Jamie Klimek,
whose band Mirrors covered lots of those unreleased VU songs. They did
them justice, too.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #97 of 150: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Wed 3 Jun 09 12:06
    
Cool story, Jim. I'm just sorry I wasn't able to talk to you and get
it into the book. It's more to keep tabs on if there are revised
editions.

It's not too important a detail, but I think those shows must have
been the gigs they did from October 4-6, 1968, not in 1969. I didn't
find any evidence the VU played Cleveland in October 1969.

The other band on the bill for those October 1968 La Cave shows was
SRC, from Detroit. Does that sound right to you? I'd say they were more
an early hard rock band than a blues-rock one, but they were likely
bluesier than the Velvets. 
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #98 of 150: (dana) Thu 4 Jun 09 09:27
    
Jim Kauffman writes:

You're probably right about October, but the show was definitely in 1969,
right after the 3rd album was released. June, maybe?

The opening band was not the Scott Richardson Case (SRC), I would have
recognized them. They were big in their hometown, Detroit.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #99 of 150: outside the law and honest (tbessoir) Thu 4 Jun 09 10:51
    
Perhaps this is the concert. The Velvets played La Cave on March 28-30,
1969. The third LP came out that month. The poster for this concert is in
the book from the "Peel Slowly and See" box set.
  
inkwell.vue.354 : Richie Unterberger, White Light / White Heat
permalink #100 of 150: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 4 Jun 09 11:01
    
SRC, led by the hard-rocking Quackenbush brothers, Gary and Glenn.
They had a hit of sorts with a version of "In the Hall of the Mountain
King/Beck's Bolero," which got some airplay on KMPX and KSAN back in
the day. 
  

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