Lou Reed with an early high school group- The CHD (Dry Hump Club, backwards).
Even the Velvet Underground seem to be sick of the subject of the Velvet Underground. Recent years have seen such holy grails as an acetate version of their first LP with four alternate takes, and a killer live set from the Gymnasium in New York City, ’68 (John Cale’s final show) surface, and neither the group members or their record companies couldn’t be bothered to cash in on them. Both items, essential for the Velvets fans are all over the web for free download.
Yet, like the Stooges, the Velvets represent to me one of those things you discover as a teenager that changes your life. Their music hinted at a world different from the one I’d grown up in, full of all sorts of forbidden pleasures, stuff that you didn’t see on TV or hear on the radio (there was no Internet back then, only fanzines). But their story has been told so many times there’s really nothing to add to it, other than the handful of discs that Lou Reed, John Cale and Nico left behind in the years before the Velvet Underground. This stuff has been bootlegged (and some of it legally re-issued) a thousand times, but it’s worth revisiting one more time, since there’s some great rock’n’roll there, and if the Velvet Underground had never formed, we’d all be wondering just who the fuck where the Primitives? So, for those who’ve heard and read it all before, my apologies for not digging up some obscure, old cotton picker to blogerate about, and for those of you who haven’t heard this stuff, I think you’re in for a treat, as these are some of the most unique garage style rock’n’roll records what ever been made.
Lou Reed had been playing guitar in high school rock’n’roll bands since his early teens, and one of his earliest bands– the Shades managed to get an audition with record man Bob Shad who had been an A&R exec at Mercury and produced sides by Charlie Parker at Savoy before starting a handful of his own labels, recording the likes of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sonny Terry, and Smokey Hogg for the Shad label. Eventually he’d score with Big Brother and the Amboy Dukes on his Mainstream label.
Shad was based out of Long Island, and someone Reed knew from high school knew his daughter. As he was just starting up his Time and Broadway labels, he signed the Shades, changing their name to the Jades to avoid confusion with the Shades of Sunglasses (Big Top) fame. According to Reed they weren’t a real group, just Lou and his guitar and two other guys he knew from Freeport High, Phil Harris (an interview with Harris on the subject of the Shades/Jades can be found here) and Al Walters. Their one 45– So Blue b/w Leave Her For Me was issued in 1958 on Time, written by Reed and Harris (who sang lead), it’s charmingly inept high school rock’n’roll, unfortunately for the Jades, Time’s next release– the Bell Notes’ I’ve Had It would become a huge hit and steal their thunder. I’ve Had It is a much better record anyway, when playing guest DJ on the old WPIX-FM in 1979 Reed played it, noting it was one of his favorite records. Soon Reed was off to college, attending Syracuse University, where he majored in English Lit. and on spring break of ’62 he returned to Shad to record demos for two tunes– Merry Go Round and Your Love, both tunes featuring King Curtis on sax and Dave “Baby” Cortez on organ, they weren’t released until the nineties when the UK Ace label put them on a Time/Broadway compilation. If you want to hear these records they way they were meant to be heard, at 45 RPM and on vinyl, you can order the Norton Records EP- Lou Reed: All Tomorrow’s Dance Parties, which not only has all four tunes but great photos of the Shades and Lou’s high school year book shot.
After graduating from Syracuse, in 1963 Reed went to work for Pickwick Records, a budget label based in Long Island City, Queens, that specialized in cheesy rock’n’roll records that sounded sort of like recent hits. Teamed up with Terry Phillips (whose family might have owned the label) and Jerry Vance (real name Jerry Peligrino), he was put to work writing and recording tunes in the pre-Beatles rock’n’roll styles of the day. From this period we get some excellent garage rockers including the Roughnecks’ You’re Driving Me Insane and the Beach Nuts’ Cycle Annie, both of which feature Lou singing lead. They appeared on an LP called Soundsville on the Design label, Cycle Annie also showing up on another Design album called Out Of Sight. Other noteworthy tunes from this team are the Intimates I’ve Got A Tiger In My Tank, which was also issued under the Beachnuts name, the versions are slightly different. Another excellent Reed-Phillips-Vance tune from the Out Of Sight LP is Soul City by the Hi-Lifes, a tune that also appeared on 45 by the Foxes on the Bridgeview label in a much inferior version. The Fleshtones would cover Soul City for Henry Jones’ experimental short film in 1979. Another Reed-Vance-Phillips tune, this one issued under Terry Phillips name– Wild One isn’t half bad.
Enter John Cale, a Welsh expatriate who was studying classical music at Tanglewood on a scholarship and had shocked his professors with a recital that featured him demolishing a table with an axe. He had played with John Cage and was working with experimental “new music” composers like Lamonte Young and Terry Riley. There are two stories as to how he came to hook up with Reed. The first, as he tells it, was at a party. Reed, Phillips and Vance were in attendance and being the only other long hairs in the room they naturally gravitated towards each other. Another story emerged in Branden W. Joseph’s book The Dream Syndicate– Tony Conrad and the Arts After Cage. According to Joseph, Tony Conrad, who wrote long, droning symphonies which Cale played on, the bridge of his viola filed flat and electrified to create a high decibel drone, had a tape of the Primitives, Lou Reed’s group, which featured Lou’s “Ostrich” guitar, that is, a guitar with all the strings tunes to one note (Metal Machine Music was recorded using one). Conrad had a tape of the group rehearsing and played it for Cale who demanded to know who they were and then sought them out and joined the band in time to collaborate on their first and only disc– the incredible single– Do The Ostrich b/w Sneaky Pete which came out on Pickwick in ’64 and with the writing credited to Reed-Vance-Phillips-Cale.
How Tony Conrad came to have a tape of the Primitives, and if the Primitives even existed before Cale met Reed, and where is that tape today? Those are three questions that we may take to our graves, but if someone out there really wants to dig up the story, I for one would love to read it, and hear that tape. On the other hand, the story can be so much ho-hah.
But with Cale involved the quartet came up with one of their best records yet– Why Don’t You Smile Now, which appeared on the b-side of the All Night Workers 45 Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket on Round Sound. The All Night Workers were a Syracuse based frat band that Reed occasionally played with, their organ player Steve McCord having been Reed’s college roommate. Somehow the tune made it across the pond and was covered by the dear stalker wearing R&B/garage band the Downliner’s Sect. Some people prefer the Sect’s version, but I like the All Night Workers better for its drone factor. There were a few more tunes that emerged from these years, unfortunately they pretty much suck— Roberta Williams- Tell Mama Not To Cry b/w Maybe Tomorrow (Uptown), Donnie Burkes’ version of Why Don’t You Smile Now (Decca) and Ronnie Dickerson’s Maybe Tomorrow (same tune as the Roberta Williams, it’s on the Out Of Sight LP) aren’t really worth all the work of burning them to MP3 format. Sorry, completests, I’m feeling lazy, and they’re only worth hearing once, if that. There may be more tunes out there, anyone know? The above are pretty much what I am sure are records with Reed (and Cale’s) involvement. By 1965 they’d both left Pickwick and joined forces with fellow Syracuse graduate Donald “Sterling” Morrison and Angus Maclise (soon replaced by Maureen Tucker) on guitar and drums respectively to form the Velvet Underground. Enter Andy Warhol, and the rest is history.
Meanwhile, across the pond, German born Christa Paffgen, who had renamed herself Nico, had done some modeling and acting (appearing in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita) and was seen on the arm of Brian Jones and Bob Dylan. She began her musical career in 1963 singing the theme song for a French film called Strip-Tease, in which she also starred. I’ve never seen it, but the theme song is typical of the Ye-Ye girl style popular in France at the time. Except she sings in French with such a thick German accent it’s almost like a Mel Brooks parody of a Ye Ye girl. Nico next showed up in London in 1964 and Andrew Loog Oldham signed her for one single issued on his Immediate label, produced by Jimmy Page I’m Not Saying b/w The Last Mile, it was released without a picture sleeve, which would have been the best part of the record if it had. A year later in New York she would be forced on the Velvet Underground by Andy Warhol and Paul Morrisey who thought they needed a more charismatic front person. After a short affair with Lou Reed, she was fired from the group for stopping a rehearsal dead with the words– “I can no longer sleep with Jews”. My own account of a night babysitting Nico back in the late 70’s were the subject of an early posting on this blog back in 2008. It would be a long, hard road for Nico from Strip Tease to her version of Das Lied Der Deutschen (Island, 1974) to her untimely death in Ibiza where she fell of her bicycle.
Evidently the Primitives did do a few live shows to promote The Ostrich, and there’s even been mention of a tv appearance. Talk about holy grails, perhaps somewhere right now, in a warehouse in Long Island City sits a reel of tape of the Primitives live, or some video footage of them performing the Ostrich and Sneaky Pete. Stranger things have turned up. Can a Pre-VU box set be somewhere in our future?
36 thoughts on “Velvet Underground- Pre-Op”
Tony Conrad was one of my professors when I attended grad school at SUNY Buffalo in '77. We became friendly and, as I was traveling with a mammoth record collection at the time, Tony thought I might be interested in hearing the contents of (literally) a shoebox of cassettes and other tapes he possessed, much of it relating to the Velvets. I enjoyed epic-length listening sessions at Tony's loft, hearing “Booker T' and many other pieces for the first time. One Velvets concert was recorded by Tony from a phone connection; someone at the gig left a lobby pay phone off the hook so that Tony could run tape.Some years later, Tony told me that one of his students (who ran a record store in his home town) offered Tony some money for the box of tapes. John Cale, with whom Tony stayed in touch as they were (and are) two parts of the anti-LaMonte Young faction, heard about this and freaked, instilling Tony with fear of Lou's lawyers. Cale later collected the box of tapes.
For anyone who hasn't seen it, this is an amazing piece of pre-Velvets history (the backstory on John Cale working with John Cage):youtube
Re: The All Night Workers – is Lou Reed/John Cale etc. involved with their “Honey & Wine”/”God Bless The Child” 45 on Cameo from 1966. It was “supervised” by Terry Phillips, but then again, Terry could've just taken the name and put it on another anonymous group. Anybody know?
Is the Beach Nuts' “My Iconoclastic Life” Lou or not?
“Is the Beach Nuts' “My Iconoclastic Life” Lou or not?”Some people think so, it certainly sounds like one of his lyrics, but since there's no real proof and he's not credited on the label Ieft it out….
Speaking of velvet boxed sets, it looks like the quine tapes are about to be reissued on sundazed. it's looking like a pretty sweet package.
What I'd like to know is are there any tapes around by the Transcendental Simulematic Orchestra, the supergroup made up of the Fugs and pre-Velvets Falling Spikes from the spring/summer of '65!
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Is the Beach Nuts' “My Iconoclastic Life” Lou or not?Great song, but not Lou (same name, different band), according to this interview: http://www.rimpo.com/beachnuts.html
Hey, thank you very much for all this compilation…
RFO: Thanks! I had it on a compilation somewhere – can't remember which one. More time wasting for me.
” I had it on a compilation somewhere – can't remember which one. More time wasting for me.”It's on a garage comp called What A Way To Die, the liner notes to which suggest possible LR involvement.One of the best garage comps ever in my estimation, it includes the Pleasure Seekers' (w/Suzi & Patti Quatro) title track which is worth the price of the whole thing. I have no idea if it's still in print or not.
“The All Night Workers – is Lou Reed/John Cale etc. involved with their “Honey & Wine”/”God Bless The Child” 45 on Cameo from 1966. It was “supervised” by Terry Phillips, but then again, Terry could've just taken the name and put it on another anonymous group. Anybody know?”Given the late catolog #, this must have been re-leased around '66 by which time Reed and Cale were long gone, the Velvet Underground were already recording their first LP and touring w/Warhold's EPI show. It was produced by Terry Phillips who also sang back up with Jerry Vance on it. The a-side is a Goffin-King song. The All Night Workers would cut one last single, for Mercury in '68– The Collector b/w Misery, the a-side was a Sonny Curtis (I Fought The Law, Mary Tyler Moore Theme). By that point even Phillips and Vance were gone.
Great cuts. And nice to see evidence of the early LR. I had a hint of that in 1978, when I moved back to NY and lived with my folks for a few months when I got booted out of college. I needed a stereo, and found an ad for someone selling a used one in my hometown. Turned out to be an old lady and the stereo belonged to one of her now-grown kids. We chatted for a while, and she asked me what my favorite music was. I said the Velvet Underground — assuming, of course, she'd have no clue who they were. Her face lit up and she said, You mean Lou Reed's band???? It turned out she was the cleaning lady for Lou's dorm when he was at Syracuse, and she LOVED him. She said he was the sweetest of all the boys in the dorm, the most well-mannered and the kindest to her. She'd bake cakes and treats for him, and when he left college he would write to her. She said they still corresponded.
Thanks again Hound,'Do the Ostrich' has long been a favourite, but I'd never heard 'Why Don't You Smile Now' before, which is fantastic!
Stop waiting for a Velvet Underground reunion, I say we start demanding a Primitives reunion gig. What could go wrong? I just read that Lou Reed will reign as King Neptune in this year's Coney Island Mermaid Parade (Harvey Keitel did the honors last year) with Laurie Anderson as the Queen Mermaid on Saturday, June 12. Show up and throw him a fish!
this fukin blog is insane !!!! thanks so much hound!!!!!! love ya man!!!!
The daughter of Bob Shad cited but not named in Hound's excellent post probably was Tamara Shad, who inherited Bob's masters after his death. One of her three kids is Judd Apatow, director of 'The 40-Year Old Virgin,' 'Knocked Up,' and 'Funny People.' She died 5/1/2008 after a long battle with cancer.
I'm not sure if it's been mentioned already, but Spiritualized does a stellar cover of “Why Don't You Smile Now?”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-IJglXgiao
“I'm not sure if it's been mentioned already, but Spiritualized does a stellar cover of “Why Don't You Smile Now?””and for those into that sort of thing, J Spaceman of Spirtualized recently released a record w/my old pal Mathew Shipp, its mostly drones but nice to put on at bedtime if you need to block out street noise or your partner coughing or snoring…..it's called SpaceShipp on the Treader label.
Excellent post but one correction; The Gymnasium was not Cale's final show. He was ousted after Sept. '68shows in Boston. The Gymnasium show was April '67.Mike
” The Gymnasium was not Cale's final show. He was ousted after Sept. '68shows in Boston. The Gymnasium show was April '67.”The Gymnasium might have been his last NYC appearences w/the Velvets, the did stop playing NYC between then and the final Max's shows for some reason (probably because there was no place to play, Bill Graham hated 'em and wouldn't book them at the Filmore). Now that I think of it, I've also heard his final shows were in Chicago when they appeared without Lou who was down w/hep. and Moe Tucker played bass and A. Macluise was brought back on drums for that one show.
” I had it on a compilation somewhere – can't remember which one. More time wasting for me.””It's on a garage comp called What A Way To Die, the liner notes to which suggest possible LR involvement.One of the best garage comps ever in my estimation”Agreed!Cheers :-)http://paradiseofgaragecomps.blogspot.com/2009/05/what-way-to-die-lp-satan-1983.html
In the '80s some rock book had an entry on the V.U. One of the guitarists was listed as “Ostrich.”I put that one back.PJL
I have an interview with Cale. I think it was in Trouser Press. When asked about the Beechnuts, he responded, “The what?”PJL
A couple of books have Pickwick as being headquarted in Coney Island.Other online sources say Long Island City.Could this be confusion due to the word “island” (Long Island City) and Lou's “Coney Island Baby”?PJL
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There is one other Lou vocal track called Ya Running But I'll Getcha (tho there's no real proof, but he has a pretty distinct croak) by THE J BROTHERS on an LP on Design Records with no real title other than THE FOUR SEASONS/JOHNNY RIVERS/NEIL SEDAKA and really small…the j brothers…typical exploito early tracks by people with hits like pickwick…these labels (i.e. crown, diplomat, tifton, power, etc.)traded songs /backing tracks or were possibly owned by some of the same creeps…i did massive research on the LP's by Frankie Stein & His Ghouls & started realizing all the cross referenced tracks including identical tracks on the Sun Ra Batman LP (without monster sound effects…this was supposed to be in a book and was edited down to a paragraph with no information in it that cut 9/10ths of what i wrote out, made me look retarded & hate paople that do this crap (i won't mention the book)…anyway…there are 3 other J Brothers tracks that sound totally different to the “Lou” one…doo woppy…but who knows????
“There is one other Lou vocal track called Ya Running But I'll Getcha (tho there's no real proof, but he has a pretty distinct croak) by THE J BROTHERS on an LP on Design Records with no real title other than THE FOUR SEASONS/JOHNNY RIVERS/NEIL SEDAKA and really small…the j brothers…typical exploito early tracks by people with hits like pickwick…these labels (i.e. crown, diplomat, tifton, power, etc”I guess I'll go through all my budget comps and see if I have that one, it's the first mention of it I've ever heard. Many of those tracks also show up on albums on Grand Prix and Guest Star (Crown was strictly stuff from the Modern/RPM/Meteor catolog) albums as well. I might have had it at one point and got rid of it not knowing, although if it had early Johnny Rivers (his Roulette sides usually are what end up on those discs, they're pretty good) I would have kept it. Funny that if Lou's singing on it no one has ever mentioned it in an article. Thanks for the tip.
Funny how good this stuff is. It's pretty cool to hear on “Your Love”, Lou uses a couple of lines that he would recycle for “Caroline Says” off of 1973's Berlin. Considering there is only 10 years between the two, it is amazing how much not only his music changed, but popular music in general.I too grew up in Buffalo, and was friends with Tony Conrad's son in the mid-late 80's. They lived in a double floor loft outside of downtown, each one occupying a separate floor. We would bang around instruments on some amplifiers that his dad had knocking about from the early sixties. A real nifty Gretsch combo sticks in my mind. I always wondered if that was over on Ludlow Street when Tony, John and Lou shared their space. As for the Primitives tape, my recollection was that it was a rehearsal of the band with Reed,Cale,Conrad, and DeMaria. Tony was/is a great instigator locally in Buffalo…I was party to a wonderfully absurd protest that Tony held in Lewiston N.Y. 18 of us were arrested and he was able to make a minor free speech event out of it, even getting a V.V. editorial out of Nat Hentoff. As far as VU tapes go, Tony was evasive. He knew that those were best left far out of the reach of the talons of his son and his friends. We understood the value of a good bootleg. That said and done, there were rumors from many older and wiser hipsters, of the stuff he had. I know for fact that he spoke of filming/video taping (he's a HUGE video nut and had some of the early machines)them on Cleveland's UPBEAT tv show.
P.S. For what it's worth, there is a boot called “Soundsville-Pre-VU” floating around the net. It's 32 numbers, and covers everything that Reed played on or was rumored to have. It also scoops up those few Nico tracks and some odd Cale and MacLise stuff. It's all well worth the listen to, and the price is right. Cool cover art as well.
The closest Pickwick LP to me, OUT OF SIGHT, clearly states “Long Island City.” So the books placing them in Coney Island is wrong.PJL
I've just started reading Richie Unterberger's White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day, and it does a good job of weaving together the pre-VU stories of Lou, John, Nico, Tony et al and making sense of how they all came together.Reading it, I really get the sense that there's plenty of stuff out there on tape (or budget vinyl) that may still come to light some day.
Just a tip.the so-called Professor Tapes athttp://www.thenunsareontheseawall.blogspot.com//R
I haven't heard the “Soundsville” stuff, but there's a bootleg called “Velvet Underground – etc.” that has Cycle Annie, Sneaky Pete, The Ostrich, and You're Driving Me Insane.No link, but it's floating around the Interweb somewhere.
Oh my god, there's a lot of effective material in this post!