Lewis Allan “Lou” Reed is the popular guitarist and vocalist of the band Velvet Underground. The band did not gain much success but they became very influential to a number of people who were inspired to form a band after hearing them. Reed went solo during the early 1970s and became popular with the song Walk on the Wild Side. His New York album was included in Rolling Stones’s best of the 1980s whole Transformer and Berlin made it to The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
LOU REED’S ORIGINS AND PERSONAL LIFE
Lou Reed was born in Brooklyn and raised in Freeport, Long Island by his parents, Toby (nee Futterman) and Sidney Joseph Reed. He went to Atkinson Elementary School and Freeport Junior High School.
His interest in music was influenced by rhythm and blues and rock and roll music. When he learned to play the guitar, he played with some bands in high school. Reed’s first recording sessions was with group called the Jades. The passion that he had for music led to some problems with his parents. A consultation with a psychologist led to an electroconvulsive therapy which greatly traumatized him. He even a wrote a song about this, blaming his father for consenting to such kind of treatment.
After his therapy, Reed took up journalism, film directing, and creative writing at Syracuse University in 1960. A year after, he began hosting a radio show called Excursions On a Wobbly Rail which featured mostly doo wop, rhythm and blues, and jazz music. Despite some controversies regarding the libelous commentaries that he made on some students and other possible illegal activities, Reed managed to finished his degree in English in 1964.
While studying, Reed also met two of his closes friends, Delmore Schwartz and Garland Jeffreys.
Reed got married in 1980 with the British designer Sylvia Morales. They got a divorce after a decade. Morales served as Reed’s inspiration for some songs like Think It Over and Heavenly Arms.
During the 1990s, Reed also became involved with the musician and artist Laurie Anderson whom he had made some projects with including Call On Me, Baton Rouge, Rock Minuet, and Hang On to Your Emotions. The two got married in 2008.
LOU REED’S MUSICAL CAREER
When he went to New York in 1964, Reed worked for Pickwick Records. His employers saw the potential in his song, The Ostrich, which basically a parody of the more popular songs during that time. Members of what would be his band were sought and led to the formation of The Primitives which counted in the Welsh musician John Cale and Tony Conrad. With the song, the term “ostrich tuning” was born. Here, Reed used the same note in tuning every string on his guitar.
Velvet Underground when Reed’s college schoolmate, Sterling Morrison and Cale’s neighbor from the Lower East Side, Angus MacLise, joined the two men. The band’s first gig was at Summit High School in Summit, New Jersey. MacLise was eventually replaced by Maureen Tucker as drummer.
Andy Warhol took an interest with the band and decided to include them into the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Because of this association, Reed was also persuaded to write songs for Nico– a former model and singer and Reed’s lover for a brief time– to sing.
The album The Velvet Underground and Nico was deemed to have great influence in rock music. It was cited by Rolling Stone as the 13th greatest album of all time and was considered an inspiration by some people at one point in their lives.
During the recording of White Light/White Heat, Nico left the band and Warhol was replaced by Steve Sesnick. They were followed by Cale who quit the band in 1968. Doug Yale then replaced Cale and served as the band’s bassist, keyboardist, and additional vocalist. In 1969, the band would release The Velvet Underground followed by Loaded in 1970. Loaded included the hits Rock and Roll, and Sweet Jane.
Reed left Velvet Underground in 1970 and even though the members continued with the band, they eventually quit and pursued their own musical careers.
Reed’s first solo album was Lou Reed which even though reviewed positively by critics, was not received well by listeners. It was followed by the release of Transformer in 1972 which would be more successful than the previous album and would include the hit song Walk on the Wild Side.
Reed’s next album was Berlin, with the songs telling the story of two junkies and also lovers in the city. The song in the album tackled various issues like domestic abuse, substance abuse, adultery and prostitution, and suicide. Berlin was followed by Sally Can’t Dance and the live record Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal which were both released in 1974. Sweet Jane and Heroin became the two most famous songs in Reed’s solo music career.
The release of the album Metal Machine Music, characterized by its electronically generated audio feedback, received some negative reviews from critics. Though Reed said that he was very serious when he made the album, a few people still found the album a bit disturbing
Contrary to the dark sound showcased by its predecessor, Coney Island’s Baby which was released in 1975 was warmer and smoother. The next albums that came out were Rock and Roll Heart in 1976 and Street Hassle in 1978.
Lou Reed thought that his live album Live: Take No Prisoners was his best album even though some critics thought it was one of the funniest and silliest live albums ever released.
In 1979, Reed released The Bells which included the jazz musician Don Cherry followed by Growing Up in Public in 1980.
Reed reunited with his bandmates in Velvet Underground in 1990 for a Fondation Cartier in France followed by a tour in Europe in 1993. During the induction of their band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, Reed performed with his former bandmates as tribute to Sterling Morrison who died during the month of August.
In 1992, his solo album Magic and Loss came out. Set the Twilight would eventually come out in 1996 followed by Ecstasy in 2000. The two albums both received praises from their critics.
His fascination for Edgar Allan Poe led to the development of The Raven, a 2-CD set released in 2003. It was immediately followed by NYC Man (The Ultimate Collection 1967-2003), another 2-CD set containing a compilation of Reed’s best songs released only a few months after The Raven came out in the music market.
Aside from albums, Reed also published books of photographs the first of which was the Emotions in Actions (2003) which included the larger book, Emotions, and the smaller one, Actions. It was followed by the publication of Lou Reed’s New York in 2006.
In 2008, Reed introduced his new group called Metal Machine Trio at REDCAT. Together with Ulrich Krieger on saxophone and Sarth Calhoun on electronics, the group produced improvised music based on the Metal Machine Music album.
Before he died in May 2013 due to liver disease, Reed went on doing a number of side and musical projects and even managed to release an album entitled Lulu (2011) which was a collaboration with the band Metallica.