Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed (March 2, 1942 – October 27, 2013) was an American rock musician, songwriter, and photographer. He was best known as guitarist, vocalist, and principal songwriter of The Velvet Underground, and for his solo career, which spanned several decades.
Reed was born in Brooklyn and having learned to play the guitar from the radio, he developed an early interest in rock and roll and rhythm and blues. Reed began attending Syracuse University in the fall of 1960, studying journalism, film directing, and creative writing. In 1961 he began hosting a late-night radio program on WAER called "Excursions On A Wobbly Rail." Named after a song by pianist Cecil Taylor, the program typically featured doo wop, rhythm and blues and jazz, particularly the free jazz developed in the mid-1950s. Many of Reed's guitar techniques, such as the guitar-drum roll, were inspired by jazz saxophonists, notably Ornette Coleman. Reed graduated from Syracuse University's College of Arts and Sciences with a B.A. in June 1964.
In 1964, Reed moved to New York City and began working as an in-house songwriter for Pickwick Records. In 1964, he scored a minor hit with the single "The Ostrich," a parody of popular dance songs of the time and struck up a working friendship with John Cale.
Reed and Cale began working together in New York City and invitied Reed's college acquaintances, guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker, to form the Velvet Underground. Though internally unstable (Cale left in 1968, Reed in 1970), and without commercial success, the band has a long-standing reputation as one of the most influential in rock history, which included a stint with Andy Warhol serving as the band's manager.
After a lineup shuffle, the Velvet Underground released two more albums: 1969's The Velvet Underground and 1970's Loaded. The latter included two of the group's most commercially successful songs, "Rock and Roll" and "Sweet Jane". Reed left the Velvet Underground in August 1970; the band disintegrated as core members Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker departed in 1971 and 1972, respectively. After leaving the Velvet Underground in August 1970, Reed signed a recording contract with RCA Records in 1971 and recorded his first solo album, self-titled, in London with top session musicians including Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman, members of the progressive rock group Yes.
In December 1972, Reed released Transformer. David Bowie and Mick Ronson co-produced the album. The hit single "Walk on the Wild Side" was an ironic yet affectionate salute to the misfits, hustlers, and transvestites who once surrounded Andy Warhol. Each of the song's five verses poignantly describes an actual person who had been a fixture at The Factory during the mid-to-late 1960s: (1) Holly Woodlawn, (2) Candy Darling, (3) "Little Joe" Dallesandro, (4) "Sugar Plum Fairy" Joe Campbell and (5) Jackie Curtis. Though the jazzy arrangement (courtesy of bassist Herbie Flowers and saxophonist Ronnie Ross) was musically somewhat atypical for Reed, it eventually became his signature song.
Reed followed Transformer with the darker Berlin. The songs variously concern domestic abuse ("Caroline Says I," "Caroline Says II"), drug addiction ("How Do You Think It Feels"), adultery and prostitution ("The Kids"), and suicide ("The Bed").
After Berlin came two albums in 1974, Sally Can't Dance, and a live record Rock 'n' Roll Animal, which contained performances of the Velvet Underground songs "Sweet Jane" and "Heroin.". Rock 'n' Roll Animal, and its follow-up released in early 1975 Lou Reed Live, primarily featuring live Transformer material, were both recorded at the same show (Academy Of Music, NYC December 21, 1973), and kept Reed in the public eye with strong sales. The later expanded CD version of Rock 'n' Roll Animal taken together with Lou Reed Live are the entirety of the show that night, although not in the running order it was performed.
As he had done with Berlin after Transformer, in 1975 Reed responded to commercial success with a relatively commercial failure, a double album of electronically generated audio feedback, Metal Machine Music. By contrast, 1975's Coney Island Baby was mainly a warm and mellow album, though for its characters Reed still drew on the underbelly of city life. While Rock and Roll Heart, his 1976 debut for his new record label Arista, fell short of expectations, Street Hassle (1978) was a return to form in the midst of the punk scene he had helped to inspire.
The Bells (1979) featured jazz musician Don Cherry, and was followed the next year by Growing Up in Public with guitarist Chuck Hammer. Around this period he also appeared as a sleazy record producer in Paul Simon's film One Trick Pony. Reed also played several unannounced one-off concerts in tiny downtown Manhattan clubs with the likes of Cale, Patti Smith, and David Byrne during this period.
In 1990, following a twenty-year hiatus, the Velvet Underground reformed for a Fondation Cartier benefit in France. Reed released his sixteenth solo record, Magic and Loss, in 1992, an album about mortality, inspired by the death of two close friends from cancer. In 1993, the Velvet Underground again reunited and toured throughout Europe, although plans for a North American tour were cancelled following another falling out between Reed and Cale. In 1994, Reed appeared in A Celebration: The Music of Pete Townshend and The Who, also known as Daltrey Sings Townshend. This was a two-night concert at Carnegie Hall produced by Roger Daltrey.
In 1996, the Velvet Underground were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At the induction ceremony, Reed performed a song entitled "Last Night I Said Goodbye to My Friend" alongside former bandmates John Cale and Maureen Tucker, in dedication to Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison, who had died the previous August. Reed has since been nominated for the Rock Hall as a solo artist twice, in 2000 and 2001, but has not been inducted.
His 1996 album, Set the Twilight Reeling, met with a lukewarm reception, but 2000's Ecstasy drew praise from most critics. In 1996, Reed contributed songs and music to Time Rocker, an avant-garde theatrical interpretation of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine staged by theater director Robert Wilson. The piece premiered in the Thalia Theater, Hamburg, Germany, and was later also shown at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York.
In 1998, the PBS TV show American Masters aired Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' feature documentary Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Heart. This film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. and at the Berlin Film Festival in Germany went on to screen at over 50 festivals worldwide. In 1999, the film and Reed as its subject received a Grammy Award for best long form music video.
In 2003, Reed released a 2-CD set, The Raven, based on "Poe-Try." Besides Reed and his band, the album featured a wide range of actors and musicians including singers David Bowie, Laurie Anderson [whom he married in 2008], Kate and Anna McGarrigle, The Blind Boys of Alabama and Antony Hegarty, saxophonist and long-time idol Ornette Coleman, and actors Elizabeth Ashley, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe, Amanda Plummer, Fisher Stevens and Kate Valk. The album consisted of songs written by Reed and spoken-word performances of reworked and rewritten texts of Edgar Allan Poe by the actors, set to electronic music composed by Reed.
A few months after the release of The Raven, a new 2-CD Best Of-set was released, entitled NYC Man (The Ultimate Collection 1967-2003), which featured an unreleased version of the song "Who am I" and a selection of career spanning tracks that had been selected, remastered and sequenced under Reed's supervision. In April 2003, Reed embarked on a new world tour supporting both new and released material, with a band including cellist Jane Scarpantoni and singer Antony Hegarty. During some of the concerts for this tour, the band was joined by Master Ren Guangyi, Reed's personal T'ai Chi instructor, performing T'ai Chi movements to the music on stage. This tour was documented in the 2004 double-disc live album Animal Serenade, recorded live at The Wiltern in Los Angeles.
In 2003, Reed released his first book of photographs, Emotions in Action. In 2004, a Groovefinder remix of his song, "Satellite of Love" (called "Satellite of Love '04") was released. It reached No. 10 in the UK singles chart. Also in 2004, Reed contributed vocals and guitar to the track "Fistful of Love" on I Am a Bird Now by Antony and the Johnsons. In January 2006, a second book of photographs, Lou Reed's New York, was released. At the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards, Reed performed "White Light/White Heat" with The Raconteurs.
In December 2006, Reed played a first series of show at St. Ann's Warehouse, Brooklyn, based on his 1973 Berlin song cycle. Reed was reunited on stage with guitarist Steve Hunter, who played on the original album as well as on Rock 'n' Roll Animal, as well as joined by singers Antony Hegarty and Sharon Jones, pianist Rupert Christie, a horn and string section and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The show was being produced by Bob Ezrin, who also produced the original album, and Hal Willner. A live recording of these concerts was released as a film (directed by Schnabel) in spring 2008. The show was also played at the Sydney Festival in January 2007 and throughout Europe during June and July 2007. The album version of the concert, entitled Berlin: Live At St. Ann's Warehouse, was released in 2008.
In April 2007, he released Hudson River Wind Meditations. The record was released on the Sounds True record label and contains four tracks that were said to have been composed just for himself as a guidance for T'ai Chi exercise and meditation. In May 2007, Reed performed the narration for a screening of Guy Maddin's silent film The Brand Upon the Brain. In June 2007, he performed live at the Traffic Festival 2007 in Turin, Italy, a five-day free event organized by the city.
In August 2007, Reed went into the studio with The Killers in New York City to record "Tranquilize," a duet with Brandon Flowers for The Killers' b-side/rarities album, called Sawdust. On October 2 and 3, 2008, Reed premiered his new group, which later was named Metal Machine Trio, at REDCAT (Walt Disney Concert Hall Complex, Los Angeles). The live recordings of the concerts were released under the title The Creation of the Universe. The Trio features Ulrich Krieger (saxophone) and Sarth Calhoun (electronics), and plays free improvised instrumental music inspired by Reed's 1975 album Metal Machine Music. The trio played further shows at New York's Gramercy Theater in April 2009, and appeared as part of Reed's band at the 2009 Lollapalooza.
In 2011, Metallica recorded a full length collaboration with Lou Reed entitled Lulu, released November 1 in North America and October 31 everywhere else. Reed contributed vocals to the track "The Wanderlust" on Metric's 2012 album Synthetica. In April 2013, Reed underwent a liver transplant in Cleveland. On October 27, 2013, Reed died at the age of 71.
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