5 Things You May Not Have Known About Lou Reed
Today we celebrate the birthday of Lewis Allan Reed, better known to you, me and everyone else as Lou. To commemorate the occasion, we’ve put together a list of five things that you may or may not have known about the former Velvet Underground frontman and formidable singer-songwriter.
- His first group he recorded with was all about the doo-wop.
The Jades weren’t Reed’s first group, but they were the first one that actually went into a recording studio. In 1958, when he was still in high school, Reed and his bandmates went into a studio, and although Reed himself didn’t sing on the two tracks (“So Blue” and “Leave Her for Me”), he did play on them. Years later, Reed described The Jades as “just one guitar and two other guys singing,” but his fondest memories seemed to be about their live shows: “We would play shopping malls and some really bad violent places. I was always, like, tremendously under age, which was pretty cool.
- He did a stint as a DJ in the early ‘60s.
While attending Syracuse University, Reed had a late-night show called “Excursions on a Wobbly Rail” on WAER. Given that its title was taken from a song by Cecil Taylor, it’s no surprise that Reed’s shows usually featured some jazz, along with doo-wop and R&B.
- He and John Cale met as a result of a novelty song Reed wrote for Pickwick Records.
The song in question, “The Ostrich,” was intended by Reed to be a parody of all the other ridiculous dance crazes that were taking off at the time, and Pickwick had enough confidence in its chart potential that they decided to go for broke, putting together a band called The Primitives to promote it. One of the members of this band was – you guessed it – John Cale, who was impressed enough with Reed’s writing and playing beyond “The Ostrich” for a collaboration to develop.
- He once did a commercial for Honda Scooters.
You can almost imagine Reed giggling with glee at the idea of the too-cool crowd having heart attacks after watching this commercial, which featured “Walk on the Wild Side” playing for several seconds, after which he appeared and said, “Hey! Don’t settle for walkin’!” He did, however, occasionally get defensive when asked about it. “I can’t live in an ivory tower like people would like me to,” Reed later said of the ad. “I used to watch Andy [Warhol] do something for TV Guide or Absolut Vodka … When our equipment broke, that’s how it got replaced. We didn’t turn around and tell Andy we can’t touch that money because it came from doing a commercial. I don’t think that occurred to anybody.”
- He stayed friends with Paul Simon despite the box office of One-Trick Pony.
If you’ve never seen Paul Simon’s 1980 movie about the music business, you really should. It’s not perfect, but it’s still worth checking out, particularly for Reed’s over-the-top performance. When Reed’s liver problems sent him into the hospital, Simon sent him a care package of albums, including R&B albums from the ‘50s and LPs from Harry Partch and Lou Harrison. As Simon told Anthony DeCurtis in Lou Reed: A Life, “I figured that covered the spectrum with Lou, as it did with me.”