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The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground was an American rock band, active between 1964 and 1973, formed in New York City by Lou Reed and John Cale, who both went on to find success as solo artists.Although experiencing little commercial success while together, the band is often cited by many critics as one of the most important and influential groups of the 1960s. In a 1982 interview Brian Eno made the oft-repeated statement that while the first Velvet Underground album may have sold only 30,000 copies in its early years, "everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band."Andy Warhol managed the Velvet Underground and it was the house band at his studio, the Factory, and his Exploding Plastic Inevitable events. The provocative lyrics of some of the band's songs gave a nihilistic outlook to some of their music.Their 1967 debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico (which featured German singer Nico, with whom the band collaborated), was named the 13th Greatest Album of All Time, and the "most prophetic rock album ever made" by Rolling Stone in 2003. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the band No. 19 on its list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time". The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, by Patti Smith.Pre-career (1964–1965)The foundations for what would become the Velvet Underground were laid in late 1964. Singer/guitarist Lou Reed had performed with a few short-lived garage bands and had worked as a songwriter for Pickwick Records (Reed described his tenure there as being "a poor man's Carole King"). Reed met John Cale, a Welshman who had moved to the United States to study classical music upon securing a scholarship. Cale had worked with experimental composers Cornelius Cardew and La Monte Young but was also interested in rock music. Young's use of extended drones would be a profound influence on the band's early sound. Cale was pleasantly surprised to discover that Reed's experimentalist tendencies were similar to his own: Reed sometimes used alternative guitar tunings to create a droning sound. The pair rehearsed and performed together; their partnership and shared interests built the path towards what would later become the Velvet Underground.Reed's first group with Cale was The Primitives, a short-lived group assembled to issue budget-priced recordings and support an anti-dance single penned by Reed, "The Ostrich", to which Cale added a viola passage. Reed and Cale recruited Sterling Morrison—a college classmate of Reed's at Syracuse University—as a replacement for Walter De Maria, who had been a third member of The Primitives. Morrison played the guitar, and Angus MacLise joined on percussion to complete the four-member unit. This quartet was first called The Warlocks, then The Falling Spikes.The Velvet Underground by Michael Leigh was a contemporary mass market paperback about the secret sexual subculture of the early 1960s that Cale's friend Tony Conrad showed the group. MacLise made a suggestion to adopt the title as the band's name. According to Reed and Morrison, the group liked the name, considering it evocative of "underground cinema", and fitting, as Reed had already written "Venus in Furs", a song inspired by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's book of the same name, which dealt with masochism. The band immediately and unanimously adopted the Velvet Underground as its new name in November 1965.Temporary members, additional live and studio musicians
  • Angus MacLise – sat in on percussion with Tucker switching to bass guitar and Cale and Morrison to lead vocals during a Chicago engagement when Reed was taken ill with hepatitis, June–July 1966.
  • Henry Flynt – stand-in for Cale for four live dates during September 1966.
  • Nico – collaborator on vocals with the band on four tracks on The Velvet Underground & Nico and several Exploding Plastic Inevitable engagements, 1966–1967. In addition, about half of the tracks on Nico's 1967 debut LP, Chelsea Girl, feature songs written by and/or featuring Reed, Cale and Morrison. Some of these songs are included on compilations like the Peel Slowly and See box set and the Gold 2-CD set.
  • Billy Yule – stand-in on drums for a pregnant Tucker on three tracks on Loaded, at the Max's Kansas City 1970 engagement (and on the live album), and the 1973 Boston engagement.
  • Tommy Castanaro – stand-in on drums for a pregnant Tucker on two tracks on Loaded.
  • Adrian Barber – stand-in on drums for a pregnant Tucker on a number of tracks on Loaded.
  • Larry Estridge – tour stand-in (bass guitar) for Walter Powers, June 1971.
  • Rob Norris (of the Bongos) – tour member (guitar) for the 1972 UK Squeeze tour.
  • George Kay – tour member (bass guitar) for the 1972 UK Squeeze tour and the 1973 Boston engagement.
  • Don Silverman – tour member (guitar) for the 1972 UK Squeeze tour.
  • Mark Nauseef – tour member (drums) for the 1972 UK Squeeze tour.
  • Ian Paice – session musician (drums) for Squeeze (1973).


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