Lou Reed Loved The Blues - One of my Greatest Capers
A cool story about interviewing Lou and introducing him to blues great Katie Webster. PLUS: An appreciation of David Bowie.
I watched and enjoyed Todd Haynes’ Velvet Underground documentary and it got me thinking about my own experience with Lou Reed. It’s a good story, one I hope you enjoy.
This post is, as always, free. Please share and please subscribe.
In 1989 I was working as an editor at the Hudson Reporter, a chain of small weekly newspapers based in Hoboken. I was also starting to freelance music writing as much as possible, already writing for Tower Pulse! And looking for more, more, more. Somehow or other, I hooked up with BAM, the Bay Area music publication which was looking for a New York correspondent, a gig which led to some great stories, an when editor Keith Moerer moved over to Sam Goody to found Request, it led to even more great work, including a 1989 interview with Eric Clapton that played a big role in eventually getting hired at Guitar World.
The first great payoff was an interview with Lou Reed. Keith asked me if I was up for this, and of course I said yes. New York was just out and being hailed as a return to form for Lou. I got the album and listened to it over and over, compiling my list of questions without ever quite knowing if this interview was really going to happen. I think I only had it for a day or two and was far from prepared when I got a call at work early one afternoon asking if I could interview Lou that evening. Well, of course I can. I ran out of work, with a friend covering for me, and went home to really get serious about my questions, all written out in long form on a yellow legal pad as I listened to the vinyl over and over.
I got in my car, drove through the Lincoln Tunnel and on up to Lou’s apartment on the far west of the Upper West Side. I was driving my beat-up grey Chevy Cavalier, dubbed the “narc-mobile” by my friends, because I was probably the only non government employee to ever purchase this vehicle. I only had one cassette in the car – an advance copy of Katie Webster’s rollicking blues piano album for Alligator. I was heavily into Katie then, and had already written a giant story on her as a cover story for Sing Out! Magazine. Now bear with me, because this gets interesting.
I get up to the Upper West Side, go into the apartment and interview Lou. He was rather cold and unsmiling, but also unrushed, very professional and very thorough in his answers. The perfect example of an interview subject you really need to prepare for. Ask good questions and you will get good answers. So we do the whole interview and it goes well. After thinking that I didn’t have a copy in any format, I found a copy in my basement files during the pandemic.
The night before, Lou had inducted Dion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which I mostly knew because he yawned and apologized for being tired; it had been a long night. Done with my questions, we lapse into a long talk about his love for doo wop and old time blues, and he starts talking about the great songwriter Doc Pomus. I say, “Did you know that on the original ‘Sea of Love’ the piano player was a 14-year-old girl?”
He did not know this and his mind was blown. He gets very, very interested, starts asking me a lot of questions and I tell him all about Katie and her remarkable life story, which involved her church-going mother not allowing her to play blues, but sneaking out and recording with Louisiana blues legends like Lightnin’ Slim and Lazy Lester for Excello Records – and playing on Phil Phillips’ “Sea Of Love.”
Lou is fascinated. I tell him all about her, how she played with Otis Redding and had just left his band when he had his crash, and that she has had a recent comeback and is now putting out solo albums. He jumps up for a pen and pad and writes down her name, says he’s going to buy her albums tomorrow. We bid farewell. I get back in my car and drive away, riding the buzz of the whole thing, and listening to Katie again. Then it strikes me: I should give the tape to Lou. I swing back around and go back to his building, take the tape out, write a note on a piece of paper that says, “Lou, Enjoy. You should have this,” wrap it around the cassette and give it to the doorman, asking him to please give to Mr. Reed. Seemed like the right thing to do.
Thanks for reading Low Down and Dirty! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
A month or so later, I find out that Lou and Katie were in Germany at the same time and he got a hold of her and invited her to join him on stage, which she did for a couple of songs. I spoke to her manager Iceberg Slim, and they were both just thrilled that Katie had gotten such a huge audience. I was very pumped about this.
I pitched a story on Katie to Keith at Request and he wasn’t interested. He loved her, but she seemed too obscure for more than a record blurb. I said that I thought I could get a quote from Lou about her. He said, “If you do, I’ll do a feature.” I contacted Lou’s publicist and was on the phone with him days later. The feature ran.
All of this gave me a tremendous level of respect and affection for Lou above and beyond his music. Sadly. I never interviewed him for Guitar World, or anyone else, again.
Rest in peace, Lou, and Katie. Two great artists, seemingly as far apart as you could imagine, but sharing a secret link, one I’m really proud to have helped foster.
A David Bowie appreciation.
I was listening to Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” today through my AirPod Pros, which I really do recommend, and I was just struck by how great the song sounds. The production on it is perfect, and it’s by David Bowie. And that got me thinking about what a great producer Bowie was and how he brought out the best in so many people, including Lou, Iggy Pop, with “Lust For Life,” and Mott the Hoople, with their iconic “All The Young Dudes,” which he produced, wrote and contributed prominent bg vocals on. Those songs were the greatest moments and biggest hits for each of these acts. Bowie also, of course, introduced the wider world to Stevie Ray Vaughan - see the Rolling Stone excerpt of Texas Flood covering that topic here. And he “saved the life” of his old pal Peter Frampton, who largely quit touring after the shellshock of his great success with Frampton Comes Alive and subsequent crash with the Bee Gees’ Sergeant Pepper’s movie and a backlash to his superstardom.
“I took off most of the 80s, then my old school pal David Bowie called and asked me to play on his Never Let Me Down record and play on his Glass Spiders tour, which started everything up for me again,” Frampton told me a 2013 interview. “He and I go back a long, long way and he understood what I needed. He knew exactly what I’d been through – being this respected musician in Humble Pie and on many recording sessions, then Comes Alive! became a huge phenomenal success and I was turned into this pop star and the music was forgotten. I had a long track record, but a picture is worth 1,000 words and that iconic photo of me on the cover of Comes Alive! changed my image forever. People called me ‘the singer Peter Frampton’ and that really disturbed me. David saw this, understood what I needed and reintroduced me to the world as a guitar player. I can never thank him enough for that. He’s a very clear thinker and a very clever man.”
So here’s to David Bowie, a true musical genius. I also included “Young Americans” because it includes the great Luther Vandross on background vocals.
A very short playlist to demonstrate what I’m talking about:
Alan Paul’s last two books – Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan and One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band – debuted in the New York Times Non Fiction Hardcover Best Seller’s List. His first book was Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues and Becoming a Star in Beijing, about his experiences raising a family in Beijing and touring China with a popular original blues band. It was optioned for a movie by Ivan Reitman’s Montecito Productions. He is also a guitarist and singer who fronts two bands, Big in China and Friends of the Brothers, the premier celebration of the Allman Brothers Band.