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As members of the pioneering downtown New York City band Blondie, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein were part of the ’70s punk movement that owed a substantial debt to Lou Reed and his cohorts in the Velvet Underground, as well as Reed’s groundbreaking early solo work. Harry and Stein were around in the Velvets’ heyday and were lucky enough to have seen them perform. Here they share their personal memories of Lou Reed and his legacy.
The first time I saw the Velvet Underground with Lou Reed it was in the 1960s at a place on the Lower East Side called The Balloon Farm. That day I became a lifelong devotee of the iconoclastic sound and style of Lou and the Velvets. I’m so sad that he’s gone, but his hypnotic voice telling a story of a Perfect Day or the devil let loose in White Light/White Heat will live forever.
I had many encounters with Lou over the years, and he was always charming and polite. I just never ran into his infamous dark side, so I can’t attest to its actuality. Lou was one of a handful of originals. I don’t think that the conditions that created him will again be approximated, let alone duplicated.
When I was 17 years old in 1967, my friends and I were fascinated by the Velvets’ first amazing album. A close friend of mine worked for Warhol. One night he arrived at my house in Brooklyn and told my friends and me that the band who was supposed to open for the Velvets in NYC had cancelled, and would we like to replace them.
We got on the subway with our guitars and went to a venue on the Upper West Side called the Gymnasium. Maureen Tucker let us use her drums, turn them right side up even, and we used the Velvets’ amps. We played our little blues rock set, and at the end someone came over and said “Oh, Andy thought you were terrific.”
There were maybe 30 people there. The Velvets came on and were just powerful. They used the echo-y acoustics of the place to their advantage. This was a moment that shaped my musical life, and I tell the story frequently.
What else? I was really fond of Metal Machine Music and went through a period of constantly playing it. Lou’s music is a perfect mix of light and dark, and it will stay with us.
The legendary music man and Sire Records head, who signed Reed and released his acclaimed 1988 album New York, recalls a mutual love of Andy Warhol and Brill Building songwriters.
I knew him well. Of course, I signed him, and the result, thanks to him, not me, was comeback album New York. I loved the fact that he was exactly one month older than me. Now the thought scares me. We also had same lawyer and accountant at time I signed him.
We also worked together with John Cale on the Andy Warhol tribute/memorial album Songs of Drella.
We both loved Brill Building/1650 Broadway songwriters. When a dear friend we both loved, Doc Pomus, died, Lou brought Little Jimmy Scott to sing. I was so overwhelmed, I signed him and Tommy Li Puma and produced great album, all thanks to Lou. Gave Jimmy a new start. Sire released several albums. Last I heard Jimmy was still going strong.
I rarely saw him in recent years, but there were never any bad words between us, two Jewish boys from Brooklyn. We always respected each other.
This article first appeared on Billboard.biz.
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