in the last days among the many obituaries commemorating lou’s passing two comments stuck out as a sore thumb. they are just the top of the iceberg of a revisionistic theory more common than you would believe. the first, coming via FB from the controversial max stefani, editor of countless italian music magazines, is that the velvet underground were the most overrated band ever. The second, ailed as a gossip by an other famous italian rock critic, giancarlo trombetti, is that lou was such as inept as guitar player that he had someone to teach his own songs. Well, you can answer to that nonsense in two ways. First, using the same verbal abuse they’re infamous for. SECOND, you can show them they do not actually know what they are talking about, and that’s what TODAY i am here for.
The velvet underground have patently BEEN the most underrated band ever. still today, 43 years after they disbanded. Largely ignored from the estabilished music press (rolling stone made a point of panning them everytime they could), pratically banned in their own hometurf, new york city, they drew consistent crowds only in the 2-3 strongholds they had on the east coast. they were pariahs, they were punks. no one wanted to touch them, commercially speaking. and this is proved by a vast literature. if you think things went differently, well, write it down, show your documentation and get it peer reviewed.
Lou reed, along with jimi hendrix, jim mcguinn and bo diddley, is the most influential rock guitarist ever. period. here an account of lou as guitarist hosted by the arch-druid julian cope on his wonderful website head heritage:
“I don’t consider myself a guitarist, but since I really like to play guitar, I can consider myself a guitar player, someone who plays with the guitar, I like its sound, I like it to sound awkward, not like your typical guitar sounds, that’s why people like Keith Rowe, Sonny Sharrock, Keiji Haino and Derek Bailey are so important to me, because they saw guitar technique as just the beginning of how far the guitar sound could be taken.
Let me add one more name, Lou Reed, Lou in his time with the legendary Velvet Underground did more for changing the face of rock guitar than many others, Lou´s sound was so revolutionary, I read in an interview that Lou wanted to sound like Ornette Coleman, he wanted his guitar to sound like a free jazz sax, he overloaded the sound with volume and effects in order to make it sound like a sax, I Heard Her Call My Name is an instant classic of guitar fire, few rock n roll moments have that intensity on guitar, Lou was nearly reaching free jazz heaven from a rock n roll base.
But the Velvet underground, was more than Lou´s guitar, there was Sterling Morrison’s distinctive guitar playing, a righteous cross between jangle guitar and krautish monotony, Sterling guitar playing was nearly metronomic in the Velvets dynamics, minimal in its pyrotechnics, but vital in its propulsive rhythms, and talking about rhythms you had Maureen Tucker, known for her minimal kick-snare beats, so influential to future garage rockers, punks and hardcore crowds.
On top of that you had Lou and John Cale´s fiery duos, or duels, either way they set any place on fire, or emptied the rooms, Cale was a sound terrorist either on bass, keyboards or his insanely played viola, Cale knew exactly what he was doing, setting noise on a pop context, giving his raspy viola sound to the VU´s tender ballads or their galloping rockers.
But The Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes makes little justice to the Velvet as a group, it was made by putting a recording device inside Lou´s amp, so what we got basically here is the sound of Lou´s incendiary leads, accompanied backed very far by the rest of the group, don´t dismay, as the songs sound just as you know them, except vocals and certain details are left behind (you can use it as the VU´s karaoke-tape), here you have the unique chance to listen to a guitar player who stood ahead of its time, who applied free jazz improvisational techniques on a rock format, a player who wasn’t afraid of going all the way and applied Ornette Coleman harmolodics to his guitar technique.
Lou´s guitar style was so unique, with the rock n roll fire of Chuck Berry, the perception of the guitar as a universal sound tool of Roger McGuinn and the eternal influence of the aforementioned Coleman, little understood in his own time, “noise” and “incompetent” tags added by contemporaries were simply crushed when Lou´s influence grew enormous with the passing of time, as the punks adopted the VU´s as sonic fathers in the 70s, the new wavers even adopted the Velvets as ideology source (and even The Cars´ Rick Ocasek stole Lou´s image), and the “alternative” rockers of the 90s and 00´s adopted the band as icons (just ask the Strokes or The Killers, who simply are redoing the VU´s old tight avant pop)
In case you still think Lou is and old guy irrelevant to rock today, this is the place for you to start, but if you think Lou is irrelevant, you shouldn´t be here in the first place”
but judge by yourself downloading the great legendary guitar amp tapes and crackin’ it real loud….