The leather jacket and moody persona were only a part of the puzzle that was Lou Reed. Musicians like Steve Katz of Blood Sweat & Tears and Genya Ravan of Ten Wheel Drive remember him as a friend with a wicked sense of humor and a gracious heart. Katz was the producer of Reed’s live album Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal and the rocker’s highest-charting LP, Sally Can’t Dance. Reed rarely performed on other artists’ albums, but he agreed to join Genya Ravan on “Aye Co’lorado”; Reed would later invite Ravan to sing on his “Street Hassle.”
Bedford + Bowery today asked Katz and Ravan to share their memories of Lou Reed.
I was in the Blues Project in the mid-’60s when I first saw Lou in the East Village and I don’t think we met after gigs because the Blues Project was more of a suburban pot band and the Velvets were more of a heroin street band. We couldn’t find any common ground to have a conversation so we never talked to each other. So it wasn’t until later that Lou and I got to be friendly.
Lou was managed by my brother Dennis, who signed him to RCA while I was still with Blood Sweat & Tears. We had a rehearsal studio in Dobbs Ferry and Lou was also rehearsing there with his band, the Tots. Because of that, Lou and I got friendly. Lou had just come off Berlin, which was a beautiful but very depressing album that didn’t do very well.
In talking to Lou and my brother, I said, “What Lou ought to do is take some of those Velvet Underground songs, get a really great band and do a live album.” They said, “Well, why don’t you produce it?” That was my ticket out of BS&T. I wanted to get back to my rock ‘n’ roll roots and get in the studio and Lou was perfect because Lou was a real rock ‘n’ roll person. So we did the live album, Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal.
It was recorded at the Academy of Music. We taped two shows and had to take the best takes from there. The problem was that we had two mics out in the audience and only one of them worked. Our engineer, Gus Mossler, said, “I can go to the vault and find some applause.” So a lot of the applause on Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal is from a John Denver concert! With the volume knobs we were able to turn it up so when Lou walked onstage after the intro to Sweet Jane, the applause sounds like the Pope had just walked onstage.
The studio album, Sally Can’t Dance, was in Lou’s speed period. We would start early in the afternoon and by 4 a.m., we’d all be dead tired and Lou would come out of the bathroom after shooting up and say, “Well, what’s next?” We’d say, “Oh no, you’ve gotta be kidding.”
Lou idolized Warhol. The mention of Andy’s name and Lou would get quiet and reverent. I loved his sense of humor. We were both New York Jewish rock musicians and we got along. I always thought that he was putting people on most of the time. He was a lot of fun, it was a good memory in my life. It is very sad that he passed away.
Steve Katz is a producer and original member of the Blues Project and Blood Sweat & Tears. Today Katz tours as a solo performer; a book of his memoirs is due in 2014, titled Is Steve Katz a Rock Star?
I had a guitar player that worked with Lou, Richie Fliegler, he was one of the downtown CBGB guys. After Ten Wheel Drive, I decided to put a band together and Richie Fliegler was one of the guys that I auditioned and took on.
We were rehearsing for the Urban Desire LP and I said I wrote this song called “Aye Co’lorado” about a Puerto Rican drug dealer and I want somebody to sing it with me. Richie said, “You know who’d be perfect for this song? Lou Reed.” And the minute he said it, I said, “You’re absolutely right. This song is for Lou Reed.”
When I met Lou, the first words he said to me were, “My grandmother loves your stuff.” That was supposed to be an insult. Now he’s at my session, OK, and this is his sense of humor. I thought it was the funniest freakin’ thing I’ve ever heard. So I turned around and went, “Yeah, you know what, my grandmother just loves your shit too.” And we hit it off immediately. After that he totally trusted me; when I did the Bottom Line, he came up on stage with me to do the song.
When recording, I did with him what I did with anybody that I produced. I always told the engineer to continue recording no matter what. If someone sneezes out there, I said, keep the record button going. So the first time Lou went out to sing it, he got it immediately. He thought he was rehearsing but I knew that was the take. Out of respect, he wanted to do a couple of other takes. So he tried two or three more times and each time, as it is with all singers, it progressively got worse because you’re thinking too much about it. If you’re gonna do rock ‘n’ roll, you really have to do it from the heart and not the head.
So when he called me to work on his song “Street Hassle,” my words weren’t how much, my words were exactly what his words were: “I’ll be there, what time?” Now this was the strangest recording; this was in his binaural days. In the middle of the studio, he had a dummy head with microphones near its ears. I said I knew he was freakin’ strange but this is really strange. On record, it was supposed to sound like 3-D, like you were in the studio with the musicians. I left there about 4 a.m., he was so happy.
We’re all three people: Who you really are, who you want to be, and who you want people to think you are. And those three people were Lou. There was a really gentle, loving side to him. You have to have a close encounter with him to know this guy is not scary, he is what he is. He treads kind of softly, like his music.
He always wanted me to record one of his songs. I latched onto “Coney Island Baby” and that’s what’s on my last album.
Genya Ravan was the lead vocalist of jazz-rock band Ten Wheel Drive from 1969 to 1971. Today Ravan continues to tour and is heard on Steven Van Zandt’s Underground Garage channel on Sirius radio. She’ll be performing at the Iridium in New York this Friday, Nov. 1.