At around this time of year, 45 years ago, one of the most influential and underrated bands ever was formed, they had many names, at first The Primitives, then The Falling Spikes, then The Warlocks and ultimately The Velvet Underground.
The year is 1964, and John Cale, a 22-year-old classically trained musician with talent to sell, originally from Garnant, South Wales had been living in New York for just over a year.
After completing a postgraduate course in Modern Composition in Massachusetts, he moved to the city that never sleeps, to do exactly that. A lover of all things avant-garde he would become a member of LaMonte Young’s Theatre of Eternal Dreams, he was fascinated by Young’s performances, at times consisting of playing one single note for a whole hour and at times screaming at a plant until it would die.
At a mutual friend’s party Cale heard of a young singer who played a song called “The Ostrich”, the song was nothing worth mention, but Cale was fascinated by the fact that all the strings on the singer’s guitar were tuned to the same note. That young singer was Lou Reed.
The next day Cale and Reed met for the first time and hit it off right away, as they were both into the same literature, especially Hubert Selby Jr’s “Last Exit To Brooklyn” and Cale soon joined Lou Reed’s band.
After playing “The Ostrich” in a TV show and a few gigs under the Primitives moniker, Reed started to show Cale what he really was capable of doing with his songwriting. The first songs he played to him were “I’m Waiting for The Man” which revolves around scoring drugs in a bad part of town and “Heroin”; Cale, who had always been looking for things that were new, leftfield, and had never been done, was hooked.
The next member to join the Velvet Underground was Sterling Morrison, a friend of Reed’s from City College in Syracuse where they both studied English Literature. The first meeting the three had was in a subway, Morrison had a beard and was wearing no shoes, too much even for open minded Cale, but after learning that he was an orphan and had no one in the world, and especially after hearing his guitar playing skills his mind changed.
The last member to join the formation was Maureen “Moe” Tucker, who was the sister of a friend of Reed’s and Morrison’s from Syracuse. Moe had a $50 drum kit with no cymbals, was into Bo Diddley and The Rolling Stones and could keep a beat and that is exactly what the Velvets needed for their sound.
The Velvet Underground had their first gig on December 11th 1965, the audience was appalled by their sound and presence, recalled by one of the “lucky” few who saw the performance, Charlie Gillet as a performance by a group of zombies as they were all dressed in black and seldomly moved around.
Soon their performances caught the attention of New York’s art royalty and Andy Warhol became an advocate for the band, inviting them to the legendary Factory on East 47th Street, and subsequently being their manager/producer.
The last piece to complete the puzzle was scenester Nico, a Hungarian born model raised in Germany who had a son with Alain Delon and affairs with Brian Jones and Bob Dylan, who was imposed as lead singer to the group by Andy Warhol. Their first shows with this complete line-up were Warhol’s multimedia project called The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, where the band would play in front of either images of themselves or of Warhol’s movies “The Kiss” and “Empire State”.
Unfortunately for the band, as many other bands then such as The Silver Apples, they were way too ahead of their time, sold poorly and gained little recognition in the music circuit at the time; but can now be traced back from almost every new indie/punk/pop/metal band that has come after them, punk before punk, metal before metal the Velvet Underground had it all for us 45 years ago, shame people’s ears weren’t ready for them.