It was sometime in 1969. I was nearing the end of my "studies" at North Texas State University in Denton, Texas. At that time, NTSU was one of two universities (Indiana U. being the other) in the country where you could get an actual Bachelor's Degree while studying primarily Jazz, along with other music-related subjects. My fellow classmates Dean Parks, David Hungate, and Matt Betton (the four of us eventually ending up being the rhythm section for the fabled NTSU One O'Clock Lab Band) formed a rock and roll band with jam-band tendencies. Calling ourselves Roy (don't ask), we began playing around the Denton/Dallas/Ft.Worth area, being booked by Angus Wynne III. We were not very well-received at more than a few gigs that we played, primarily because we were far more interested in jamming than entertaining.
One gig in particular does stand out, though. We opened up for The Velvet Underground, at a stoner dump in Dallas called The End of Cole (because it was at the end of a street called Cole Ave). My memory is that we played pretty well that night. There are even a couple of black and white photos (somewhere) documenting the occasion. But, as soon as the Velvets set up and began pounding away (Maureen Tucker standing up!), it was a transforming experience. I knew right then that I was nothing but a little boy. I may have thought I knew a lot about music, been very accomplished, and aware of great artists like Miles and Horowitz and Oscar Peterson--but I had no idea what the Velvet Underground was doing. And--I knew it was totally brilliant.
Over the years, my appreciation for Lou Reed (1942-2013) has developed and continued to grow. He hooked me again immediately with "Walk On The Wild Side" (with the fantastic hypnotic jazzy acoustic/electric tandem bass parts, played by Herbie Flowers). Frequently needing only three or four chords to tell his stories, Lou has amassed a tremendous catalogue of songs--some brutally hard-edged, some intensely narrative, and some wistfully reflective. To me, many of these cinematic creations seem to be even more moving as time goes by. One of my all-time favorite performances of his, however, is actually not of one of his own songs.
The occasion was the 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration of Bob Dylan's music (available on CD/DVD and ITunes), held at Madison Square Garden, 1993. Lou came out and did Dylan's relatively obscure "Foot Of Pride" with an incredible band: himself, G.E. Smith and Steve Cropper on guitars; Booker T. on organ; Duck Dunn on bass; and Jim Keltner and Anton Fig on drums! The song is a marathon--around nine minutes long, with pages of lyrics. When you watch the video, Lou is obviously reading them off a music stand, but it just adds to the out-on-the-tightrope-with-no-net intensity of the performance. His vocal delivery is a flamethrower, jamming it in the moment, while the absolutely monster groove that the band is throwing down just gets deeper with each passing chorus. I have watched/listened to it many times, and it always kills me. (For some still-unknown reason, Lou's official video excerpt has been removed from YouTube. Many of the other performers' excerpts--including Dylan's-- are available there. Audio is great, but you really have to see it! As of now, you'll need to buy the full concert DVD. Worth every penny).
From "I'm Waiting For The Man" and "Sweet Jane" to "The Dirty Boulevard" and "Perfect Day", and everything in-between, Lou Reed was (and is) one of a kind. Hugely influential and always moving forward, I consider him to be a true minimalist composer/performer visionary.