September 7, 2010

The Velvets and the Dead

Weary readers might wonder what connection the Velvet Underground had with the Grateful Dead. Weren’t they complete opposites? Didn’t the Velvet Underground hate hippies, psychedelia, and laughter? Sunny, pleasant acid trips for dancing hippies vs. dark, abrasive anti-life heroin dirges - could any two bands be more different?

The story isn’t so simple, though. In some strange ways, the two bands were like flip sides to each other. As Richie Unterberger says, “Both were once known as the Warlocks; both have made their music heavily associated with the ingestion of drugs; and both were prone to performing lengthy improvisations onstage that are comparable to those of few other bands.”

Lou Reed:
“Once when we were playing on a bill with the Grateful Dead, some reporter from the Daily News asked me what was the difference between us and the Dead. With a perfectly straight face, I told him, ‘The difference is that they take the kids backstage and turn them on – but we shoot ‘em up!’ Don’t you know, he actually believed me and printed that.”

Despite a totally different style and sensibility, their musical approach is closer than seems obvious at first. The Velvets were consistent in using songs as jumping-off places for extended improvs – Lou Reed was as much a fan of Coltrane and jazz horn players as the Dead were, though he favored the noisy ‘skronk’ style of Ornette Coleman & Albert Ayler. “When I started out I was inspired by people like Ornette Coleman. He was always a great influence.” He’s said that ‘European Son’ was his way of imitating Coleman with guitars.
Reed: “I had been listening to a lot of Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman, and wanted to get something like that with a rock & roll feeling. And I think we were successful, but I also think we carried that about as far as we could, for our abilities as a basically rock & roll band. Later we continued to play that kind of music, and I was really experimenting a lot with guitar, but most of the audiences in the clubs just weren't receptive to it at all."
(The Dead’s admiration of Ornette was a quiet one, but acknowledged when he played with them in the ‘90s. Garcia said after working on one of Coleman’s albums, “When I hear his playing, I hear something that I always wish would be in mine – a kind of joy and beauty.”)

Both bands liked to take simple modal patterns of one or two chords and spin them out into long jams, though they took these in different directions. Both the Velvets and the Dead were innovators in using feedback as a meaningful musical statement (of course they weren't alone - the Who and Hendrix among others were doing the same – feedback was an exciting new thing in those days). If you’ve heard the Velvets’ early soundtracks for Warhol films, they’re freaky ambient noise not far removed from the Dead’s later ‘spaces’.
The Velvets were one of few rock bands I know of to do half-hour freeform improvisations in 1966. Rock music was stretching out and solos were getting wilder, but not many instrumentals had gone to such monstrous lengths yet. (The list of 20-minute live rock jams is a short one that year – there’s Moby Grape, ‘Dark Magic’ – Butterfield Blues Band, ‘East/West’ – Pink Floyd, ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ – readers can probably think of a few more.)
Improvisation is very much a live art, though, and was frowned upon in studio recordings of the time - as was any tune longer than three minutes. (A couple rare instances of rock album tracks over ten minutes in ’66 are Love’s ‘Revelations’, the Stones’ ‘Goin’ Home’, and the Blues Project’s ‘Two Trains Running’. Even on Cream’s first album, the longest track is six minutes!) As a result, there are many bands who were known for their exciting long jams onstage (like, later on in the ‘60s, Buffalo Springfield or Fairport Convention), who confined themselves to short pop material on their records – their live sound was never caught on tape. So people were probably hearing more live jamming in ’66 than we can recover today.

One recommended Velvets show is from October '66, a complete two-hour show (in poor sound, as usual) where they play no less than TWO half-hour improvs (called "The Nothing Song" and "Melody Laughter"), which don't sound quite like anything else. (Nico moans over the music, kind of like Donna...)
Then by '68, with Sister Ray they had a piece that could be transformed into something different each time they played it, and they were happy to stretch it out to thirty, forty minutes or more. There's one famous show from April '68 where just the INTRO to Sister Ray is a forty-minute quiet trance drone!
Other songs could sprout ten-minute guitar solos as well, depending on the band’s mood; long jams would develop in the sets and then disappear. (One example is the otherwise unheard, rambling ‘Follow the Leader’ on the Quine Tapes set.) And practically none of these were recorded by the band – just a few instances were captured by audience tapers.

And while the Dead had Phil Lesh to give them that avant-garde dissonant edge (especially apparent on Anthem), the early Velvets had John Cale who brought a quite different avant-garde slant from his previous noise/drone experiments. In much the same way as Lesh came to the Dead fresh from absorbing Luciano Berio and Stockhausen, John Cale had studied with LaMonte Young and brought that strong influence into their music. There's a 1965 recording from the Dream Syndicate (with Young & Tony Conrad) which is just ONE NOTE (on two or three violas) sustained for about a half-hour. Now that's a serious drone! (Cale has also released a 3-CD set of some of the noise/minimalist experiments he was doing in the '60s outside the Velvets.)
One thing about the Dead's music is that they did not like repetition too much in the jams - the music is always busy, restless. Lesh is not one to be pinned down to a single bassline for too long – and Garcia will often find some beautiful phrase, repeat it a couple times....and then drop it to do something else, never to be heard again. So, in spite of the Indian music they liked, we almost never get drones in their jams or 'trance Dead'.

The Velvets, of course, were sworn enemies of the Dead’s music.
In ’71 Maureen Tucker called the Dead the most boring band she’d ever heard. Sterling Morrison also loathed them, and despised San Francisco music in general. (But he did make an exception for Quicksilver Messenger Service, saying they sounded great and John Cipollina was a really good guitar player.) Lou Reed also had harsh things to say (although he did like the first Moby Grape album; and they were fans of LA bands Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds.)

Reed and Doug Yule, in a 1970 interview:
LOU: We had vast objections to the whole San Francisco scene. It's just tedious, a lie, and untalented. They can't play and they certainly can't write. The Airplane, the Dead, all of them...
DOUG: They lose track of where the music comes from - they start thinking it instead of playing it. Especially the Dead. Now I saw the Dead when they just started, and they were a bunch of scuzzy kids just having a ball playing rock & roll - they were a lot of fun. But then they started thinking about what they were doing too much.
LOU: I can get off understanding the kick it was to play Lovelight.... But they're amateur...they can't play. Jerry's not a good guitar player. It's a joke, and the Airplane is even worse, if that's possible.
DOUG: Jerry, he'll play the same solo for a half hour, but if he'd done it for just two minutes....he plays the same notes over and over again.
LOU: You listen to the Beatles, or you listen to 'Gimme Shelter' by the Stones, and Keith isn't playing many notes, but the notes he's playing are so thought out, so perfect...
Q: But don't you think a lot of people get off on something like the Dead because it's so loose?
LOU: It's what people are settling for....they're getting third-hand blues. It's a fad.... People like Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, all those people are the most untalented bores that have ever lived. Just look at them - can you take Grace Slick seriously? It's a joke. And the whole thing is, the kids are being hyped this on FM radio. Well, now finally it's dead, the whole San Francisco thing is dead.

The Velvets had first come to San Francisco in May ’66 - they played the Fillmore with the Mothers of Invention, and developed an instant mutual dislike for Bill Graham. (They also hated Frank Zappa – Lou Reed later called Zappa “the single most untalented person I’ve heard in my life – he’s two-bit, pretentious, academic, and he can’t play his way out of anything. He can’t play rock & roll.” Reportedly Reed also hated the Jefferson Airplane’s music so much that he refused to share a bill with them.)
Cale admitted that on this first San Francisco trip, “No one liked us much.” Audiences met them with bewilderment – one witness remembers, “they had this weird stuff onstage with some chick getting whipped, and I went, ‘Oh wow, this is music?’” Ralph Gleason wrote a very hostile review of their ‘sick, campy, dull, joyless, non-artistic’ show – “a bad condensation of all the bum trips of the Trips Festival… Opening night was really crowded, even though hippies were continually walking out shaking their heads and saying ‘Wow!’ in wonder that such a bore could be.”
The Velvets ended a Fillmore show by putting their guitars against the amps and letting the feedback howl as they left the stage. Bill Graham couldn’t stand this, or the rest of their stage act – he called them perverted, sickening, and negative, “the worst piece of entertainment I’ve ever seen in my life” - and they all agreed that the Velvets would never play any Fillmore show again. (The police in Los Angeles that month also found the Velvets’ show so offensive they shut down the club they were playing in!)
The Velvets later believed that Bill Graham had even stolen the idea of their light show – they found the Fillmore’s current light-shows laughable. Doug Yule said this was “one of Sterling’s rants…they felt that when they showed up with the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, that Graham was doing kindergarten-level light shows, and they opened his eyes and then he ripped ‘em off, took all their ideas and put that out as his own.”

In any case, the Velvets didn’t return to California for two years. As Sterling said in his usual manner, “We left California alone for two years, because they’re so determined to do their own thing, their own San Francisco music. We were just rocking the boat – they don’t want to know about that. ‘There’s only one music, and we all know what that is…it’s what the Grateful Dead play. That’s the very best rock & roll can ever get…’ We said, ‘You’re full of shit, your city, your state, and everything else.’”
But they did come back. In fact, in ‘68/69, they played San Francisco more often than anywhere else except for Boston, playing numerous shows at the Avalon, Family Dog, and Matrix. One reason was that by then, the audience had caught up with them, and loud hard rock was the order of the day, so the Velvets were now well-received by enthusiastic fans. Peter Abrams liked them enough to record hours of their Matrix performances (“I wanted to get as many recordings of them as I could”), and Robert Quine was one fan who’d recently discovered the Velvets and also taped as many shows as he could. (Both of them, though, had to erase most of their recordings and keep only highlight reels, since they couldn’t afford all that tape.) But ironically, most of the Velvets’ live releases come from San Francisco!

One audience member saw a show with the Velvets and Quicksilver Messenger Service in ‘68, and noted the Velvets’ “depressing drug-type songs, very heavy, very dark, very heroin, with a dangerous underground feel…while Quicksilver was light and color and acid and mind-wandering.”
Some California newspaper reviewers tried to describe the Velvets’ sound in their shows:
“The band makes a sound that can only be compared to a railroad shunting yard, metal wheels screeching to a halt on the tracks. It’s music to go out of your mind to.”
“In the middle of Sister Ray, they created this harmonic that sounded like the roof of the building was cracking open! It was just wild; it went on for a long time. It was really the ultimate in trance music, even beyond what La Monte Young was doing, because it was so loud and there were so many instruments.”
“The Underground played an extremely involving two-hour set which completely destroyed the audience, left limp at its conclusion. The music was earthy with a heavy beat and moderate use of electronics and feedback. The sound it created was all-enveloping. Catharsis was particularly strong in Heroin and the 45-minute concluding number, which included electronic viola and organ as well as the guitars…they’re a heavy group.”
Doug Yule admits, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard a recording that gives you the feeling that the group put out live. It was a locomotive.”

The Velvets and the Dead played together a couple times in 1969.
One remarkable night at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, February 7, the Fugs, the Velvets, and the Dead all played. One newspaper reviewer wrote, “Such a collection of freaks could hardly lead anywhere but up. The Velvet Underground…opened up the festivities with Heroin, one of their religious songs.” The Dead offered two typically intense hard-jamming sets.

They shared a bill again just a couple months later, at Chicago’s Electric Theater, April 25 & 26. (Detroit band SRC was the third band on the bill.) By then, the Dead’s live approach was much sloppier, with many new songs in the set.
It’s commonly believed among Dead fans that on the 25th, the Velvets opened and played a very long set, leaving the Dead only a short time to play. In revenge, when they switched and the Dead opened on the 26th, the Dead played for almost three hours, making the Velvets wait through their 40-minute wall-of-feedback encore.
This story is wrong, though! If you listen to the end of the Dead’s short set on the 25th, it’s clear that they were the opening act that night – when the audience cries for more, Weir says, “We’re gonna come back and do a second set in a little while, and we’re gonna bring on two other real good bands, and they’ll blow your minds anyway; so we’ll be back in just a short while.” (Which obviously raises the question, is there a whole second set from April 25 that we’ve never heard?)
Doug Yule reports that the first night “the Dead opened for us – we opened for them the next night so that no one could say they were the openers. As you know, the Grateful Dead play very long sets, and they were supposed to only play for an hour. We were up in the dressing room and they were playing for an hour and a half, an hour and 45 minutes. So the next day when we were opening for them, Lou says, ‘Watch this.’ We did Sister Ray for like an hour, and then a whole other show.”
(The entire tape we have of April 25, though, is only about an hour, and it sounds like the complete set. Did the Dead really open the show with two sets in a row? Or perhaps the Velvets found the Dead so awful their set just seemed to last forever!)
Apparently the theater had no time restrictions, so the Dead seem to have been encouraged by the Velvets’ long noisy set on the 26th to play for even longer! My theory is that listening to that long Sister Ray is what gave them the idea to close with a huge Viola Lee going into fifteen minutes of feedback mixed with What’s Become Of The Baby….they certainly didn’t do anything like this at any other ’69 shows!
One audience member says of this famous show, “I believe the Velvet Underground played first…then the Grateful Dead came out and played til about 2 or 3 in the morning. And literally, the only people left in attendance when the Dead were through playing were people that were laying on the floor. Eighty percent of the crowd had gone, and the Dead just kept on playing.” (What he doesn’t mention is that he must have lingered through the whole show, too! At one point he tried to talk to Owsley by the soundboard, but “the whole thing was up so loud that we couldn’t hear each other. We just looked at each other and shrugged.”)
It’s not known whether Bear taped the Velvets’ shows. But even if he did – between Bear hanging for life onto his journal tapes and never authorizing releases, and the Velvets also refusing to release any more live shows, we’d probably never hear them.

I’ll conclude with a quote from this interesting book review:

“When you look at the state of both bands at their founding moments in 1965-66, you find that the Velvet Underground and the Grateful Dead started out, in an odd way, as basically the same band. In fact, both bands started with the same name in 1965: the Warlocks. And both were quickly taken up by other cultural movements and artists from other genres to furnish ‘house bands’ for collective projects.
On the West Coast, Ken Kesey hired the Dead to provide music for his acid tests... The Palo Alto acid test, the first to involve a real stage, took place in December 1965… In New York, meanwhile, Warhol took up the Velvets as a vehicle for his Factory events and a featured role in the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which had various incarnations between January 1966 and its first broad public invitation in April, each of which also involved some combination of Warhol’s dancing fools, slide-projector gels, light shows, silent films and chaos. (Warhol took first billing in all advertisements, above the Velvets, though presumably he just stood around and watched.)
Both bands’ music depended on a tight association with drugs – LSD for the Dead, heroin for the Velvets (plus amphetamines) – but the musicians drew fewer distinctions in their personal lives...
Each band’s early development was paid for by benefactors from the scenes of communal presentation: the Velvets had Warhol; the Dead had Owsley Stanley, supplier of LSD for the acid tests…
Like the Grateful Dead, the Velvet Underground started out as a platform for extremely long, wandering, repetitive live improvisations, appropriate to multimedia events…. The Velvets’ principals insist in interviews that they were far better as a live band than in anything captured on record… Morrison, Reed and Tucker all complained about the failure to capture their live work… The Dead cultivated a ‘taping’ culture of audiophiles who recorded each and every performance…and, at the far extreme, created a unique audience of people willing to listen to forty performances of ‘Dark Star’ to find the passages of improvisational transcendence in each… Imagine that there could have been an alternate world in which people would have listened to forty versions of ‘Sister Ray’ for similar moments of transcendence, or to thirty-minute improvisations like ‘Melody Laughter’…made up of feedback, guitar, organ and vocals from Nico. But the Velvets had few tapers...
Both bands originally imagined themselves as the ‘Warlocks’ essentially because each had a vision of enchantment, underlaid with darkness. (They both had to choose a different name because it turned out that a third band had already put out a record as the Warlocks.) Cale says that the ‘aim of the band on the whole was to hypnotise audiences so that their subconscious would take over… It was an attempt to control the unconscious with the hypnotic.’ This accounts for the drone, and the songs built on long vamps of two chords… ‘We thought that the solution lay in providing hard drugs for everyone,’ Cale said, but ‘there is already a very strong psychedelic element in sustained sound, which is what we had … so we thought that putting viola [drones] behind guitars and echo was one way of creating this enormous space … which was itself a psychedelic experience.’
While both groups initially aimed to hypnotise with their music, lyrically they were worlds apart.”


  1. For anyone who might like the Velvets, I highly recommend Richie Unterberger's superb book White Light/White Heat: the Velvet Underground Day By Day, full of more information than I thought possible.

  2. Nothing to add
    But so grateful for these posts

  3. Bravo ! LiA you have made me happy , happy , happy .
    I agree that in many odd and 'circumstantial' ways "... the two bands are flip sides of each other . "
    Two of the sources from which all modern American music flows . Add your particular necessity here ____ .
    A difference b/t GD and VU was this by Cale , " It was an attempt to control the unconscious with the hypnotic . "
    One of the aspects most admired by me was Garcia's respect for the audience and not to use the microphone outside of singing . That fascist thingy . It was not about control but release , though at times to a hard place .
    I did not want to hear them talk. Play !
    And man, woman and child did they .

    Totally different feel with VU . They talked all the time . From The Quine Tapes , Reed is introducing Femme Fatale with these endearing words for Edie Sedgwick who was still alive , though two years from her death .
    " So anyways she paid for it 'cause she got put away . She got put away when she came out here ( CAL ) too . So maybe it had nuthin' to do with environment . So this is a song about her . As Andy said , why don't you write a song about Edie . So we did . It's called Femme Fatale . Edie's a superstar . Was a superstar . "
    Vu dealt with subject matter that GD never did and in such a direct way . Both bands had songs about suicide but China Doll is hidden in Hunter's imagery , while the epic Heroin is clear on the matter . Sadomasochism , frank / explicit sexuality , hatred , anger , powdery drugs/syringes were some of the ingredients in the VU stew pot . They were not unclear about what the song was about . In that context I can see LR's point .

  4. Thanks for posting this insightful essay. I've got nothing against the Velvets or Lou Reed, but to read things like:

    "But they're amateur...they can't play. Jerry's not a good guitar player. It's a joke, and the Airplane is even worse, if that's possible."

    is kind of laughable. I mean, come on, if even your 45 minute one note drones are out of tune, you might want to refrain criticizing other musicians.

    Excellent blog, and thank you for sharing with us!

  5. Funny how time makes us fickle.

    Here you get Lou Reed "inducting" Zappa and making it sound like they were great chums!

    1. Amen. My thoughts exactly. I remember watching this and thinking "Lou Reed is the last person to induct Zappa"

    2. I agree with both of you. I've met Lou and honestly, he never deserved any praise from anybody after all that he said about other musicians. Only non-musicians make comments like that.

    3. The Dead-dissing quote by Lou is from 1970/71 for God's sake. People evolve, musicians in particular evolve considerably. Also, the VU was probably speaking pridefully so soon after having been shunned by the San Francisco scene despite a better reception their second stint there (68/69). I can appreciate and respect Lou Reed's evolving perspective on Frank Zappa and growing out of his youthful dismissiveness of other artists.

  6. then of course, in the later (post VU & GD) years, there is the Rob Wasserman connection. Mr. Wasserman was a frequent collaborator with both Lou Reed and with Bob Weir.

  7. Hello, I'm not sure I mentioned this here before, but I put together a two-part video about comparing/contrasting The Velvets and Dead.
    And I quote (and credit!) this blog at the end of one of the videos.
    Hope you enjoy them:

    1. Thanks - excellent post!
      You should post that on the Archive forum, too.

  8. From another article on the Dead:

    “The Dead seemed more like a group of ex-folkies just dabbling in distortion (as their albums eventually bore out),” proto-punk critic Lester Bangs wrote in Creem in 1970. “It seems likely that The Velvet Underground were definitely eclipsing the Dead from the start when it came to a new experimental music,” he declared, delineating an early branching point in how rock would develop after the ‘60s.
    Where both Lou Reed’s Velvets and the Dead took Bob Dylan as a primary influence, the Velvets loosened it into drone-punk and the Dead tightened it into dance music.

    1. Thanks for that. I was hoping someone would bring up Bangs.

  9. I found the full Lester Bangs article on the Stooges, where he goes into a little history of free noise in rock:

    "Rumblings were beginning to be heard almost simultaneously on both coasts: Ken Kesey embarked the acid tests with the Grateful Dead in Frisco, and Andy Warhol left New York to tour the nation with his Exploding Plastic Inevitable shock show...and the Velvet Underground. Both groups on both coasts claimed to be utilizing the possibilities of feedback and distortion, and both claimed to be the avatars of the psychedelic multimedia trend. Who got the jump on who between Kesey and Warhol is insignificant, but it seems likely that the Velvet Underground were definitely eclipsing the Dead from the start when it came to a new experimental music. The Velvets, for all the seeming crudity of their music, were interested in the possibilities of noise right from the start, and had John Cale’s extensive conservatory training to help shape their experiments, while the Dead seemed more like a group of ex-folkies just dabbling in distortion (as their albums eventually bore out)."

    While Bangs was a fan of the simple & noisy (hence, not a likely admirer of the Dead), it should be noted that he wrote a surprisingly positive review of their 1971 live album.
    He did like Airplane's album After Bathing at Baxter's somewhat, but thought Anthem of the Sun was crap. He probably liked the Airplane more since they rocked harder & had a heavier sound...

  10. I think it's extremely difficult for people to really remember exactly what was what and who was who and how it all felt and seemed in 1966 thru 1969. Things were evolving at a frantic pace and where it was by 1970 was far different from '66. The places the various players ended up vastly colors how people view those times.

    I was not particularly aware of the details of their relationship in the early days but for years I really thought the GD should have covered "Rock and Roll" with Bob doing the vocals.

  11. According to Blair Jackson's biography, Garcia wrote "Franklin's Tower" off the riff from "Take A Walk on the Wild Side."

  12. Per Wikipedia, TAWOTWS was from 1972. Shakedown stream had a podcast that featured incomplete sets that had a jam with playing that sounds like what became "Franklin's Tower.". I think it dated from 1970 or 1971, maybe from a NY show?

  13. It was 5/6/70 MIT that had a brief passage that sounded (to me at least) like Franklin's.

  14. I was wondering if anymore information has surfaced on Owsley taping those Chicago Velvet Underground shows.They would probably be some of the highest quality recordings of the VU's live performances.If there are any tapes I would hope that whoever handles Owsley's affairs would see fit to turn the tapes over to Lou and Maureen and let them sort it out.

    1. I've heard nothing more about the Owsley tapes. However, if there are Velvets shows within, they couldn't be released without the permission & financial control of Lou & co./Universal, who are not likely to give the Owsley family label any rights. So turning over the tapes may be the only option, but I don't think it would result in release, at least within Lou's lifetime. The Velvets Bootleg Series vol. 1 got released 12 years ago, and there's no indication that there will ever be a vol. 2.

      Per wikipedia, "A studio demo of the unreleased track "Miss Joanie Lee" had been planned for inclusion on the [2002 first album deluxe edition], but a dispute over royalties between the band and Universal canceled these plans. This contractual dispute apparently also led to the cancellation of further installments of the band's official Bootleg Series."
      However, the inclusion of rehearsal tracks and a full 1966 show on last year's deluxe box set suggests that maybe the financial disputes have been resolved. I'm not holding my breath for more live releases, though.
      The only reason we got the Gymnasium '67 show was because it was leaked from Cale's tape (perhaps he made a copy for someone that slipped out) - supposedly that was meant to be vol. 2. There's no telling what other tapes Cale may have; maybe boxes full. There are 4-track SBD tapes of the Velvets' Nov '69 Matrix shows (largely duplicated by the lesser-quality "Live 1969" album and Quine's tapes), but they're in limbo since the owner would neither give them to Universal nor put them into 'unoffical' circulation, though a short sampler tape came out. And so it goes...
      Live Velvet Underground fans dwell in their own particular hell!

    2. By the way, a few tracks from the Matrix sampler are on youtube -

      Peter Abram (Matrix owner/taper) spoke with Richie Unterberger about his 4 hours of tapes in the White Light book (p.259). I think Abram also has numerous tapes of various bands at the Matrix through the late '60s, few of which have been released. (I think the Doors are the only band that've had Matrix tapes released recently.) It's a distressing situation.

    3. Feb 69 show at Pittsburgh Stanley theater, Velvets, Dead, Fugs, Paul Krassner as MC ! Does anyone know who the people at Solar System Light and Power were that out this show on?

    4. I don't know anything except that outfit except what was mentioned in these reviews of the show:
      Solar System were both the producers and the light show at the concert, an unusual combination.

  15. "at least within Lou's lifetime?" well, there's a opening now...

    1. Yeah, I thought about that. Maybe Lou's estate will be happier to open the door to more VU releases - time will tell. To some extent, the Bootleg Series seems to have been replaced by the deluxe-editions they've been doing lately, with extra tracks & live shows. (For instance, next month they're releasing a White Light/White Heat deluxe edition with the Gymnasium '67 set and a couple never-heard-before tracks with Cale... They're finally doing this stuff properly! I believe one of the last things Lou did was an interview with Cale for the booklet.)

  16. Hope Maureen,Laurie and whoever else is involved is more open to releasing whatever VU material becomes available.

  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. Picasso could paint a scene exactly as most of us see it, but he chose to paint it with his unique imagination engaged. Miles Davis could have played first trumpet in the world's most snobbish philharmonics, but he created something uniquely his own instead. Then there is Lou Reed, who absolutely could not sing yet sang anyway, basically telling us the ability to hit the note you're looking to hit is vastly overrated.

  19. Listening to the Gymnasium show on the new White Light/White Heat edition, there is an occasional point of similarity with the Dead's music in 1967, despite the vast difference between the hard-edged Velvets and the gentle Dead - for instance, their use of feedback and distortion. (The Velvets had preceded the Dead in this territory; on the other hand the Dead were already more adept at complex improvisations.) The episode in the 9/3/67 Midnight Hour from about 12-15 minutes, or a Caution>Feedback, is not too far removed from many points in the Gymnasium show's Sister Ray or Gift.

  20. Ed Sanders' book Fug You recalls his days with the Fugs, and briefly mentions this 1969 show:

    “On February 7 we performed with the Velvet Underground and the Grateful Dead at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh. We used the Grateful Dead’s sound system, and I was determined that the words to Fugs tunes be heard, so I kissed the microphone very closely. There was a party at the Grateful Dead’s various rooms at the hotel afterwards, although after a few initial elevators full of partyers, the hotel called a halt to further fans.”

    I wonder if any of the Velvets joined in the festivities... It's also interesting that the Fugs used the Dead's sound system, which indicates that Owsley would very likely have taped their set (and possibly the Velvets' as well).
    From all indications, Owsley generally taped the other bands playing with the Dead that year if he was acting as soundman (for instance, the Flying Burrito Brothers at the April Avalon run, and also the Allmans at the Fillmore East in Feb '70, the only released examples I recall).
    One member of the band Amber Whine, which opened for the Dead at the Dream Bowl on Feb. 21-22, has said, "I would like to hear our set. One of my bandmates talked to the guy recording the Dead and said yes the whole show was recorded."

    1. One Archive reviewer for 2/7/69 also went to the show:
      "The opening act was the Velvet Underground (who were great!), followed by the Fugs (who were great!). Paul Krassner was the MC. The light show was overly repetitious. I still can hear because someone near me brought extra cotton balls. The Dead came on last, and, due to our youth (I went with my best friend, and we were both "only' 14), we had to leave before the Dead were finished."
      Another comment on adds, "The Fugs were hilarious."

      (There's another 2/7/69 review by "Duane2" who claims to have met the bands & brought them back to his commune for an acid party & hung out with Pigpen, etc; however his review has so many questionable/false details it looks extremely unreliable, though perhaps based on very hazy "memories.")

      One reviewer on went to the 4/26/69 Electric Theater show, and gives some interesting details:
      "Three bands on the bill played an hour (?) each, with two rounds. Velvet Underground was 1st(?), GD 3rd - don't remember who was 2nd... [It was SRC.]
      The Dead played their first set - began w/ acoustic AOXOMOXOA.
      Not crowded - you could get really close, and I got a good look at the tie-dyed Fender amps, and Phil's Guild bass...
      The Dead set was going long, so Lou Reed came out, asked GD to vacate the stage so VU 2nd set could commence.
      Pigpen stuck his middle finger in Lou's face, and w/no objection from the crowd, GD continued, ending w/ Lovelight. Electric Theater impresario Aaron Russo came out and yelled "More!" w/the crowd - "There's only one Grateful Dead!"
      Jerry asked us what we wanted to hear, and I and another guy yelled "Alligator," but the consensus seemed to be Viola Lee, which they did."

      This looks like it may be an accurate account (he remembers the setlist details). As he says, the normal routine was for each band to play about an hour, going round twice in two separate sets, which seems to be what happened on the 25th. It looks like on the 26th though, the Dead just played one long immense set instead, while the opening Velvets (and poor forgotten SRC) waited impatiently for their second turn.
      Another reviewer adds the odd detail (which could be from the 25th), "There was no backstage behind the stage. The band had to step into the crowd to get to their dressing room. I remember walking up to Pigpen and starting to rap with him, but then the Velvets started off and it got so loud and dissonant that Pig looked scared and split for who knows where?"
      Judging by Pigpen's reported reaction here, and Doug Yule's account of the Dead forcing the Velvets to wait, there does seem to have been some antagonism between the two bands!

  21. Another distant Velvets/Dead connection has come to light.

    From Richie Unterberger's book White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day By Day -
    Around March 21, 1968, "The wedding of Angus MacLise and Hetty McGee took place in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park as part of a spring solstice celebration arranged by beat poet Diana di Prima, with Timothy Leary in attendance and The Grateful Dead serving as witnesses. McGee comes originally from Wales, but is well connected on the San Francisco scene. She worked in the art department of the famed underground newspaper the Oracle; briefly dated the Dead's Pigpen; and, according to an interview she once conducted with Bananafish magazine, plays tambura on the group's 1968 45 version of 'Dark Star.'" (p.183)
    She then moved back to New York with Angus MacLise (the Velvet Underground's original drummer), and recorded "psychedelic drone trance music with an Indian flavor" with him in a group called the Universal Mutant Repertory Company, playing mostly organ & tanpura:

    In the Bananafish interview, she talks about playing on one track with the Dead:
    "It was in a recording studio, and it was for their first 45 that was put out, with 'Dark Star' on one side. Bobby Weir tuned it to a very un-tampura kind of tuning, but it worked, and I had to sit in this octagonal box and drone away, which I didn't like very much, 'cause I couldn't see anybody. That's what I did. I played with them in other ways, but not musically... For a while I was Pigpen's squeeze... He was a darling."

    She had a blog in which she wrote about her time living in San Francisco from '65 to '68, taking tanpura lessons, hanging out with the Dead, having run-ins with Owsley, working at the Oracle, and meeting Angus:
    (It's a difficult read, she jumps around a lot.) According to her, she stayed with the Dead at Watts, Olompali, Lagunitas & 710 Ashbury in '66, which is when she & Pigpen got together. But there isn't really a straight narrative, or many details on the Dead - '67 flashes by in a blur, and the recording session isn't mentioned.

    1. that would explain that buzzing sound on the 'dark star' single.

      I-) ihor

  22. I have long thought that Side 2 of Loaded sounds a bit like the Dead.

    1. They have similar sonic qualities because Loaded was recorded at the same studio that the Grateful Dead also record at. I think it was for the Workingman's Dead record.

    2. Not really. The VU recorded Loaded at Atlantic Studios in New York, which the Dead never set foot in. Offhand, I don't recall the Dead ever using a New York recording studio after Anthem of the Sun in Dec '67/spring '68 (and that was brief, possibly not even used on Anthem).

    3. Years later, Jerry was at Atlantic Studios.
      6/88 Ornette Coleman and Prime Time
      Virgin Beauty Jerry plays on “Three Wishes,” “Singing in The Shower” and “Desert Players”

  23. Another diligent researcher has found an alternate account of 4/26/69, suggesting that the reason the Dead played so long was because Lou Reed got dosed and couldn't play!

    Scott Richardson was the singer in SRC (the Michigan band also on the bill for that show), and he told his story in Steve Miller's 2013 oral history "Detroit Rock City":

    "We played the Kinetic Playground in Chicago. Here's the bill: the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service [sic], the Velvet Underground, SRC. Lou Reed and I are standing backstage drinking beer. It was the first time I saw that super backstage concert layout of food... Some girls would always have stuff for you, brownies, and everything was laced. I turned around and saw someone spraying the food...with Listerine bottles filled with liquid LSD. And Lou Reed, well, keep in mind that the Velvet Underground were not a psychedelic band. This was a band that got up in the morning and took Valium. His eyes are going counter-clockwise in his head and he's going, 'Scott, you've got to get me to the hospital.' Everybody's on acid, everybody, and he's freaking out. We went out and got in a cab and took him to a hospital. Sterling Morrison got him a Thorazine shot. They couldn't go back to the ballroom; they couldn't take it. They canceled."

    There are doubts as to whether this is a reliable tale (it doesn't match the other accounts), but it's here for the record!

  24. I discovered this great post looking to add to a comment to a recent article about the Acid Tests
    and linked it there.
    Together they make a great comparison.

  25. Doug Yule gives another account of the 4/25-26/69 Kinetic Playground, Chicago shows in the new Complete Matrix Tapes booklet, which says that "the Dead played first on the 25th but went twice over their allotted hour."
    Yule: "That devolved to a war of set length... Lou was fuming. He was really pissed when we finally got on. The next night, we were up first. For Lou, this was payback time. We played a really long set. Sister Ray went for like 40 minutes."

    I doubt Yule's memory here. We have the Dead's opening set from the 25th and it's only about an hour. Per deadlists, "According to Ron Ramsey, who attended the show...the Velvet Underground played a very long set and as a result the Dead only got to play one set on this date. According to Ramsey the Dead did the same thing to the Velvet Underground the next night."
    Another witness quoted above (in the 3/4/15 comment) agreed that on the 26th, after the Velvets opened, the Dead just wouldn't end their set so the Velvets could play a second set. I think this is what the Velvets had done on the 25th and Yule's twisted it around to make it sound like Lou's revenge on the Dead; but the Dead got the last word.

  26. It's worth mentioning a couple of things here:

    1. After Lou Reed left the band in August 1970, the band was taken over by Doug Yule. Doug was probably a bigger Dead fan than we have been led to believe, since by late 1971 the band was incorporating "Lovelight" into their setlists. By the time of the band's final incarnation in 1973, they had shifted their sound considerably -- original songs like "Let It Shine" could easily have been minor-league Dead tunes.

    Also, Moe Tucker once told me a funny story about the VU's arrival in San Francisco in 1966: apparently, when they got into their taxi from the airport, the first song they heard on the radio was the recent Mamas & Papas hit "Monday Monday". "A cold chill went down our spines" she said, as they realized that they were now in what she called "hippie country".

    1. Ha! A spine-chilling introduction to California, to be sure.

      Doug wasn't as anti-Dead as Lou - he made some qualified comments about the Dead in the 1970 interview quoted in the post...basically saying they were originally "a lot of fun" but had over-intellectualized their music. His complaint that Garcia's solos were too long & repetitive is ironic, considering the Velvets were no strangers to 30/40-minute jams themselves.
      I'm not sure picking up Lovelight would have been a nod to the Dead, since lots of bands did Lovelight. Even Lou Reed liked Lovelight (it was one of his 100 favorite singles) - just not the Dead's version!
      And the Dead's sound shifted by 1971, too, as they went into a 'back-to-the-roots' phase - the Skullfuck band was tighter & simpler than the band that had played with the Velvets. Garcia came to agree with Yule, in a way: "We were doing something that was forced, it wasn't really natural. We were doing music that was self-consciously weird."


  27. The real joke is that everything Reed had to say about Zappa and the Dead fit his own music far better, especially words things like two-bit and pretentious. Sounds almost like sour grapes, as at the time the VU were (rightly) being ignored while Zappa and the Dead were quite popular.

  28. AllMusic Review by Mark Deming

    Howard Smith was a music journalist who later went on to successful careers in filmmaking and broadcasting. During his time as a rock writer, Smith spoke with some of the most famous and influential figures in pop music, and this set includes two interviews from his archive. In a February 1970 conversation with Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead guitarist talks about his experiences working on the film Zabriskie Point, the ill-fated Altamont Speedway Festival (where the Dead shared the bill with the Rolling Stones), his practice methods, the Dead's relationship with Ken Kesey, and much more. Later, Smith talks with Lou Reed in March 1969, shortly after his band the Velvet Underground had released their third album. Reed discusses the early days of the Velvet Underground, the band's trouble getting radio airplay, the songs and themes of the third LP, the downsides of drugs, and the band's relationship with Andy Warhol.

  29. The Velvet Underground & The Grateful Dead at 50: How 1967 Produced the Two Most Important Cult Bands of All Time

    3/22/2017 by Joe Lynch

  30. Very tangential and late to this party, but I was with a friend and Ed Sanders of the Fugs around 1987. The Feb 7, 1969 Stanley Theater show w/ the Dead, Velvets and Fugs was his first concert. He was telling Ed about it and Ed was adamant that the Fugs had never shared a bill w/ the Dead and Velvet Underground.

    1. Odd, since Ed talked about the show in his memoir Fug You. I presume after 1987, perhaps while researching his book, his memory was sharpened or he was reminded that the show really happened!
      A couple local reviews are here:

  31. Other Scenes (a Los Angeles underground paper) had an interesting early comparison between the Dead and the Velvet Underground in a 1969 article on the Velvets:

    "The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, of which Warhol was Prime Mover and The Velvets resident Music-makers, has its own Merry Pranksters. And though the parallel with Kesey's roving acid freaks doesn't touch the Inevitable on every level, there is some merit in persisting in an East and West coast comparison. Certainly, there are similarities in the public response to The Velvet Underground and The Grateful Dead. And certainly there is a definite, though not totally legitimate, reason to promote each as representative of the cultural temperament of their respective home cities.
    The Velvet Underground, if they never actually celebrated life in New York City, do know its rapaciousness and its competitive rules and have seen at first hand its jugular instinct for the hustle. The Grateful Dead, mired in management problems and a community ethic, could probably tell as much about San Francisco. And Jerry Garcia has that same intelligent tolerance for life around him as does Lou Reed.
    In any case, if the comparison between the two coasts strikes you as irrelevant or dated, the fact remains that both these bands do relate to us something about life in America."

    (from "Grooving On Velvet!" by Robert Somma, Other Scenes 9/15/69, p.15)

  32. Another interesting commonality: both bands covered Lovelight. Although the only versions we have with the Velvets are from 1971 after Lou left the band. But somewhere, I forget where, there is a recollection of their 1970 Max's Kansas City residency and it is mentioned they covered Lovelight then.

    1. Yes; also mentioned in the 3/17/16 comment above. Lou did like the song (though I'm surprised to hear he ever played it with the Velvets). But so many '60s bands covered it, I think sharing this cover with the Dead was just a coincidence. It's hard to imagine Lou or Sterling knowingly playing any song the Dead had touched; but the Dead had played Lovelight in each of their shows with the Velvets, so for sure the Velvets were aware of their version (even if they hated it).

  33. This comment has been removed by the author.

  34. Here's another (brief) account of the April '69 Kinetic Playground shows:
    "I was there, 4/25-26/69...
    4/25: SRC: short set. VU: short set. GD: short set. SRC short second set. VU: very long set, past curfew of The Electric Theater. Quite good, though.
    4/26: SRC short set. VU: short set. Grateful Dead: 2 1/2 hours straight through. My friend saw the VU pack their guitars and leave."

    This looks pretty accurate, except that the Dead opened on 4/25 - as heard on the tape, when Weir ends the set announcing, "We’re gonna come back and do a second set in a little while, and we’re gonna bring on two other real good bands and they’ll blow your minds anyway."
    With the Dead opening on 4/25 and closing on 4/26, I think it's likely that the band running order was different each night (maybe they drew straws to see who'd go on first, or it was random).
    As Weir's comment indicates, these shows were meant to be two-set shows with each act playing twice. The first night after the Dead's set the Velvets decided to play as long as they liked, so the Dead never came back. Then the Dead decided to do the same the next night.

    But despite the Velvets' dislike of the Dead and the tales of "revenge" as each band kept the other off the stage on successive days, it's quite possible that the Dead's long show on the 26th was agreed on in advance. I suspect all the bands may have decided to play one set each that day, preferring that arrangement to the two-set debacle on the 25th. The Velvets might have been happy to go on first, pack up and leave rather than waiting through another Dead set...or maybe Lou really did get dosed?

    I've been informed, sadly, that there are no Velvet Underground tapes in Owsley's archive.

  35. Lou Reed calls the Dead a fad and talentless, but look at the VU and the Dead now, fifty-some years later. The Velvets come across as dated, monotonous, and stuck in the 60s, while people of all ages are still filling stadiums to listen to Dead music in one form or another. Even if you like the VU a lot more than I do, it's hard to argue that the Dead had more staying power and tapped into a lot bigger range of musical idioms, some of which were far more complex. The Velvets just sound like a three-chord garage band by comparison. Plus their lyrics aren't in the same league (but whose are)?

    1. I disagree with most of that, but that's OK. It's possible to like both bands.
      Can't argue about the Dead's staying power, but the Velvets were certainly more important and influential in rock music from at least the '70s-90s, when the Dead (despite their large audiences) were widely derided as talentless drugged hippy music, sealed off from any cultural relevance. Only recently, with the passage of time, has the 'deadhead' opprobrium lifted somewhat and the Dead gained more cultural recognition as good music that even younger listeners still get into. I've long thought this would eventually happen, but I'm still surprised by how quickly the tide has turned.
      Of course the Dead have some huge advantages over the Velvets in terms of finding a growing might even say their longevity was inevitable. Personally I think the Velvets will continue to inspire new fans as well. But in twenty more years, who knows? Maybe everything '60s will be in the dustbin.

    2. Funny seeing this almost four years from now, seeing in the meanwhile VU got a decently big documentary, three and a half million monthly listeners on spotify, their four albums -- no, we are not counting that one -- keeps getting repressed on vinyl. There's still a lot to the Velvet cache.