Lou Reed (March 2, 1942 - October 27, 2013) was a highly acclaimed and influential singer, songwriter, poet, and musician who first became famous during the 1960s as a co-founder and lead vocalist of The Velvet Underground. He has long been revered by professional musicians and fans alike as a major figure in rock music for his groundbreaking contributions to the genre over his over five decades-long career.
Born Lewis Allan Reed in Brooklyn, New York, he taught himself to play the guitar at an early age and performed with several groups while in high school. Reed made his first recording with a doo-wop group known as the Jades. He graduated with honors from Syracuse University where he studied journalism, film directing, and creative writing. One of Reed's main influences was the poet Delmore Schwartz with whom he studied while at Syracuse. In 1964, Reed began working as a songwriter for Pickwick Records. He had a minor hit with the dance parody, "The Ostrich," and Pickwick arranged for an ad hoc band called the Primitives to be formed around Reed to promote that song. The Primitives, which also included John Cale, a classically-trained Welsh musician, were a forerunner to The Velvet Underground. It was around this time that Reed began pioneering the technique known as "ostrich tuning" in which each string of the guitar is tuned to the same note.
In 1964, Reed and John Cale co-founded The Velvet Underground, a band that was well ahead of its time. Most of The Velvet Underground's songs are characterized by provocative, nihilistic lyrics and experimental, avant-garde instrumental arrangements. During the late 1960s, Andy Warhol managed The Velvet Underground which was the house band at his studio, the Factory, and the main featured band of his multimedia road show, Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Although The Velvet Underground was not a commercial success at the time, it is considered by many to be one of the most important groups of the 1960s. Many punk, new wave, and alternative and indie rock bands of the 1980s and beyond cite The Velvet Underground as a major influence. In 2003, Rolling Stone named the band's 1967 debut album, "The Velvet Underground & Nico," as the 13th Greatest Album of All Time and the most prophetic rock album ever made. As Brian Eno stated, while that first album may have sold only 30,000 copies when it was first released,
everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.
In 1971, Reed went solo and had a Top 40 pop hit in 1973 with the seamy "Walk On The Wild Side." He recorded over 30 albums and was also a guest artist on many recordings by bands and artists as diverse as the Smithereens, Dion DiMucci, Booker T. Jones, Metallica, and Vince Gill. He toured and performed actively to the 2010s and was a part of many benefit concerts. In 2000, he performed before Pope John Paul II at the Great Jubilee Concert in Rome. He also acted in several films and published the photographic books, "Emotions In Action" and "Lou Reed's New York."
Reed's many honors and accolades included being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame both as a solo artist (2015) and as a member of The Velvet Underground (1996).
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