In this edition of American Masters the spotlight is on Lou Reed, the vocalist and songwriter of American rock band The Velvet Underground. His contributions in music make him a cultural icon and a true American Master. Read more about Lou Reed after the break.
Lou Reed was born in Brooklyn in 1942 and grew up in Freeport, Long Island. He learned to play the guitar in high school while listening to the radio, and became part of a few bands, too. His main influences were rhythm and blues and rock and roll music.
In 1964, Reed moved to New York City and worked as a songwriter for a record company. While working there, his employers saw he had big potential in the music industry and so they had a band come in to record a session with Reed. One of the people in the band was John Cale, a Welsh musician who would be Lou Reed’s band mate in The Velvet Underground.
Lou Reed, together with John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Nico, and Maureen Tucker, formed The Velvet Underground in 1965. Their first record was produced by Andy Warhol.Their songs and lyrics reflected the reality of the time and focused on their political and artistic vision as musicians. Although The Velvet Underground wasn’t a big commercial success, they remain one of the most influential groups from the 1960’s.
After six years with The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed decided to start a solo career. He came out with several albums and tackled various sensitive subjects in his songs. One of his most popular songs as a solo artist, ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, came out in 1972 on his David Bowie produced album, Transformer. The song covered taboo topics, but despite that, it was widely played on radio stations. The song became an anthem to those who could relate to the lyrics, the ones who were considered outcasts in society.
The Velvet Underground was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, a true testament to their contributions to music. To this day, Lou Reed continues to work in the music industry as a singer and composer, using his talent to inspire others who also want to make a difference through music.