The Velvet Underground

1965-1973, 1990-
Lou ReedVocals
John CaleBacking vocals, viola, bass, piano
Sterling Morrison Backing vocals, guitar
Maureen "Mo" Tucker Drums

The Velvet Underground Artistfacts

  • In the 2003 book Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties, Lou Reed was asked to describe the Velvet Underground's part in the multimedia events organized by Andy Warhol. He said, "Andy shows movies and we f--k dogs on stage."
  • Lou Reed's father was a tax accountant, who raised him with the expectation that he would take over the family business. When little Lou turned out to be more of a handful than they'd bargained for, his parents signed their son over to the Creedmore State Psychiatric Hospital, where Lou Reed suffered eight weeks of electroshock therapy at the age of 17.
  • Along with his other activities at Syracuse University, Lou Reed hosted his own college radio show.
  • John Cale's mentor at the University of London was Cornelius Cardew, a pivotal person in introducing avant-garde music to the US. He died in 1981, the victim of a hit-and-run car accident near his London home. At least one colleague has raised the possibility that he was assassinated because of his prominent Marxist-Leninist involvement.
  • Lou Reed's first act of culture-jamming was to assemble a fictitious group called "The Primitives" which produced one song, a garage-rock stomper called "The Ostrich." It was Reed's satire of hit-inspired dance crazes, with lyrics such as "You bend forward, put your head between your knees. Do the ostrich, do the ostrich."
  • The original drummer was Angus MacLise, who angrily left the group upon their landing of their first paying gig ($75 at a New Jersey high school). MacLise thought of that as "selling out." Imagine leaving The Velvet Underground for being too commercialized! He later attempted to rejoin the group (after they'd gotten some success) while Lou Reed was hospitalized with hepatitis, but Reed refused to accept him back.
  • The group gets its name from the 1963 paperback book of the same title. Cover quote on the book: "Here is an incredible book. It will shock and amaze you. But as a documentary on the sexual corruption of our age, it is a must for every thinking adult." It came with an introduction by Louis Berg, M.D. Cover price: sixty cents. Lou Reed called it "the funniest dirty book he'd ever read."
  • Drummer "Mo" Tucker began drumming at the age of 19, practicing strictly for her own amusement, while her day job at the time was as a keypunch operator for IBM. And what did "Mo" Tucker do after the Velvet Underground? She moved to Georgia to raise her family and worked at... Wal-Mart!
  • Despite "Mo" Tucker's androgynous appearance, she had a sweet, feminine singing voice and took a leave of absence from the band due to pregnancy.
  • The defining quote about Velvet Underground is "Only five thousand people ever bought a Velvet Underground album, but every single one of them started a band." the problem is, nobody seems to know anymore who said it first.
  • Lou Reed has been romantically linked to the musician, multi-media and performance artist Laurie Anderson since 1995. They married on April 12, 2008 in a quiet ceremony in Boulder, Colorado.
  • Lou Reed's life was saved by a liver transplant in April 2013. He underwent an emergency procedure in Cleveland after his own liver failed as a result of years of drug usage. "It's as serious as it gets - he was dying," said Laurie Anderson. "You send out two planes, one for the donor, one for the recipient, at the same time. You bring the donor in live and take him off life support. It's a technological feat. I was completely awestruck."
  • John Cale was born in Wales and didn't speak English until he was seven (he grew up speaking Welsh.)

Comments: 1

  • Brent from Cleveland, OhThe actual "defining quote" about the V.U. was made by Brian Eno in a 1982 Los Angeles Times article but he used "30,000 copies" in "five years" and it was about the V.U.'s first LP.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Name the Character in the SongMusic Quiz

With a few clues (Works at a diner, dreams of running away), can you name the character in the song?

Early Days of MTVFact or Fiction

If you can recall the days when MTV played videos, you know that there are lots of stories to tell. See if you can spot the real ones.

Brandi CarlileSongwriter Interviews

As a 5-year-old, Brandi was writing lyrics to instrumental versions lullabies. She still puts her heart into her songs, including the one Elton John sings on.

Movie Stars In Music VideosSong Writing

Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Mila Kunis and John Malkovich are just a few of the film stars who have moonlighted in music videos.

John WaiteSongwriter Interviews

"Missing You" was a spontaneous outpouring of emotion triggered by a phone call. John tells that story and explains what MTV meant to his career.

Annie Haslam of RenaissanceSongwriter Interviews

The 5-octave voice of the classical rock band Renaissance, Annie is big on creative expression. In this talk, she covers Roy Wood, the history of the band, and where all the money went in the '70s.