Now I live in Oakland and he lives in Seattle, but several years back, I found out that Doug Yule of the Velvet Underground was living in Oakland, while I was living in San Francisco. So I called him up and invited him over to my apartment for a Saturday afternoon hang. Here's what we talked about…
Pat: Let's dive into the beginning. How did
you first meet the Velvet Underground?
Doug: I was living in Boston, just playing in
local bands, playing in a band called Glass
Menagerie, just you know, local bands.
Pat: Did your band open for the
Velvet's when they would play in
Boston at the Tea Party?
Doug: No, the manager for Glass Managerie
had an apartment with a studio below, on
River street in Boston. And the apartment was like six bedroom, big apartment upstairs. So I was living there for awhile, and that manager who's name was Hans, and his partner Dick Chandler were friends with Sesnick (infamous Velvet Underground manager), and when Sesnick would come into town, they would hang out together and sometimes the Velvets would come over and use that apartment. Sometimes they would stay there if they didn't have a place. Sesnick wouldn't use a hotel unless he got the record company to pay for it.
“ I was a Pisces and they needed a Pisces to balance it out. John was a Pisces, Lou was a Pisces, Moe and Sterling were Virgo's, they wanted to have this astrological balance.”
Pat: Why? Because he was too cheap?
Doug: Right, if he couldn't do that and he didn't want to come up with the money, he'd find somebody and sponge off them. So, sometimes the group stayed there and sometimes not. At some point during that, while I was staying there, I started practicing guitar for seven or eight hours a day and I was playing a lot. One day I was practicing and Sterling Morrison was hanging out there and he heard me play, then he went back to the hotel where Lou Reed was staying, and happened to mention to him that I was getting better. A few weeks after that, John Cale got fired and they called me up. Partly because of Sterling's comment that I was getting better, and partly because I was a Pisces and they needed a Pisces to balance it out. John was a Pisces, Lou was a Pisces, Moe and Sterling were Virgo's, they wanted to have this astrological balance.
Pat: They were into that?!?
Doug: They were into everything.
Pat: Had you played or jammed with them before?
Doug: Never. Never played with them. I had heard them play once, I think without John.
Pat: So you were not a big Velvets fan waiting to jump aboard?
Doug: No. Actually it was complete surprise when they called.
Pat: It was just a 'gig'?
Doug: Yes, it could have been anyone who called and said ‘I need a guitar player.’Ok, I'll be there. (laughing)
Pat: I was under the impression that you were a big fan, waiting to join.
Doug: Well, I heard them once and I was really impressed with their impact. Had a lot of audio and visual impact. It was at a small gig, but still, it was very intense. I liked that. It didn't make me want to be with them, but it gave me a lot of ideas, in the same way that the Sgt. Pepper album blew head open a little bit.
Pat: When you joined them, you must have been scrambling to learn the tunes?
Doug: I had two days, I think.
Pat: What was the public opinion of the Velvets when you joined? I've always heard that journalists hated them, the public hated them? What do you think people thought?
Doug: The mainstream public didn't really know about them that much. They were a very minor group in that aspect. As far as journalists… the New York critics and the San Francisco critics were always interested in the group. I remember (Robert) Christgau who wrote for the Village Voice. We got consistently good reviews from him. I don't remember reading a really bad review of any of the albums that I was on. I don't remember ever seeing one that said 'this is trash'.
Pat: Maybe it was more apathy from some people than anything else.
Doug: The mainstream just wasn't interested because it wasn't… You got to remember that at that time, when you released an album – you were going for AM radio airplay. Very formulaic situation we had to fit into. When Dylan hit with 'Like A Rolling Stone', people were just amazed; 'Wow, this is the longest song that's ever been on the radio!'. It was very strict, there was a lot of limitations on what you could do. We didn't fit in there.
Pat: What about this thing, starting from around the time you joined, that the Velvets would not play New York City – they were punishing New York City?
Doug: I think it's more (that we) couldn't. They couldn't get a gig. From the time that the first album was released, they didn't play… I know when I was with them, we never played New York City. I think it had to with a couple of things. It was uncomfortable for Lou to play in front of his past. He had made a lot of compromises with a lot of very interesting people in New York. I know when we later played at Max's (Max's Kansas City), which was the first gig that the Velvets played in a long time in New York, a lot of that came back to him.
Pat: A lot of the Andy Warhol gang started showing up?
Doug: People started showing up that he didn't want to talk to. It really bugged him. When he left the band, when he quit, which was basically he just didn't show up one Tuesday night or whenever it was for the beginning of that week's shows – that was one of the things that was cited to me. That his past was driving him crazy.
Pat: Even back then he was as defensive and as guarded as he's been known for through the years?
Doug: Oh yeah. Reclusive. Very suspicious, very off–putting. He uses his skill with words and his negative aggression very creatively to keep people at a distance and if they get too close, to cut them up.
Pat: It seems all through Lou's career, starting with John Cale, then moving onto Chuck Hammer, then Robert Quine, Lou's always had a collaborator that he's worked very closely with, milked them dry, then chopped them off, threw them away and moved onto the next guy.
Doug: His relationship with me was very similar. We would spend time together, where he would take out these songs that he was fooling around with and ask for help; 'I'm thinking about this melody, what's a chord that goes with that?' He'd ask for help building things, then he would return 6 months later with the song put together and announce it; ‘here's my new tune’.
Pat: Have you kept up thru the years with Lou's or John's solo albums?
Doug: No, nothing, unless it was in my face and I couldn't avoid it.
Pat: Let's talk about the recording of '3rd album' (self titled: The Velvet Underground). Legend has it that one of the reasons that the album is so mellow is that all the band's fuzz boxes, guitar effects, and noise makers were stolen at the airport on the way to Los Angeles to record the album. Although the songwriting is obviously mellow, so the album would have been subdued no matter what the production values were.
Doug: I don't know anything about that legend, I don't where it came from – unless it was started to make the group more interesting somehow. That's just what were playing then. We were playing much more melodic stuff.
Pat: Was there a conscience decision to leave the fuzz boxes at home?
Doug: No–one was using fuzz boxes as far as I know. We didn't have any effects on stage, we walked on, plugged into the amps and that was it. We didn't have pedals. From what I understand, although I don't know for a fact, I was told that Lou had built into his 'Country Gentleman' guitar bunches of repeaters and stuff like that. I have only his word on that, I never actually saw the instrument. He was playing it the first time I ever saw him, but I couldn't swear to you what it had. I didn't know enough to pick it apart.
Pat: Were most of those ‘3rd album’ songs written after you joined? How did you fit into the construction of those songs?
Doug: Some of them were started before me and some of them were started after. For example 'Sweet Jane', the first time I ever heard that was on the tour that centered around the '3rd album' I think , either just before or just after it. So that took another year, year and half before it was actually in it's final version and released.
Pat: Are there any songs from the '3rd album' that stick out in your mind as things that you felt you made significant contributions to?
Doug: I don't know, I'd have to run thru a list of what's on the ‘3rd album.’
Pat: "Beginning To See The Light," "After Hours," "Candy Says," "Murder Mystery," "Some Kinda Love"…
Doug: "Murder Mystery" is credited to everybody, isn't it?
Pat: I think so.
Doug: I think the music is credited to everybody and the words are credited to Lou.
Pat: I was curious if there was a tune on there, were you felt, well, that's really my tune.
Doug: Oh no, there's none that were really my tunes. It was more like you said. Lou likes a collaborator or facilitator, someone who will help him through, because he's minimally musical. He's really made a career out of his… using his inadequacies creatively. Which is not a bad thing, it's a good thing to do. But, he's not real strong on music. He's not a real strong guitar player – in the sense of technique or anything like that. He's real strong in terms of ‘will.’ I will turn this guitar up. And I will thrash it, and I will dominate this situation.
Pat: Where many of those ‘3rd album’ songs played live before you recorded them?
Doug: Sure, We played… I would venture to say virtually everything except 'The Murder Mystery' live before it was recorded. I don't think we ever recorded a song that we hadn't played live. Although invariably when we recorded it, it turned out to be very different than when we played live. "Sweet Jane" was a very soft song when we started, and we performed it that way.
Pat: Let's talk about the VU album. Are you familiar with these two albums that came out in the early 80's; VU and Another View? VU was obviously much more solid of the two and often referred to as 'the lost album'. How did these sessions come about? Were they all done at once or were they spread out over a period of time? I was curious if they were meant to be demos or were you trying to make a record? What was happening then?
Doug: There's a couple of sequences in there. There's the Val Valentine tapes, that's when I was living on Charles street, so it would have been 1969, 70, somewhere in there… Everyday we would go up and take two or three hours and just lay down tracks. I think it may have started out as an attempt, although as far as I knew we were just preparing songs, it was like a "pre–record" recording.
Pat: When exactly is this happening? Isn't it between the '3rd album and Loaded?
Doug: It must be between the '3rd album' and Loaded.
Pat: Right, you've got things like "Foggy Notion," there's all these amazing songs, although some "VU" songs are with Cale before you joined, but there's all these amazing songs and why didn't they get released then?
Doug: Like I said, the group then was much different than it is now, in terms of it's stature in the community . The 'Banana' album was held back a year, because… you know the story, the record company had two groups that they figured were the same thing basically, the Velvets and the Mothers Of Invention. They put the Mothers out first (and held back the Velvet's album), that's why it was very funny to watch Lou accept Frank Zappa's award recently. For as long as I knew him, he hated Frank, he would say the worst things about him, he wouldn't have anything to do with him, Lou just despised the man. Just because Frank kept Lou's album off the market for a year. I really can't say for sure the exact timing of the Val Valentine sessions, which was in the MGM office building. They had a little tiny studio up there. And the recording of the '3rd album' in L.A., and there was another series of recordings at the Record Plant. I know the Record Plant was after the '3rd album', I'm pretty sure.
Pat: You recorded the '3rd album' in L.A., you're talking about the Record Plant in New York?
Doug: Yes, I know that was later because… I think it was later… because it was after we met Jimi Hendrix in L.A. and I think that was around the '3rd album' time. Then met him again at the Record Plant and that was after meeting him in Los Angeles. That's one of those things that sticks in your mind – meeting a guy like Hendrix.
Pat: Sounds like some of those sessions through the years have gotten a little foggy.
Doug: Yes, very much so. I remember the Record Plant sessions distinctly, because… it was very loose and kind of drifting in and out of the studio. Lou was working on something, hanging out in the other studio, Jimi comes walking down the hall and he's talking for awhile, and everyone's coming and going. That's weird… because I also was living on Charles St. at that time, too, and I only lived on Charles St. for nine months. So the Record Plant tapes were within nine months of the Val Valentine tapes. Which now that I think of it, I bet that the Val Valentine tapes were a preparation for the Record Plant stuff. I mean that was sort of the intention.
Pat: So you worked with Val twice, then. The third album and then, didn't Val Valentine…
Doug: No, he wasn't there. He may have mixed the third album.
Pat: Yeah, cause there's this Val Valentine mix, I thought, of the third album.
Doug: That's a mix where the tapes were brought back and remixed or something, because the first mix was Lou's, I think. I don't know if you've ever listened, but Lou's mixes are pretty bad.
Pat: It's always amazing when you hear something like "Foggy Notion" and you think, my god this is amazing, why didn't it come out?
Doug: We always considered that a throwaway. It was a song you played when you were running out of tunes and you needed more time. It's like 'Sister Ray' but without the esoteric language, a combination of two or three rock n roll songs. In fact, the middle of it I think is a direct cop from an old rock n roll song. 'Sally Mae, Sally Mae…’
Pat:Let's bump up to Loaded. I was surprised by the amount of extra songs on the box set — there's a double album's worth of stuff if you count a bunch of songs from Berlin, there's "Satellite of Love," which Lou later redid on Transformer – I was just overwhelmed by all that material. Was all of that recorded with the idea that it's all gonna come out or were some of those songs just tossed off or do you remember?
Doug: I don't know. At the time, I was about 23 or 24, and it was like being turned loose in a candy store. To go back to the third album – we were touring, and they said, we changed our mind, we're not going to go home, we're going to stay here and do an album. My recollection is, that the day we were going to start an album — that's when I found out we were going to start an album. And I know it was planned at least a few days before that , because you've got to book time. The same thing with Loaded – Steven came in and said, we've got a deal with Atlantic, we're going to do an album there, so we'll just start doing it now. There was very little preparation done for it. For any recording we did do, there was never any preparation. It was, yeah, we're going to book some time in the studio, so let's go.
Pat: Wake up this morning and head for the studio.
Doug: Exactly. Loaded was… Maureen was pregnant at the time with her first child and Sterling became discouraged early on because he felt I had too much an influence in it, he felt basically, sort of cut out, which I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the fact that I was I was feeling much more confident since the '3rd album', more a part of the group. Also Lou leaned on me a lot in terms of musical support and for harmonies, vocal arrangements. I did a lot on Loaded. It sort of devolved down to the Lou and Doug recreational recording.
Pat: It seems like Lou encouraged you to do more singing.
Doug: Yes, as soon as I joined the group he encouraged me. He didn't like to be that under the spotlight for that long. He didn't like to give it up for very long, but he didn't like to be under it continuously. He liked a break and it was nice to be able to shift off unto someone else for awhile, step back and take a break.
Pat: You've got a sweeter tone and are technically a better singer, but I think for the casual listener, they might think that your vocals are actually Lou – they might not realize who is singing on what.
Doug: Yes, some people will ask me, is that you? Is that Lou? I say ‘you can't tell?’
Pat: I can tell, because I've been listening for 15 years. Back to these extra songs on the 'Loaded' sessions. One thing that was interesting, is that none of these out–takes "Satellite Of Love," have ever appeared on any live albums or bootlegs – it seems like none of these songs were ever performed live.
Doug: That's just coincidence more than anything else, because we played them all live fairly regularly before we recorded them.
Pat: What about "Ocean" – it claims on the box set that Cale come back to the Velvets just to play on that song?
Doug: John claims or people claim for him, I don't know – that he was called up by Sesnick (Velvet's manager) to come and play organ on that, which is news to me, while I wouldn't put it past Sesnick, I can't imagine how he could keep it a secret given the way the group lived and what we did. I just can't imagine how that could happen. I'm saying it's not possible, but I listened to a dub of 'Ocean' that was an out–take that my brother had which was an early version before it was fully produced and it had on it – it was the original first tracks that were laid down and it included organ, Lou singing and playing guitar, Billy Yule playing drums and I was playing organ on this original version. Then I overdubbed tympani and some vocals – and that's all that's on there and it's clearly me playing the organ. Now, if John came in there and did another organ part that's on top of that, I can't say without listening to the 24 track master tapes. I don't think John is on the box set version. There's a string part on there that I did, that was recorded with two cellos and a bass player. I wrote out a basic chart, just following the chord changes. I scored it out and recorded it, that's the strings that you hear on there. They are very, very subtle, they are way down in the mix. There is no viola on there, from what I heard that John said, he doesn't remember playing viola. He said he vaguely remembers showing up for something, but I have suspicion that it's one of those convenient misunderstandings that someone said ‘listen, I bet that's John on the string section’ and someone suggested it to Lou and Lou said ‘oh, it must be John, I bet Sesnick called him.’ It becomes a progressive chain of misunderstandings.
Pat: Was there ever a time when you were in the Velvets that John was hanging around or playing with you?
Doug: No, never. Lou wouldn't talk to him. Even now, they're feuding again. John said ‘there's no way that I will ever stand on stage with that man again!’ (laughing) They are two people that just don't get along.
Pat: Have you ever met John?
Pat: Back to Loaded. The myth and legend is that the album was not finished when Lou quit and that you continued working on it yourself.
Doug: For all intensive purposes it was in the can when Lou quit. I think the biggest change after Lou left was that Sesnick rearranged the credits on the back of the album to make Lou look as insignificant as possible. I think he's listed below everyone else.
Pat: Because Sesnick wanted you to continue on without Lou?
Doug: Yes, he was manipulating. He was always manipulating.
Pat: One of the things that Lou has always said, is that after he left, the rest of you went back and re–edited "Sweet Jane" and "New Age" and ruined them. The box set includes the original, longer versions. What's the story?
Doug: He did that. He edited it. You have to understand at the time, the motivation was… Lou was, and all of us were, intent on one thing and that was to be successful and what you had to do to be successful in music, was you had to have a hit, and a hit had to be uptempo, short, and with no digressions, straight ahead basically, you wanted a hook and something to feed the hook and that was it. "Sweet Jane" was arranged just exactly the way it it is on the original Loaded release exactly for that reason – to be a hit! 'Who Loves The Sun' was done exactly that way for that reason – to be a hit. The first time he ever conceived of the song "Satellite Of Love", he was thinking of it, he was in a limousine. He, me and Sesnick were riding in a limo and he was talking about , someone had just launched a satellite, I forget what it was, he was riffing off that idea and conceiving of this song and tying it back into songs about love. Because that's what always sells and that's literally where it came from. It was designed in his mind as a hit and that's what he was looking for – a hit. That's what the whole Loaded album was designed for. That's what the ‘3rd album— was designed for.
Pat: Loaded with hits!
Doug: Right, trying to make, to establish the group with a certain commercial success, so they couldn't backslide away from it.
Pat: For years this 'lost' version of "Sweet Jane" was mythological. You kept hearing about it, Lou would keep saying ‘oh man, all those assholes, they screwed up the Loaded album – after I left, these guys went in, they changed it all around’. The fans always thought it was you and whoever else in there tinkering with the final masterpiece. Now it turns out, this wasn't the case.
Doug: No, I think it was even Lou's mixes that we used. Because we changed producers in mid–stream. Adrian Barber started it and then he was kicked out and Geoffrey Haslam came in. They don't credit Adrian with drums, but he plays drums on it.
Pat: Maureen wasn't on that album at all, right? So your brother Billy played drums.
Doug: No, she was pregnant, she couldn't play. My brother played drums, I played drums. A kid named Tommy from Long Island played drums. And Adrian played drums.
Pat: What’s your brother doing these days? (he also played drums on the Velvet's Live at Max's album)
Doug: He just left the Bay Area for Arizona and he still plays a little bit. He's become a guitar collector for some reason, I'm not sure why – he plays a little bit of guitar and collects, he has 3 or 4 lap steels, he just got a nice old Rickenbacher.
Pat: Are there any semi–legends in his post Velvets music career?
Doug: No, he never went on to do anything, he just kind of drifted. He's a very sweet person, he's just kind of mellow. We played together a little bit here and there, but he just never really did much. He was in band – as the Velvets faded, Sesnick managed another band that Billy was in called The Rockets, that he was trying to promote, they discovered Sesnick's manipulations before the group got anywhere, they dumped him and the group fell apart. One of the guys in that band went on one of the post–Lou Velvet Underground tours of England, which really wasn't the Velvet Underground, the last tour I think, his name is Rob Norris, he went with me, Rob, some drummer whose name I can remember and Walter Powers. Walter… wonderful person. We toured all over England, played also in France, and places like that – and nobody ever said 'hey, where's everyone else?' (laughing)
Pat: That's funny. You already mentioned Lou leaving the Velvets, how he just didn't show up for a gig.
Doug: Yeah, he just didn't show up.
Pat: Was there ever any interaction with Lou after that? He was just gone and nobody ever talked to him again?
Doug: Pretty much. He basically went back to Long Island and he was not available after that. Sesnick was the one who said 'Lou won't be here' and he was the only one who had any contact with him at that point and he basically from what I heard told him to kiss off. We just did that, we just kept going, what else could you do really?
Pat: It surprises me that Lou didn't at least call the rest of you and say 'without me, I don't want the band to keep going'. It seems like he just didn't care.
Doug: He just walked away from it. I think that Sesnick was the one who was propping Lou up and making him feel safe at that point. I think that Sesnick just walked away from him and Lou didn't know what to do for awhile, so he basically had to protect himself.
Pat: So Sesnick stopped supporting Lou emotionally?
Doug: Yes, that's what I heard. That was the feeling.
I know the year before I was with him [Lou Reed], he was in his blondeNazi phase. And from what I heard, from his handlers, people who had been with him at the time, that they would basically walk him out to the stage, holding him up all the time, walk him out and let him go in front of the microphone and pray that he didn't fall over.
Pat: So Lou just went back to his parents for support?
Doug: Or a place to hide. Like I said, Lou was very reclusive, he doesn't like to be vulnerable at all. He's very protective of himself and understandably, he's had a rough life. When he married Sylvia, she became his barrier, and when I was traveling with him in 1974, Rachel was his barrier. He kept people between him, I remember calling Lou on the phone when he was married to Sylvia and she got on the phone and was 'who is this? what do you want?, she grilled me on why I was calling and then finally she said, 'I don't know where he is' and she hung up. Then he called me back 5 minutes later because he realized I wasn't after him for anything – so he could talk to me and called me back. He's a very frightened person in a lot of ways.
Pat: The atmosphere of the Max's gigs, from what I can hear on the album seems interesting to say the least.
Doug: Yes! (laughing)
Pat: What's cool is that the band is playing in such a relaxed manner.
Doug: You really have to be, the room at Max's is about twice as big as your living room. It's tiny and the stage is just a little tiny corner. The people are in your face and there's a little dance floor.
Pat: One of the things I've thought about, it's funny how much the Velvets at that point sound like the Grateful Dead.
Doug: You mean like a garage band?
Pat: Just that mid–tempo, I've had a few glasses of wine groove. There's some very similar sounds there, that very laid back, casual feel. It's intense, but somehow very restrained at the same time.
Doug: Part of it was the time, the zeitgeist. Music was for grooving to, and the best thing that could happen to you when you played a strange club or hall, was that people started to dance. That was always good, it made you feel good. When we were at Max's, you had a few beers, you got on stage and you played a set. We were doing three sets a night, which is not a concert situation in the least– this was happening 5 nights a week. We were a club band playing original stuff. Doing all Velvets songs. So it was kind of laid back, just bang it out. There wasn't the same kind of pressure there is when you go into a play a concert. When you go into a 5,000 or 10,000 seat hall and you walk out there and you're gonna do 45 or 50 minutes and that's all – you're psyched, you're pumping right from the start. But when you're in a club and you're gonna do 2 or 3 sets a night, 5 nights a week – you're hanging out, you're relaxed, have another beer, play a song, whatever – because otherwise you'll burn out. It's the same way with the Dead. When the Dead goes on stage, they know they're gonna be there for a while. (laughing) This is not a 40 minute set, blowing their heads off. No, let's get mellow, we're gonna be here for awhile. Just relax, otherwise you'll kill yourself.
Pat: The very first time I heard "Waiting For My Man" on the 1969 Live album, I thought, 'hey, this sounds just like the Grateful Dead!' I meant that it a good way. (laughing)
Doug: Yeah. When we played, the songs would depend a lot on the energy of the place, what the situation was, how we were feeling, but we've played "Waiting For The Man" as everything from a slow blues to so fast you couldn't keep up.
Pat: So the band keeps going after Lou left and then Maureen eventually comes back in, right?
Doug: Oh yeah, she was only not there for that 8 or 10 weeks we were at Max's and the Loaded album because that happened at the same time.
Pat: You were recording in the afternoon, then doing the gig?
Doug: Yes, Loaded started a little before that, we got a lot of it in the can, got the tracks down. We were working back and forth, then we went back in the studio when were still at Max's because we rerecorded some stuff that had changed. One significant one was "Oh, Sweet Nuthing," which had sort of evolved, we went back to do that. It hadn't been there originally. Which is maybe why there were songs that didn't get released because other songs came along and displaced them. Up until they started talking about extra takes, I never realized there were any, because in my mind, we just kept recording and recording, then we put an album out. And then I forget about it. The only thing that stuck in my mind was "Ocean" because I knew I'd scored a piece, the first and only piece I'd ever scored, so it kind of stuck with me.
Pat: Was it weird when Lou put out his first album and there were all these Velvet's songs on there?
Doug: I don't think I ever heard Transformer.
Pat: It was the Lou Reed album before that with the bird on the cover.
Doug: I don't think I ever heard that one. Never listened to it.
Pat: So the band keeps going and people are coming and going and Sterling leaves…
Doug: Did you hear how Sterling left? We were in Houston I think. We had played a weekend, at that time we would fly out and and fly back. We went to Houston, played the weekend, got up Sunday or Monday morning, getting ready to leave. Everybody gets in the car to head out, everybody throws their suitcases in the back, Sterling comes down with this big brown soft suitcase, throws it in the back, gets in the car. We all drive out to the airport. We get out and we're walking up to the counter and Sterling stops and says 'oh, by the way, I'm not gonna be going back with you'. I said to him 'where you going now?' He says 'I'm gonna back to the hotel'. I said 'why did you bring your suitcase?'. He says 'I dunno'. I said ' is there anything in it?' He says 'no'.
Pat: He was just sheepish?
Doug: Well yeah, I think he was just embarrassed. Sterling was like that, he was very, very sensitive. He was very sort of private in a lot of ways. He was shy in a funny kind of way. I think he was just afraid that people might talk him out of it, if they had too much time. They might guilt him out of quitting, so he'd do it where they didn't have a lot of time, they got a plane to catch! So he hopped back in the car and went back to the hotel and then went on to Austin. That's one of my favorite stories about Sterling because it says so much about his character. That he was afraid to confront the people he worked with, to tell them right up front something that he really wanted to do. He was afraid that we wouldn't support him. And we didn't. (laughing) We didn't want him to leave, we wanted him to stay.
Pat: The band went over to Europe a few
times, but Maureen had left by this point?
Doug: No, she went, she toured.
Pat: But eventually it gets down to just you
in the studio doing the Velvet
Underground's “Squeeze” album.
Doug: Ah, Squeeze. Have you heard it?
Pat: I have it.
Doug: Oh, I'm sorry. (laughing)
Pat: It's not as bad as everyone says it is.
Doug: It has moments, it has a few moments. Understanding the situation that record was produced in. As a songwriter I was just beginning to actually write songs, maybe I'd been writing songs for three years. My songwriting would not really blossom at all, until six or seven years later. Even to this day, it has a long way to go before it really becomes what I'd like it to be. And it was done with just me. All the basic tracks were laid down with drums and me. Ian Paice of Deep Purple played the drums. So he and I would lay down a track. How much interplay can you have when all it is– is one guitar or a piano? You can hear that, it's kind of dead. I think you get more when you have 3 or 4 people playing together, they feed off each other, they work together and something comes out of it, it's bigger.
Pat: How did you feel making this 'solo' album under the name of the Velvet Underground, had Sesnick pumped you up for the job?
Doug: Yeah, it was kind of like… There were two things; one is; someone said to me, 'you can go into a studio and you can record your songs'. And I thought 'great, every songwriter's dream'. I don't care, I'll do it! The other thing was… the way Sesnick manages people is, he whispers into ears. He whispers into one person's ear 'watch out for that person there, they're not too good for you, you're really good, and they're not gonna help you and they're out to get you anyway'. He whispers into the other person's ear the same thing. Basically everybody else got shipped back to the States (the album was recorded in England) and I was still there and he said 'go do this and no, Maureen's not gonna be part of this now'. I was like 'oh, ok'. You gotta understand I was 23 years old and I had lead a very sheltered life, I was not very world–wise. And did not have any skills in terms of confrontation. It would have been easy to go to Maureen and say 'Steve tells me I'm gonna do an album and your not gonna do it with me, why's that?' That would have been a perfectly logical thing for me to do, which I'd do now.
I would never even conceive if I was in a group now of doing an album without sitting down with the whole group and saying , 'now we're gonna do an album, what do you think about that?'. Anyway it happened and I was very much caught up in my own hubris at the time, I so full of 'Ok, here I am, I'm in England, I'm recording, I'm working with Ian Paice of Deep Purple'. It was like the blind leading the blind, me leading myself. That's what came out of it, I don't even have a copy of it. But it's kind of a nice memory for me and kind of an embarrassment at the same time. I wish I had my eyes wider open, but it was nice to get my name and my songs out there. A lot of that stuff is about Lou anyway… some of it about Maureen.
Pat: After that album came out, was that the final thing for the Velvets?
Doug: I wish.
Pat: It kept going? (laughing) This was 1972 by now?
Doug: Yes, (laughing) somewhere in there. Maureen drifted back to Georgia. I drifted off to New Hampshire and was working as a carpenter. Then I decided to move to Denver and had a job waiting for me there, so we packed up the truck. In this little van, we're heading out West and we stopped in New York to visit with my parents for a week – and I got a call from Sesnick who said 'there's some people who want to do a tour, do you want to go to England as the Velvet Underground?' 'Sure I'd love to' I said, 'I don't want to be a carpenter, I want to be a musician!'. So we put together a band, that was the last one – the one with Rob Norris, the drummer who's name I can't remember and I think…. Walter Powers. We went over there and we got into London, with the same people that we had worked with before, and as soon as we walked in, there was nobody there to meet us. Sesnick didn't turn up and we didn't have any money or any hotel. So we were stranded in the middle of London. We didn't have credit cards, in 1972? If you were a musician, you didn't have a credit card.
Rob had a friend who was a student there, who had a cold water flat. And in London when they say cold water flat, they mean it. This was November. We slept on the floor that first night and froze. Then I found my sister, who was going to school there. I went over to her place and camped out there. There was an extra room, so I rented a room for awhile. We put together some equipment, Sesnick was supposed to come up with some money for a deposit and he didn't. So finally the promoter did, we got the equipment and went out and actually played the dates. Everything worked out OK, there was no complaining from anybody on the road, that this was not the real Velvet Underground! When we finished, we all counted ourselves lucky and went home. That was the last thing that the Velvet Underground officially did.
Pat: Tell me a little bit about Sesnick (the Velvet's manager). When I interviewed Cale, Tucker, and Morrison, they bad mouthed him to no end. Yet nobody seems to know where he is, have you had any dealings with him recently?
Doug: No. I haven't seen him since he didn't show up at the airport to meet us in 1972. He was a manipulator, he's a woman hater, which implies a self hater. He's a very… He lies compulsively, his whole mentality is himself. To get over on everyone else and take care of himself. He's done really…. to my mind… not even within the group, just stuff in his personal life, his personal relationships, he's done really despicable things. So I'm just as glad… I'm happy not to have anything to do with him.
Pat: Cale really hates him.
Doug: I'm sure part of the split between Lou and John was expedited by Sesnick because it was a way for him to control a situation. And the fact that John got kicked out just meant that he had control.
Pat: Just to come back around to Lou one last time, you did reunite with Lou in 1974 and played on the Sally Can't Dance album and toured as Lou's guitar player. Was it a bit of a shock to get a call from Lou?
Doug: Yes, out of the blue. Yeah, I was kinda surprised. He called and he thought that my particular style of bass playing would work on the song "Billy." And I think he was right, I really like that. I really like the playing on that song, I enjoyed it very much. So I did that and then he called me a little later and said 'listen, do you wanna come and play?' So I said 'sure, of course '. I was working at a lithography plant, not what you wanna do if you can help it. So off we went touring with the 1974 band 'The Music Police'.
Pat: Not only had Lou changed, but the whole atmosphere of music and rock n roll had changed. 1974 is a lot different than 1970. So did it feel a lot different to be out in the public again?
Doug: I hadn't really followed his career. But I know the year before I was with him, he was in his blonde–Nazi phase. And from what I heard, from his handlers, people who had been with him at the time, that they would basically walk him out to the stage, holding him up all the time, walk him out and let him go in front of the microphone and pray that he didn't fall over. Then he would perform and they would come out and take him back, and walk him back to his dressing room. He was in pretty bad shape I guess. Drinking a lot and taking a lot of drugs. For the '74 tour, he was…. in a lot of ways very much like being in the Velvet Underground. Except that he more separate, he was less social. But musically it was very much like the Velvets, there was a lot of onstage spontaneity, I remember one night on that tour when he just turned around and said 'follow me!'. He wrote a song and just started making something up.
Pat: Was Lou playing guitar on that tour?
Doug: Yeah, it's funny that you mentioned earlier about Cale and Morrison telling you about 'trying to cap the well' on Lou's guitar volume during the 1993 reunion tour. Because one of the techniques we developed on that tour was having… Lou played thru a Fender Twin amplifier that was set on the stage facing back at him, it was tilted up, back at him, so that it blew right into his face.
Pat: Kind of like a monitor?
Doug: Exactly. Then they would mike that, so he could see the mike right in front of it. Then everything on stage was pumped out thru a big PA, except they basically turned him off , so on stage we could hear him a lot, but out in the audience they didn't hear him at all!
Pat: (laughing) You were playing guitar on that tour?
Doug: Yeah, that was my debut on guitar.
Pat: If the audience couldn't hear Lou, was there another lead guitar?
Doug: No, there was a saxophone. It was Marty Fogel on sax, Michael S on drums. You probably know all the names, Bruce Yaw – my golden bear.
Pat: They became Lou's main band thru the rest of the 70's. But, I'm curious what would happen when Lou would take a solo and the audience couldn't hear it?
Doug: No, he didn't take solos. Sometimes, but rarely. I was doing most of the soloing. In fact there was an article, a review of an English show and they called it 'The Doug Yule Gibson Guitar Show'. I was jumping around a lot I guess.
Pat: Have you had any contact with anyone in the Velvets in the last couple of years?
Doug: I've spoken to Maureen a few times. I spoke to her recently when Sterling was dying. I called Sterling's house and spoke to Martha, but he was under morphine and not lucid. And that's it. I spoke to Sterling when they were suing Lou, which was back in the 80's to get money out of him. And that's pretty much it.
Pat: Did Sterling's death come as a surprise, did you have a lot of feelings about it?
Doug: Lots of feelings! I understood that he was well, that he was healing and that they had cured him. In fact, when Chris, the lawyer called, I was quite surprised and upset. I wrote about two pages of little vignettes about Sterling, that I'm holding, I think I'm gonna send them to Sal, who publishes a Velvet's fanzine. I think I'll let him publish that, it's a little thing but it's kind of my memories, my little bit.
Pat: What were your feelings when the band got back together in 1993? Where you wondering if the phone was gonna ring?
Doug: Yeah, I thought about it a lot. And I denied it a lot. My wife would say 'how do you feel about it?' And I would say 'I don't care'. I would have been liked to have been asked to come. It's kind of like someone saying 'you didn't really count'. And I know that's not true, but it feels that way.
I wouldn't have gone, I definitely wouldn't gone only because I couldn't afford to take the time away from work and from my family. Gus is three, he was two then. To him, a week is a lifetime. One of the things I've made a commitment to – is him. To try to raise him in a very specific way. Which means you can't go away for a month, it's not possible. Not without taking him. Along with that, he was born at home and no daycare. No TV. Gave our TV away. To eat organic food. All those things is the thrust of what I'm thinking now.But I would liked to have had them consider me… in the same way that the miscredits on the Loaded part of the box set upset me. What irritated me, was not so much that it was wrong, but it was a wrong that I could have corrected easily had anyone bothered to send me just a letter and say 'do you know if this is true or not?'. But that was the thing that bothered me, on some stuff that concerned me, that no–one was consulting me. That seemed to be not a nice way to do things.
Pat: I noticed on the box set that it says 'this is a release of the Velvet Underground partnership'. Are you included in that?
Doug: Yes, I am part of the partnership. So that's why I should have been consulted.
Pat: So you're getting your fair share of the pie? (royalties)
Doug: I'm getting the share that I agreed to. I don't what's fair anymore, but yeah, I get a piece of the money. It's not a lot. It would take a lot of box sets to make some money.
Pat: With all the Live albums that have come out, you've actually played on more recorded pieces of music than Cale, if you just add it up that way.
Doug: Yes. They did a 'weighting' thing. They weighted the albums according to what was selling and what was not. And the two big sellers at the time we wrote the agreement was the 'Banana' album and Loaded, those were considered the two major albums. And since then it's actually shifted, and the lawyer said he now considers it to be the 'Banana' album and White Light/White Heat. But then I also heard from a friend, according to MOJO magazine, on their recent list of the '100 all time' albums, the two that show up are the 'Banana' album and the '3rd album', Which is interesting.
Pat: You'd think White Light/White Heat would be the worst seller. It's always tough in those situations to come to an agreement that will please everybody.
Doug: Especially if you are not talking to each other. The group was never talking when we were together, when we separated, it was even less.
Pat: Sounds like you've at least got your hand in there.
Doug: There's more communication now, it's sort of forced, but it's there.
Pat: What comes to mind when you happen to hear the Velvets by default, you walk into a room and it's on the stereo? Or you hear them mentioned on the radio, what triggers in your head?
Doug: That's funny, the other day, I was standing in the office of a guy who sells veneer and we were going to get some lunch. I heard very faintly coming from the other room, so faintly that no–one else could tell what it was, but I knew instantly it was 'Rock N Roll'. I asked them what station was playing it and they said 'KGO', I was curious because I figured it had something to do with the box set. I got a kick out of that, just knowing that after all these years, they were playing it on a mainstream rock station.
I think it's a double feeling. One is – is that there is always a thrill when you hear yourself on the radio and you want to grab someone and say 'hey, that's me, I'm on the radio!' On the other hand, I always cringe a little bit, there's something I still don't like about Loaded. Actually if I had to pick between the two albums, I'd probably pick the '3rd album' as a better album overall. There's something about Loaded that's not honest.
Doug: For me, yes. It's like 'we're gonna be stars, we gotta make a great record'. Before we got to that point, we really much more having fun. But when we got to that point… there's good stuff in there and there's a lot of stuff I really love in it. There's just an element of insincerity in there, that kind of bothers me.
Pat: What do you think of the Live albums; 1969 and Max's?
Doug: I kind of like those. I haven't really listened to them, I hear bits when people play them for me. I kind of like them because they're raw. Especially the San Francisco 'Matrix' recordings on 1969. It was fun, we were having a lot of fun. Some of the time we were smoking pot, sometime's we were drinking beer, and some of the time, we were straight. But it was always a lot of fun. The 'End Of Cole' club was like that, we were enjoying it. (recordings also on the 1969 album and some bootlegs)
Pat: Sterling said something to me about those 1969 tapes, he had a problem with the fact that all these tapes were from small clubs and he felt the band played best in a bigger hall. He didn't feel that these club tapes captured the band properly. It wasn't how he remembered the band sounding.
Doug: I think the club tapes show a different side of the band. 'End Of Cole' was similar to Max's except maybe we were not as much of a house band. Still we were staying close enough to the place, so we would walk and we were hanging out and jamming afterwards. And two shows per night as I recall and fairly intimate. Much more than 'La Cave', (Cleveland club were the Velvet's played often) which was a club, but this vast basement. Even beyond where the people sat, it just seemed to go on forever. It was a different side of the group.
I think he's right, I think we would get more pumped for a bigger show. If nothing else, your volume was tripled. So you had a bunch of watts right behind you. Right at your back and you could really crank up. I know the kind of guitar style that Sterling played was very Micky Baker sound. A real heavy attack and fast decay, which you'd call a 'plunky'. He didn't have a lot of sustain, he didn't pull it out with his fingers and he didn't generate it electronically, and so for him, I'm sure playing in a large hall would be better, because you'd naturally get more sustain out of the instrument– so even if you didn't want it, or you weren't looking for it, you'd feel like there was more 'note' there. The softer we played, the more difficult it would be for him.