Journey to the Underground
(From Country Paul Payton – August 22nd, 2017)
“Another great post – thank you. A special shout-out has to go to Reed’s co-write “Johnny Won’t Surf No More” by Jeannie Larimore, whoever that is or was – it deserves a place right up there with The Shangri-Las.
Another record with peripheral Reed involvement that actually became a regional hit out of Pickwick was The All Night Workers’ “Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket,” on Round Sound RS-1, a soulful rocker which made it to #1 across the northern tier of New York state (the band was based in Syracuse, and there was a major local circuit from Buffalo to Albany). Reed co-wrote the flip side, “Why Don’t You Smile,” which has gathered a following and is gorgeously soulful. Rumors, often denied, had Reed playing on at least one of the sides, so I pass it along as only a rumor.”
I reviewed Brian McFadden’s “Rock Rarities for a Song – Budget LP’s That Saved the Roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll” back a ways. Since that time I have revisited the book many times, each time amazed at the amount of well-researched detail contained in this 210-page volume.
What I am learning is that by casting many of these budget LP’s aside when wading through bins, boxes and tubs of albums at record shows, stores, garage sales, I often was preventing myself from discovering some first rate music. McFadden is the first to admit there are often many stinkers and clunkers amid many of these budget LP’s, but just as often some real gems.
And so I returned to the “Pickwick” section of Brian’s book, with a special attention to the section referencing the contributions of Lou Reed.
Reed was born in March of 1942 in Freeport, New York Lewis Allan Reed. His first group as a teenager was called “The Jades” a doo-wop ensemble. Reed’s life was never a tranquil journey, oft-filled with stress, drugs and serious emotional mental bouts. However, Reed made his way through college and somehow found his way to Pickwick Records in 1964.
Pickwick was British based founded in 1950 by Cy Leslie who’s roots were in children’s records on the “Cricket” label – a label all of us collectors have most likely annoyingly brush aside while digging for something more exciting. Moving ahead, Lou became a Pickwick staff composer and producer and along with others was responsible for providing “filler tracks” for the long plays in the Pickwick family of labels.
The Usual formula for assembly a long play at Pickwick was to create ‘sound-a’like’ songs but sometimes gaining access to tracks by artists who had later gone on to recording fame. And so any imaginable (and many unimaginable) combinations of artists would be featured on the vinyl output and supplemented quite often by filler tracks.
Long Live Pickwick!
In the 1970’s Pickwick entered into a contract with RCA and started to issue previous RCA material mainly from RCA Camden issues – which equaled former budget releases being released on another budget. The series included some of The King’s material as well.
Pickwick even did a brief series releasing Motown material from the 70’s changing the cover art. Then they moved on to the “De-Lite” catalog via their “P.I.P.” label. PolyGram purchased the label and issued sound-a-like material until 1983 when Pickwick was shut down – but not permanently – with their entire catalog being picked up by Universal Music in 1998 – a company which merged with PolyGram.
The Versatile Lou
Enter Mr. Reed. Speculation abounds regarding Lou’s involvement on various Pickwick LP’s, but Brian McFadden did the leg work and the heavy lifting to sort out most of the fact from fiction. Brian’s section on Pickwick’s involvement via their “bogus Beatles” series is the staring place for the Lou Reed story.
The initial long plays by a group called “The Beats” (or “Liverpool Beats”, etc.), and the songs were written in England and recorded in England. But the 3rd titled “The Fabulous Beats Go Country Style!” was an American endeavor – but also an American assembly of singers with country accents – not British. McFadden acknowledges that some of the tunes contained on this LP are very good. (Ringo probably would have enjoyed drumming for the country Beats!)
This is where the Lou Reed involvement started but that rumor is not confirmed by Brian’s research. Another LP falling into the Reed involvement rumor grapevine was called “The Surfsiders Sing”. McFadden reports that Reed – if he had been involved – would never have made the admission – this one filled with genuine stinkers.
I like Brian’s quote that “When I Grow Up to Be a Man” is a great approximation of a “barbershop quartet” effort!
Reed To the Forefront!
So that brings us to some genuine Lou Reed on Pickwick – in this case on “Soundsville!” album featuring many genres by many artists – which in fact is almost 100 percent genuine Lou Reed. Brian tells us that Lou “practically had a whole album to himself” and further states that “Reed is either featured as a singer and/or co-writer on all of these tunes.”
I love the group names on this long play, which I finally purchased just recently: “The Hi-Life”, “The Roughnecks”, “The Hollywoods”, “The J Brothers”, “The Liberty Men” and the “Beachnuts” supplemented by girl singers “Jeannie Larimore” and “Connie Carson”.
During his stint at Pickwick – which ended in 1965 – Lou would meet and befriend John Cale, a Welsh musician, who would go on to join Lou later in “The Velvet Underground. Reed composed a song called “The Ostrich” (1965) which was given to a group called “The Primitives” the group which brought John Cale to Lou’s attention.
Reed and Cale – along with writer Terry Phillips, all contributed working in pairs, alone or whatever and contributed to each of the budget LP’s shown below in some way. McFadden states that Reed and Phillips held out hope that some of their material would make it’s way onto 45’s but for the most part those wishes were thwarted by Pickwick ownership. A few exceptions are shown below as well as additional Pickwick long plays featuring Lou Reed involvement.
Beverly Bremers – Pickwick and Reed
An artist who got her start at Pickwick at the young age of 14 was Beverly Bremers: “Bremers talks about her time at Pickwick, “I was working with a guy named Terry Philips and I didn’t find out until recently that he was famous in his own right. He was part of a trio of writers, the most famous one being Lou Reed (Lou Reed was at Pickwick International from September 1964 until February 1965. It was during this time that Reed formed the band The Primitives with John Cale.) and another guy named Jerry Vance.
They wrote a lot of songs, as well as produced a lot of cover records for Pickwick. Someone asked me a few years ago if Lou Reed played on my session and I said I have no idea (Reed played on numerous sessions at Pickwick, during the time Beverly Bremers was signed to the label, but he was not credited).
I was very grateful to him, because Lou Reed and Jerry Vance wrote this song called “We Got Trouble,” and the B side was a remake of “The Great Pretender.” That was the beginning of my recording career and my studio experience. I learned how to sing properly and he (Philips) sent me to a singing teacher at Carnegie Hall.”
(Reed and Cale a bit Later On)
While Cale and Reed were rooming together in New York on the Lower East Side they met Sterling Johnson and Angus MacLise forming the first lineup for “The Velvet Underground”. Drummer MacLise departed soon after to be replaced by female drummer Maureen Tucker. The Velvet Underground output did not fair well commercially – their two early LP’s in 1967 and 1967 reached number 171 and 199 respectively and they wouldn’t place another album on the charts for nearly 20 years in Post band times.
Reed, however after departing the Velvets in 197o enjoyed twenty albums on the Billboard Charts from 1972 through the year 2000, with his biggest success being 1974′ s “Sally Can’t Dance” reaching number 10. Hit singles just weren’t a Lou Reed thing – with the Velvet Underground (even with the sultry Nico on board) never charting and with Lou landing a great one in 1973 with “Walk on the Wild Side” which reached number 16.
I love that song which was produced by David Bowie – a well chosen fellow traveler for Reed.
Lou Reed died on October 23rd, 2013 at the age of 71 – surprising that he got that he made it that far.
Brian McFadden’s next project due out soon is “Rare Rhythm and Blues on Budget LPs” – Can’t Wait! – Contact Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org