I first encountered the early works of the recently-departed Lewis Reed as a youngster obsessed with all things Lou/Velvets (I even bought "Sally Can't Dance"!) in the '80s visiting New York City. I slipped away from my family long enough to check out a lower Manhattan record store, made a bee-line to the VU section, and found two bootlegs entitled "The Velvet Underground Etc." and "The Velvet Underground And So On," compiled by Phil Milstein. Yes, the same man behind the song-poem resurgence, and the crucial Probe! music blog. The albums featured, apart from Velvets rarities, some surprisingly normal pre-Velvets Reed recordings. When I brought the records to the counter, I asked the guy to play them because with boots, you never know what you're gonna get. He happily obliged, exclaiming: "The Ostrich by The Primitives is one of my favorites!" That song, featuring an early lineup of the VU, and featuring the "ostrich guitar" cited on the "banana" album (all strings tuned to the same note) quickly became a fave of mine as well, tho I had a hard time convincing my school chums of the coolness of this, well, primitive recording. When I bought an electric guitar, I tried tuning it to all one note. Sounded great! Sounded a lot like Sonic Youths' guitars, actually. Which of course, should come as no surprise.
Since then, I've found other early rarities, as other early recordings came to light, inc. the previously-unreleased "Lewis Reed" songs from the same producer who put out a 45 by his high-school band, the Jades. The presence of the then 16-year-old Reed isn't too apparent on the Jades record, singing backup and playing guitar behind smooth singer Phil Harris, the star of the show. R'n'B sax star King Curtis, no less, is one of the session cats brought in. It's an okay, sorta generic doo-wop record. The Lewis Reed recordings, however, find Lou taking his first lead vocals, and they're great. "Merry Go Round" should have been released, it's a sweet little rocker.
After university, Lou joined cheesy "budget" label Pickwick Records, and co-wrote a number of songs churned out to meet the current crazes, e.g.: surf, soul, etc. His distinctive lead vocals are featured on some of these, tho not on the hypnotic garage/psych classic "Why Don't You Smile now," a song that would be covered a number of times by other artists over the years (inc Moe Tucker).
There are other records Lou co-wrote for Pickwick performers Roberta Williams, The J Brothers, and Terry Phillips, but I don't have those. So far as I know, these are all the pre-VU records with Lou's lead vocals. Nothing that would shake the earth the way the Velvets did, but many of these sides are good, fun early rock 'n' soul nuggets that are worth hearing for their own merits. Linger on...
Primitive Lou Reed
1. Jades - Leave Her for Me
2. Jades - So Blue (time-1002, 1958)
3. Lewis Reed - Merry Go Round (1962)
4. Lewis Reed - Your Love
5. The All Night Workers - Why Don't You Smile Now
6. The Beachnuts - Cycle Annie (1965)
7. The Beachnuts - I've Got A Tiger In My Tank
8. the Hi-Lifes - Soul City (1965)
9. The Primitives [pictured right]- Sneaky Pete
10. The Primitives - The Ostrich
11. The Roughnecks - You're Driving Me Insane