Long before finding fame with The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed had been creating music for years either in teenage doo-wop bands or in semi-fake studio bands. He played while working for a budget New York City label as a staff-songwriter, which inadvertently led to meeting John Cale and eventually the beginning of The Velvet Underground.
Reed spent a lot of his teenage years messing around in a load of school and college doo-wop bands, however, they didn’t enjoy the longevity that The Velvet Underground ended up having because they were constantly splitting and merging as was the speed of the time.
Here’s what the man himself had to say about his former incarnations: “We were so bad we had to change our name every few weeks. No one would ever hire us twice – knowingly.”
In 1958, he began his recording career by cooing along on backing vocals for doo-wop gang The Jades’ “Leave Her For Me” which isn’t terrible by any means but also would feel extremely out-of-place on Reed’s largely regarded magnum opus of The Velvet Underground & Nico.
Take a listen to The Jades below and hear for yourself what a 16-year-old Lou Reed sounded like.
After finishing college and then moving to NYC, Reed, alongside some unaccredited musicians performed as The Roughnecks during his pre-Velvet Underground days when he was a staff songwriter and performer at Pickwick International Records. Four of their tracks recorded in 1964, showed up on a 1979 Australian Velvets bootleg called “the velvet underground, etc.” which you can clearly hear Reed on vocals and almost definitely on guitar too.
Listen to ‘You’re Driving Me Insane’ below by the group and let us know what you think of the track.
The Primitives are another group from his New York days at Pickwick and were the first group that he was in with his soon-to-be Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale. They were originally a studio-only group to begin with, that changed when their single ‘The Ostritch’ remarkably generated interest from a TV dance show that wanted the group to appear on the program.
Listen to the first time that the legendary duo of Reed and Cale would collaborate below.
Whatever you think of the music he made in his formative years, which we think is pretty impressive, it is undoubtedly interesting to hear Reed’s voice as you’ve never heard it before and listen to him as he found his feet, developed as an artist, but ultimately before he became the Lou Reed we all know and love.