He appeared on more Velvet Underground recordings than John Cale or Nico and yet he is seldom mentioned in documentaries about the band, and was not included in the induction of the VU into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Richie Unterberger, author of White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day, talked at length with Yule while preparing his book
When Doug Yule joined the Velvet Underground at the beginning of October 1968, he could have hardly seemed like a more off-the-wall choice to replace John Cale. He’d never played electric bass, though it would be his primary instrument in the new lineup. The groups in which he’d played were unknown beyond the regions in which they were based, and he’d never played on an official vinyl release. He’d only seen the Velvet Underground once. He didn’t even know the band members well.
But the way the Velvet Underground was assembled had always been kind of random and arbitrary. Co-founders Lou Reed and John Cale might never have met had a producer at budget label Pickwick Records not spotted Cale at a party, asking him to play with Reed to promote a song Lou had written and recorded as part of the Primitives. Guitarist Sterling Morrison was recruited after Reed ran across his old friend in a New York subway; Maureen Tucker took the percussion role when Angus MacLise quit rather than get paid for a gig, and Lou and Sterling remembering their friend Jim Tucker had a sister who played drums. Nico joined only at the insistence of new manager Andy Warhol and Warhol’s associate Paul Morrissey, who felt they needed more glamour in the group.
The Velvets were not much for systematically listing and evaluating potential personnel, let alone stooping to doing something as conventional as poach someone from another name band, or advertise in the Village Voice. It’s been speculated Yule was chosen, at least in part, because he wasn’t a famous or flamboyant figure, and less likely to threaten Reed’s increasingly dominant leadership of the VU.
Some historians take the view that the two years or so in which Yule and Reed played in the Velvets were far less exciting and innovative than the John Cale era. The party line goes that the VU became far more normal and less experimental, and that Yule was a relatively inconsequential addition, necessary only to fill out the sound of Reed’s creations. He was not inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside Reed, Cale, Morrison, and Tucker, although he played on more Velvet Underground recordings than Cale did. More gallingly, he isn’t even mentioned in some Velvet Underground documentaries or retrospectives, as if only the Warhol/Cale era is worth examination.
Yet Yule was not just merely fulfilling a function in the Velvets, but a vital contributor to some of their greatest achievements. All four of the VU studio albums are usually acknowledged as classics, and Doug’s on half of them: 1969’s The Velvet Undergroundand 1970’s Loaded. That’s him on the double-LP collection of late 1969 performances, 1969 Velvet Underground Live, that endures as one of the greatest rock concert albums of all time. He’s also on the hazy batch of 1969 studio tracks (now available on various archival releases) that form something of a missing fourth album.
Besides playing fluid, powerfully pumping bass, Doug also generated some spellbinding swirling organ riffs—check the 1969 Live “What Goes On” for the best example, or the devious whirls on their 1969 live arrangement of “Venus in Furs” (now on The Complete Matrix Tapes) if you want something more obscure. He also switched to piano and drums from time to time, and handled a good share of backup vocals. His charmingly guileless lead vocals added an intriguingly innocent sheen to “Candy Says” on their third album, and by the time of Loaded, he was taking on more lead vocals both in the studio and the stage, even as Reed continued to write the songs.
Velvet Underground Live, 1969, “What Goes On”:
He also pretty much assumed musical leadership of the Velvets for the two-and-a-half years they sputtered onward following Lou’s departure in late summer 1970. Even Yule, however, acknowledges the shortcomings and misleading packaging of the one studio album to emerge during this era, 1973’s Squeeze.
If Doug’s bitter over lack of appreciation for his work in the Velvet Underground, he doesn’t show it. He’s both realistic in his assessment of his importance in the band, and proud, if modestly so, of what the Velvet Underground produced while he, Reed, Morrison, and Tucker played together. I interviewed Yule about his time with the Velvets at his Seattle home on May 31, 2008 for my book White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day.
PKM: The Velvet Underground didn’t know you that well before you were asked to join at the beginning of fall 1968. Who had the most input into that decision?
Doug Yule: Sterling’s input would have helped to get Lou’s attention. But I think the thing that would have turned it was that [VU manager Steve] Sesnick, who was firmly in control of everything at that point, felt that I was…looked like someone he could handle, that he could control pretty well. That’s pretty much what his outlook at that point was — how to keep this just kind of under his thumb, so he could keep it going the way he wanted it to.
PKM: Did you ever get a sense of why John Cale was fired?
Doug Yule: No, it wasn’t discussed. But I think if you look at the ’93 tour, it’s very clear what happened. They basically went through this thing, and at the end of it, each of them said, “I will never appear on the same stage as that man again.” They seem to me to be both very strong type A personalities. They’re very driven, they have an idea, and they want to move that forward. If they’re not working together, then they’re butting heads. But it wasn’t then talked about. It was just a sense of having known Lou, and having heard stories about John, that they thought it was inevitable.
I think my own value at that point to Lou was that I was a much more deferential person. I’m much more of a facilitator than I am a leader. I like to take what’s going on and make it work, and that really was helpful to Lou. ‘Cause he’s not an accomplished musician. He’s a self-taught, self-made, seat of the pants kind of musician, instinctive, intuitive. I think certainly I took away some of the stress that was there between John and Lou.
What I wanted from music all along, was just to be making music with people who liked to do it and not have to chase a dream, or be a star. I’m not a performer, I’m really a musician. Lou’s much more a performer than I ever was. Sterling’s like that too. He was very content to be in the background, just stand at the back of the stage and play his stuff, and not dance around and flirt with chicks. That wasn’t his thing at all. Very intelligent, too. Very, very bright person. An intellectual, analytical, always sort of analyzing the whole situation. He constantly would call Sesnick on his bullshit, constantly just get on his ass about it.
PKM: You had to learn their repertoire—about thirty songs—in just a couple of days in Lou Reed’s loft. That must have been intense.
Doug Yule: It was very intense. Any day with Lou is intense, especially then. He’s very mellow now, he’s kind of even. But back then he was very…he really went through hell, starting in high school, and he just had a very interesting life.
There was a time when I was younger and I was kind of mad at Lou about some stuff, not really angry, just kind of a little ticked off. I’ve [since] learned about his electroshock therapy [as a teenager, at the instigation of parents worried about his unconventional behavior], and I said, “Oh man, that’s just awful.” Anybody who’s been through that for those reasons deserves all the slack you can give him. I just let everything go at that point.
PKM: And you’d only seen the Velvets once!
Doug Yule: The first time I saw the band was at Harvard [on February 24, 1968]. John wasn’t playing with them, it was just the three of them. Even so, with Lou on guitar, Sterling predominantly on bass, and Maureen on drums, it was just a steamroller, it just took off. It blew me away. I loved it.
PKM: I find it unbelievable that you had never played bass before joining the Velvets.
Doug Yule: Well, in the sense of playing electric bass, no, I had never played electric bass. But keep in mind that from fourth grade, my training was in baritone and then tuba, so I essentially played bass all from fourth grade through the end of high school, in terms of having sort of intuitive understanding of the lower end of any musical structure. And singing bass, too, in four-part choruses and so on. I still find that when I play electric bass in a rock band, I have a very different kind of outlook than your average garage band bass player. It’s much more harmonic, or a lower melodic structure, than it is just a rhythmic fill.
[For] the ’93 reunion, Sterling was the only one who wanted to ask me along. Specifically, it was because he didn’t want to play bass. He was a very, very gifted guitar player. His idol was Mickey Baker, and if you listen to Sterling’s playing, you hear Mickey Baker in there. It’s the sound of it, as well as the choice of parts and where he sort of picks out a part for each song, amplifies it, and expands it to become, really, an essential part of the tune. I mean, I can’t hear “I’m Waiting For the Man” without hearing Sterling’s guitar part. I think he was probably one of the most underrated guitar players in music over the years.
PKM: How were the guitar solos divided between Sterling and Lou? Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s doing what, though generally it seems Lou did the rawer and crazier ones, and Sterling the more conventional ones.
Doug Yule: Solos was based strictly on personal preference. Lou was not an accomplished guitar player. He’s sort of a seat of the pants, self-taught balls-to-the-wall kind of player. Sterling, on the other hand, is a very precise and analytical, just the way he is in everything, and thinks a lot about what he does. Whereas Lou tends to more just do it. Which isn’t to say he doesn’t think, but I mean, there’s a lot more sort of gut in what Lou does than in what Sterl did.
In terms of solos, it was just, “You want to play a solo, you play a solo.” It wasn’t “let’s play this kind of solo” or anything like that. It was just, “You do what you want to do.” In terms of the parts that were going on while there was singing, pretty much Lou came in with the song and played it, and his guitar work was basically sort of the core around which everything else was attached. Sterl would put a part to it, I’d put a bass line to it, and Maureen would play drums. So it would all kind of blossom out from that core.
PKM: You were asked to join the band after John Cale’s last show with them on September 28, 1968. Your first gig with them was just a week or so later. Some of those gigs (at La Cave in Cleveland on the weekend of October 4-6) were recorded, and you’re already fitting in really well. How difficult was that, to blend into the band so quickly?
Doug Yule: The Velvet Underground stuff was very open in terms of its arrangements. I mean, there were arrangements, but they were not complex or complicated. It was like, first chorus, play a solo for half an hour, and we’re out. So it was a lot of easier to fit in, or to sound like you’re fitting in, because if you make a mistake in a situation like that, it doesn’t stand out as much. If you miss a chord, [you] just sort of morph it into the next one and go with it. As long you don’t stand up and go, “Oh my god, no one knows I made a mistake!” I think that two months down the road, stuff was happening that wasn’t happening at that [Cleveland] show at all. Just because I knew what to expect, and we were sort of getting settled with each other and finding our stride.
PKM: Jimi Hendrix came to check out one of your early shows with the Velvets later that month at the Whisky A Go Go in L.A., right before you started work on the group’s third album [simply called The Velvet Underground].
Doug Yule: I met him at the Whisky, and then later at the Record Plant [studio]. He used to go there at night and jam, and tape it. We were playing at the Whisky, and there was somebody out in the audience who was jumping up and down, banging a beer mug on the table, and making a lot of noise. And it turned out to be him. He came up afterwards and said he was really into it. I was sitting with Lou at a table and I was like…[jaw open] “is that you?” I was kind of in shock, because he just turned up. But he really liked that. And I can see why. I mean live, the group…I don’t think I’ve ever heard a recording that really gives you the feeling that the group put out live. It was a locomotive. It was a good beat, and extremely compelling.
PKM: Then only about a month after joining the band, you were recording the third Velvet Underground LP in Los Angeles, in November 1968. Was that a big change for you, adapting what you were doing onstage to the studio?
Doug Yule: No. To my mind, the third album was the closest thing that the band ever did to a live in the studio album, both because of the way it was recorded and the way we did the songs, which was the way we were playing them. We just started doing songs the way we’d been performing them on stage, and that was how they came out.
PKM: The third album’s a lot quieter and more subdued than the first two Velvet Underground LPs. Was that as much of a surprise to you as it was to the band’s fans?
Doug Yule: I was only there a month, and to me, anything that happened was normal. If I’d had a two- or three-year history with them, [and] we’d been doing slam rock & ‘roll and a lot of noise and loud music all the time, then I might have said, wow, this is different. But for me, it wasn’t. It was just the way it was.
PKM: You sang lead on the opening track, “Candy Says,” which was a surprise since Lou sang lead on almost everything before that. How did you get to sing on that?
Doug Yule: Lou said, “Doug, why don’t you sing this?” And I did. I was totally not expecting it. It gave him a break from singing. It also switched the focus from him to me for a while, which was like a psychological break. ‘Cause he was at the forefront of the group all the time. So to have like a song when he could sort of stand back and just play the guitar and not front for a few minutes was like a coffee break. It shifted focus. I’m flattered that he would let me tear it apart the way I did.
PKM: “What Goes On” has some tremendous guitar work. How did it get that almost siren-like sound during the solo?
Doug Yule: That’s my favorite song. There was overdubbing, but we cut the basic tracks as a live track, all four playing at once. We’d record the core tracks, which we did with that one, and then overdub vocals. [Lou]’d put a guide vocal on, but we’d overdub vocals, and overdub solos.
With “What Goes On”…Lou has a tremendous sense of melody. It’s like he played three or four solos for that, and they were remarkably similar, simply because he had sort of a basic roadmap for a melody he wanted to play in his head, and he stuck to it. Then somebody suggested playing them all at once, and it sounded so good, we just kept it. It sounded like bagpipes or something like that.
PKM: The self-titled third album was more accessible, with much more relatively conventional rock songs for the most part, than the first LPs with the Cale lineup. But it didn’t even make the Top 200. Why do you think it didn’t get a wider audience?
Doug Yule: It wasn’t mainstream. I mean, it was critically approved, but it certainly wasn’t what was going on then, what was like what they were playing. It was kind of off the wall from that aspect. I mean, Jimi Hendrix was big, Janis Joplin was big, and stuff like that. And the Velvet Underground definitely wasn’t that.
I always think of the Velvet Underground then as being in black and white, and Janis and Jimi and the whole San Francisco scene as being very colorful. Later on with Loaded, I think the Velvets finally did something in full color. But even musically, I think that that [third] album is very black and white, very kind of grainy. Like the cover [of the LP, with a grainy black-and-white photo of the band]—I mean it’s a perfect cover.
PKM: In late August 1969, Lou told the Philadelphia paper the Distant Drummer that a fourth album had been recorded. Lou told the reporter that it wouldn’t be released because “in a few years it will be ahead of its time, but now it just won’t sell and will go unknown.” The group did record a lot of material for MGM in 1969 that wasn’t released at the time, some of it before August. Do you remember a fourth album being completed by that time, and/or shelved for the reason Lou gave?
Doug Yule: When you’re being interviewed, the model dictates that the interviewer is looking for information, and you’re there to inform them. You don’t want to give a null set answer, like “I don’t know.” So it’s easy to say, “No, we don’t want to do it now, because it’s way ahead of its time.” It makes perfect sense, and it makes it sound good. So I really don’t know what they were up to.
PKM: The same article says “the Velvet Underground is moving into singles. The first will be ‘We’re Going to Have a Good Time Together.'” Do you remember any plans to put that out as a single? It didn’t even come out at all until long after the band broke up.
Doug Yule: That’s Sesnick talking through Lou. I remember sitting in a limousine and Sesnick’s just going on and on about singles and singles and singles, and Lou is kind of like, “Oh yeah, I got this song, it’s ‘Satellite of Love,’ and I think it would be great, because it’s topical, satellites are flying around,” da da da da da. It seemed to me like Sesnick was just pumping ideas into him, and then he was giving them back. This is not long before he bailed on the group, specifically because of his interaction with Sesnick, and how manipulative Sesnick was of him in many ways.
PKM: Shortly before you started recording that unreleased 1969 material [now available on archival releases], one of your compositions called “Passing the Day” was registered in March. Was that ever intended to be a Velvets song?
Doug Yule: The song is thankfully not recorded. When Sesnick was signing the band to [a] BMI contract, he asked me for a lead sheet for a song I had written; didn’t matter what the song was, he just wanted me registered as a songwriter in the band for his own purposes. It’s not a VU song, having been written before I joined the group, nor is it recorded anywhere. In fact it’s a very poorly crafted song, one of many that I wrote in the first ten or fifteen years that are best left unremembered.
PKM: The Velvets barely played New York City at all between spring 1967 and summer 1970, when you played for two months straight at Max’s Kansas City. Why wouldn’t the band play in its own hometown? It’s sometimes been speculated they wanted to punish New York for not being played on the radio there and not being real popular or supported in the city. But there were some fans of the group in New York, and it seems like counter-productive strategy.
Doug Yule: The reason [we] didn’t play New York for a long time was simply because [Sesnick] couldn’t get a decent gig. Because the band was unknown in New York. And the reason the band was unknown in New York, ’cause they didn’t play in New York. But they did play in Boston. People thought the band lived in Boston, because we played up there so much.
I really think that Sesnick kind of fostered that notion to some extent. Someone may have said it at some point, and he said “yeah, yeah, they’re a Boston band,” and kind of pushed that along. That would make it easier to get a gig in New York, ’cause they were always interested in something new from out of town. If you can say, “this is hot in Boston,” it’s like a way of getting in is that you go out and then come back in. I have felt that it was more along those lines—that kind of a practical, logistical approach to trying to accomplish something that’s difficult. But I don’t know how much of the “we’re mad at New York” was actually real. It was never anything that was apparent to me, or that I felt or had any discussion about.
PKM: It was reported that the band turned down a chance to play the Fillmore East in New York. Do you know if that happened?
Doug Yule: There was some bad blood between [Bill] Graham and Lou. This is one of Sterling’s rants that he would go on—they felt that when they showed up with the Exploding Plastic Inevitable [on their first trip to San Francisco in May 1966], that Graham was doing like kindergarten-level light shows, and they kind of opened his eyes and then he ripped ’em all off, took all our ideas and put that out as his own. Which always seemed to me kind of like sour grapes. But there was that element, that was something that was talked about from time to time.
In the same way that that whole thing with the Mothers was talked about. There was bad blood between Lou and Frank Zappa, simply because for whatever reason, they felt that their [first] album was hurt by…the way I heard it, it was not the Mothers, that it was the record company [Verve/MGM, who had both the Mothers of Invention and the Velvet Underground in the late ’60s] that made a decision just to suppress [the classic The Velvet Underground & NicoLP] for a while. Because they didn’t feel that two groups that far on the fringe could be released at the same [time], even close to each other, and not interfere with each other’s sales. So they put off the Velvets for a while. But that was things that I heard discussed.
PKM: Both you and Lou have said that there was some conscious effort to make songs for Loaded that had a chance of being hits. Was that part of the intention of the LP?
Doug Yule: Yeah, I remember being in the studio with Loaded, editing “Head Held High” and chopping the shit out of it, compressing the crap out of it, specifically to make it into a certain length and a certain style. They were tailoring it to be a…I mean, even recording it with the idea of, “This is gonna be a single.” It was high energy from opening to close.
“Head Held High,” with Yule playing organ and guitar, and singing backing vocals
PKM: So Loaded was aimed to be more commercial than anything the Velvets had done?
Doug Yule: It was intended to be. Its purpose was to garner FM airplay, which was the predominant sort of vehicle for groups that weren’t putting out 45s as their main way to the public, and the cult groups, who we had been, and didn’t basically get a lot of airplay. Those mainstream FM album cut stations were the other route to good gates, money. [Loaded] was designed to reach that.
To make that break, you need one song to emerge, or more than one. But you need one song to emerge as a — not necessarily as a 45, but at that same level of exposure, where it’s getting played over and over in rotation. That was the market then.
PKM: If you count all the outtakes and unreleased songs the band were playing live in 1969 and 1970, there was easily enough material to make Loaded a strong double album if you had the chance. Do you know what went into deciding which songs went on the final LP and which didn’t?
Doug Yule: It always seemed that we had so much material. [Lou] was very prolific. I think at any point in his life, he could probably put together a double album. Lou sometimes unveiled songs without warning and other times made up tunes on the spot.
[For Loaded] it was just like picking stuff that you like, like, “What do you want to do? Well, let’s do this.” I mean, “Train Round the Bend” sort of came into being in the studio, just from a setting on the tremolo on the amp. The song was happening before that, but it kind of blossomed and we said, “Oh, we gotta do that.”
I didn’t really have much to do with choosing the material, ’cause Lou wrote it. He’d bring it in and say, “Let’s do this song.” “Great, let’s do it.” Mostly I was following his lead at that point. Even though I didn’t know a lot about his life at that point, I could always tell that certain songs—even though you’d play them live—some songs, he had more affinity towards. Others, he’d kind of play ’em, but they weren’t, you know, like good friends. Maybe they were about something in his life that was unhappy or whatever, but he wasn’t really close to them, that he wanted to share.
PKM: You sing some of Lou’s songs on Loaded, and also did some Reed material onstage that have different singers on the records, like “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” Why did you sing more leads toward the end of Reed’s time in the band?
Doug Yule: I took over some of his stuff when we were at Max’s just ’cause he was tired of doing it, and he let me do it. There was a time when he would like to screw around with the audience’s head by switching me for him in various ways. Sometimes he’d get on and introduce me as his brother, or stuff like that. There was a story, which I don’t know if it’s true or not, that Andy sent Gerard Malanga out to do a lecture saying, “They won’t know, they’ll think you’re me.” Well, we did [something] close to that at some point. I think that Lou always got a big kick out of that, so he would play with that kind of disinformation regarding him and me.
PKM: Even before Loaded was recorded and the summer 1970 residency at Max’s, Maureen Tucker wasn’t able to make some shows. There are tapes of a few of those where you’re playing as a trio [some from their May 9, 1970 show at the Second Fret in Philadelphia were issued as part of the Loaded: Re-Loaded 45th Anniversary Edition box]. Who’s playing drums on those?
Doug Yule: I think the few shows we did [without] Maureen wasn’t because she was pregnant, she was just sick, I think. I remember one night in a theater, I think it was in Springfield [Massachusetts, on April 17, 1970], and we had just the three of us. So we set up the drums, and we set ’em up the way I played drums, which is a standard kit. And I’m a mediocre drummer at best. But there were some songs we wanted to have drums on, so I played drums on those, and I switched off to play bass on the other tunes. And it went over well with the audience.
We did two sets that night, and in between the sets, Jonathan Richman did a guest set in front of the curtain, just him and his electric guitar. I remember watching that with my mouth open going, “My god!” I was just amazed. It took years to be able to digest that. Finally I went to see Jonathan years [later], when he came to Seattle, and stopped in to see him, just to say that I did finally digest all of that and who he was and what he was, and just came to really appreciate his particular spark of genius.
PKM: Tucker doesn’t play on Loaded.
Doug Yule: I don’t think any of us knew she was pregnant—at least I didn’t— until Loaded was just about to happen. Sesnick said, “Maureen’s pregnant, she can’t play.” That has been to my undying regret that I didn’t have the balls to say, “No, then let’s wait till Maureen’s ready. I’d rather work a day job then.” ‘Cause we lost the closeness of the third album by doing it as a studio album.
PKM: How did you figure out who’d play drums while she was gone?
Doug Yule: It was real simple. We were doing it, and someone said, “Well, who’s gonna play drums?” For a while there at the sessions, I’d played some, the producer Adrian Barber played some, we had a kid come in from Long Island [Tommy Castanaro] who played some.
But then we got the thing at Max’s, and it’s like, “We need someone to play drums.” I said, “Well, [my younger brother] Billy’s not in school right now. He can play.” In retrospect, it was probably kind of a stupid thing to do, ’cause Billy was only seventeen at the time. He was a good drummer, but I’m sure we were breaking laws by having him at Max’s. It was just kind of, “this is a possibility, let’s do that,” and we did.
PKM: Do you know who plays drums on which songs on Loaded?
Doug Yule:Loaded was done in two groups. We did the bulk of it before Max’s. At least “Lonesome Cowboy Bill” and “Cool ‘Em Down” and “Oh Sweet Nuthin'” have Billy on them, ’cause he wasn’t on the first group of sessions. He was only on the second one.
I know I play [drums] on “New Age,” ’cause there’s a mistake at the end, where I reverse the beat in the rideout. And I think I played on “Rock & Roll,” too. But maybe not, I don’t know. I know it was at least one other song.
We were doing a lot of overdubs. On the third album, we had done sort of live tracking, and then just dubbed in solos and vocals, that level of dubbing. But Loaded was literally a constructed album, built up track by track from a small core of basic tracks. A lot of effects, heavy compression. It was definitely a complete studio album.
PKM: You sing “New Age” on Loaded. How’d you get that horn-like bass sound on the fadeout?
Doug Yule: We used an acoustic bass amp, which is a big eighteen-inch speaker-driven folded horn amplifier. It had a built-in fuzztone that sounded like a great big deep baritone or bass saxophone; a very distinctive fuzz effect. That’s actually how that rideout on the bass, the solo ride on the bass, was done every time live.
PKM: What were Sterling Morrison’s contributions to Loaded? It seems like he wasn’t as heavily involved as you and Lou.
Doug Yule: He was unhappy with Loaded. He felt that he had been effectively shut out because Lou and I were kind of bubbling around doing all this stuff. I think that was kind of a spin-off of the whole Maureen thing, and it never should have happened. After a while, he just stopped coming. He’d say, “Well, you need me to record anything?” And we’d say, “Well, we don’t know.” “Well, okay, well, call me if you need me.” But he was just kind of feeling bad about it, and I was less than sensitive to that. I was less than sensitive to pretty much everything in those days.
But kind of an offshoot of Maureen not being there was that everything else kind of fragmented. She’s an anchor. She’s the most honest and straightforward person I’ve ever met in my life. She’s the only person I’ve seen who can stop Lou at any kind of mood…no matter what kind of mood he’s in, she can shut him down and bring him back to reality. Because he has a very strong feeling for her, and she’s totally honest. I think she’s kind of, to a great extent, the glue that kept things rolling many times when they might have otherwise come into pieces. She’s one of my favorite people of all time. She’s just a magnificent person. She’s incredible, she really is.
PKM: She didn’t play during the Max’s residency either, when Billy Yule filled in. What do you think of the album of live tapes that came out a couple years later [Live at Max’s Kansas City]?
Doug Yule: Pretty poor quality, but historically, it was good. I know a lot of bands like it, because it is like a bootleg, but a legitimate bootleg.
PKM: Do you think Atlantic kind of gave up on promoting Loaded, and then the band, when Lou left right before the album was released?
Doug Yule: I don’t know. I didn’t get a sense that they were bailing on it, but it’s possible. I have no way to know whether they saw it as a band, or as Lou Reed and a band. Because there were definitely both camps.
Some people, when Lou left the band, said, “Oh, then what’s the point?” And other people, it was like, “Oh, how’s it going?” So without having sort of a picture of how they saw the band, I didn’t have any way to even imagine whether that would happen or not. But I don’t recall anyone saying, “Oh, Atlantic doesn’t like us ’cause Lou left.”
PKM: Was it strange playing with the Velvet Underground after Lou left? Were people upset he wasn’t there, or notice much?
Doug Yule: Every time we went to England after Lou left, in various forms—and some of them not even remotely resembling the Velvet Underground, but sold as the Velvet Underground—people didn’t care. Never in all those performances did anyone come up and say, “You’re not really the Velvet Underground.” No one in a review said that, except one, I think. Was he the one that called me the last remaining poop drivel of the Velvet Underground? That’s kind of like my claim to fame, is that I think I’m the only musician that was called the remaining poop drivel of anything.
PKM: On the only post-Reed Velvet Underground studio album [Squeeze], you’re the only member who had been in lineups with Reed, and play and sing almost everything. It’s never been reissued on CD. Do you know if that will ever happen?
Doug Yule: No, the people who own it don’t want to do anything with it. People have approached me and said, “We’d really like to see this released on CD, have it out in the States.” My understanding is that the people who own it, which I guess is still Polygram UK, have said no, this is not an option. It’s just not gonna happen. It could be as simple as that they can’t find the masters. A lot of people have tried [to get it reissued], from people within the industry to just fans who wanted to see it out.
I take it you’ve heard the album. Sorry. I apologize. But the Squeeze album is an extension of the same situation with Loaded. And it’s one of the reasons why I’m just happy that it’s not easily accessible, because I’m not proud of how easily I was influenced by Sesnick. I mean, his whole thrust there was, “This record company wants to do a record. I’ll get Doug in the studio and we’ll crank one out, and I can go home with the deposit money.” Which is essentially what happened.
[The cover illustration] was a direct cop from Loaded. If you look at [it] now, you can see, yeah, Sesnick is trying to get the most mileage that he can on the short term, and not looking at any kind of long-term development or any kind of integrity whatsoever. He’s basically like a carny, a carnival worker, who, it’s just his game tonight. Just get the rubes to throw down their quarters and then we’ll move on to a new town tomorrow.
PKM: You saw Lou for the first time in more than thirty years at the opening for c/o The Velvet Underground New York, NY exhibit in New York in spring 2007. How’d that go?
Doug Yule: I was a little nervous. In fact, I tried to leave before he actually made his way around the room, ’cause we’d been there for a while and I said, “Well, let’s go.” Then they said, “No no, wait, we want to have a picture taken with you and Lou”. And I said, “Really? Is he okay with that?” ‘Cause we hadn’t spoken for like thirty years much, and there were times when he’s been mad at me. But he eventually came around, and he was absolutely charming as only Lou can be when he wants to be. He gave me a big hug, and gave Maureen a hug, and we all had our picture taken. It was good. I was relieved that it went well, and happy to see that he was much happier than he was when he was younger, much less uptight.