Friday, November 1, 2013

While We Are Mourning Lou Reed

I mean to take nothing away from those who are currently acknowledging the enormous talent and huge influence that the late Lou Reed had on the rock and roll landscape, most essentially with the Velvet Underground. However, this might be a good time to give some public recognition to another man who richly deserves your acclaim and then some.

So many Reed tributes have referenced his iconic song "Walk on the Wild Side" that it would be pointless to list just a few here. A recent Google News search came up with 64,800 hits for that song in the wake of Reed's death.

And with good reason. The song has a unique sound that is both perfect for its era - the bleak, tired, post-Flower Child early 1970s - and timeless at the same time. The sleepy sax, the signature "Do da do da do" "colored girls" backup vocals and Reed's own restrained narrative delivery make up for the sleazy, limiting lyrics about a particularly seamy underbelly of New York City.

But above all what makes the song truly great is its core feature - the brilliant bass lines of a man by the name of Herbie Flowers.

Flowers was one of those legions of incredibly talented sessions players that were ubiquitous in the music business in the '60s and '70s. I can give my own rather limited description of the role Flowers played in music of the time and his crucial contribution to this iconic song but this short video clip says it all:

Watch Flowers explain how he wrapped an upright bass around a bass guitar to achieve the evocative double tone captured in the tune. It's quite riveting, actually. A historical musical moment unfolds right before your eyes.

What really makes Flowers special in my mind is not the fact that once upon a time he came up with one of the very best bass lines in rock and roll history. Actually, he did it TWICE.

Harry Nilsson's 1971 album "Nilsson Schmilsson" contains the classic track "Jump into the Fire." It's kind of sad that since 1990 it's been known as "the helicopter song in Goodfellas" because it deserves to stand on its own as one hell of a killer tune.

And once again, Flowers' bass work is front and center. It goes without saying (just listen) that he is the heart and soul of the entire song right from the very beginning. But that beginning is truly legendary. Flowers' bass is the musical equivalent of bouncing a Superball off the concrete floor of your childhood home's cold, wood-paneled basement on a hot 1970s air conditioner-less summer day. And yet it sounds every bit as fresh and exciting today. A unique sound for its era AND timelessness - Herbie strikes again!

When we get to the 3:57 mark and the tragic Jim Gordon's drum solo the sheer skill of the session player is on full display. Flowers' bass jam joins him at 4:43 and the results are intoxicating.

This is music with professional acumen AND a human touch. This is rock and roll artistry.

So while you mourn the passing of Lou Reed take a second to appreciate that his most famous moment would never have happened without the sublime talents of a session player by the name of Herbie Flowers.

No comments:

Post a Comment