Perfect Sound Forever

Doug Yule interview (Part 1)

Doug  Doug

Pat Thomas
October 21, 1995, San Francisco

Over the past several years, I've been lucky enough to meet, hang out, and interview members of several legendary bands: The Velvet Underground, Jefferson Airplane, Fairport Convention, Moby Grape, and The Albion Band. In many cases, I found that the members that had left these bands (and the music business) long ago tended to be the most willing to open up and talk with a clear memory and no special axe to grind. In the case of the Airplane, I found Spencer Dryden to be quite relaxed and ready to share his feelings.

With the exception of Nico, I've interviewed all the Velvets and everyone was pleasant (although Lou gave a lot of yes and no answers) and I was very surprised how warm and friendly John Cale was while we sat in a hotel conference room in Berlin for an hour as was Sterling Morrison that day.

Although it was cool to meet Cale and talk to Lou on the phone, I was most excited (and a lot less nervous) to hook up with Doug Yule, as he's often received the short end of the stick from both his former bandmates and the history books. The truth is, Doug Yule played on more Velvets recordings than Cale and is an important part of their story - after all, 'he was there' and the following interview that took place in my San Francisco apartment one Saturday afternoon documents in extreme detail - Doug's point of view.

I can't help but feel his memory might be more accurate than some of his pals. Meanwhile I'm still waiting for Cale's long promised autobiography and it's a shame that Sterling never finished his book.

Long may they run

Photo courtesy of The Velvet Underground Web Site

Pat: Let's dive into the beginning. How did you first meet the Velvet Underground?

Doug: I was living in Boston, just playing in local bands, playing in a band called Glass Menagerie, just you know, local bands.

Pat: Did your band open for the Velvet's when they would play in Boston at the Tea Party?

Doug: No, the manager for Glass Managerie had an apartment with a studio below, on River street in Boston. And the apartment was like six bedroom, big apartment upstairs. So I was living there for awhile, and that manager who's name was Hans, and his partner Dick Chandler were friends with Sesnick (infamous Velvet Underground manager), and when Sesnick would come into town, they would hang out together and sometimes the Velvets would come over and use that apartment. Sometimes they would stay there if they didn't have a place. Sesnick wouldn't use a hotel unless he got the record company to pay for it.

Pat: Why? Because he was too cheap?

Doug: Right, if he couldn't do that and he didn't want to come up with the money, he'd find somebody and sponge off them. So, sometimes the group stayed there and sometimes not. At some point during that, while I was staying there, I started practicing guitar for seven or eight hours a day and I was playing a lot. One day I was practicing and Sterling Morrison was hanging out there and he heard me play, then he went back to the hotel where Lou Reed was staying, and happened to mention to him that I was getting better. A few weeks after that, John Cale got fired and they called me up. Partly because of Sterling's comment that I was getting better, and partly because I was a Pisces and they needed a Pisces to balance it out. John was a Pisces, Lou was a Pisces, Moe and Sterling were Virgo's, they wanted to have this astrological balance.

Pat: They were into that?!?

Doug: They were into everything.

Pat: Had you played or jammed with them before?

Doug: Never. Never played with them. I had heard them play once, I think without John.

Pat: So you were not a big Velvets fan waiting to jump aboard?

Doug: No. Actually it was complete surprise when they called.

Pat: It was just a 'gig'?

Doug: Yes, it could have been anyone who called and said 'I need a guitar player.' Ok, I'll be there. (laughing)

Pat: I was under the impression that you were a big fan, waiting to join.

Doug: Well, I heard them once and I was really impressed with their impact. Had a lot of audio and visual impact. It was at a small gig, but still, it was very intense. I liked that. It didn't make me want to be with them, but it gave me a lot of ideas, in the same way that the Sgt. Pepper album blew head open a little bit.

Pat: When you joined them, you must have been scrambling to learn the tunes?

Doug: I had two days, I think.

Pat: What was the public opinion of the Velvets when you joined? I've always heard that journalists hated them, the public hated them? What do you think people thought?

Doug: The mainstream public didn't really know about them that much. They were a very minor group in that aspect. As far as journalists.... the New York critics and the San Francisco critics were always interested in the group. I remember (Robert) Christgau who wrote for the Village Voice. We got consistently good reviews from him. I don't remember reading a really bad review of any of the albums that I was on. I don't remember ever seeing one that said 'this is trash'.

Pat: Maybe it was more apathy from some people than anything else.

Doug: The mainstream just wasn't interested because it wasn't... You got to remember that at that time, when you released an album - you were going for AM radio airplay. Very formulaic situation we had to fit into. When Dylan hit with 'Like A Rolling Stone', people were just amazed; 'Wow, this is the longest song that's ever been on the radio!'. It was very strict, there was a lot of limitations on what you could do. We didn't fit in there.

Pat: What about this thing, starting from around the time you joined, that the Velvets would not play New York City - they were punishing New York City?

Doug: I think it's more (that we) couldn't. They couldn't get a gig. From the time that the first album was released, they didn't play... I know when I was with them, we never played New York City. I think it had to with a couple of things. It was uncomfortable for Lou to play in front of his past. He had made a lot of compromises with a lot of very interesting people in New York. I know when we later played at Max's (Max's Kansas City), which was the first gig that the Velvets played in a long time in New York, a lot of that came back to him.

Pat: A lot of the Andy Warhol gang started showing up?

Doug: People started showing up that he didn't want to talk to. It really bugged him. When he left the band, when he quit, which was basically he just didn't show up one Tuesday night or whenever it was for the beginning of that week's shows - that was one of the things that was cited to me. That his past was driving him crazy.

Pat: Even back then he was as defensive and as guarded as he's been known for through the years?

Doug: Oh yeah. Reclusive. Very suspicious, very off-putting. He uses his skill with words and his negative aggression very creatively to keep people at a distance and if they get too close, to cut them up.

Pat: It seems all through Lou's career, starting with John Cale, then moving onto Chuck Hammer, then Robert Quine, Lou's always had a collaborator that he's worked very closely with, milked them dry, then chopped them off, threw them away and moved onto the next guy.

Doug: His relationship with me was very similar. We would spend time together, where he would take out these songs that he was fooling around with and ask for help; 'I'm thinking about this melody, what's a chord that goes with that?' He'd ask for help building things, then he would return 6 months later with the song put together and announce it; 'here's my new tune'.

Pat: Have you kept up thru the years with Lou's or John's solo albums?

Doug: No, nothing, unless it was in my face and I couldn't avoid it.

Pat: Let's talk about the recording of '3rd album' (self titled: The Velvet Underground). Legend has it that one of the reasons that the album is so mellow is that all the band's fuzz boxes, guitar effects, and noise makers were stolen at the airport on the way to Los Angeles to record the album. Although the songwriting is obviously mellow, so the album would have been subdued no matter what the production values were.

Doug: I don't know anything about that legend, I don't where it came from - unless it was started to make the group more interesting somehow. That's just what were playing then. We were playing much more melodic stuff.

Pat: Was there a conscience decision to leave the fuzz boxes at home?

Doug: No-one was using fuzz boxes as far as I know. We didn't have any effects on stage, we walked on, plugged into the amps and that was it. We didn't have pedals. From what I understand, although I don't know for a fact, I was told that Lou had built into his 'Country Gentleman' guitar bunches of repeaters and stuff like that. I have only his word on that, I never actually saw the instrument. He was playing it the first time I ever saw him, but I couldn't swear to you what it had. I didn't know enough to pick it apart.

Pat: Were most of those '3rd album' songs written after you joined? How did you fit into the construction of those songs?

Doug: Some of them were started before me and some of them were started after. For example 'Sweet Jane', the first time I ever heard that was on the tour that centered around the '3rd album' I think , either just before or just after it. So that took another year, year and half before it was actually in it's final version and released.

Pat: Are there any songs from the '3rd album' that stick out in your mind as things that you felt you made significant contributions to?

Doug: I don't know, I'd have to run thru a list of what's on the '3rd album'.

Pat: "Beginning To See The Light," "After Hours," "Candy Says," "Murder Mystery," "Some Kinda Love"...

Doug' "Murder Mystery" is credited to everybody, isn't it?

Pat: I think so.

Doug: I think the music is credited to everybody and the words are credited to Lou.

Pat: I was curious if there was a tune on there, were you felt, well, that's really my tune.

Doug: Oh no, there's none that were really my tunes. It was more like you said. Lou likes a collaborator or facilitator, someone who will help him through, because he's minimally musical. He's really made a career out of his... using his inadequacies creatively. Which is not a bad thing, it's a good thing to do. But, he's not real strong on music. He's not a real strong guitar player - in the sense of technique or anything like that. He's real strong in terms of 'will'. I will turn this guitar up. And I will thrash it, and I will dominate this situation.

Pat: Where many of those '3rd album' songs played live before you recorded them?

Doug: Sure, We played... I would venture to say virtually everything except 'The Murder Mystery' live before it was recorded. I don't think we ever recorded a song that we hadn't played live. Although invariably when we recorded it, it turned out to be very different than when we played live. "Sweet Jane" was a very soft song when we started, and we performed it that way.

Pat: Let's talk about the VU album. Are you familiar with these two albums that came out in the early 80's; VU and Another View? VU was obviously much more solid of the two and often referred to as 'the lost album'. How did these sessions come about? Were they all done at once or were they spread out over a period of time? I was curious if they were meant to be demos or were you trying to make a record? What was happening then?

Doug: There's a couple of sequences in there. There's the Val Valentine tapes, that's when I was living on Charles street, so it would have been 1969, 70, somewhere in there... Everyday we would go up and take two or three hours and just lay down tracks. I think it may have started out as an attempt, although as far as I knew we were just preparing songs, it was like a "pre-record" recording.

Pat: When exactly is this happening? Isn't it between the '3rd album and Loaded?

Doug: It must be between the '3rd album' and Loaded.

Pat: Right, you've got things like "Foggy Notion," there's all these amazing songs, although some "VU" songs are with Cale before you joined, but there's all these amazing songs and why didn't they get released then?

Doug: Like I said, the group then was much different than it is now, in terms of it's stature in the community . The 'Banana' album was held back a year, because... you know the story, the record company had two groups that they figured were the same thing basically, the Velvets and the Mothers Of Invention. They put the Mothers out first (and held back the Velvet's album), that's why it was very funny to watch Lou accept Frank Zappa's award recently. For as long as I knew him, he hated Frank, he would say the worst things about him, he wouldn't have anything to do with him, Lou just despised the man. Just because Frank kept Lou's album off the market for a year. I really can't say for sure the exact timing of the Val Valentine sessions, which was in the MGM office building. They had a little tiny studio up there. And the recording of the '3rd album' in L.A., and there was another series of recordings at the Record Plant. I know the Record Plant was after the '3rd album', I'm pretty sure.

Pat: You recorded the '3rd album' in L.A., you're talking about the Record Plant in New York?

Doug: Yes, I know that was later because... I think it was later... because it was after we met Jimi Hendrix in L.A. and I think that was around the '3rd album' time. Then met him again at the Record Plant and that was after meeting him in Los Angeles. That's one of those things that sticks in your mind - meeting a guy like Hendrix.

Pat: Sounds like some of those sessions through the years have gotten a little foggy.

Doug: Yes, very much so. I remember the Record Plant sessions distinctly, because... it was very loose and kind of drifting in and out of the studio. Lou was working on something, hanging out in the other studio, Jimi comes walking down the hall and he's talking for awhile, and everyone's coming and going. That's weird... because I also was living on Charles St. at that time, too, and I only lived on Charles St. for nine months. So the Record Plant tapes were within nine months of the Val Valentine tapes. Which now that I think of it, I bet that the Val Valentine tapes were a preparation for the Record Plant stuff. I mean that was sort of the intention.

Pat: So you worked with Val twice, then. The third album and then, didn't Val Valentine...

Doug: No, he wasn't there. He may have mixed the third album.

Pat: Yeah, cause there's this Val Valentine mix, I thought, of the third album.

Doug: That's a mix where the tapes were brought back and remixed or something, because the first mix was Lou's, I think. I don't know if you've ever listened, but Lou's mixes are pretty bad.

Pat: It's always amazing when you hear something like "Foggy Notion" and you think, my god this is amazing, why didn't it come out?

Doug: We always considered that a throwaway. It was a song you played when you were running out of tunes and you needed more time. It's like 'Sister Ray' but without the esoteric language, a combination of two or three rock n roll songs. In fact, the middle of it I think is a direct cop from an old rock n roll song. 'Sally Mae, Sally Mae...'

Pat:Let's bump up to Loaded. I was surprised by the amount of extra songs on the box set -- there's a double album's worth of stuff if you count a bunch of songs from Berlin, there's "Satellite of Love," which Lou later redid on Transformer - I was just overwhelmed by all that material. Was all of that recorded with the idea that it's all gonna come out or were some of those songs just tossed off or do you remember?

Doug: I don't know. At the time, I was about 23 or 24, and it was like being turned loose in a candy store. To go back to the third album - we were touring, and they said, we changed our mind, we're not going to go home, we're going to stay here and do an album. My recollection is, that the day we were going to start an album -- that's when I found out we were going to start an album. And I know it was planned at least a few days before that , because you've got to book time. The same thing with Loaded - Steven came in and said, we've got a deal with Atlantic, we're going to do an album there, so we'll just start doing it now. There was very little preparation done for it. For any recording we did do, there was never any preparation. It was, yeah, we're going to book some time in the studio, so let's go.

Pat: Wake up this morning and head for the studio.

Doug: Exactly. Loaded was... Maureen was pregnant at the time with her first child and Sterling became discouraged early on because he felt I had too much an influence in it, he felt basically, sort of cut out, which I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the fact that I was I was feeling much more confident since the '3rd album', more a part of the group. Also Lou leaned on me a lot in terms of musical support and for harmonies, vocal arrangements. I did a lot on Loaded. It sort of devolved down to the Lou and Doug recreational recording.

Pat: It seems like Lou encouraged you to do more singing.

Doug: Yes, as soon as I joined the group he encouraged me. He didn't like to be that under the spotlight for that long. He didn't like to give it up for very long, but he didn't like to be under it continuously. He liked a break and it was nice to be able to shift off unto someone else for awhile, step back and take a break.

Pat: You've got a sweeter tone and are technically a better singer, but I think for the casual listener, they might think that your vocals are actually Lou - they might not realize who is singing on what.

Doug: Yes, some people will ask me, is that you? Is that Lou? I say 'you can't tell?'

Pat: I can tell, because I've been listening for 15 years. Back to these extra songs on the 'Loaded' sessions. One thing that was interesting, is that none of these out-takes "Satellite Of Love," have ever appeared on any live albums or bootlegs - it seems like none of these songs were ever performed live.

Doug: That's just coincidence more than anything else, because we played them all live fairly regularly before we recorded them.

Pat: What about "Ocean" - it claims on the box set that Cale come back to the Velvets just to play on that song?

Doug: John claims or people claim for him, I don't know - that he was called up by Sesnick (Velvet's manager) to come and play organ on that, which is news to me, while I wouldn't put it past Sesnick, I can't imagine how he could keep it a secret given the way the group lived and what we did. I just can't imagine how that could happen. I'm saying it's not possible, but I listened to a dub of 'Ocean' that was an out-take that my brother had which was an early version before it was fully produced and it had on it - it was the original first tracks that were laid down and it included organ, Lou singing and playing guitar, Billy Yule playing drums and I was playing organ on this original version. Then I overdubbed tympani and some vocals - and that's all that's on there and it's clearly me playing the organ. Now, if John came in there and did another organ part that's on top of that, I can't say without listening to the 24 track master tapes. I don't think John is on the box set version. There's a string part on there that I did, that was recorded with two cellos and a bass player. I wrote out a basic chart, just following the chord changes. I scored it out and recorded it, that's the strings that you hear on there. They are very, very subtle, they are way down in the mix. There is no viola on there, from what I heard that John said, he doesn't remember playing viola. He said he vaguely remembers showing up for something, but I have suspicion that it's one of those convenient misunderstandings that someone said ' listen, I bet that's John on the string section' and someone suggested it to Lou and Lou said 'oh, it must be John, I bet Sesnick called him.' It becomes a progressive chain of misunderstandings.

Pat: Was there ever a time when you were in the Velvets that John was hanging around or playing with you?

Doug: No, never. Lou wouldn't talk to him. Even now, they're feuding again. John said 'there's no way that I will ever stand on stage with that man again!' (laughing) They are two people that just don't get along.

Pat: Have you ever met John?

Doug: No.

Pat: Back to Loaded. The myth and legend is that the album was not finished when Lou quit and that you continued working on it yourself.

Doug: For all intensive purposes it was in the can when Lou quit. I think the biggest change after Lou left was that Sesnick rearranged the credits on the back of the album to make Lou look as insignificant as possible. I think he's listed below everyone else.

Pat: Because Sesnick wanted you to continue on without Lou?

Doug: Yes, he was manipulating. He was always manipulating.

Pat: One of the things that Lou has always said, is that after he left, the rest of you went back and re-edited "Sweet Jane" and "New Age" and ruined them. The box set includes the original, longer versions. What's the story?

Doug: He did that. He edited it. You have to understand at the time, the motivation was... Lou was, and all of us were, intent on one thing and that was to be successful and what you had to do to be successful in music, was you had to have a hit, and a hit had to be uptempo, short, and with no digressions, straight ahead basically, you wanted a hook and something to feed the hook and that was it. "Sweet Jane" was arranged just exactly the way it it is on the original Loaded release exactly for that reason - to be a hit! 'Who Loves The Sun' was done exactly that way for that reason - to be a hit. The first time he ever conceived of the song "Satellite Of Love", he was thinking of it, he was in a limousine. He, me and Sesnick were riding in a limo and he was talking about , someone had just launched a satellite, I forget what it was, he was riffing off that idea and conceiving of this song and tying it back into songs about love. Because that's what always sells and that's literally where it came from. It was designed in his mind as a hit and that's what he was looking for- a hit.

That's what the whole Loaded album was designed for. That's what the '3rd album' was designed for.

Pat: Loaded with hits!

Doug: Right, trying to make, to establish the group with a certain commercial success, so they couldn't backslide away from it.

Pat: For years this 'lost' version of "Sweet Jane" was mythological. You kept hearing about it, Lou would keep saying 'oh man, all those assholes, they screwed up the Loaded album - after I left, these guys went in, they changed it all around'. The fans always thought it was you and whoever else in there tinkering with the final masterpiece. Now it turns out, this wasn't the case.

Doug: No, I think it was even Lou's mixes that we used. Because we changed producers in mid-stream. Adrian Barber started it and then he was kicked out and Geoffrey Haslam came in. They don't credit Adrian with drums, but he plays drums on it.

Pat: Maureen wasn't on that album at all, right? So your brother Billy played drums.

Doug: No, she was pregnant, she couldn't play. My brother played drums, I played drums. A kid named Tommy from Long Island played drums. And Adrian played drums.

Pat: What's your brother doing these days? (he also played drums on the Velvet's Live at Max's album)

Doug: He just left the Bay Area for Arizona and he still plays a little bit. He's become a guitar collector for some reason, I'm not sure why - he plays a little bit of guitar and collects, he has 3 or 4 lap steels, he just got a nice old Rickenbacher.

Pat: Are there any semi-legends in his post Velvets music career?

Doug: No, he never went on to do anything, he just kind of drifted. He's a very sweet person, he's just kind of mellow. We played together a little bit here and there, but he just never really did much. He was in band - as the Velvets faded, Sesnick managed another band that Billy was in called The Rockets, that he was trying to promote, they discovered Sesnick's manipulations before the group got anywhere, they dumped him and the group fell apart. One of the guys in that band went on one of the post-Lou Velvet Underground tours of England, which really wasn't the Velvet Underground, the last tour I think, his name is Rob Norris, he went with me, Rob, some drummer whose name I can remember and Walter Powers. Walter... wonderful person. We toured all over England, played also in France, and places like that - and nobody ever said 'hey, where's everyone else?' (laughing)

Pat: That's funny. You already mentioned Lou leaving the Velvets, how he just didn't show up for a gig.

Doug: Yeah, he just didn't show up.

See Part 2 of the interview