Perfect Sound Forever

Doug Yule interview (Part 2)

Doug  Doug

by Pat Thomas

Pat: Was there ever any interaction with Lou after that? He was just gone and nobody ever talked to him again?

Doug: Pretty much. He basically went back to Long Island and he was not available after that. Sesnick was the one who said 'Lou won't be here' and he was the only one who had any contact with him at that point and he basically from what I heard told him to kiss off. We just did that, we just kept going, what else could you do really?

Pat: It surprises me that Lou didn't at least call the rest of you and say 'without me, I don't want the band to keep going'. It seems like he just didn't care.

Doug: He just walked away from it. I think that Sesnick was the one who was propping Lou up and making him feel safe at that point. I think that Sesnick just walked away from him and Lou didn't know what to do for awhile, so he basically had to protect himself.

Pat: So Sesnick stopped supporting Lou emotionally?

Doug: Yes, that's what I heard. That was the feeling.

Pat: So Lou just went back to his parents for support?

Doug: Or a place to hide. Like I said, Lou was very reclusive, he doesn't like to be vulnerable at all. He's very protective of himself and understandably, he's had a rough life. When he married Sylvia, she became his barrier, and when I was traveling with him in 1974, Rachel was his barrier. He kept people between him, I remember calling Lou on the phone when he was married to Sylvia and she got on the phone and was 'who is this? what do you want?, she grilled me on why I was calling and then finally she said, 'I don't know where he is' and she hung up. Then he called me back 5 minutes later because he realized I wasn't after him for anything - so he could talk to me and called me back. He's a very frightened person in a lot of ways.

Pat: The atmosphere of the Max's gigs, from what I can hear on the album seems interesting to say the least.

Doug: Yes! (laughing)

Pat: What's cool is that the band is playing in such a relaxed manner.

Doug: You really have to be, the room at Max's is about twice as big as your living room. It's tiny and the stage is just a little tiny corner. The people are in your face and there's a little dance floor.

Pat: One of the things I've thought about, it's funny how much the Velvets at that point sound like the Grateful Dead.

Doug: You mean like a garage band?

Pat: Just that mid-tempo, I've had a few glasses of wine groove. There's some very similar sounds there, that very laid back, casual feel. It's intense, but somehow very restrained at the same time.

Doug: Part of it was the time, the zeitgeist. Music was for grooving to, and the best thing that could happen to you when you played a strange club or hall, was that people started to dance. That was always good, it made you feel good. When we were at Max's, you had a few beers, you got on stage and you played a set. We were doing three sets a night, which is not a concert situation in the least- this was happening 5 nights a week. We were a club band playing original stuff. Doing all Velvets songs. So it was kind of laid back, just bang it out. There wasn't the same kind of pressure there is when you go into a play a concert. When you go into a 5,000 or 10,000 seat hall and you walk out there and you're gonna do 45 or 50 minutes and that's all - you're psyched, you're pumping right from the start. But when you're in a club and you're gonna do 2 or 3 sets a night, 5 nights a week - you're hanging out, you're relaxed, have another beer, play a song, whatever - because otherwise you'll burn out. It's the same way with the Dead. When the Dead goes on stage, they know they're gonna be there for a while. (laughing) This is not a 40 minute set, blowing their heads off. No, let's get mellow, we're gonna be here for awhile. Just relax, otherwise you'll kill yourself.

Pat: The very first time I heard "Waiting For My Man" on the 1969 Live album, I thought, 'hey, this sounds just like the Grateful Dead!' I meant that it a good way. (laughing)

Doug: Yeah. When we played, the songs would depend a lot on the energy of the place, what the situation was, how we were feeling, but we've played "Waiting For The Man" as everything from a slow blues to so fast you couldn't keep up.

Pat: So the band keeps going after Lou left and then Maureen eventually comes back in, right?

Doug: Oh yeah, she was only not there for that 8 or 10 weeks we were at Max's and the Loaded> album because that happened at the same time.

Pat: You were recording in the afternoon, then doing the gig?

Doug: Yes, Loaded started a little before that, we got a lot of it in the can, got the tracks down. We were working back and forth, then we went back in the studio when were still at Max's because we rerecorded some stuff that had changed. One significant one was "Oh, Sweet Nuthing," which had sort of evolved, we went back to do that. It hadn't been there originally. Which is maybe why there were songs that didn't get released because other songs came along and displaced them. Up until they started talking about extra takes, I never realized there were any, because in my mind, we just kept recording and recording, then we put an album out. And then I forget about it. The only thing that stuck in my mind was "Ocean" because I knew I'd scored a piece, the first and only piece I'd ever scored, so it kind of stuck with me.

Pat: Was it weird when Lou put out his first album and there were all these Velvet's songs on there?

Doug: I don't think I ever heard Transformer.

Pat: It was the Lou Reed album before that with the bird on the cover.

Doug: I don't think I ever heard that one. Never listened to it.

Pat: So the band keeps going and people are coming and going and Sterling leaves...

Doug: Did you hear how Sterling left? We were in Houston I think. We had played a weekend, at that time we would fly out and and fly back. We went to Houston, played the weekend, got up Sunday or Monday morning, getting ready to leave. Everybody gets in the car to head out, everybody throws their suitcases in the back, Sterling comes down with this big brown soft suitcase, throws it in the back, gets in the car. We all drive out to the airport. We get out and we're walking up to the counter and Sterling stops and says 'oh, by the way, I'm not gonna be going back with you'. I said to him 'where you going now?' He says 'I'm gonna back to the hotel'. I said 'why did you bring your suitcase?'. He says 'I dunno'. I said ' is there anything in it?' He says 'no'.

Pat: He was just sheepish?

Doug: Well yeah, I think he was just embarrassed. Sterling was like that, he was very, very sensitive. He was very sort of private in a lot of ways. He was shy in a funny kind of way. I think he was just afraid that people might talk him out of it, if they had too much time. They might guilt him out of quitting, so he'd do it where they didn't have a lot of time, they got a plane to catch! So he hopped back in the car and went back to the hotel and then went on to Austin. That's one of my favorite stories about Sterling because it says so much about his character. That he was afraid to confront the people he worked with, to tell them right up front something that he really wanted to do. He was afraid that we wouldn't support him. And we didn't. (laughing) We didn't want him to leave, we wanted him to stay.

Pat: The band went over to Europe a few times, but Maureen had left by this point?

Doug: No, she went, she toured.

Pat: But eventually it gets down to just you in the studio doing the Velvet Underground's Squeeze album.

Doug: Ah, Squeeze. Have you heard it?

Pat: I have it.

Doug: Oh, I'm sorry. (laughing)

Pat: It's not as bad as everyone says it is.

Doug: It has moments, it has a few moments. Understanding the situation that record was produced in. As a songwriter I was just beginning to actually write songs, maybe I'd been writing songs for three years. My songwriting would not really blossom at all, until six or seven years later.

Even to this day, it has a long way to go before it really becomes what I'd like it to be. And it was done with just me. All the basic tracks were laid down with drums and me. Ian Paice of Deep Purple played the drums. So he and I would lay down a track. How much interplay can you have when all it is- is one guitar or a piano? You can hear that, it's kind of dead. I think you get more when you have 3 or 4 people playing together, they feed off each other, they work together and something comes out of it, it's bigger.

Pat: How did you feel making this 'solo' album under the name of the Velvet Underground, had Sesnick pumped you up for the job?

Doug: Yeah, it was kind of like... There were two things; one is; someone said to me, 'you can go into a studio and you can record your songs'. And I thought 'great, every songwriter's dream'. I don't care, I'll do it! The other thing was... the way Sesnick manages people is, he whispers into ears.

He whispers into one person's ear 'watch out for that person there, they're not too good for you, you're really good, and they're not gonna help you and they're out to get you anyway'. He whispers into the other person's ear the same thing. Basically everybody else got shipped back to the States (the album was recorded in England) and I was still there and he said 'go do this and no, Maureen's not gonna be part of this now'. I was like 'oh, ok'. You gotta understand I was 23 years old and I had lead a very sheltered life, I was not very world-wise. And did not have any skills in terms of confrontation. It would have been easy to go to Maureen and say 'Steve tells me I'm gonna do an album and your not gonna do it with me, why's that?' That would have been a perfectly logical thing for me to do, which I'd do now.

I would never even conceive if I was in a group now of doing an album without sitting down with the whole group and saying , 'now we're gonna do an album, what do you think about that?'. Anyway it happened and I was very much caught up in my own hubris at the time, I so full of 'Ok, here I am, I'm in England, I'm recording, I'm working with Ian Paice of Deep Purple'. It was like the blind leading the blind, me leading myself. That's what came out of it, I don't even have a copy of it. But it's kind of a nice memory for me and kind of an embarrassment at the same time. I wish I had my eyes wider open, but it was nice to get my name and my songs out there. A lot of that stuff is about Lou anyway... some of it about Maureen.

Pat: After that album came out, was that the final thing for the Velvets?

Doug: I wish.

Pat: It kept going? (laughing) This was 1972 by now?

Doug: Yes, (laughing) somewhere in there. Maureen drifted back to Georgia. I drifted off to New Hampshire and was working as a carpenter. Then I decided to move to Denver and had a job waiting for me there, so we packed up the truck. In this little van, we're heading out West and we stopped in New York to visit with my parents for a week - and I got a call from Sesnick who said 'there's some people who want to do a tour, do you want to go to England as the Velvet Underground?' 'Sure I'd love to' I said, 'I don't want to be a carpenter, I want to be a musician!'. So we put together a band, that was the last one - the one with Rob Norris, the drummer who's name I can't remember and I think.... Walter Powers. We went over there and we got into London, with the same people that we had worked with before, and as soon as we walked in, there was nobody there to meet us. Sesnick didn't turn up and we didn't have any money or any hotel. So we were stranded in the middle of London. We didn't have credit cards, in 1972? If you were a musician, you didn't have a credit card.

Rob had a friend who was a student there, who had a cold water flat. And in London when they say cold water flat, they mean it. This was November. We slept on the floor that first night and froze. Then I found my sister, who was going to school there. I went over to her place and camped out there. There was an extra room, so I rented a room for awhile. We put together some equipment, Sesnick was supposed to come up with some money for a deposit and he didn't. So finally the promoter did, we got the equipment and went out and actually played the dates. Everything worked out OK, there was no complaining from anybody on the road, that this was not the real Velvet Underground! When we finished, we all counted ourselves lucky and went home. That was the last thing that the Velvet Underground officially did.

Pat: Tell me a little bit about Sesnick (the Velvet's manager). When I interviewed Cale, Tucker, and Morrison, they bad mouthed him to no end. Yet nobody seems to know where he is, have you had any dealings with him recently?

Doug: No. I haven't seen him since he didn't show up at the airport to meet us in 1972. He was a manipulator, he's a woman hater, which implies a self hater. He's a very... He lies compulsively, his whole mentality is himself. To get over on everyone else and take care of himself. He's done really.... to my mind... not even within the group, just stuff in his personal life, his personal relationships, he's done really despicable things. So I'm just as glad... I'm happy not to have anything to do with him.

Pat: Cale really hates him.

Doug: I'm sure part of the split between Lou and John was expedited by Sesnick because it was a way for him to control a situation. And the fact that John got kicked out just meant that he had control.

Pat: Just to come back around to Lou one last time, you did reunite with Lou in 1974 and played on the Sally Can't Dance album and toured as Lou's guitar player. Was it a bit of a shock to get a call from Lou?

Doug: Yes, out of the blue. Yeah, I was kinda surprised. He called and he thought that my particular style of bass playing would work on the song "Billy." And I think he was right, I really like that. I really like the playing on that song, I enjoyed it very much. So I did that and then he called me a little later and said 'listen, do you wanna come and play?' So I said 'sure, of course '. I was working at a lithography plant, not what you wanna do if you can help it. So off we went touring with the 1974 band 'The Music Police'.

Pat: Not only had Lou changed, but the whole atmosphere of music and rock n roll had changed. 1974 is a lot different than 1970. So did it feel a lot different to be out in the public again?

Doug: I hadn't really followed his career. But I know the year before I was with him, he was in his blonde-Nazi phase. And from what I heard, from his handlers, people who had been with him at the time, that they would basically walk him out to the stage, holding him up all the time, walk him out and let him go in front of the microphone and pray that he didn't fall over. Then he would perform and they would come out and take him back, and walk him back to his dressing room. He was in pretty bad shape I guess. Drinking a lot and taking a lot of drugs. For the '74 tour, he was.... in a lot of ways very much like being in the Velvet Underground. Except that he more separate, he was less social. But musically it was very much like the Velvets, there was a lot of onstage spontaneity, I remember one night on that tour when he just turned around and said 'follow me!'. He wrote a song and just started making something up.

Pat: Was Lou playing guitar on that tour?

Doug: Yeah, it's funny that you mentioned earlier about Cale and Morrison telling you about 'trying to cap the well' on Lou's guitar volume during the 1993 reunion tour. Because one of the techniques we developed on that tour was having... Lou played thru a Fender Twin amplifier that was set on the stage facing back at him, it was tilted up, back at him, so that it blew right into his face.

Pat: Kind of like a monitor?

Doug: Exactly. Then they would mike that, so he could see the mike right in front of it. Then everything on stage was pumped out thru a big PA, except they basically turned him off , so on stage we could hear him a lot, but out in the audience they didn't hear him at all!

Pat: (laughing) You were playing guitar on that tour?

Doug: Yeah, that was my debut on guitar.

Pat: If the audience couldn't hear Lou, was there another lead guitar?

Doug: No, there was a saxophone. It was Marty Fogel on sax, Michael S on drums. You probably know all the names, Bruce Yaw - my golden bear.

Pat: They became Lou's main band thru the rest of the 70's. But, I'm curious what would happen when Lou would take a solo and the audience couldn't hear it?

Doug: No, he didn't take solos. Sometimes, but rarely. I was doing most of the soloing. In fact there was an article, a review of an English show and they called it 'The Doug Yule Gibson Guitar Show'. I was jumping around a lot I guess.

Pat: Have you had any contact with anyone in the Velvets in the last couple of years?

Doug: I've spoken to Maureen a few times. I spoke to her recently when Sterling was dying. I called Sterling's house and spoke to Martha, but he was under morphine and not lucid. And that's it. I spoke to Sterling when they were suing Lou, which was back in the 80's to get money out of him. And that's pretty much it.

Pat: Did Sterling's death come as a surprise, did you have a lot of feelings about it?

Doug: Lots of feelings! I understood that he was well, that he was healing and that they had cured him. In fact, when Chris, the lawyer called, I was quite surprised and upset. I wrote about two pages of little vignettes about Sterling, that I'm holding, I think I'm gonna send them to Sal, who publishes a Velvet's fanzine. I think I'll let him publish that, it's a little thing but it's kind of my memories, my little bit.

Pat: What were your feelings when the band got back together in 1993? Where you wondering if the phone was gonna ring?

Doug: Yeah, I thought about it a lot. And I denied it a lot. My wife would say 'how do you feel about it?' And I would say 'I don't care'. I would have been liked to have been asked to come. It's kind of like someone saying 'you didn't really count'. And I know that's not true, but it feels that way.

I wouldn't have gone, I definitely wouldn't gone only because I couldn't afford to take the time away from work and from my family. Gus is three, he was two then. To him, a week is a lifetime. One of the things I've made a commitment to - is him. To try to raise him in a very specific way. Which means you can't go away for a month, it's not possible. Not without taking him. Along with that, he was born at home and no daycare. No TV. Gave our TV away. To eat organic food. All those things is the thrust of what I'm thinking now.

But I would liked to have had them consider me... in the same way that the miscredits on the Loaded part of the box set upset me. What irritated me, was not so much that it was wrong, but it was a wrong that I could have corrected easily had anyone bothered to send me just a letter and say 'do you know if this is true or not?'. But that was the thing that bothered me, on some stuff that concerned me, that no-one was consulting me. That seemed to be not a nice way to do things.

Pat: I noticed on the box set that it says 'this is a release of the Velvet Underground partnership'. Are you included in that?

Doug: Yes, I am part of the partnership. So that's why I should have been consulted.

Pat: So you're getting your fair share of the pie? (royalties)

Doug: I'm getting the share that I agreed to. I don't what's fair anymore, but yeah, I get a piece of the money. It's not a lot. It would take a lot of box sets to make some money.

Pat: With all the Live albums that have come out, you've actually played on more recorded pieces of music than Cale, if you just add it up that way.

Doug: Yes. They did a 'weighting' thing. They weighted the albums according to what was selling and what was not. And the two big sellers at the time we wrote the agreement was the 'Banana' album and Loaded, those were considered the two major albums. And since then it's actually shifted, and the lawyer said he now considers it to be the 'Banana' album and White Light/White Heat. But then I also heard from a friend, according to MOJO magazine, on their recent list of the '100 all time' albums, the two that show up are the 'Banana' album and the '3rd album', Which is interesting.

Pat: You'd think White Light/White Heat would be the worst seller. It's always tough in those situations to come to an agreement that will please everybody.

Doug: Especially if you are not talking to each other. The group was never talking when we were together, when we separated, it was even less.

Pat: Sounds like you've at least got your hand in there.

Doug: There's more communication now, it's sort of forced, but it's there.

Pat: What comes to mind when you happen to hear the Velvets by default, you walk into a room and it's on the stereo? Or you hear them mentioned on the radio, what triggers in your head?

Doug: That's funny, the other day, I was standing in the office of a guy who sells veneer and we were going to get some lunch. I heard very faintly coming from the other room, so faintly that no-one else could tell what it was, but I knew instantly it was 'Rock N Roll'. I asked them what station was playing it and they said 'KGO', I was curious because I figured it had something to do with the box set. I got a kick out of that, just knowing that after all these years, they were playing it on a mainstream rock station.

I think it's a double feeling. One is - is that there is always a thrill when you hear yourself on the radio and you want to grab someone and say 'hey, that's me, I'm on the radio!' On the other hand, I always cringe a little bit, there's something I still don't like about Loaded. Actually if I had to pick between the two albums, I'd probably pick the '3rd album' as a better album overall. There's something about Loaded that's not honest.

Pat: Forced?

Doug: For me, yes. It's like 'we're gonna be stars, we gotta make a great record'. Before we got to that point, we really much more having fun. But when we got to that point... there's good stuff in there and there's a lot of stuff I really love in it. There's just an element of insincerity in there, that kind of bothers me.

Pat: What do you think of the Live albums; 1969 and Max's?

Doug: I kind of like those. I haven't really listened to them, I hear bits when people play them for me. I kind of like them because they're raw. Especially the San Francisco 'Matrix' recordings on 1969. It was fun, we were having a lot of fun. Some of the time we were smoking pot, sometime's we were drinking beer, and some of the time, we were straight. But it was always a lot of fun. The 'End Of Cole' club was like that, we were enjoying it. (recordings also on the 1969 album and some bootlegs)

Pat: Sterling said something to me about those 1969 tapes, he had a problem with the fact that all these tapes were from small clubs and he felt the band played best in a bigger hall. He didn't feel that these club tapes captured the band properly. It wasn't how he remembered the band sounding.

Doug: I think the club tapes show a different side of the band. 'End Of Cole' was similar to Max's except maybe we were not as much of a house band. Still we were staying close enough to the place, so we would walk and we were hanging out and jamming afterwards. And two shows per night as I recall and fairly intimate. Much more than 'La Cave', (Cleveland club were the Velvet's played often) which was a club, but this vast basement. Even beyond where the people sat, it just seemed to go on forever. It was a different side of the group.

I think he's right, I think we would get more pumped for a bigger show. If nothing else, your volume was tripled. So you had a bunch of watts right behind you. Right at your back and you could really crank up. I know the kind of guitar style that Sterling played was very Micky Baker sound. A real heavy attack and fast decay, which you'd call a 'plunky'. He didn't have a lot of sustain, he didn't pull it out with his fingers and he didn't generate it electronically, and so for him, I'm sure playing in a large hall would be better, because you'd naturally get more sustain out of the instrument- so even if you didn't want it, or you weren't looking for it, you'd feel like there was more 'note' there. The softer we played, the more difficult it would be for him.

Also see our Maureen Tucker interview