Lou Reed’s ax­e­men

To mark his sad loss Martin Cooper checks out Lou Reed’s rock­ier ‘post Trans­former’ era through his gui­tarists, Steve Hunter and Dick Wag­ner.

Guitar Techniques - - Lesson: Rock -

This month we pay our re­spects to Lou Reed who died last Oc­to­ber at the age of 71. Reed has long been de­scribed as one of the most in­flu­en­tial mu­si­cians of the 20th century, and en­joyed a ded­i­cated fol­low­ing dur­ing his time in the Vel­vet Un­der­ground, as well as from his solo ven­tures. The Vel­vet Un­der­ground didn’t have a great deal of commercial suc­cess, but they in­flu­enced a whole gen­er­a­tion of punk and new wave bands in the 1970s and 1980s af­ter the re­lease of their de­but al­bum in 1967.

Reed also went on to have a suc­cess­ful solo ca­reer, re­leas­ing the clas­sic al­bum Trans­former (1972); and his song Satel­lite Of Love was used by U2 as a ‘vir­tual duet’ be­tween Reed (on a video screen) and Bono through­out the Zoo TV tour in sup­port of their Zooropa al­bum in the early 90s. How­ever, this is GT’s rock col­umn, so we’re look­ing at Lou’s mid1970s harder-edged pe­riod, which in­cluded Steve Hunter and Dick Wag­ner on gui­tar du­ties. Both gui­tarists went on to play in Alice Cooper’s band, with Wag­ner also writ­ing the of­ten-cov­ered clas­sic Cooper song Only Women Bleed. He also played with Kiss, so it is easy to see how Reed gained a rock­ier edge with these two play­ers in his band.

Steve Hunter has also played for artists as di­verse as Peter Gabriel and David Lee Roth. More re­cently he re­leased an al­bum that fea­tures con­tri­bu­tions from Joe Sa­tri­ani, Johnny Depp and Tony Levin.

Hunter and Wag­ner’s play­ing for Reed is well doc­u­mented on the live al­bum Rock & Roll An­i­mal, with their parts be­ing split left and right in the stereo mix, so it’s easy to hear which of them is play­ing what. The way that the two play­ers leave each other enough space to deliver their re­spec­tive parts, and how they each com­pose their lines and phrases through­out the al­bum, is a joy to be­hold; at no time does the lis­tener feel like they are com­pet­ing with each other or get­ting in each other’s way - or in the way of the song.

This month’s piece aims to take into ac­count both gui­tarists’ play­ing, al­though it is ar­ranged for one gui­tarist to play along to.

We are in the key of D ma­jor (D E F# G A B C#) but the track gen­er­ally has a Mixoly­dian tonal­ity (D E F# G A B C). It fea­tures some choppy stac­cato rhythm gui­tar and chords, plus some bluesy-rock lead play­ing, based around the pen­ta­tonic scale.

One tell-tale method of telling the play­ers apart is Hunter’s slightly more abra­sive tone, which the sec­ond half of the solo and the left chan­nel of the rhythm part here high­lights. The name of the game is space and touch, in terms of how the parts are played. Your tim­ing needs to be re­laxed through­out, too, but not so re­laxed as to be be­hind the beat.

Hunter and Wag­ner have played for artists as di­verse as Peter Gabriel, David Lee Roth and Kiss.

Lou Reed with Dick Wag­ner back in 1973

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