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.
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