John Cale

Above Photo: © Lisa Law

John Cale
Photo: © Nat Finkelstein  Click!

”He’d get paranoid craziness. I thought he was really special because of that, that craziness to me was incredibly interesting. He was really the kind that would be afraid to go into the street -from paranoia or whatever makes you that way. ” –Betsey Johnson, Up-Tight

John Cale has brought an avant-garde ear to rock & roll ever since he founded the Velvet Underground with Lou Reed in 1965.

Born in Garnant, Wales, in 1942, John Davies Cale played piano and viola from an early age. As a promising student at Goldsmiths  University, he often chafed at the limitations of the classical hierarchy , and was drawn to the work of such avant garde composers as John Cage and La Monte Young. When Cale moved to New York in 1963, he fell in with each of these influences in turn, playing piano with Cage and viola in La Monte Young’s Theater of Eternal Music (a.k.a. The Dream Syndicate).

His work shows a fascination with opposites: lyricism and noise, subtlety and bluntness, hypnotic repetition and sudden change. Even as a student of classical music, he was an extremist: During a recital at the Guildhall School of Music, London, where he was studying theory and composition, he demolished a piano. Cale studied in Britain with composer Humphrey Searle, came to America in 1963 to work with Iannis Xenakis and Aaron Copland under the auspices of a Leonard Bernstein Fellowship, then settled in New York with such radical composers as John Cage and La Monte Young. That year Cale was one of a group of pianists to perform Erik Satie’s nearly 19-hour-long “Vexations.” Through his association with the Lower Manhattan art community, Cale met Reed, who encouraged  Cale’s passion toward experimenting within rock & roll, helping them to create the Velvet Underground, for whom Cale played keyboards, bass and electric viola.The rock and roll milieu gave Cale a chance to unleash his fierce improvisational skills, ones that classical music had no use for.

“The Velvets shows were pretty riotous. When we went to the West Coast, we’d end up playing in big clubs with a lot of the acid head bands, and we found we could fit in there by improvising a little harder than what the acid head bands were doing.” –VU Psych

VU psych
The Velvets by Billy Name 

“When John left, it was really sad. I felt really bad. And of course, this was gonna really influence the music, ’cause, John’s a lunatic. I think we became a little more normal, which was fine, it was good music, good songs, it was never the same though. It was good stuff, a lot of good songs, but, just, the lunacy factor was… gone.”-Moe Tucker

After two Velvets albums (The Velvet Underground and Nico and White Light/White Heat), Cale left in 1968, worked in A&R, production and arranging  (Nico’s  & The Stooges) and as a consultant for Columbia, remixing albums by Barbra Streisand and Paul Revere and the Raiders in quadraphonic sound for a year before returning as a solo artist with some subdued but elegant solo albums. His 1973 classic Paris 1919 established his penchant for writing allusive, emotionally compelling songs linked to historical and political concerns —a concern that reached its culmination in his harrowing 1982 album Music For A New Society. “Emotional concerns are very political, in the end,” he points out.

Having moved to the West Coast in the early ’70s Cale worked as an A&R man for Warner Bros. His solo albums of the decade mixed minimalism (Church of Anthrax, with fellow La Monte Young pupil Terry Riley), full orchestra (The Academy in Peril),  elegant pop (Paris 1919, with Little Feat’s Lowell George), hard rock (Fear), Phil Spector/Brian Wilson gloss (Slow Dazzle), and apocalyptic post-punk (Sabotage). Lyrically, he displayed equal daring; delivered in a strong baritone, his work ranged from musings about terrorism, espionage, and states of psychological extremity to love songs.

The mid-’70s found Cale back in the UK, fronting a rock band that featuring guitarist Chris Spedding, performing concerts as a solo artist for the first time. The performances were often acts of disturbing theatre, audiences assaulted with a stage presentation that drew as much from Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty as from Phil Spector. His three albums from this period— Fear, Slow Dazzle and Helen of Troy—capture the dark and manic energy that colored his live shows, anticipating the  punk explosion that lurked around the corner.

By the 1980’s Cale was an established producer and arranger, his previous work ranged from the debut efforts of The Stooges, Patti Smith, Modern Lovers, and Squeeze to four albums by former Velvets singer Nico; he also had worked with Jennifer Warnes, Julie Covington, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Nick Drake, and Mike Heron, scored soundtracks for Andy Warhol‘s Heat and Roger Corman’s Caged Heat.

While commercial success eludes him, he was lauded as one of punk’s godfathers, a status he contended against with characteristic irony: His primary interest he stated remained classical music. As the ’80s waned he continued producing (Happy Mondays), scoring (the soundtrack for Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild with Laurie Anderson and David Byrne), and releasing solo work as various as the pop of “Wrong Way Up” to “The Falklands Suite,” an orchestration of Dylan Thomas poetry that highlighted Words for the Dying.

By 1993 Cale had come full circle, having 4 years earlier collaborated with Lou Reed on Songs for Drella, a tribute to Velvet Underground mentor Andy Warhol, he teamed with the Velvets members on a reunion tour.

After the artistic failure of that reunion Cale continued to innovate, releasing in 1996, with guests David Byrne and Maureen Tucker, the country tinged Walking on Locusts, featuring a moving tribute to Velvets guitarist Sterling Morrison, and, in 1998, scoring a ballet production in honour of Nico.

Studio Albums

  • Vintage Violence (1970)
  • The Academy in Peril (1972)
  • Paris 1919 (1973)
  • Fear (1974)
  • Slow Dazzle (1975)
  • Helen of Troy (1975)
  • Honi Soit (1981)
  • Music for a New Society (1982)
  • Caribbean Sunset (1984)
  • Artificial Intelligence (1985)
  • Words for the Dying (1989)
  • Walking on Locusts (1996)
  • HoboSapiens (2003)
  • blackAcetate (2005)
  • Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood (2012)
  • M:FANS (2016)

Live Albums

  • Sabotage/Live (1979)
  • John Cale Comes Alive (1984)
  • Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1991)
  • Fragments of a Rainy Season (1992)
  • Circus Live (2007)
  • John Cale & Band Live (Rockpalast 1983 & 1984) (2010)

Collaborative Studio Albums

  • Church of Anthrax (with Terry Riley) (1971)
  • Songs for Drella (with Lou Reed) (1990)
  • Wrong Way Up (with Brian Eno) (1990)
  • Last Day on Earth (with Bob Neuwirth) (1994)

Soundtracks and Scores

  • Love me (2000)
  • American Psycho (2000)
  • The Virgin (1999)
  • Wisconsin Death Trip (1999)
  • Night Wind (1999)
  • Somewhere in the City (1998)
  • Rhinoceros Hunting in Budapest (1997)
  • Basquiat (1996)
  • I Shot Andy Warhol (1996)
  • Antarctica (1995)
  • Don’t Forget You’re Going to Die/N’oublie pas que tu vas mourir (1995)
  • Ah Pook Is Here (Short) (1994)
  • Life Underwater (1994)
  • The Birth of Love (1993)
  • Primary Motive(1992)
  • Healing Hurts (1991)
  • Paris Awakens(1991)
  • Songs for Drella (Video) 1990
  • Dick: A Film by Jo Menell (Documentary short) 1989
  • The Houseguest (Short) (1989)
  • Something Wild (1986)
  • American Playhouse (TV Series) (1 episode)- Who Am I This Time? (1982)
  • Caged Heat (1974)
  • Heat (1972)
  • Women in Revolt (1971)
  • Straight and Narrow (Short) (1970)

Check out Loud Alien Noize article about Cale’s autobiography ”What’s Welsh for Zen?” co-written with Victor Bockris.

Just click !




19 thoughts on “John Cale

  1. Tobe you have sure taught all of us much on Velvet Underground. I have been indulging myself into some of there music lately to try and understand more about them. Also being that John Cale has been working behind the scenes for most of his career after V.U. we the readers think that he maybe dropped out of the music scene. But thanks to you I know now how much he has influenced the music business over the last 40 plus years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You bet he has!! Yes he had a moment after his divorce from Betsey Johnson but you bet he was there!! His solo albums are very good too!! You know comments like this makes me wanna keep on bloggin’ cause that’s the reason why I do this!! TY so much! BTW I’m not done with the Velvet cuz I haven’t spoken about Moe Tucker a lot (the drummer). I will publish an interview of her with Lou Reed that’s not on the internet yet. And that will be that for the Velvet… I’m curious to know if you knew the V.U. a lot before I started posting (relentlessly) about them? What are you fav tracks? Thanks for your comment AND your indefectible support for Loud Alien Noize! It sure means a lot to me!! Peace Out from Montreal!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I knew very little about them. Growing up in Colorado we never even hear of them. Then after moving out to California in the late 70’s you really only heard about Lou Reed’s involvement with them. I need to do more experimenting with the music before I can decide a favorite. But I’ll let you know when that time comes. Looking forward to the next post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lou Reed and John Cale were the founding members but Lou Reed was the real heart and soul of the band but what made this group so special was the improbable mix that resulted in such powerful and innovative songs for the 60’s. After Lou Reed left the VU (while ”Loaded” was being recorded) he went out and did one of the best rock’n’roll album of all time produced by David Bowie while he was in London with The Stooges! It’s called ”Transformer” and it’s number 194 in Rolling Stone alltime best 500 albums. The 3rd album of the VU is number 316 but to me the VU should be amongst the 10 best because they were so ahead of their time!! I mean the ”banana” album was recorded in 1964!!!! But it was released only in 1967, same time as Sgt Pepper by The Beatles! IMO the Banana album goes much further than Sgt Pepper did but of course it’s so different it’s really a matter of opinion.. In 1964 the Beatles were releasing Hard Day’s Night!! While the VU were recording the banana album for the first time… The demo was rejected by MGM with the mention:”Who is going to want to listen to any of this?? Are you out of your mind?? (something along those lines). Anyways… I’m really not objective when it comes to the VU!! LOL.. It’s just I’ve been reading alot about them lately (read 3 books in a row!) so I know all the influences and inspiration that went into those albums and what was going on during the time they were doing their first albums and they were so ahead.. I mean NO ONE would have even thought of recording tracks about transvestites and heroin in such plain words as they did… People were all about the lenght of the hair fo the Beatles but have you seen John Cales’ hair?? That was in since 1964!! People were still getting beat up for this back then!! Anyways.. There’s a really interesting documentary on the VU on Youtube… if you go on this post and click on Sterling’s pic you will get to see the original documentary… I think it’s the best intro to the VU one can get.. Much less boring than reading all the posts I made lol!! But no worries I will do only one more about the drummer Maureen Tucker because she had such an amazing influence on many drummers.. She had a really special style that she developped on her own..instinctively.. Anyways just in case here’s the link my friend!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I guess that I know more about V.U. music then I thought. I can remember back in the 8th grade we used to go over to this dudes house and sit in his smoked filled room (don’t know of course what the smoke was) and listening to Rock & Roll Animal for hours at a time. Still my favorite Lou Red record. So I would to say that “Heroin” is my favorite V.U. song. The original recording is really amazing as well as many of the other tunes off of the first album. “Waiting for the Man” was great also and all the writing is right about how the establishment couldn’t handle the shit they where writing about back in those days. I will be downloading this to be library tonight. Next up I will listen to “White Light/ White Heat” album since I love the Rock & Roll Animal version so much. I’m sure that many of those songs will be downloaded to. Then the self titled album last. Again Thank You my music library will be a better place now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m happy I could do this. It’as the main reason why I do this blog. I just don’t want these amazing band slip into oblivion. My fav is Venus in Furs but All Tomorrow’s Parties comes in close second. TY for being so interested my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. All Tomorrow’s Parties reminded me a lot of the psychedelic bands from San Francisco during the 60’s. If I would have heard it out of the blue without knowing it was V.U. it could have cost me a lot of time trying to find out what San Fran band had done it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If you like reading and would like to read about the VU I would strongly suggest you read Up-Tight by Victor Bockris and Gerard Malanga! It is very very interesting from start to finish and giving all the correct infos you could possibly want!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. San Fran at the time of the Vu was all about The Mothers who were following the VU around and trying to benefit from their popularity and Jefferson Airplane who were just Auditioning as the VU came to the Fillmore and Bill Graham, the manager, who happened to be their manager took advantage of the crowds the VU were drawing to launch the the Airplanes. Grace Slick wasn’t even around yet. The EPI showed the Fillmore East what a light show was and that’s why the manager got so pissed of at the whole team… Andy’ team showed them what a real light show was and that’s when it started happening on the west coast… The Fillmore made tons of money that day but one of the main technician pissed off bill Graham so bad that he didn’t let them play the remaining of the dates but the artists syndicate stipulated that if the band remained available to play they would still get paid. So that’s what they did! Don’t take my word for it. Get your own infos, do your own research… I stand behind what I just said 100%. Enjoy your discovery of The Stooges…. I envy you. I wish I could erase all I know and just rediscover Iggy and The Stooges form zilch… Man… I hope you like it.. I know I’m from a different generation but just give it an honest real fair chance.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. I think saying that their was a misunderstanding between the east coast and the west cost music would be a huge understatement back then… Bill Graham ( Fillmore owner) was hated with a devotion by everyone in the EPI back then. EVERYONE in the EPI crew thought he was a fist class asshole. I was surprised on the other hand that The Mothers and Zappa himself keep putting the VU down and saying they were (these are his words) just ”a bunch of degenerate losers”. I always was a huge Zappa fan and this was like a cold shower to me, the fact the Zappa was such a close minded, hippie who, on top of it all, followed the EPI where ever they would go to beneficiate from the huge crowds and attention they were getting. That to me is such a low scum attitude. BUT..I know things always gets exaggerated so… But it always will be in the back of my head now when I listen to his music and/or read about his life. If anyone can shed some light on what was actually happening back then would be more then welcome. but until then I will always keep in mind how he took advantage of the EPI while spitting in the face of the very ones that helped Sappa and The MOthers get the audience they were after. Fuck .’em.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I am far from being done with the Velvet Undergound. I am now reading John Cale autobiography (co-written with the help of Victor Bockris) and will post a review and a Q and A with co author Victor Bockris AND hopefully will try to have one with JohnCale himself…. SO I am currently reading What Welsh for Zen the autobiography of John Cale and I have to ay this is a truly entertaining book and this should be a really well known book as it is an important piece if you want to really document the evolution of modern music as John Cale plays a key role in it.


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