John Cale

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John Cale
Cale in concert, 2006.
Cale in concert, 2006.
Background information
Birth name John Davies Cale
Born December 4, 1942 (age 64)
Origin Garnant, Ammanford, Carmarthenshire, Wales
Genre(s) Experimental rock
Art rock
Occupation(s) musician, songwriter, record producer
Instrument(s) Viola, singing, organ, piano, harpsichord, keyboards, bass, guitar, among others.
Years active 1965–present
The Velvet Underground
Website Official Website

John Davies Cale (born December 4, 1942) is a Welsh musician, songwriter and record producer. He is best known for his work in rock music, particularly as a founding member of The Velvet Underground, and he has worked in a variety of styles over the years. Cale created the wall of feedback and distortion that Sandy Pearlman would describe as heavy metal in a Crawdaddy review of the first Velvet Underground LP.


[edit] Early life and career

Cale was born in Garnant in the heavily industrial Amman Valley, and Welsh is his first language. Having discovered a talent for piano, he studied music at Goldsmiths College, the University of London, where he famously stayed in room E14 Raymont Hall (in Brockley). He then travelled to the USA to continue his musical training, thanks to the help and influence of Aaron Copland.

Arriving at New York City, he met a number of influential composers. With John Cage and several others, Cale participated in an 18-hour piano-playing marathon that was the first full-length performance of Erik Satie's "Vexations". More significantly, Cale played in La Monte Young's ensemble the Theater of Eternal Music (also known as the Dream Syndicate, which should not be confused with the 1980s band of the same name). The heavily drone-laden music he played there proved to be a big influence in his work with his next group, the Velvet Underground.

[edit] The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground (and Nico) in 1966, L-R: John Cale, Nico, Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker
The Velvet Underground (and Nico) in 1966, L-R: John Cale, Nico, Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker

In 1965, he joined Lou Reed in the newly-formed Velvet Underground, but left in 1968, due in part to creative disagreements with Reed.

Cale appears on the Velvet Underground's first two albums, The Velvet Underground and Nico and White Light/White Heat, besides Nico's first album, Chelsea Girl, considered by some mostly a Velvet album. On the debut and White Light/White Heat, he sings on a few songs, plays viola, bass guitar, piano and organ (particularly on "Sister Ray") and co-wrote some of the material, but perhaps his most distinctive contributions are the electrically amplified viola drones which add greatly to the overall atmosphere of the records.

He is said to have influenced the sound of the early V.U. much more than any other members (and often disagreed with Reed about the direction the group should take). When Cale left the group, he seemed to take the more experimentalist tendencies with him, as is arguably noticeable in comparing the noise-rock experimental White Light/White Heat that Cale co-created with the calmer The Velvet Underground, recorded after his departure. It is also claimed that the change in sound was due to the band's equipment being stolen at an airport.

For years, a story he told about being in the same studio when Van Morrison's 1968 Astral Weeks album was recorded, was repeated as an honest assessment: "Morrison couldn't work with anybody, so finally they just shut him in the studio by himself. He did all the songs with just an acoustic guitar, and later they overdubbed the rest of it around his tapes." This story was still being told in 1979, when famed journalist Lester Bangs repeated it in his article on Astral Weeks in "Stranded."[1] Over the years, the story has been shown to be completely untrue[2]

Three albums of his early experimental work were released in 2001. One of his collaborators on these recordings was Velvets' guitarist Sterling Morrison.

[edit] Later career

[edit] 1970s

After leaving the Velvet Underground, Cale produced a number of albums, including Nico's The Marble Index and The Stooges' debut, and began to make solo records. His first, Vintage Violence came in 1970, following which he collaborated with yet another classical musician, Terry Riley, on the mainly instrumental Church of Anthrax. Cale also appeared on Nick Drake's second album, Bryter Layter, playing viola and harpsichord on two of the album's tracks. His solo record Paris 1919 (1973), made up of elegantly crafted and tastefully arranged songs with arcane and complex lyrics, has been cited by critics[3] as one of his best.

Cale also continued to work as a record producer. In 1974, he joined Island Records, and worked in that capacity with Squeeze, Patti Smith, and Sham 69, among others. On his production of Nico's The End he played a wide array of instruments to unique effect. He produced a number of important protopunk records, including debuts by Patti Smith, The Stooges and The Modern Lovers. During this period, he also worked as a talent scout with Island's A&R department.

Moving back to the United Kingdom, Cale made a series of solo albums which moved in a new direction. The tasteful elegance of his earlier records was now replaced by a dark and threatening aura, often carrying a sense of barely-suppressed aggression. A trilogy of albums - Fear, Slow Dazzle, and Helen of Troy were recorded with other Island artists including Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno of Roxy Music, and Chris Spedding who featured in his live band. This era of Cale's music is perhaps best represented by his somewhat disturbing cover of Elvis Presleys' iconic "Heartbreak Hotel", featured both on Slow Dazzle and the live album June 1, 1974, recorded with Kevin Ayers, Nico and Eno, and by his frothing performance on "Leaving It Up To You", a savage indictment of the mass media first released on Helen of Troy (1975), but quickly deleted from later editions of the record due perhaps to the song's pointed Sharon Tate reference. It's also worth noting that both "Leaving" and "Fear Is A Man's Best Friend" (from Fear) began as relatively conventional songs that both gradually grow more paranoid in tone before breaking down into what critic Dave Thompson calls "a morass of discordance and screaming."[2] His often loud, abrasive and confrontational live performances fitted well with the nascent punk rock developing on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Cale took to wearing a hockey goalie's mask onstage; see the cover of the Guts compilation (1977). It was a very odd and menacing look, utilized several years before the fictional Jason Voorhees first appeared on screen and made the goalie's mask all but synonymous with evil. During one gig he chopped the head off a dead chicken with a meat cleaver, and his band walked offstage in protest. Cale's drummer--a vegetarian--was so bothered he quit the group. Cale mocks his decision on "Chicken Shit" from the Animal Justice EP. Cale has admitted that some of his paranoia and erratic behaviour at this time was associated with heavy cocaine use.[4]

[edit] 1980s

In 1982, Cale released the sparse Music For A New Society. Seeming to blend the refined music of his early solo work with the threatening music that came later, it is by any standard a bleak, harrowing record. It's been called "understated, and perhaps a masterpiece." [3]

Having married Rise Irushalmi and had his daughter Eden Cale, he took a long break from performing, making a comeback in 1989 with vocal and orchestral settings of poems by Dylan Thomas, most notably, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night", which he performed on stage in the concert held in Cardiff in 1999 to celebrate the opening of the Welsh Assembly. The music was recorded in 1992, on an Eno produced album: Words for the Dying - perhaps the closest Cale has come to conventional classical music.

[edit] 1990s and beyond

In 1990, he collaborated with Eno on an album entitled Wrong Way Up. One of the songs, "Lay My Love" was on the Northern Exposure soundtrack More Music From Northern Exposure released in 1994. Cale covered Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah" on the 1991 tribute album I'm Your Fan. Cale's cover of "Hallelujah" was used in the 1996 film, Basquiat, and the 2001 film, Shrek, in the latter film one line of the lyric ("Maybe there's a God above") was edited from the song; however, Rufus Wainwright's performance of the song was included on the film's official soundtrack instead of Cale's. It is however included in the official soundtrack for the TV-series Scrubs.

In 1992, Cale performed vocals on the song "First Evening" on French producer Hector Zazou's album Sahara Blue. All lyrics on the album were based on the poetry of author Arthur Rimbaud. In 1994, Cale performed a spoken word duet with Suzanne Vega on the song "The Long Voyage" on Zazou's album Chansons des mers froides. The lyrics were based on the poem "Silhouettes" by author Oscar Wilde and Cale co-wrote the music with Zazou. It was later released as a single (retitled "The Long Voyages" as it featured several remixes by Zazou, Mad Professor, and more).

Songs for Drella, a tribute to one-time Velvet Underground manager Andy Warhol, saw him reunited with Reed, a collaboration which eventually led to the brief reunion of the Velvet Underground in 1993. Nico, an instrumental ballet score and tribute to the singer was performed by Scapino Rotterdam plus an added selection from The Marble Index in 1998, with the score released as Dance Music. Cale has also written a number of film soundtracks, often using more classically influenced instrumentation. Cale's autobiography, What's Welsh for Zen?, was published in 1999.

With 2003's E.P. Five Tracks and the album HoboSapiens, John Cale again returned as a regular recording artist, this time with music influenced by modern electronica and alternative rock. The well received album was co-produced with Nick Franglen of Lemon Jelly. That record was again followed with 2005's album BlackAcetate, which consolidated John Cale's reputation as a versatile and tirelessly innovative music auteur.

[edit] Discography

[edit] With the Dream Syndicate

  • Inside the Dream Syndicate Vol. I: Day of Niagara (Table of the Elements) 2000

[edit] Early recordings: New York in the 1960s

  • Sun Blindness Music (Table of the Elements) 2001
  • Inside The Dream Syndicate Vol. II: Dream Interpretation (Table of the Elements) 2001
  • Inside The Dr Vol. III: Stainless Gamelan (Table of the Elements) 2001

[edit] With the Velvet Underground

† Although Cale had left The Velvet Underground two years before they released their 1970 album Loaded, he was briefly involved in the demo stages of that record. The 1997 2CD reissue of that album contains a demo of "Ocean" that is believed to feature Cale playing the organ.

[edit] Solo

  • Vintage Violence (Columbia) December 1970
  • The Academy in Peril (Reprise) April 1972
  • Paris 1919 (Reprise) March 1973
  • Fear (Island) September 1974
  • Slow Dazzle (Island) March 1975
  • Helen of Troy (Island) November 1975
  • Guts (compilation) (Island) February 1977
  • Sabotage/Live (IRS) December 1979
  • Honi Soit March 10, 1981
  • Music For A New Society (Ze) August 1982
  • Caribbean Sunset (Ze) June 1983
  • John Cale Comes Alive (Ze) September 1984
  • Artificial Intelligence (Beggars Banquet) September 1985
  • Words for the Dying (Opal/Warner Bros.) October 1989
  • Even Cowgirls Get The Blues (live) (ROIR) 1991
  • Paris S'eveille, Suivi d'Autres Compositions (OST) (Crepuscule) November 1991
  • Fragments of a Rainy Season (live) (Hannibal) October 1992
  • 23 Solo Pieces pour La Naissance de L'Amour (Crepuscule) November 1993
  • N'Oublie Pas Que Tu Vas Mourir (Crepuscule) 1994
  • Seducing Down The Door (compilation) (Rhino) 1994
  • Antartida (OST) (Crepuscule) 1995
  • Walking on Locusts (Hannibal) September 1996
  • Eat/Kiss: Music for the Films of Andy Warhol (Hannibal) June 1997
  • Somewhere In The City (OST) August 1998
  • Nico: Dance Music October 1998
  • The Unknown (OST) (Crepuscule) 1999
  • Le Vent De La Nuit (OST) (Crepuscule) March 1999
  • Close Watch: An Introduction to John Cale (compilation) - 1999
  • 5 Tracks (EP) (EMI) May 2003
  • HoboSapiens (EMI) October 2003
  • Process (OST) (Syntax) July 2005
  • blackAcetate (EMI) October 2005
  • Jumbo In Tha Modern World (CD single) (EMI) July 2006
  • Circus Live (live) (EMI) February 2007

[edit] Collaborations

[edit] Productions

Soundtrack for film "Basquiat"

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Rogan, Johnny (2006-05-04). No Surrender. United Kingdom: Vintage, pp.225-227. ISBN 9780099431831. 
  3. ^ Paris 1919 from
  4. ^ Mitchell, Tim Sedition and Alchemy : A Biography of John Cale, 2003, ISBN 0720611326

[edit] References

  • Rogan, Johnny (2006). Van Morrison:No Surrender, London:Vintage Books ISBN 9780099431831
  • Mitchell, Tim Sedition and Alchemy : A Biography of John Cale, 2003, ISBN 0720611326

[edit] External links

[edit] Listening

The Velvet Underground
John Cale | Sterling Morrison | Lou Reed | Maureen Tucker | Doug Yule
Willie Alexander | Angus MacLise | Walter Powers | Billy Yule
Studio albums: The Velvet Underground and Nico | White Light/White Heat | The Velvet Underground | Loaded | Squeeze
Live albums: Live at Max's Kansas City | 1969 | Live MCMXCIII | Final V.U. | The Quine Tapes
Box sets and outtake compilations: VU | Another View | What Goes On | Peel Slowly and See
Selected best-of compilations: Rock and Roll | The Very Best of The Velvet Underground | Gold
See also
Chelsea Girl | Exploding Plastic Inevitable | Lou Reed | Nico | Steve Sesnick | Songs for Drella | Andy Warhol