Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What A Year

Hello All-

Good grief, what a year. Lots of photos, three books released in one calendar year (and a fourth just finished, more on this soon), photo shoots throughout the East Coast, photos published in multiple CDs,  the Johnny Cash biography, Our State, and many others. For me, this year has been at times amazing, and other times overwhelming. But it has been an amazing year, nonetheless.

My thanks to all of you who were a part of 2013. Much love goes out to my grandfather, Don Coston, and all of the friends that went on this year to better places. Thanks for all your support, and there's a lot to come in 2014. Let's hope it's a good one, without any fear.

Wherever you want to be this coming year, I hope to see you there.
December 31, 2013


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tom Hanchett review of my NC Musicians book, from MHA Dandelion newsletter

North Carolina Musicians: Photographs and Conversations 
Daniel Coston with forward by Meg Freeman Whalen 
(Jefferson, NC & London: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2013) 

He's always there.  Go to almost any type of music event anywhere within 
driving distance of Charlotte and Daniel Coston will be shooting photos. 
 Musicians love his deep knowledge of Southern music traditions – and his 
uncanny ability to zoom in on rising stars who are reshaping music today.  

All of that makes Daniel Coston's new book, North Carolina Musicians, a 
lively historical document of Carolina culture in our lifetimes.  From the 
region's grassroots recording studios, to the stages of nightclubs and 
bluegrass festivals, to quiet moments at musicians' homes, Daniel gives 
glimpses of the creativity that has made this corner of the South famous. 

A forward by Meg Freeman Whelan, longtime writer for the Charlotte 
Symphony and now UNCC, brings us up to speed on North Carolina's deep 
and varied musical history. Asheville's Mountain Dance and Folk Festival 
turned young Pete Seeger on to the banjo and set the template for outdoor 
events worldwide.  Charlotte's WBT radio became a magnet for top 
performers who forged the sound that became bluegrass, including Bill 
Monroe and homegrown guitar star Arthur Smith.  Durham Dollar Store 
proprietor J.B. Long arranged recording sessions that made Sonny Terry and 
Blind Boy Fuller into lasting legends of the blues. 

Then Daniel Coston takes the book's reins and we're off!  Visit backstage with National Heritage Award winner 
Doc Watson.  Hang out at the Winston Salem studio of indy-rock pioneer Mitch Easter – a house where every 
room is wired for sound.  Spend time with the WBT Briarhoppers stringband, who Daniel credits for kindling his 
love of music during a visit to his 5th grade class. Get to know the circle of players in the Chapel Hill area – alt- 
country singers Tift Merritt and Caitlin Cary, newgrass band Chatham County Line and more – who have brought 
Southern music traditions to a new generation of audiences nationwide. 

In fact, that bridging / reinventing of roots-based music for today’s ears is perhaps the most important underlying 
theme of Daniel Coston’s book.  He gives an up-close look at the Avett Brothers from Concord, who have become 
unlikely arena-rock superstars in the past decade, playing banjos and acoustic guitars with a punk-rock intensity.  
And he devotes a place of honor to Rhiannon Giddens of Greensboro and her Carolina Chocolate Drops band, who 
have re-connected young African Americans with an almost lost heritage of stringband virtuosity, playing to 
capacity audiences of every race at major venues across the U.S. and Europe. 

Hard to believe, if you grew up with rock or disco or hip-hop, but it’s now cool on America’s college campuses to 
pick a banjo or strum a ukulele or sing harmony.   

That national trend has deep roots in North Carolina.  And you can read about it and see the photos in North 
Carolina Musicians – because Daniel Coston was there. 
 Tom Hanchett, Levine Museum of the New South 

My top ten of the year, from Courtney Devores' site

Daniel Coston, photographer/author
Of McCartney’s "New" he says, "If this record had been made by an unknown 25-year-old for New York City, this album would have made everyone’s top ten list."
Jason Isbell "Southeastern"
Reeve Coobs "What Love Is All About"
NC Love Army "We Are Not For Sale"
Temperance League "Rock n’ Roll Dreams"
Beach Fossils "Clash the Truth"
Deer Tick "Negativity"
Chris Stamey "Lovesick Blues"
Paul McCartney "New"
Josh Ritter "The Beast in Its Tracks"
David Bowie "The Next Day"

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Merry Christmas

To Everyone, wherever you are.
Dec. 23, 2013

Os Mutantes show review for Big Takeover Magazine website

Os Mutantes
New Brookland Tavern
Columbia, SC
November 21, 2013

On a recent Thursday night in Columbia, SC, college kids and yuppies packed a downtown bar crawl, filling several downtown blocks. Just a few miles away, 40 to 50 people saw Sergio Dias and Os Mutantes play the New Brookland Tavern. What did the barcrawlers get out of their evening? A few drinks (or more), a few laughs, but probably not much more. Meanwhile, those who went to see Os Mutantes got so much more.

While the current version of Os Mutantes is filtered through Dias' vision, it is still a vision that packs a wallop. Dias has continued to hone his skills as a fine bandleader, and a fantastic guitarist. He has also gathered together a strong collection of musicians to bring the band's sound together, puling from each era of the band's history. Above all else, there is a sense of fun in the music that Dias and others have thoughtfully embraced. That sense of joy in discovering something that still makes those early Os Mutantes records such a joy to listen to.

For those in the audience, there was also a sense of joy. To finally see such a heralded band during their first ever tour of the Southeast. To hear some of the band's best-known songs played right in front of them, and to know that, for at least a couple of hours, you are exactly where you want to be, and seeing and hearing what you want to do. No city bar crawl can ever fill that void.
-Daniel Coston
December 21, 2013

(You can see my photos of this show on this blog in my November postings, as well as on the band's Facebook page.)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

WBTV story on Double Door Inn, and my new (old) book

Hey There-

Here's Steve Crump story on the Double Door Inn, and my book. FYI, the new version is called Charlotte's Home Of The Blues. Enjoy. I'm in this for a nano-second.
December 19, 2013


Friday, December 13, 2013

More on my reissue of the Double Door Inn book


I'm proud to announce that I have reissued my 2009 book on the Double Door Inn, which I co-authored with Debby Wallace. Now titled "Charlotte's Home Of The Blues: 40 Years Of The Double Door Inn," this version brings the story of the famous Charlotte blues music venue up to date. This new edition features a new chapter, new photos, and the first ever publication of photos from the night that Eric Clapton played on the Double Door stage. We've also re-issued the book through Fort Canoga Press, which also released my book on the NC Rock & Roll scene of the 1960s.

The book is currently available via the link below, and via fortcanogapress.blogspot.com. The book will also be available at the Double Door Inn's 40th anniversary party on December 22nd.

Call or email anytime, and I hope to talk to you all soon,
November 13, 2013


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Double Door book reissue is now available!

The Amazon link will be available next week. I hope to have copies at the Double Door Inn's 40th anniversary, and will have copies in stores soon after. More on this book soon. Thanks very much,
December 12, 2013

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Jonathan Richman photos, Nov. 24, 2013

Jonathan Richman
Evening Muse
Charlotte, NC
Nov. 24, 2013
all photos 2013 Daniel Coston

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Double Door Inn Documentary That I'm In

Hello All-

A few years ago, I appeared in a documentary on Charlotte's own Double Door Inn, of which I co-authored a book on 2009. My thanks to Larry Sprinkle for reminding me about this video. This was also serve as a primer for our upcoming re-issue of the book, which will happen sometime later this month. Enjoy. More soon,
December 3, 2013


Friday, November 29, 2013

A Rough Draft Of My Life, So Far

Hello All-

Tomorrow is my birthday. I had planned this grand run-up to my birthday by writing about the different  parts of my time, most of which even my closer friends don't know about. November then turned into an avalanche of photos, press for the NC Musicians book, and generally just running me ragged.

So, here is a rough sketch of different times of my life. More writings about these adventures will hopefully come sooner than later.

1. The Only Living Boy In New York (1972-1983) Canoga, NY was a great place to play, and dream of larger glories.

2. A child adrift (1984-1988) A northerner lost in Mint Hill, NC.

3. Drama Days (1988-1991) The theater calls at Independence High School, and new ideas get planted.
4. Bezerk, and the gang (1989-1992) Yes, I had my own sketch comedy on local TV from 1990 to 1992. It was the greatest TV show you've never seen. Trust me.

5. Slow adulthood, and part time job blues (1992-1994)

6. Tangents (1995-1998) A new media adventure begins, and one that still goes on to today.
7. Sportswriter (1995-2000) The whole time (and more) that I worked on Tangents, I wrote at least one sports column a week for the Matthews (NC) Record. It was gas money, and I got to cover some cool things, and meet some good people.

8. I Am A Camera (1998-2003) I take to the road for photographs, only returning for video work in Charlotte with local TV stations. It was an amazing, exhausting blur of an era.

9. The Writer Strikes Back (2001-present) I pick up writing again. And enjoy it.

10. Swimming upstream (2004-2010) When in doubt, keep shooting. And I did.

11. On The Way To Here (2010-present) "On The Way To Here" is currently my favorite phrase in trying to sum up my story, so far. The last couple of years has brought many of my experiences full circle. For years, I felt like I had failed in my larger goals. Now, I recognize that I have accomplished some good, while still excited about what may be to come.

12. Friends Along The Way. The joke for years has been that all of my friends become more famous than I do. I've known some great people, and had some amazing experiences. 

More on all of this soon. Happy birthday to me.
November 29, 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Nice Review In The Big Takeover Magazine of our NC 60s book

Jacob Berger & Daniel Coston

There Was A Time: Rock ’n’ Roll In The 1960s In Charlotte, and North Carolina
            (Fort Canoga Press)

Any region boasts a rich musical past. Some, such as New York, L.A., and Nashville are known, but rock sprung up everywhere, including North Carolina, and Berger and Coston are perfect historical guides. In this oral history, the region’s early days of rock, with such artists as The Paragons [not the “TheTide is High” ‘60s Jamaican ska group or the ‘50s Brooklyn R&B group.—ed.] with their 1966 local hit “Abba” and others show the development of a scene that rode the wave of the British Invasion, soul from Motown and Stax, and AM radio pop. Later, early efforts by Don Dixon (with Arrogance) or Mitch Easter with his early band Sacred Irony, helped lead, decades later to the area becoming one of the most important stopping grounds in the1980s punk/new wave scene. Berger and Coston have produced a work that will serve as a compelling read. (therewasatimebook.blogspot.com)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Os Mutantes photos, Columbia, SC, Nov. 21, 2013

Os Mutantes (featuring Sergio Dias)
New Brookland Tavern
Columbia, SC
November 21, 2013
all photos copyright 2013 Daniel Coston

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thanks To Everyone That Heard Me On WNCW, Or At The Release Party

Hello All-

My sincere thanks to all of you that heard me on WNCW yesterday, or came out to last night's book release party. It's been a fun blur of a week.

For those of you that would like to check out my new book on North Carolina Musicians: Photographs And Conversations, featuring 140 photos, and 19 interviews, including the Avett Brothers, Carolina Chocolate Drops and more, you can check it out here.

You can also check out our NC 1960s book at therewasatimebook.blogspot.com, or here-

I hope to see some of you out at the Southern Christmas Show tonight, here in Charlotte. I'll be selling books on the Christmas stage from 7 to 8pm. See you then,
November 20, 2013

My playlist from yesterday's appearance on WNCW

Mercury Dime "The Virgin Of The Road"
dbs "That Time Is Gone"
Roman Candle "You Don't Belong To This World"
Lou Ford "The Part Of You"
Grifs "Keep Dreamin'"
Bondsmen "I See The Light"
Paragons "Abba"
Mayflies USA "Thinking Out Loud"
Avett Brothers "Pretty Girl At The Airport"
Chatham County Line "Speed Of The Whipporwill"

All songs, with the exception of the Grifs, Bondsmen, and Paragons, come from albums that featured my photos.

November 20, 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

List Of Big Events This Week

Hello All-

Here's the schedule for the next couple of days. Tuesday, Nov. 19th, noon- Live on WNCW, talking about NC Musicians book. Tuesday, Nov. 19th, 8pm, NC Musicians book premiere show, The Evening Muse, Charlotte, NC. Wednesday, Nov. 20th, 7 to 8pm, selling books on the main stage at the Southern Christmas Show, Charlotte, NC. Thanks, see you on the road. -Daniel
Nov. 18th, 2013

Article about my new books in Concord Independent Tribune

My thanks to the Tribune for this. FYI, I did also photograph the Avett Brothers' Mignonette album.
See you all soon,
November 17, 2013


Monday, November 11, 2013

My favorite photo in the whole world

Hello All-

I'm often asked, "What is your favorite photo?" I usually reply with "I don't know", or "I haven't taken it yet". But lately, this has been my favorite photo. And it's not one that I took.

This is the 1936 Phelps High School baseball team, in Phelps, NY. Look at that bad-ass standing third from right in the center row, with his jersey undone, and his hat tilted to the side. That's my grandfather, George King. He had already been dating my grandmother for two years, although World War II would not allow them to marry until 1945. He loved to play baseball. He tried out for the St. Louis Cardinals in the summer of 1936, but they didn't choose him. They should have, but George still rooted for the Cardinals the rest of his life.

In 1940, he enlisted for a year in the US Army, hoping to finish the year before war came to the United States. He was at the train station, waiting to go home, on December 7, 1941. The train never headed home, that day. Over the next three and a half years, he would serve in Africa, Italy, and D-Day. He saw, and did more than he could ever say. In August of 1945, he came home to marry my grandmother, and start the rest of his life. Which, thankfully, eventually included me. 

I think of George, and Mary (my grandmother) on days like today, Veterans Day. On their birthdays. On my birthday, and almost every day. And any time that the Cardinals have a good season, and the great ballplayer that he would have been for them. 

Happy Veterans Day, kid. Miss you,
November 11, 2013

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Reminder about my 60s NC related show this Friday

Hello All-

Here's a reminder about our show at Snug Harbor this Friday. Come out, say hello, listen to some cool bands, and buy some books. Thanks, and hope to see you again soon,
Nov. 5, 2013

A few of my pics of Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and David Marks

All from the Brian Wilson/Jeff Beck show in Atlanta, Oct. 4, 2013

Thanks to David Beard for putting this together.
Nov. 6, 2013
All photos copyright 2013 Daniel Coston

Thursday, October 31, 2013

On the (internet) radio again today

Hello All-

I'll be on Ashevillefm.org's Riffin show this afternoon, around 12:30pm EST, promoting my upcoming booksigning at Malaprops bookstore in Asheville, NC on Nov. 1st. (7pm start, hope to see you there.) Tune in, and say hello. Thanks,
October 31, 2013

P.S. Boo!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Moe Tucker interview, 1997, part three

In compiling my extended interview with the drummer of the legendary Velvet Underground in the March edition of Tangents, there were several questions that we just couldn't squeeze in due to limited time and space. The following is a sampling of those "leftovers," including Tucker recalling her head-on collision with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Tangents : One of the stories that I found in ["Uptight"] was that with the first band you played with in Syosset [NY], a bandmate of yours got shot on stage.
Maureen Tucker : Yeah, that was wrong. I played with this band for two weeks, and the only show that we ever did, as far as I remember, was at this little dive in Long Island. And the night after we played there, someone pulled out a gun during a fight or something. Bullets flew and the guitar player or drummer got shot.
Tangents : So it wasn't what it was made out to be.
Tucker : Oh, no.
Tangents : How did the idea of you playing drums standing up come about?
Tucker : That came about because what I would do with the Velvets when we first got together. We'd be in the Factory just fooling around, I had the drums on the floor 'cause there weren't enough [drums] to play the usual way. I'd just hit the bass drum with my hands. So then we invented a stand that would fit under the drum and just hold it up off the ground. Then I was in luxury. [laughs]
Tangents : At one point, you even played on garbage cans.
Tucker : Yeah. My drums got stolen. These horrible drums that I told you about got stolen from the Dom, and we showed up for showtime, and there's no drums there. So me and our road manager went out in the streets of New York City with his station wagon, looking for the cleanest garbage pails we could find, and we actually stole two garbage pails off the street.
Believe it or not, they sounded great. It really was something. We just had these garbage pails upside down on the stage, and we put a microphone under them. And the first night after we picked them up, there was quite a bit of garbage that got beat off their walls, and of course we'd sweep it away. And over the next couple weeks, the garbage pile became less and less.
I used those for at least a week, maybe around two, because I didn't have any money to go buy new drums, of course.
Tangents : How did John's departure affect the way Sterling got along with Lou? Even in "Uptight," Sterling was still very put out by what happened.
Tucker : Yeah. To the day he died, he was put out with himself, really, for not standing up to that. He always felt that he had done John wrong. Yeah, that bothered him very, very much, and I'm sure that it did affect his relationship with Lou. It had to. I'm not sure if it affected my relationship with Lou, but I'm certain that it did [affect] Sterling's.
[Sterling] always admired John and his music, but also liked him personally, but he always felt that hadn't done what he should have. Or what he thought should have done, anyway.
Tangents : How did your first solo album Playin' Possum (1982) come about?
Tucker : I was living in Phoenix, and this guy in Boston called me back in '81 sometime and told me that he had found a tape of me and Jonathan [Richman] doing "I'm Sticking With You" and that he wanted to put it on a single. So he asked if it would be alright with me. I said, "Sure, it sounds like fun." Then he called a few days later and asked if I wanted to record something to put on the other side of the single.
We had just gotten a four-track tape recorder. I could play rhythm guitar a little bit at the time, so I said, "Let me fool around and see. If I think I can do something decent, OK." So we got out the recorder, and I think we got fooling around with "Around and Around." When I got that finished, I thought, "Hmm, this is pretty good. Maybe I'll just put this out myself." So I called him and said, "Nah, I'm gonna keep this. Just put something else on the other side." And I just kept fooling around, recording covers, songs that I thought I could sing halfway decently.
I was going to put out a single, but then kept doing it. This thing also took six months to do 'cause I was changing diapers at the time. When I was halfway through, someone from Rough Trade [Records] in California came down to our house to ask if they could put out an album. They had heard that I was working on an album, which was weird because [at the time] I was not in the music scene at all and hadn't been for 10 years. We thought it would be fun, so we kept recording until I had enough for the album.
We had a little label that we just made for the single, and Rough Trade put out that album. That was me in my family room. I like it. I just listened to it the other day 'cause I was making a copy of it for someone.
I think it's a very fun album. I play everything on it. Of course this was one track at a time, and boy, what an effort this was. I do my saxophone debut on it.
Tangents : I didn't know that you played saxophone.
Tucker : I can't. [laughs] In fact, one song, "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," the Dylan song, one reviewer from Musician magazine had a great line. He really liked the album, and his line about that song was that "Maureen performs surgery without benefit of anesthetic." [laughs] I met him years later, and I said, "Oh, you're the guy that wrote that. I always remembered that. I thought that was great."
I played a harmonica for the first time on that record. I haven't picked up the saxophone since. The guitar solos on some of those songs, I don't know how I did them. It's like a little miracle album. And the harmonica, I bought one that was in the key of the song. Somebody had told me to do that, 'cause I didn't know anything about them, and just fooled around with it, and it worked.
Tangents : What are your feelings about bootlegs of the Velvets?
Tucker : Well, there's one thing that pisses me of. When we did the Velvet tour [in '93], and this is incredible, there were places that were advertising in papers before the show that they would have the tape the day after the show. People also sent bootlegs that they had found in different places before we were even home, and these damn things were packaged better than the damn record company's.
I don't know if you've ever had anything to do with trying to release a record with a small record company, but there's always an excuse why it's late. Not these bootleggers, boy. They get them out. And they're beautiful. From the packaging, you'd never guess it was a bootleg. So that's kind of aggravating.
I also am very pissed off at that VU Appreciation Society. I resent their making any money off of us 'cause they're one of those record companies that doesn't pay anybody. The guy that runs it sells bootlegs. He sells anything. Anything any of us ever did, ever thought of doing, he sells them. Meanwhile, I have two records on his label, and I've never gotten a cent.
He's told me, "Oh, I have no money, and blah blah blah." And my contention is if you bought a bottle of Coke this week, that one dollar is mine. That's a luxury. You don't need Coke. If I owed you a dollar, I would not buy the Coke, I would send you the dollar. So that's how I deal with debt, and that's how I expect to be treated.
And he does that to everybody. He's never paid Jad [Fair] anything, not one dollar. And I just detest this guy, and I hate having him have any credence in the outside world. Otherwise, eehhh, I don't mind that much about bootlegs.
In fact, when I first went to Europe, I noticed, "Holy shit! There's thousands of bootlegs!" And Lou told me that for quite a while, he had tried to keep up with all of them, just to have them. And finally, he gave up. He said you couldn't keep up with them, and he's right.
Tangents : What did you think of the albums VU (1984), and Another View (1986)? There were some really good songs on there that the band had never released.
Tucker : They're alright. The first one, they didn't mess with so much, but the second one they cleaned up a lot, and that takes away a lot. They remixed it, and everything that has a vocal is so damn high you can't hear anything else. So there's a lot of disappointments on that, but I was also glad to have some of those songs. But the mixing is questionable.
The vocals are so up front, it's just ridiculous. Is this a poetry reading, or a ballad? And they cleaned everything up too much.
Tangents : I was really saddened that after all those years they kept the Velvets out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they finally inducted you [in 1995], but it came right after Sterling had died.
Tucker : Well, I was real close to not going to that. I was really disgusted with them for lots and lots of reasons. Just the way that they handled everything. I'd call Sterling's wife every day and say, "You know, they're doing something every day to piss me off. [laughs] Maybe they don't want me to come."
For instance, when they announced this, they sent us all little letters. It was six weeks after Sterling had died, and Martha (Sterling's wife's) letter was exactly the same as mine, except where mine said "you," hers said "Sterling." There was not one word of, "Gee, we're sorry about Sterling's death." Nothing! As if it had never happened. And this wasn't the first thing. This was like the tenth thing. But [Martha] called and said, "Did you get your letter?!" She was mad, and I was furious. Those sons of bitches.
And then that was followed quickly by Cale calling me, and he said, "You know, they're gonna want us to play at this thing." And I said, "How are we gonna play? No way." And then he said, "I said to them, "How are we supposed to play? Sterling just died," and they said, "Well, you can just get a replacement." This was their knowledge of music.
I said to John, "Well, you do what you to. If you want to play, you go. I'm not playing, and I don't give a s--t what they think. I'm not a monkey, first of all. If they want me to play, they can go to hell. If you and Lou want to play, I am not playing, and I'm probably not even going." And John says, "Now, Moe ..." [laughs]
Later, Lou called, and he said, "Moe, don't you want to play?" [laughs] He said, "How about if we make up a new song? Something that Sterling never played on." And I said, "Oh, that's an idea," then it could be a little tribute besides. It had just so happened that two weeks before I had started to write lyrics to a song about Sterl. So I faxed that to them, and they liked it. Then we got together, and they made up the music, and that's the song we did ["Last Night I Said Goodbye to My Friend"].
I honestly was an inch away from not going to this thing. The first year we were nominated. I was thrilled to death. I got on the phone, I called Lou, called John, called Sterling. And every one of them said, "We're not going to get in." I said, "What do you mean? How can we not get in," 'cause I didn't know how it worked at that point. I thought it was a real Hall of Fame. And sure enough, we didn't get in. And that's when I found how it worked, so then I was no longer interested. I said, "Screw them."
I thought, when we do get nominated, let's decline. That'd be cool. Just say, "No, thanks." But John and I realized if I didn't go, John probably wouldn't have gone. And if he didn't go, it would've just been Lou, and we weren't ready for that. You know what I mean? So I decided I should go.
So the Hall of Fame later called to tell me where to go and when to go. So I said, "How many tickets do I get?" They said, "You get two." I said, "Two? Two tickets? And does that include me?" "Uh, yeah." "So I get one ticket." "Well, yeah." I said, "I've got five kids, and I want them there. Half the reason I'm going is for my family. I want to share this with them," not some cigar-smoking assholes who've never heard of us and couldn't care less. They said, "Oh, no. We can't do that. No, no."
Then she said, "You can buy tickets." And I said, "How much?" I'm thinking to myself, "Oh, man. It'll be a hundred bucks. Five hundred bucks. Oh, shit." Then she says, "The balcony's $1250, and the floor's $1500." I said, "Each?! What, are you crazy?"
Then, I said, "Well, I'm probably not going. I want my family there. It doesn't mean anything to me if my family can't go."
So this went on for about two weeks, and finally, they called. This is how she led into this. She said, "If you're talking with the Shirelles ..." Like I'm always chatting with the Shirelles. They were getting in too. "If you're talking with the Shirelles, don't tell them this 'cause we never let anybody do this, but we're going to let the Velvet children get into the ceremony. But don't tell anyone. We've never done this." And I said, "All right," and I thanked them, of course. But the Velvet progeny got in for free.
Tangents : I love that. "The Velvet children."
Tucker : Yeah. "We're going to allow the Velvet children in, but we've never done this before. We can't do this." So I immediately called Sterling's wife. "Hey Mersh! Guess what!" [laughs]
As it turned out, we had a very good time. I was very, very pissed off that they didn't put us in there when they should have. I know that Sterling would've been thrilled. This was right up his alley. That was very sad, but I had a good time toying with them.
What I realized was that this was a big fund-raiser. Boy, is it ever a fund-raiser. And at the end of it, they have their jam [session between all the nominees]. I mean, give me a break. Cale's daughter at the time was about eight or nine, and all these assholes are up there playing, and she says, "Oh, Moe! Moe! Aren't you gonna go play?" And we're all sitting there and looking at her like, "What, are you nuts?" And I said, "Honey, we don't do that."
And I swear to God, I don't think anyone in that place sat in their seats for more than seven minutes. The schmoozing was astounding, and you've never seen more cigars. That's all it was, a big schmooz thing for record company turds, who I hate, and who hate us and always did. But is was fun. My mother was there, too. She was my one guest.
Another reason why I went was that my mother was just so excited. For one thing, she was very helpful when I was first playing with the band. She didn't bitch that I wasn't working, and she very often let us use her car when mine broke. Things that made it possible for me to do that. And I wanted her to reap the rewards, so she was in heaven.
Tangents : I was recently reading the interview with Cale [in Alternative Press], and when asked, he didn't completely rule out another reunion, which was kind of surprising to me.
Tucker : That surprises me, too. [laughs]
It would be all right recording or something with the three of us, but it would not be possible with the three of us and someone else. In my opinion, half the reason we sounded the way we did was because of the four of us. Our different personalities, our different training. Anyone else, it's just not the Velvets. Maybe doing something with the three of us, but not with Joe Blow playing guitar. That would be an insult to Sterling.
Tangents : Do you mind being remembered as the drummer for the Velvet Underground?
Tucker : No, I'm glad to have made my mark. However, I do see how there was, or maybe still is, a point with Lou, that if you were going to interview him, they'd give you a sheet telling you what you're not allowed to ask. And at the head of the list is "any Velvet Underground questions." I don't know if he still does that, but he was doing it as recently as two years ago. When I first heard that, I thought, "Well, that's s--tty." But when I started touring and I started giving lots of interviews, I didn't mind at all. But I realized that he's been doing this for 20 years, and you just get damn sick of it. Especially after 20 years of doing your own stuff, your own good stuff that people like.
But when we did the interviews for the tour, we made a deal that me and Lou would be together, and John and Sterl [in the other group], and I would be with Lou because he would be nice if I was there. [laughs] So that worked out.
Tangents : Do you keep in touch with John and Lou?
Tucker : Oh, yeah. Sure.
[John's] been touring. He does a lot of work. He's always gone somewhere. He comes up with ... these things that he gets asked to do. One of the projects that he was doing was ... they (I don't know who they are) invited six, 10 artists, one of them being Laurie Anderson, and Cale to make music for music boxes. These are big, fancy hot-s--t things. Who knows what they cost? Projects like that. I say to him, "Where do you get these jobs?"
Tangents : You played here in Charlotte in 1989, opening for Lou. How was that tour?
Tucker : That was fun. From the first, he's been very helpful to me with my little efforts. Very helpful and very enthusiastic. John likes my stuff, too, but Lou has been really, really encouraging. And he invited us to do that to help us get some exposure over here [in the U.S.].
It was very different than anything we'd done. It was nice to have that experience to play at real places, for lack of a better word. I don't like that opening slot 'cause no one really gives a shit about you. They're there to hear the other guy, and I don't think it really does anybody any good.
Lots of groups think, "Oh, we're gonna open for so-and-so," and I'm sure now and then, something happens. Maybe if you're quite astounding, but I think that in the end, it really doesn't do you much good. The people who are there are not there to see you. They don't listen, they don't remember you when the other guy's done. So to me, that's not much fun.

My thanks go out to Maureen Tucker for putting up with me, and to the Velvet Underground Web site for featuring us on their home page. I also wish to thank "Moe," Lou Reed, John Cale, Nico, Doug Yule and the late, great Sterling Morrison for all the music that I love so much.

Moe Tucker interview, 1997, part two

Tangents: It seems like by the time you got to the third record [The Velvet Underground, 1969], there was a definite change in the music. It was definitely more ...
Tucker: Mainstream. Maybe that's not quite the word.
Tangents: It was more in that direction.
Tucker: Yeah. I couldn't really say that was because Lou was trying to write more poppy songs or because of not having John. I think it was a combination. Of course, replacing John with anyone would make an incredible difference. I mean musically he was really something, and you couldn't replace him and expect it to be the same. No way. But I don't know if there's more to it than that. I don't know if Lou also thought, "Well, let's see. I'll try to make things more appealing" or sell some records or get some radio airplay. I don't know. I hope not, but I don't know.
Tangents: Although it's very different than the first two records, I like that record a lot.
Tucker: A lot of people like that very, very much, and I don't dislike it. Personally, one thing I loved about the Velvets was the off-the-wall, screaming lunacy. But lunacy that had a rhythm, and had a beginning and an end. I don't like lunacy that's just people making noise. Lou's lunacy on guitar was an art. When he was playing feedback, he knew what he was doing. He wasn't just making noise. And it fit the song. I loved that, and I miss that kind of stuff on that album.
Tangents: There are a bunch of good songs on that album: "What Goes On," "Beginning to See the Light," "Pale Blue Eyes."
Tucker: Yeah. Boy, that's a beautiful song. In my opinion, that's one of Lou's great achievements. I think that's really a beautiful song.
Tangents: And of course, it has "Afterhours." Did Lou write that song for you?
Tucker: Yeah. We were playing somewhere because I remember we were in a hotel, and he called me into his room to show me this song. And I thought to myself, "Oh, my God. How am I gonna do this? Holy shit." I don't remember how long after that we recorded [the song], but after we recorded it, I said, "Well, I'm never, ever singing that in public unless somebody asks for it. Just don't put it in the set." And, son of a bitch, somebody asked for it. Oh God, was that a scary moment.
Tangents: Because you were really severely scared of singing, right?
Tucker: Oh, yeah. S--t. [laughs]
Tangents: The story goes that even when you recorded it, everybody had to leave the room.
Tucker: It's true. I couldn't do it. I was a nervous wreck because I can't sing, and I had to really, really try to even vaguely stay in key. We were wasting time, and I was standing there with Lou Reed, going, "Well, let me try it again." Nobody was mad about it. In fact, everybody was laughing. Finally, I said, "Look, I'm really not gonna be able to do this unless everybody just leaves so I can't see anybody." I had never sang in front of anybody before; so that was quite a session. [laughs]
Tangents: So, it was Lou and maybe the engineer ...
Tucker: I think we let the engineer stay to run the board, and he was laughing too. Bastard. [laughs] But Sterling had to leave. I tried it about eight times, and I was just a wreck. But everybody likes it, so what the hell.
Tangents: You must've gotten better, because within a few months you sang lead on "I'm Sticking With You."
Tucker: Yeah, I guess I was an old pro by then. [laughs]
Tangents: Do you still sing that live?
Tucker: Yeah. I do both of them because people really like to see me do "After Hours." They love that song. In fact, one of my schemes, or projects -- whatever you want to call it -- is to somehow record that properly with a real band and stuff and release it somehow -- like a single or whatever.
It's quite amazing, actually, that song. I always do it because I know people want to hear it, and the audience is just mesmerized. I mean, this is the truth. It's very funny because it's not because I'm singing good. I'm not a good singer, obviously. It's the song. I'll look out in the audience, and there's these 20, 19, 23-year-old guys looking at me like I was -- I don't know -- Mother Cabrini or something. It's amazing how they love that song. I would really love to record it and release it. I think I should suggest to Polygram that they release it as a single.
I was stunned when I first started touring on my own in Europe. I was truly stunned to see the reaction. And it was very funny when we did the Velvet tour [in '93] and Lou announced, "Now Moe's gonna sing you a song." The crowd went crazy. They went crazy, and Lou gave me a look like, "Wow!" [laughs] And I said, "Watch out!" They gave us this big, big ovation for me singing this goofy throwaway song.
Lou and John, of course, had never witnessed that. I'd seen it playing on my own, so it was really funny when we played it. Especially in France -- in Paris -- oh my God, the place went wild. That song is quite something. I don't know what it is. If it's the lyrics or what.
Tangents: I think it's just a great little sentimental song.
Tucker: Yeah. Well, it's a winner. It really is.
Tangents: After the third album, you recorded here and there, but you mostly played live. You were never happy with MGM, were you?
Tucker: Yeah. We were never happy with them. They never distributed our stuff, and we still have no idea why they ever signed us. 'Cause we'd play and people would come up and say, "Oh, I love your stuff. We love you guys, but we can't find your records," which is what I hear now. And it just became really too much, you know?
In a lot of the stories I'll see about the Velvets, the person will say, "Oh yes, they played to empty places," and that's not true at all. We always built up a very good following and never played to empty places. We always had a good audience. They couldn't find the records, so that got frustrating, and I'm sure that was a big part of Lou's frustration. Especially being the songwriter and knowing how great these songs were. It was just the usual record company bullshit.
One suspicion is that they signed us because their main plan was bands like the Fugs and the Mothers, so they figured they'd keep us off the street -- out of the way. Although I don't know if they'd be smart enough to think of that.
Tangents: Maybe they thought they should also have an "art rock" band.
Tucker: Yeah, maybe. Get their roster looking good. Shit. [laughs]
I guess it was the same story as today. Maybe I'm a little smarter, or maybe I notice it more today. Back then I was young and goofy, but it was the same thing you've heard a million bands say. "The record company isn't doing anything." [You] can never figure out why they signed you. Except maybe as a tax write-off. God.
Tangents: After you got signed to Atlantic, you became pregnant and left the band for a while. Was it tough to be away from the band for that time?
Tucker: Well, it was tough to let them be recording [Loaded, 1970]. There are a few [songs] on there that needed me. Not to be a snot [laughs], but "Ocean," in particular, and a number of others needed my type of drumming. There are good songs. I don't mean to say that my drumming [would have] made those songs, that's for sure, but they needed it.
Tangents: What do you think of Loaded? Again, it was a more commercial step.
Tucker: Honestly, I'd have to say I don't know if I just don't pay much attention to it because I'm not on it. That may be the reason. There are a number of songs I like. I just don't like the versions on the record. Maybe that has something to do with it. "Rock and Roll," for instance. That's a great song, but I don't like it on the record. And that has something -- not totally, but something -- to do with my part, which is missing, and which I think was better. There are some really good songs on there. I just don't like those versions.
And also, I don't think Doug should have sang so many of them. He was too young. There was no feeling in it. He's a very good singer. Technically, a much better singer than Lou, but it didn't work. The drummer [on Loaded, Billy Yule, Doug's brother] is a helluva lot better technical drummer than I am, but it didn't work in my opinion. I've also heard those songs with Lou singing them, and they're much better.
Tangents: Well, Doug only sang those songs, according to box set, on the record because Lou would lose his voice from touring ...
Tucker: I've heard that, and I think that's a crock of shit. I can't say that with any authority, but I think that's bullshit because if Lou felt he would've sung them better, we would've postponed the tour, let his voice take a rest and then record. You don't just say, "Oh, my voice hurts today. You sing it." if you think the other person isn't gonna sing it good.
Tangents: Do you think that Doug sang those songs because of Sesnick's influence?
Tucker: Yeah, I was just gonna say that. I think Sesnick probably convinced Lou that Doug is a real good singer, and he's cute, and the girls like him, and maybe Lou, out of frustration, thought, "Oh, what the hell, we'll try this." But I think that all those songs really lost a lot by Lou not singing them.
Tangents: How did you feel about being listed as the drummer on the album?
Tucker: I said, "Why the hell are you doing that? I'm not on this." They just did. I can't remember why. It's never bothered me. It must be weird for the people that did play on the album, but that may have been part of the deal they made. I really don't know.
Doug had gotten out of hand, and I think that was Sesnick's doing, too. Doug had really gotten out of hand. It's very funny; the first time we rehearsed with Doug, he came down to New York and we rehearsed at Lou's apartment. When I came in, they were going through "Jesus," and Lou said, "Oh, Moe! Listen to this great part he made up for 'Jesus!'" And I am certainly no soothsayer, and I didn't even know this guy, but I said to myself, "Oh, God. Take it easy."
Doug had never given us any reason to believe that he would he turn into a problem or become egotistical, but Lou was just too enthusiastic. And a couple years later, I was right.
Tangents: So Doug came to think too much of himself?
Tucker: With the help of Sesnick, yeah, I think so. Very much so. In fact, I know so. [laughs] The last tour I did with the "Velvets" was in Europe, and we had already booked the tour, and Sterling left the group. It was not the Velvets anymore. It had not been, of course, for quite awhile, and me and Sterling were hanging around 'cause it was more fun than working at Wal-Mart.
And I thought, "Oh, s--t. I know what's gonna happen." We had never played in Europe, and I knew that if I didn't go they would go anyway. All the tickets would say, "Velvet Underground!" and all these people would show up. England was a big Velvet Underground place in those days. I thought that sucked. So I thought, "Well, I'll go. At least there'll be at least one original member."
And that was the worst one or two months I have ever spent in my life. The two people that went with us, Willie [Alexander] and Walter [Powers] had played with Doug and had been friends for years. They really liked him a lot and were great fiends. By the end of that tour -- and this is the honest truth -- they both said, "I am never gonna play with him again." He became absolutely unbelievable. This was pure torture. It was pure hell. I can't even give you an example of the things he was pulling. So that was the end of that.
Tangents: Was it the accumulative effect of everything, including Doug, that made Lou leave the band in 1970?
Tucker: I'm sure it was. I'm sure he was discouraged that the record company wasn't doing anything, that the records weren't getting around. At that point, he had been doing music for years, and another difference between me and him is that, in my mind, this was never a career. I never thought, "Oh, now I'm a musician, and I'll always be a musician." That never, never entered my mind. And to him, this was his life's work. So it was a different effect on him than on me. To me, it was fun.
So to not have your record company push your records or even press you records, and you're the songwriter, and your dream is to be a musician, I imagine that's quite discouraging.
b: For how long did you rejoin the Velvets after Lou left?
Tucker: I stayed until that tour of Europe, and that was in '71 or '72. I think I played for a little more than a year.
Tangents: Did you regret rejoining the band?
Tucker: No. Like I said, it was just fun for me. It wasn't the Velvets anymore, and I knew that, but we were a good band. We'd go play, and I'd have money to buy beer, and I'd go home. That's really all it meant to me at that point. I didn't regret it. I did regret going to Europe. But it kept me out of the workforce for a while.
Tangents: It's become semi-legendary that [during the '80s] you worked at a Wal-Mart ...
b [groans] Oh, those sons of bitches. [laughs] Don't get me started on them. Yeah, I worked at a distribution center here in town. A warehouse.
Tangents: How long did you work there?
Tucker: Three years. Three years of hell. The most hellish part is that down here ... if you get a job, oh my God, you'd do anything to keep it because the jobs are so scarce. So the people down here have no concept of being pissed off at the boss or opening your mouth if you think something's wrong, and I think that was the most irritating thing to me.
Even more irritating than the treatment. The fact that your fellow workers would smile and go, "Oh, well." I'd come home every day like a lunatic. I wasn't used to that shit. I was not used to being treated like a schmuck and not saying something. And also getting no support from the others who were also being treated like this. And having people never, ever even consider saying something to someone. It's amazing. What an awful way to live. I haven't worked in seven years, and I still think, God, what a way to live. How can these people stand it?
I'll tell you the famous "Wal-Mart bonus" story, and you have to promise to print this. The first Christmas I worked there, I certainly never expected a bonus, not out of these bums. So one day the supervisor comes out of his office and says, "Oh, girls. The bonus is gonna be in tomorrow." And of course, everyone turns around to say, "Oh, great!" And someone finally says, "Well, how much is it?" And I swear to God, this is the truth, he says, "Five dollars."
I tell you, I was struck dumb. I could not even speak. I just turned and said, "Five dollars?!" And nobody else had said a word. This was fine with everybody. I said, "Are you kidding?" He said, "No. It's gonna be $5 this year." I couldn't speak, and the girls were like, "Well, Maureen, $5 blah blah blah." Finally, the supervisor says, "Well, Maureen, that's better than nothing." I said, "That's exactly why you're getting $5."
We went back to work, and I tell you, I was just steaming. I was furious. We went to lunch and everyone was like, "What are you so mad about?" So I'm saying, "Are you out of your minds? This guy is the richest man in America! He's giving you $5! Why doesn't he just forget about the bonus? Can't you see, this is an insult." And they said, "Well, that's five dollars more for Christmas." There was no talking to them.
So the next day, the boss comes around with these fabulous checks, and he's passing them out like Santa Claus. He gets to me and I said, "I don't want it." I guess he figured I was kidding, so he put it in his pocket, finishes up and comes back. I said, "I don't want it. I won't take it." He says, "Well, you have to sign for it." "No, I'm not signing for it. I don't want it." He said, "What's the matter?" I said, "It's an insult. I don't want it." Finally, he chuckled, and off he went.
And no one was ever pissed off about this. They could not see want an insult this was, and this was literally three months after Sam Walton had been computed to be the richest man in America. That's like you're sitting at his dinner table, and he pushes the crumbs off his plate and says, "Here, that's for you."
So that's what you put up with every day -- these kinds of insults. And no one getting pissed. I guess that's really what irritated me.
Tangents: How much were you making an hour?
Tucker: When I started, I think it was $4.65. And this was skilled work. Working with data entry and computers. This wasn't pushing boxes around. Unbelievable. This was a new experience, one that I did not enjoy. And they didn't enjoy me much either. [laughs]
Tangents: Did you stay in touch with the other Velvets during those years when you were working?
Tucker: Yeah. Mostly Sterling, 'cause he was my friend forever. And his wife is my best friend, so I was always in close touch with him. But we always sent Christmas cards, me and John and Lou.
Tangents: Were else did you work?
Tucker: I worked in Long Island, God, in Hickville. I worked in Tucson, [AZ], but Wal-Mart was my last job. When I decided to try a tour on my own, they wouldn't give me time off to do it, so I quit. I'm thrilled that they were able to get rid of me.
Tangents: Had anyone at Wal-Mart ever heard of the Velvet Underground?
Tucker: No.
Tangents: Had did that first tour come about?
Tucker: Jad [Fair, of Half Japanese] had toured Europe a few times. I guess he had told his agent that we were friends, and his agent asked if I would be interested in doing a tour. I told the agent, "I can't go do the tour. I'm supporting five kids on my own. I can't come home with $500, so what do you think I could make?" So he called back a few weeks later and said, "Well, for six weeks, you could make blah blah blah," and it was literally about $200 more than I would make all year long at Wal-Mart. Which was not a lot. Nevertheless, I decided to take the plunge. I thought it was a good gamble.
Tangents: And you've gotten a great response in Europe?
Tucker: Yeah, we do really well there.
Tangents: Were you aware of the number of fans out there that were listening to the Velvets?
Tucker: By then I was. I was not aware of it for awhile, but then I was. But I was still not confident. Exactly what I told my band was, "If this turns out to be a bunch of 50-year-old assholes who are there to see an aging Velvet, this'll be the last tour." That's not what I'm after. I knew that 90% of the people came because I was in the Velvet Underground, which is fine, because I have an audience, but they left liking my music. So it worked out.
Tangents: My understanding is that when the Velvets first reunited for that Andy Warhol Tribute in Paris in 1990 to perform "Heroin," that it was really unplanned.
Tucker: It was completely unplanned. [laughs] Yeah, it was a total surprise. Lou and John were gonna go on to perform things from Songs for Drella [1989], and we were all having such a good time that they said, "Well, let's do something." And of course, they didn't tell me. So I was standing behind the stage waiting for them to go on, and John goes rushing by, and he says, "We're looking for mallets." I said, "Why are you looking for mallets?" "We're gonna do 'Heroin.'" So I said, "Oh, cool."
That really was fun. My daughter was backstage crying, because she, of course, had never seen us live. She was very affected. That was the most fun four days I've ever had in my life. That really was a great, great weekend.
Tangents: How did it sound to you?
Tucker: Well, from where I stood, I didn't hear that much. As I reported before ... [laughs]. I don't know, to be honest. It was a properly run function, so I imagine that the sound system was decent.
Tangents: Was it during the planning of the Velvets' box set [Peel Slowly and See, 1995] that you started discussing the reunion tour?
Tucker: Polygram had said they wanted to put out a box set, so we decided, "Well, let's have something to say about this for once. Let's get in on this." So we had a meeting, and we had never done that before. We were just laughing at each other. It was everyone except Lou. Of course Lou couldn't go, but he met us later for lunch.
So we were having lunch and just bullshitting, and Lou said as a joke, "We should play Madison Square Garden and make a million dollars." So we all said, "Ha ha. Sure." sure that we'd never play together. And then we kind of went, "Hmmm." [laughs] "We like each other now. Maybe we could do this." We didn't start talking about it right then and there. I guess no one really wanted to say, "Hey, let's do this." But after a week or two, I don't remember who called, but we decided that it would really be fun, we really wanted to do it.
That was in December, and in February we got together in New York to play together and see if it was gonna sound right, or it was gonna suck or what. Within three bars, we knew this was gonna be fine. So then we talking about actually planning do something.
Tangents: You said in another interview that you were the only one who proposed set list for the tour.
Tucker: Uh-huh. I had made a list of stuff I really wanted to do, of things I thought we should do, whether we wanted to or not, and things I really did not want to do. I hadn't spent days on it, but at least I tried. [laughs] And of course, nobody else did, so we took my list and started from there. And added some stuff and took some off.
Tangents: How long was the reunion tour?
Tucker: It became about two months. We started on June l and we got home on July 7, so it was about six weeks.
Tangents: Did you enjoy the reunion tour of Europe?
Tucker: We had a great time. I've privately wished that we didn't have a good time because then it wouldn't have been so disappointing that we didn't do more. But we had such a good time. It was so nice being together. We all really like each other, and hadn't been together fooling around and bullshitting in 30 years.
Tangents: Were you surprised by the reaction of the crowds to your shows?
Tucker: No, not really. We had bets, the four of us, and of course, I won all the bets. We had two main bets. Lou and John and Sterling said, "What's the audience gonna be? Half of them are gonna be there hoping that we bomb, and half of them are gonna be 50-year-old farts who are here to see these old Velvets." And I said, "No. Bullshit. Are you out of your mind?"
And I realized later that the reason John and Lou thought that was that when they play, they play and skitter off the back of the stage, and they really don't see the audience. They don't know who makes up their audience. When I play, we sell t-shirts off the stage and go out in the bar and have a beer. I see that these are 19, 18, 16-year-old kids. I know what the audience is, but they don't. They never see them. So I really had the upper hand in this bet.
Tangents: About how far into the tour was it before tensions between John and Lou started up again?
Tucker: Oh, at rehearsals. [laughs] There are a number of reasons for that. For one thing, neither Lou nor John had been in a band situation since the Velvets. They've been in a "I'm the boss" situation, and everybody else was a sideman. John was totally understanding of the band. Lou didn't quite get that. Me and Sterling and John really wanted to have a good time, and for Lou to have a good time, and for it to be a good thing. And when we first agreed to do it, we also agreed that none were promising to do anything else. This is all we were counting on, in case this turned into a real horror show.
We really wanted to enjoy it. It's really hard to explain why. Maybe because he hadn't enjoyed, in my opinion, playing music for an awful long time. A real long time. So we put up with an incredible amount of shit just to not have fights. "OK, alright, we'll do it." But even with all that, we had a very good time.
Tangents: How would you describe Lou, from a personal standpoint?
Tucker: Lou can be an incredible son of a bitch, but he can also be sweet as pie. I love Lou very much. Very much. He's never a bastard to me, but I've seen him be pretty damn rotten to lots of people. That doesn't make that OK. That's not OK to me, just because he doesn't do it to me. To me it's still horseshit, but I love him very much, and I fully understand that he's just been spoiled by being "yessed" to death. "Yes, you're right. No, you're right. Sounds great. Yes, that's perfect." No one ever says "F--k you" to Lou. No one except us. And he's not used to that. He's not used to having the band be your friends, and he had forgotten -- and I believe he's changed his opinion now -- what it was to be in a band instead of playing with sidemen. That's a very different story.
Sidemen don't care. As long as they do their part, they don't give two shits what happens. As long as the sideman does his job, that's all that matters, to you or them, but a band is different. And Lou didn't have time to get to used to that idea. Maybe that's a nice way to put it. We put up with an incredible amount of shit, but I still love him, and he loves us.
We had all these plans because we had such a good time, including Lou. We were gonna play Japan, do an American tour, maybe record. No one wanted to quite say that yet, but it was just such a stupid ending. So that was a very big disappointment, and very sad.
Tangents: Was it Lou who said, "No, I don't want to do this anymore?"
Tucker: Yeah. We were supposed to do "MTV Unplugged," and we had gone up to New York to talk about what we wanted to do, and we were very excited about it. I was thinking that this would really be stunning. Songs like "Sister Ray," for instance, with Cale playing something crazy, and I thought it would've been wonderful.
So Lou declared at this meeting that he would produce. "I'll be the producer," and we just kinda looked at each other, "Wait a minute!" Of course we didn't like that, not for any shit reasons. My reason, and I told Lou, was "Now we just went through this tour. We not only survived, but we're friends still, which is a miracle. If anyone one of us produces, it's gonna turn into a fight, and we won't be friends anymore. So let's not do it. And if it's gonna ruin anything of what we've gotten back. Forget it."
So John and Lou and I had this fax fight for two weeks. Finally me and John discussed it, and he said, "Well, if it means that much to him." So we said OK, but then John said to me, "Who's gonna get the producer's fee?" Which was not said in a cheap fashion, but it was said as "Well, you're gonna get to produce because you're sucking your thumb in a corner, and you're gonna get paid besides?" And when Lou heard that, he hit the roof. He said, "If I can't do that, then I'm not doing anything else." And that was the end of everything, which was really, really childish.
And a big shame because John and Lou both really respect each other very, very much, and basically, really like each other. But working together does not work, and that's a shame.
Tangents: Along with touring, you've now gotten into producing?
Tucker: Oh, yeah. When I say produce, I mean something different than most people. I don't run the board. My ideas are in the music, drum parts or whatever, and that's what I do. I'm interested in producing small bands.

Moe Tucker interview, 1997, part one

Velvet Underground drummer Maureen "Moe" Tucker talks about the band's origin, Andy Warhol, their 1993 reunion and her current tour.
by Daniel Coston

Even if you have never listened to them, you are undoubtedly aware of the influence that New York's legendary Velvet Underground has had on popular music. Formed in 1965 by Lou Reed (vocals/guitar/songwriter), John Cale (bass/keyboards/viola) and the late guitarist Sterling Morrison, the band released four superlative albums that have influenced every punk, alternative and garage band since then.
Yet despite their considerable talents, the band might not have had such an impact if not for the minimalist, yet rhythmic drumming of Maureen "Moe" Tucker. Working as a computer key-puncher in 1965, Tucker was hired by the Velvets for what was originally just one show, yet soon found herself and the band as the centerpiece of Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia stage show, surrounded by drag queens, S&M dancers and assorted "beautiful freaks."
Along with being a female drummer in an all-male band (a rarity then, and now), Tucker also went against the percussion norm by focusing more on the rhythm of the drumming, unlike the many Keith Moon-inspired "go crazy" drummers of the day. Tucker, who also wielded mallets instead of drumsticks, would often play with only a snare drum and bass drum turned sideways, and preferred to stand when drumming rather than using a stool.
After the Velvets disbanded in 1970, Tucker spent several years working odd jobs (including a stint at Wal-Mart) and raising five children before returning to music in recent years. Along with releasing five solo albums, Tucker regularly tours America and Europe, and is planning a show in Charlotte in the near future.
Tucker is also about as cool a rock 'n' roll legend as you're ever going to meet, with a warm demeanor to go along with a caustic New York wit. The following is just a sampling of Daniel Coston's extended phone interview with Tucker last December from her home in Georgia, in which we discussed the Velvets' beginnings, their music and history, and what brought the band's 1993 reunion to a sudden end.

art by Skeet

moeTangents: You're originally from New York City, right?
Moe Tucker: I'm from Long Island.
Tangents: When did you first start playing the drums?
Tucker: When I was about 18. I had played clarinet in the high school band. I was definitely older than that, now that I think of it. Probably 19.
Tangents: Your first drum set was one that your mother bought for you, right?
Tucker: Yeah, in the local shopper, you know, the little advertising paper that every town has. Fifty bucks. That was a fortune in those days.
Tangents: What kind of drum kit did you have? Did you have a snare, two floor toms ...
Tucker: No. I had a bass drum, I don't remember if I had a floor tom. I know I did later, but I sorta think I didn't because the set that my mother had gotten me wasn't even a set. It was the leftovers of somebody else's. I already had a snare drum, so I think there wasn't a snare drum with that.
But when I started playing with the Velvets, it was a bass drum turned sideways, a snare and a cymbal that was unbelievable. That was it.
Tangents: Was that by design when you started playing with the Velvets?
Tucker: Well, that's what I had available, so that's what I played with when I just banging away in my room. That's all I had when I started playing with the Velvets, so it had to be good enough.
Tangents: Yeah, that set-up is very distinctive, and it's very legendary now. But I always thought your playing was very rhythmic, yet pared down, especially when compared to what some other drummers were doing at the time.
Tucker: Yeah, I've always hated that kind of shit. I wouldn't do that if I knew how to.
Tangents: Lou [Reed] always said that cymbals eat up guitars, right? That was part of his philosophy, too.
Tucker: I never knew his technical reason for not caring for cymbals, but I just always hated cymbals, mainly because, like you just mentioned, of what other people were doing at the time. My God, every two measures, there'd be a cymbal crashing. I've always just hated that, so naturally, I didn't want to do that myself.
Tangents: How long had you been playing drums when you met the Velvets?
Tucker: Here's how I started. I wanted to play something, so I figured, well, I'll play drums because I could learn that faster. I had bought a snare drum. That's all I had, a snare drum. I was banging away on this snare drum, and Sterling [Morrison's] wife's sister came over one day, and she had this little cymbal that you stick on the stand of a snare. The cymbal was about as big as a dinner plate, but it was something else to hit. So I played that in my room for a while.
I hadn't been fooling around for more than a year when I started with the Velvets, maybe not even that long.
Tangents: You originally came to the Velvets through your brother. Didn't he room with Sterling at college?
Tucker: No, my brother went to Syracuse [University] and became friends with Lou, and they were good friends in college. Sterling and my brother had been good friends all through high school, and Sterling went to visit my brother up there and wound up staying for awhile. He met Lou, and they started playing together.
Tangents: How did you become their drummer?
Tucker: Well, I had known Sterling since I was 11, and the Velvets had gotten a job to play in New Jersey at a high school. Their drummer, Angus [MacLise], thought that it wasn't good to play music for money, which was $50 or $75 they wanted to pay, so he wouldn't play. He quit.
So they were desperate. They really needed somebody, because they had this show a week later. Sterling remembered that I was in my room banging on something ... probably couldn't tell what from what he'd seen ... and he said, "Tucker's sister plays drums." Lou came out to see if I could actually do something with my hand and my foot at the same time, and I could.
It was supposed to be that one show, but we (or they, I suppose) got a job to play in the Cafe Bizarre in the village right away, like, to start next week. You weren't allowed to play drums in this place, because it was a coffeehouse. They'd get in trouble from the neighbors, so they said, "Well, just come and play tambourine." So that's what I did for that gig, from which we got fired pretty quick. And it just went from there.
Tangents: What were your first impressions of the band?
Tucker: I don't remember my impressions. I had met Lou once or twice, but I wouldn't say that I knew him at that point. I had just met him a couple of times. But John was ... kind of wacky. [laughs] What else can I say? But I was really impressed with him, and the music.
My brother had been telling me about this guy Lou. "Boy, you should really hear the stuff he writes." He really thought very highly of Lou's songwriting ability, and his music, too. So I knew that something was going on. Sterling, of course, had been playing with them for a bit before I did. When I'd see him, he'd tell me they me that they were playing stuff that was interesting. So I was prepared to hear something unusual, but not as unusual as what I heard.
Tangents: Were you surprised by some of the subject matter in their songs?
Tucker: I sorta never heard the subject matter for a long time. In those days, they didn't have monitors, and I didn't know what half the songs were about. I didn't know what the lyrics were to half the songs. Honestly, that's the truth. I couldn't hear. Once Lou started with feedback and everything, I couldn't hear shit. So I didn't know what the hell the songs were about for awhile.
Tangents: Were you surprised when you found out what the lyrics were?
Tucker: No, not surprised, just, you know, "Oh." Obviously, I knew "Heroin" was about heroin, but I didn't know the words, I couldn't repeat the words. If someone had said, "I'll give you a million bucks to write down the lyrics," I couldn't do it.
Tangents: I've always been interested in Lou's fascination with those subjects, especially at that time in his career ...
Tucker: Well, I don't think it was a fascination, I think it was life. That's what he saw around him. I think most people write about what they know, whether it's songs or books or whatever.
Tangents: He just knew about that from living in New York, in the different scenes ...?
Tucker: Yeah. At that point, the differences between our two experiences, it never would have occurred to me to write a song about heroin because I never knew anybody that used it -- never saw anybody that used it. I'm sitting in Levitown being an asshole, you know?
Tangents: How long had the band been playing together before Andy Warhol saw you?
M: It was the very next job after that. Someone who knew Andy and Lou and John brought Andy to see us because Andy was looking for a band. He had this idea for that multimedia thing, and he wanted a band that was a little different. He didn't want people who were just playing rock 'n' roll. He had been looking for a while. That person brought him to see us.
Tangents: Did you live at Warhol's studio?
Tucker: No.
Tangents: What was your impression of playing around this carnival?
Tucker: [laughs] Yeah, it was quite a carnival. Well, I wasn't scared or anything. Otherwise, I would've run.
In those days, I used to really wish that I could've been in the audience to see that because it really must've been incredible. If someone saw it nowadays, "Oh, it's just another rock 'n' roll show." But in those days it really been must've been something to see.
Tangents: I think you mentioned in the box set that there's no complete film of an entire performance [of the EPI].
Tucker: Oh, it's incredible, considering the number of pictures and movies that were taken by them at the time. Someone always had a tape recorder or a movie camera or a camera. It's surprising that [Warhol] didn't say, "Boy, we should get this down." It's very surprising, actually, when you think about it. I really, really wish we had [shot] one thing with a camera, not doing anything fancy, just sitting there so you could see the whole show.
We were his art project, in a way. He would get invited to have a showing, to participate in an art show, and we'd be his Exploding Plastic Inevitable -- his exhibit. Very often, [audiences] were expecting paintings, especially in the beginning, before word got around. We'd get invited as this unit, but I'm certain that at first, we were kind of a surprise. People would show up and find 13 freaks. Well, 12 freaks and me. [laughs]
Tangents: What was Warhol's relationship like band with the band? Was it pretty close, or was it more professional?
Tucker: No, he was very close. I think he was pretty close to Lou and John. He respected their talents greatly.
Tangents: About how long had you been working with Warhol when Nico began singing with the band?
Tucker: God, I'm so bad with that stuff. Maybe within three months, but not more than six, I'm sure.
Tangents: Was Nico welcomed into the band?
Tucker: Well, she was never meant to be in the band. She was sort of a guest singer. And the songs she did, no one could have done them better. The three songs that she did would have been very different with somebody else singing them.
Tangents: When you described John as wacky, did you mean that he was more into avant-garde music?
Tucker: Oh yeah, definitely. Absolutely. But not just in that way. It's very hard to explain. Maybe it's impossible to explain. He was just so dark and ... maybe mysterious is the word. In his own world, you know?
He's so much different now than he was then. My God.
Tangents: How so?
Tucker: As I said, it's really just so hard to explain. Anybody who was around then knows exactly what you mean, but it's difficult to explain. Because first of all, you start to make John sound like a lunatic, which he's not. He's a lunatic in his own way. Or you begin to sound like he was a nasty son of a bitch or something, which he wasn't.
It's just very difficult to explain. The transformation in him is just incredible ... and I'm very happy to see him normalize. Maybe. [laughs] You know [he's] so happy with his family, and it's nice to see him normal, I don't know how else to put it.
Tangents: He has always come across as an [unique] individual.
Tucker: Yeah. And in those days, he was a young individual. Maybe that was part of his mystique.
Tangents: You were all in your early 20s at this time, weren't you?
Tucker: Yeah, I was just 20. They're each a year or two older than me, but yeah, we were very young.
Tangents: Were you surprised by the way some people seemed to be frightened by the music? I know that when you first went to Los Angeles ...
Tucker: Oh, those assholes. We always hated Los Angeles, so the feeling is mutual. [laughs] We also just hated that hippie crap and really detested it. We didn't get together as a unit and say, "Let's just hate the hippies." Our own personalities were just not the types to go for ... I don't know how else to describe it ... we just always hated that "flower power" crap.
My idea, in fact, when we were talking about doing an American tour after the European one [in '93] was that we should play everywhere except California. Play right on the border and not set foot in California.
Tangents: That first trip was the time when you played for [promoter] Bill Graham ...
Tucker: Oh, God, yeah. He was just a son of a bitch. He just detested us. You know how big he was in all that music that we hated. I think maybe he booked us thinking he'd show us. We'd crash and burn, and he'd show how cool California is and [how] New York sucks.
He hated us before we even got there. Oh, and he was just a bastard. I don't remember this; I didn't hear it ... but as we were getting onto the stage, apparently he said (and I won't say the word 'cause it's one I never use), "I hope you MFers bomb." [laughs] This is a promoter saying this.
Tangents: That's encouragement.
Tucker: Yeah, from the sidelines. "Hey, thanks, Bill." [laughs] But that was very odd. He kicked Sterling out of the Fillmore West. Sterling came riding up in a taxi for soundcheck and came up the front stairs. Bill Graham was putzing around in there for whatever reason and came across Sterling and just started screaming at him, "Get out! Get out!" I'm sure if he knew he was in the band (even though he hated the band), he might not have done that. But he didn't say, "Oh, we're not open yet. You'll have to leave." He was just screaming at him. So Sterling said, "OK."
Tangents: I would've loved to have been there when the rest of the band put their guitars against their amps at full feedback ...
Tucker: Yeah, and they all walked off, and there I was. This wasn't planned. If it was planned, they didn't let me in on it. [laughs] Yeah, that irritated [Graham and others]. They didn't like that too much.
Tangents: I think it was great.
Tucker: Yeah, it was fun. [laughs]
Tangents: Was it right after that, that you recorded the first album [The Velvet Underground and Nico, 1967]?
Tucker: No, we already had recorded it. MGM had bought it, and they had given us a little [studio] time out [in California]. Six hours or something like that, to fool with it. So it was already recorded.
Tangents: Didn't you record the whole album in New York in one day?
Tucker: Yeah, one day. Eight hours. But when they said they'd give us a little more time, we did over a couple of songs.
Tangents: You worked with Tom Wilson out there, right?
Tucker: I don't know. You mean the engineer?
Tangents: I think he was listed as the producer.
Tucker: That, I don't know. If you say so, I'll take your word for it.
Tangents: He was the same guy that was listed as the producer of White Light, White Heat.
Tucker: Well, then I guess he was. I wasn't much interested in who was doing what in those days.
Tangents: You just wanted to play.
Tucker: Yeah, I didn't know anything about the mechanics of it. Just turn up the microphone, please. [laughs]
Tangents: Do you remember how many takes that you did for those songs?
Tucker: Very few. I'll swear that it was one for this and two for that, but we didn't have time to do lots of takes.
Tangents: That was also pretty much your live set at the time, wasn't it?
Tucker: Yep.
Tangents: I heard that you've always been disappointed with the recording of "Heroin" because you stopped drumming before the end of the song -- because the sound was too loud.
Tucker: Yeah. Well, I quit drumming thinking everyone else would stop. I couldn't hear what was going on, so I stopped, assuming the rest of the band would stop and say, "What's the matter?" Maybe this is a good definition of John being wacky. No one even noticed, so I just said, "Oh, well" and started again, and to this day, it just really breaks my heart that we don't have a real "Heroin" recorded. It really does. It just infuriates me that we used that.
Tangents: Really? That song's considered a classic now.
Tucker: Well, if done right, it really would've knocked you on your ass. The music part is fine, just all of a sudden, there's no drums. I just stopped literally, assuming (Wouldn't it be natural to assume that if you stopped playing, they'd figure out you were having a problem?) they'd stop too. So little attention is paid to drummers. Then after a minute or so, I figured, "Well, I guess they're not gonna stop. I'd better join in."
Tangents: I think the fact that you came back at the end of the song works ...
Tucker: Nah. No, it really is a source of great, great sadness to me, and I loved that song. If it had been almost any other song, I would say, "Oh, well," but I just love that song. I know what it would've sounded like if those bastards had stopped. [laughs]
Tangents: Were you aware when you were making it that this was a really good record?
Tucker: I thought it was. I thought it was astounding. I loved it, but I just really loved our music. It just never occurred to me that it would become what it has become, of course. It's nice to see people come around and like it as much as I do.
Tangents: Are there any songs in particular that are your favorites on that album?
Tucker: You'd have to remind me what's on there. "Waiting for My Man," I love. That's one that's just a happiness to me. I love that take. I think it's stunning.
Tangents: "Sunday Morning," "Venus in Furs."
Tucker: I was never nuts about "Venus in Furs." Is "All Tomorrow's Parties" on there?
Tangents: Yeah.
Tucker: Yeah, I loved that. I've always loved that song.
Tangents: "Femme Fatale," "I'll Be Your Mirror."
Tucker: "I'll Be Your Mirror" I like a lot.
Tangents: "There She Goes Again."
Tucker: Yeah, that's a good one.
Tangents: "The Black Angel's Death Song."
Tucker: Yeah, that's interesting. [laughs]
Tangents: Wasn't that the song that got you kicked out of Cafe Bizarre?
Tucker: Yes, it was. 'Cause they said, 'If you play another song like that, you're fired." So we instantly played it again because we didn't want to be working on Christmas ... in this stupid little place.
Tangents: And "European Son," which is a 10-minute freestyle.
Tucker: Yeah, I always enjoyed that, just for nostalgic reasons. It's kind of a screech-fest, but it's interesting. I just love how the screeching chair and the breaking glass worked out perfectly timing-wise.
Tangents: Yeah, I always thought that was a great idea.
Tucker: That was Cale.
Tangents: It's miked really well. Was that edited in?
Tucker: Yeah, that was edited in.
Tangents: Would you say that after that, the band kind of grew out of Warhol?
Tucker: Well, we had never intended this to be a career, us and Andy. Not at all. It was just something fun to do, and a way to get some shows. We were immediately able to get shows, which was good, of course. But we never intended it, as I said, to be a long-term thing. It was a mutual separation. He was more interested in painting art than music, so it had run it's course pretty much.
Tangents: It seems that by the time you got to the second record, White Light/White Heat, [1968] the sound was edgier and noisier.
Tucker: Probably, it had something to do with better equipment. You wouldn't believe what we played on for the first months of being a band. I told you what the drums were like. We had absolutely horrible, horrible equipment, which is one reason I think it sounded so good. I'm a firm believer in not using equipment that's too, quote, "good," because I think it ruins everything.
So I would attribute some of that to better equipment -- studio equipment and our equipment. I'm sure that we were in a better studio and/or had a better engineer, so that's part of it, I would think.
Tangents: What's your feeling about the second record?
Tucker: I love the first one. I like the second one a lot. There are a number of songs on there that I really like a lot too. You'd have to remind me what's on there. I don't even remember.
Tangents: There was the title track, "The Gift," which I've always liked.
Tucker: Yeah, I like that. It's just kind of goofy, but I don't think Lou would appreciate me saying that. [laughs]
Tangents: "Lady Godiva's Operation."
Tucker: Uuuhh, that's OK.
Tangents: "Here She Comes Now."
Tucker: Yeah, that's a good one. I like that.
Tangents: "I Heard Her Call My Name."
Tucker: I loved that. However, the solo is ruined because of Lou's turning himself up so loud you can't hear anything else. It really pisses me off. It still does because I think that solo is maybe the best guitar solo ever recorded. It's just incredible. But if you could hear the rhythm, it's twice as incredible.
That's one reason I've always hated drum rolls and crashing and bashing. My feeling is that while you're fooling around being a hot shot on the drums, the rhythm's shot. Not the full rhythm, of course, but the forceful rhythm stopped while you're fooling around on the drums, and that's what happened on that solo. It's just noise to the average listener, and that's a shame because it's not just noise. It's a bitch. I loved that solo. I get chills when I hear that. That's another source of eternal pissed-off ...
Tangents: Did that happen occasionally -- where someone would say, "I can be louder than you?"
Tucker: No, that was in the mix.
Tangents: Oh, OK. And of course, the last song was "Sister Ray."
Tucker. Oh, yeah, I loved that. I always loved playing that, too. It was real fun to play.
Tangents: That's the one that's legendary because your producer supposedly left the room during that one.
Tucker: Well, as I said, my memory is not good with these things. But I wouldn't be surprised because that was not the kindest thing anyone ever encountered in the studio in those days.
Tangents: How would the band put songs together? Because it seems like you always had a tremendous amount of songs that Lou was writing, or that the band was jamming...
Tucker: Well, that's funny because we never sat and practiced. We practiced at soundcheck. Literally. I'm sure that they sometimes would get together and fool around, but mostly, Lou would say, "I've got a new song," and at soundcheck we'd try it out. If everybody felt comfortable enough to try it that night, we would [record it]. If not, we'd practice it again at the next soundcheck. We weren't into that rehearsing stuff. [laughs]
Tangents: A few months after White Light, John left after a lot of creative tension with Lou ...
Tucker: Yeah, Lou kicked him out.
Tangents: Was there any specific reason why, or had it just built up over time?
Tucker: I'm sure there was, but I honestly don't remember. [Lou 's] announcement was that we could choose between him or John because he couldn't work with him anymore. I don't know if he said, "Because he bothers me" or something. They just always butted heads.
Tangents: Was it about the direction of the band?
Tucker: That had a lot to do with it. The reason I know that is because I've heard John say it so many times in the past couple years. I never would have offered that on my own if someone asked me, but that's what John always cites.
I just don't really know. I'd always assumed that they both wrote songs, and really none of John's songs were getting treated or worked on. He didn't complain about that. If he did, it was not loudly and was not like, "Play my songs!" Maybe the way he complained was by butting heads. That's just a pure guess, but that's the best I can do.
Tangents: After that, you picked up Doug Yule, who was from Boston. What was he like? Not too much was known about him.
Tucker: He was very sweet, very nice guy. We knew him a little bit because he had played in a band in Boston, and Sterling had become fiends with him ... more than the rest of us. I think our manager at the time had recommended him. He was a very good guitar player and a very nice kid, and certainly not going to cause any tension. [laughs]
Tangents: You mentioned your manager at the time, Steve Sesnick. Do you think he was another part of the riff between Lou and John?
Tucker: Probably, probably. Maybe his interference was with, as you said, the direction of the band. Maybe his input into Lou was changing that. I don't want to put words into anyone's mouth or pretend that I know exactly what I'm talking about. I'm just guessing, too. But probably, I would say, he had a lot to do with it. Not purposely.
Tangents: Yeah, because he definitely felt that the Velvets could be a lot bigger.
Tucker: You know, I loved Steve and really had a lot of fun with him, but one thing that was a problem (and this may not have been a problem in any other band) was that he saw us as the next Beatles, and that just wasn't to be. We didn't want that. We were playing this music 'cause we liked it.
Certainly, if someone had said, "Oh, you wanna play such-and-such for 100 Gs?" we wouldn't have said, "Oh, no." Nothing like that. But we were playing music because we liked music. If it didn't make us rich, that didn't matter. What mattered was playing the music the way we wanted to. Sesnick's grand schemes and dreams for us, which were of course, completely well-intentioned, had a lot to do with ... I don't know. Maybe Lou was starting to think, "Oh, we've been doing this [for so long], and we're not getting any success," you know?
Tangents: At the time, you were not doing a massive amount of touring, but instead were playing where you knew you would be well-received.
Tucker: We played places that were close enough to just play and go home. That was not the criteria, of course, but I don't know how much of that kind of touring anyone did in those days like what do now. Two-year world tours. Oh Jesus, that's lunacy. But we didn't like touring very much, so we would always play where we could just get out of there and get the hell home.