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The Story Behind the Immortal Bass Line of Lou Reed's Walk On The Wild Side (VIDEO)





Of all the tributes to, and stories about, Lou Reed over the past week, this is one of the most fascinating - even though it doesn't directly concern Reed himself, but rather Herbie Flowers, the legendary British bass player who created the immortal bass line that opens Reed's massive solo hit, Walk On The Wild Side.

When I first heard Walk On The Wild Side, it seemed the ultimate late night New York song: a transgender story (which apparently radio stations in the 1970s and since didn't even pick up on, despite the line, "Shaved his legs and then he was a she") featuring characters from Andy Warhol's Factory, which sounded as if it had been recorded at about 1 am in some smoky lowdown basement hangout in the East Village.

The video above reveals the immense influence of Herbie Flowers - who had worked with David Bowie, who produced Walk On The Wild Side and the Lou Reed album it came from, Transformer, on Bowie's own classic breakout single, Space Oddity.

Flowers, a jazz-trained bassist, created the fabulous bass line that hooks you into the Wild Side by combining a line on his double bass with a line on an electric bass guitar, one tenth (ten notes) above it.

Together, the resulting sound was unique - and created a loose yet vibrant, catchy yet subversive hook that set the scene for Reed's fabulous opening line, "Holly came from Miami, FLA..."

(The Holly in question is Holly Woodlawn, one of Warhol's Factory and movie "superstars" - a word Warhol coined.)

Watch the video and perhaps you'll be as surprised as I was to learn that the song was recorded in London, at Trident Studios, on a Monday morning - and Herbie Flowers was paid, apparently, two fees of £12, one for the double bass line and one for the bass guitar.

It still sounds like a smoke-hazed, late night New York bar to me.



One of the all-time great covers: from a Mick Rock photograph of Lou Reed.


Immense thanks to the blog No Treble - Nothing But Bass for this story - and to the BBC TV show, The One Show, for the video clip, courtesy of YouTube. And thanks to the huge influence of Andy Warhol on Lou Reed's music: I'm sure Reed would have been extraordinary without Warhol, but Warhol was a visionary who changed the way the world viewed art and life...and shopping.


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