For its 14th edition, the festival most oriented on musical discoveries, POP MONTREAL, has a great guest: Mister John Cale. In a rare visit in Montreal, the legendary musician, co-founder of the Velvet Underground will play The Rialto Theatre on Thursday, September 22, (tickets here) and be part of a symposium the next day, at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts where he will give a keynote artistic talk. Two events not to be missed!

But, one might say, why is John Cale so unique? Here are 10 reasons that make the man unique in the history of rock.

1. HE CO-FOUNDED THE VELVET UNDERGROUND

Just for this reason, John Cale has his place in the great book of Rock. He and Lou Reed created the legendary band in early 1965 in New York. He was the creative of the band, always wanting to experiment more and more. He also played viola, bass guitar and piano, and occasionally sung. If Reed was the songwriter, Cale was the experimentalist. He brought loops, feedback and “a lunacy factor” (according to drummer Moe Tucker) that helped create songs like Lady Godiva’s Operation, Sister Ray or The Gift. He was fired by Reed in 1968 because his ideas were too far out for the songwriter to handle. Rumours say Cale wanted to record with amps underwater…

 

2. HE BROUGHT THE VIOLIN TO ROCK

The violin isn’t a rock instrument. Very rarely bands will use it, especially not in an art-rock ensemble. But John Cale is the exception. He came up with beautiful moments on soft songs like Stephanie Says, and invented art chaos on songs like Venus in Furs, or Heroin, classic moments of The Velvet Underground.

 

3.HE HELPED GREAT ART-PUNK ROCKERS EMERGE

John Cale produced the first albums of the Stooges, the Modern Lovers, Patti Smith, Squeeze, and Happy Mondays. The 1969 eponymous album from Iggy Pop’s band was neither a critical nor commercial success, and remixes were done by Pop himself, not satisfied by Cale’s work. Still, classics like I Wanna Be Your Dog and No Fun were recorded in these sessions.

Modern Lovers, the band led by Velvet fan Jonathan Richman which included future Talking Heads Jerry Harrison and The Cars’ drummer David Robinson, recorded their first demos with John Cale.

 

Cale also produced the legendary debut album “Horses” from New York punk poet Patti Smith, in 1975. She had probably seen the Velvet play live in 1969 (after Cale’s departure) as she was a frequent visitor of Max’s Kansas City, where the band ended their path.

 

Due to his early work with the Velvet Underground, his interest in drone-music, and because he has produced early albums from The Stooges and Patti Smith (just to name a few), he was nicknamed “the godfather of punk”.

4. HE PLAYED WITH JOHN CAGE

His Wiki page tells it how it was: “On 9 September 1963 he participated, along with John Cage and several others, in an 18-hour piano-playing marathon that was the first full-length performance of Erik Satie’s “Vexations”. After the performance Cale appeared on the television panel show I’ve Got a Secret. Cale’s secret was that he had performed in an 18-hour concert, and he was accompanied by a man whose secret was that he was the only member of the audience who had stayed for the duration.”

 

5. HIS EARLY WORKS INCLUDE GREAT ART INFLUENCERS

Musically talented at a very young age, John Cale studied music at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Great classical – and experimental – composers like John Cage, Aaron Copeland and avant-garde composer La Monte Young worked with a young 18 or 19 years-old Cale.

After he left the Velvet, Cale worked with another classical composer, Terry Riley, with whom he recorded “Church of Anthrax” in 1971.

 

6. HE HAS BEEN STRANGE ON STAGE

In his 1977 tour, he was wearing a hockey goalie mask – a few years before the “Jason” movies – and has cut off the head of a chicken on stage. Cale explained his erratic behaviour due to heavy cocaine use in those years. In the mid-seventies, his albums were very aggressive and somehow disturbant. His cover of Elvis Presley’s classic Heartbreak Hotel tells all.

 

7. HE NEVER DEVIATED FROM HIS PATH

Even though commercial success was never on John Cale’s path – with the Velvet, as a solo artist and as a producer – he never deviated from his artistic path. Albums “Paris 1919” (1973), “Music for a New Society” (1982) or “Words for the Dying” (1989) are now praised.

 

8. HE WORKED WITH EVERYBODY

John Cale has been a very busy producer. He has worked with Nico, Hector Zazou, Cranes, Nick Drake, Mike Heron, Kevin Ayers, Brian Eno, Patti Smith, the Stooges, Lio, the Modern Lovers, Art Bergmann, Manic Street Preachers and frontman James Dean Bradfield, Super Furry Animals, Marc Almond, Element of Crime, Squeeze, Suzanne Vega, David Byrne, Happy Mondays, LCD Soundsystem, the Replacements, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Animal Collective.

 

9. HE AND REED RECORDED ONE OF THE BEST ALBUM EVER

Joining forces with old Velvet Underground “pal” Lou Reed in 1990, John Cale participated in creating “Songs for Drella”, a magnificent album on which the two musicians tell tales of their early mentor Andy Warhol, who had died in 1987. The concept album is an amazing song cycle where Cale and Reed comment Warhol’s life, or take his perspective. The two men play all instruments.
This project led to the only Velvet Underground reunion and tour, in 1993, that ended with Cale and Reed vowing once again never to work together again.

 

10. THE MAN IS 74

Nobody is eternal. Lou Reed and David Bowie left us at 71 and 69 years of age. Cale was born in 1942 in Wales and is now 74 years old. Who knows how many more times he will play in Montreal…

 

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About The Author

Nicolas Pelletier

Mélomane invétéré et rédacteur agréé, Nicolas pratique la critique en mode olympique: il parle de tout, tout le temps, depuis 1991. Il a publié 6 000 critiques de disques et concerts dont 1100 chez emoragei magazine et 600 sur enMusique.ca, dont il a également été le rédacteur-en-chef de 2009 à 2014. Il publie “Les perles rares et grands crus de la musique” en 2013, et devient stratège numérique des radios de Bell Média en 2015, participant au lancement de la marque iHeartRadio au Canada en 2016.