“Lou could be a little cold but if he admired you, you were in for life…” Keith Richards, Rickie Lee Jones And More Pay Tribute To Lou Reed

Stars salute the late Velvet Underground leader on new tribute album The Power Of The Heart

Lou Reed 1976

by Martin Aston |
Published on

THE NUMEROUS album tributes to the late Lou Reed have often taken The Velvet Underground route. Not for Bill Bentley, the Texas-based writer, one-time Sterling Morrison bandmate, Reed’s US publicist from 1988 to 2004 and producer of tributes to Roky Erickson, Skip Spence and Doug Sahm. Eleven of the 12 covers he’s assembled on The Power Of The Heart are devoted to the great man’s solo years. “I was missing not having Lou in my life,” Bentley explains. “I missed his spirit. So, I started this record.”

Those paying tribute include Rickie Lee Jones, Joan Jett, Lucinda Williams, Rosanne Cash, The Afghan Whigs, Bobby Rush, Angel Olsen and – the last to be asked – Keith Richards, who donates a grizzled I’m Waiting For The Man, the sole VU cover. “You don’t say no to Keith!” says Bentley. “But it’s fitting, because they were contemporaries back in the day.”

The first to commit was Jones, turning Walk On The Wild Side into a sensual barfly vamp. “I didn’t think anyone could cover Walk On The Wild Side, but Rickie took it to another place,” says Bentley. “That’s what you want in a cover. Lucinda, too, blew my mind with her originality.”

Lucinda Williams, who swings, country-style, through Legendary Hearts, only met Reed once, backstage at one of his LA shows. “I was working up a version of [VU classic] Pale Blue Eyes at the time,” she says. “Lou wrote the chords down for me, which was a sweet moment.” Williams later invited Reed to join her on-stage in New York. “Lou couldn’t make it, but he said we would have sung Legendary Hearts together, and I never forgot that.”

Of all the voices paying tribute, Rufus Wainwright – who breathes new life into Perfect Day – knew Reed best. After Reed appeared at 2008’s Wainwright-McGarrigle family Christmas shindig, the pair became close. “Lou could be a little cold, and ornery,” Wainwright reflects, “but the truth is, if he admired you and wanted you in his life, you were in for life.” Perfect Day, he contends, “is Lou’s most lyrical song – it’s his Somewhere Over The Rainbow!”

Bentley occasionally offered suggestions, such as pairing soul man Bobby Rush and Sally Can’t Dance, “because of its funky rhythm. Lou loved his soul and R&B, and if I hadn’t found someone from that world, he would have haunted me!” Bentley thinks Reed “would have been OK” with a tribute album, but wasn’t a fan of the for mat. When Bentley asked Reed to cover a Roky Erickson song, “He said, ‘Billy, I won’t, but you can have one of my songs to put on it.’ He just followed his own light. Even if it meant losing his audience. He’d tell me, ‘Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do.’”

Bentley is not finished yet either. He heard that Bob Dylan liked Reed’s Doin’ The Things That We Want To, but attempts to include him failed; David Byrne was game but ran out of time; and he’s desperate to include Reed’s wife Laurie Anderson. “That’s all for Volume Two,” Bentley promises.

The Power Of The Heart: A Tribute To Lou Reed is released by Light In The Attic on April 20.

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