Joseph Arthur pays tribute to Lou Reed 

click to enlarge Joseph Arthur
  • Joseph Arthur, who befriended the late Lou Reed, calls the rock legend a curmudgeon and a sweetheart.
Joseph Arthur didn’t intend to record a full-length tribute to his late friend and fellow New Yorker Lou Reed, the May release “Lou,” which includes catalog classics such as “Heroin,” “Dirty Blvd.” and “Walk on the Wild Side.” But Vanguard Records’ A&R executive (and longtime mutual Reed acquaintance) Bill Bentley insisted. At first, Arthur — who sings in a similarly deep register — thought Bentley was suggesting he participate in a multiartist covers project. But Bentley told Arthur, “I think it would be much more powerful if it came just from you,” and Arthur agreed.

When and how did you first meet Lou Reed? I met him for the first time in New York City at the Fez, this little basement club. Peter Gabriel brought him to my gig, which was essentially an audition for [Gabriel’s] Real World Records. And Lou brought his DAT recorder and recorded the show. Then we all went out to dinner afterwards, and in the booth next to us was Dolly Parton. And Peter had originally asked Dolly Parton to sing the duet on “Don’t Give Up” before he asked Kate Bush. And that fun fact is worth your time to interview, in and of itself.

What was the conversation like that night? Oh, it was insane. I was freaked out, obviously. I was freaked out just by the Peter Gabriel factor. And then the Lou factor kind of quadrupled the freakiness. But Lou said he really liked the show, and he was telling me certain songs he liked. And then he told me, “Make sure you don’t sign a publishing deal where you don’t get at least 90 percent.” But Peter was actually offering me a publishing deal that wasn’t 90 percent, so Lou was like, “Oh, never mind — this guy is OK. I’m not talking about this guy!” I remember walking home and just floating through New York, thinking “This is crazy!”

And you started hanging out with Lou? Years and years later, we hung out all the time, and we became friends. We ran into each other a lot at various times, and then eventually we just exchanged numbers and would just hang out.

What kinds of things did he teach you? I think I learned a lot about saying things directly when writing lyrics and poetry. He wanted things to be very straightforward and direct, and he wouldn’t write things that incorporated a bunch of adjectives and fluffy words. He did have a curmudgeonly reputation, but he also had a sweetheart reputation, because he was that, as well. Humans are multilayered creatures, you know?


Joseph Arthur

Where: Brick and Mortar Music Hall, 1710 Mission St., S.F.

When: 9 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $17 to $20

Contact: (415) 800-8782,

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Tom Lanham

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