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Birth name: John Davies Cale.
Born: March 9, 1942 Garnant, Ammanford, Carmarthenshire, Wales, USA.
John Cale biography (bio):
John Davies Cale is a Welsh musician, singer-songwriter and record producer. He is best known for his work in rock music, particularly as a founding member of The Velvet Underground, and he has worked in a variety of styles over the years. Cale created the wall of feedback and distortion that Sandy Pearlman would describe as heavy metal in a Crawdaddy! review of the first Velvet Underground LP.
Early life and career:
John Cale was born in Garnant in the heavily industrial Amman Valley, and Welsh is his first language. Having discovered a talent for piano, he studied music at Goldsmiths College, the University of London, where he famously stayed in room E14 Raymont Hall (in Brockley). He then travelled to the U.S. to continue his musical training, thanks to the help and influence of Aaron Copland.
Arriving in New York City, he met a number of influential composers. With John Cage and several others, Cale participated in an 18-hour piano-playing marathon that was the first full-length performance of Erik Satie's "Vexations". More significantly, Cale played in La Monte Young's ensemble the Theater of Eternal Music (also known as the Dream Syndicate, which should not be confused with the 1980s band of the same name). The heavily drone-laden music he played there proved to be a big influence in his work with his next group, the Velvet Underground.
Three albums of his early experimental work were released in 2001. One of his collaborators on these recordings was Velvets' guitarist Sterling Morrison.
The Velvet Underground:
In 1965, he joined Lou Reed in the newly-formed Velvet Underground, but left in 1968, due in part to creative disagreements with Reed.
Cale appears on the Velvet Underground's first two albums, The Velvet Underground and Nico and White Light/White Heat, besides Nico's first album, Chelsea Girl, considered by some mostly a Velvet album. On the debut and White Light/White Heat, he sings on a few songs, plays viola, bass guitar, piano and organ (particularly on "Sister Ray") and co-wrote some of the material, but perhaps his most distinctive contributions are the electrically amplified viola drones which add greatly to the overall atmosphere of the records.
He is said to have influenced the sound of the early V.U. much more than any other members (and often disagreed with Reed about the direction the group should take). When Cale left the group, he seemed to take the more experimentalist tendencies with him, as is arguably noticeable in comparing the noise-rock experimental White Light/White Heat that Cale co-created with the calmer The Velvet Underground, recorded after his departure. It is also claimed that the change in sound was due to the band's equipment being stolen at an airport.
After leaving the Velvet Underground, Cale worked as a record producer on a number of albums, including Nico's The Marble Index, Desertshore and (later on Island) The End. On these he accompanied Nico's voice and harmonium using a wide array of instruments to unusual effect. He also produced The Stooges' debut. He also appeared on Nick Drake's second album, Bryter Layter, playing viola and harpsichord on two of the album's tracks. While meeting with producer Joe Boyd, he came across Nick's music and insisted on collaborating with him. After a quick meeting, Nick and John hammered out "Northern Sky" and "Fly".
In 1970, in addition to his career as a producer, Cale began to make solo records. His first, the pastoral Vintage Violence, is generally classified as folk-pop. Shortly thereafter, he collaborated with another classical musician, Terry Riley, on the mainly instrumental Church of Anthrax. His classical explorations continued with 1972's The Academy in Peril. He would not compose in the classical mode again until he began composing for soundtracks in the 1980s.
In 1972, he signed with Reprise Records as performer and in-house producer. His The Academy in Peril was his first project for Reprise. His fourth solo record Paris 1919 (1973) steered back towards the singer-songwriter mode. Paris 1919, made up of elegantly crafted and tastefully arranged songs with arcane and complex lyrics, has been cited by critics as one of his best. Artists he produced while at Reprise included Jennifer Warnes's third album, Jennifer, as well as albums by Chunky, Ernie & Novi and The Modern Lovers which Reprise chose not to release (it was subsequently released by Beserkley Records).
Cale's work as a producer continued. In 1974, he joined Island Records, and worked in that capacity with Squeeze, Patti Smith, and Sham 69, among others. He produced a number of important protopunk records, including debuts by Patti Smith, The Stooges and The Modern Lovers. During this period, he also worked as a talent scout with Island's A&R department.
Moving back to the United Kingdom, Cale made a series of solo albums which moved in a new direction. The tasteful elegance of his earlier records was now replaced by a dark and threatening aura, often carrying a sense of barely-suppressed aggression. A trilogy of albums - Fear, Slow Dazzle, and Helen of Troy were recorded with other Island artists including Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno of Roxy Music, and Chris Spedding who featured in his live band. This era of Cale's music is perhaps best represented by his somewhat disturbing cover of Elvis Presleys' iconic "Heartbreak Hotel", featured both on Slow Dazzle and the live album June 1, 1974, recorded with Kevin Ayers, Nico and Eno, and by his frothing performance on "Leaving It Up To You", a savage indictment of the mass media first released on Helen of Troy (1975), but quickly deleted from later editions of the record due perhaps to the song's pointed Sharon Tate reference. It's also worth noting that both "Leaving" and "Fear Is A Man's Best Friend" (from Fear) began as relatively conventional songs that both gradually grow more paranoid in tone before breaking down into what critic Dave Thompson calls "a morass of discordance and screaming."
His often loud, abrasive and confrontational live performances fitted well with the nascent punk rock developing on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Cale took to wearing a hockey goalie's mask onstage; see the cover of the Guts compilation (1977). It was a very odd and menacing look, utilized several years before the fictional Jason Voorhees first appeared on screen and made the goalie's mask synonymous with evil. During one gig he chopped the head off a dead chicken with a meat cleaver, and his band walked offstage in protest. Cale's drummer--a vegetarian--was so bothered he quit the group. Cale mocks his decision on "Chicken Shit" from the Animal Justice EP. Cale has admitted that some of his paranoia and erratic behaviour at this time was associated with heavy cocaine use.
In December 1979, Cale culminated his embrace of the punk rock ethic by releasing Sabotage/Live. This raw and intense record, recorded live at CBGB that June, features aggressive vocal and instrumental performances. The album, though recorded live, consists entirely of new songs, many of which grapple confrontationally with global politics and paranoia. The band used includes Deerfrance on vocals and percussion. An earlier live set, consisting mostly of new material, was recorded at CBGB the previous year. It was released in 1991 as Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. The band on that recording includes Ivan Kral of the Patti Smith Group on bass and Judy Nylon on vocals.
In 1981, Cale signed with A&M Records and tried to move in a more commercial direction with the album Honi Soit. He worked with producer Mike Thorne towards this end. Andy Warhol provided the cover art, in black and white, but against Warhol's wishes Cale colorized it. The new direction did not succeed commercially, however, and his relationship with A&M ended. Around this time, Cale married Rise Irushalmi.
He signed with Ze Records, a company he had influenced the creation of and which had absorbed Spy Records, the label he had cofounded with Jane Friedman. The next year, Cale released the sparse Music For A New Society. Seeming to blend the refined music of his early solo work with the threatening music that came later, it is by any standard a bleak, harrowing record. It's been called "understated, and perhaps a masterpiece."
He followed up with the album Caribbean Sunset, also on Ze. This work, with much more accessible production than Music for a New Society, was still extremely militant in some ways. It has never seen release on CD. A live album, John Cale Comes Alive, followed it and included two new studio songs, "Ooh La La" and "Never Give Up On You". His daughter Eden was born in this period.
In a last effort at commercial success, Cale recorded Artificial Intelligence for Beggars Banquet. This album, written in collaboration with Larry "Ratso" Sloman, was characterized by stereotypical 80s synthesizers and drum machines and is entirely written in the pop idiom. It was not significantly more successful than its predecessors, despite the relative success of the single "Satellite Walk." It has been voted Cale's worst album by the Sabotage2 mailing list.
Thereafter, in part because of his young daughter, Cale took a long break from recording and performing.
He made a comeback in 1989 with vocal and orchestral settings of poems by Dylan Thomas. Notable among these is "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night", which he performed on stage in the concert held in Cardiff in 1999 to celebrate the opening of the Welsh Assembly. The music was recorded in 1992 with a Welsh boys' choir and a Russian orchestra, on an Eno produced album: Words for the Dying. Words for the Dying also included a pair of electric piano "Songs Without Words" and a Cale/Eno collaboration, "The Soul of Carmen Miranda."
1990s and beyond:
In 1990, he again collaborated with Eno on an album entitled Wrong Way Up. One of the songs, "Lay My Love" was on the Northern Exposure soundtrack More Music From Northern Exposure released in 1994. Cale covered Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah" on the 1991 tribute album I'm Your Fan. Cale's cover of "Hallelujah" was used in the 1996 film, Basquiat, and the 2001 film, Shrek, in the latter film one line of the lyric ("Maybe there's a God above") was edited from the song; however, Rufus Wainwright's performance of the song was included on the film's official soundtrack instead of Cale's. It is however included in the official soundtrack for the TV-series Scrubs.
In 1992, Cale performed vocals on the song "First Evening" on French producer Hector Zazou's album Sahara Blue. All lyrics on the album were based on the poetry of author Arthur Rimbaud. In 1994, Cale performed a spoken word duet with Suzanne Vega on the song "The Long Voyage" on Zazou's album Chansons des mers froides. The lyrics were based on the poem "Silhouettes" by author Oscar Wilde and Cale co-wrote the music with Zazou. It was later released as a single (retitled "The Long Voyages" as it featured several remixes by Zazou, Mad Professor, and more).
Songs for Drella, a tribute to one-time Velvet Underground manager Andy Warhol, saw him reunited with Reed, a collaboration which eventually led to the brief reunion of the Velvet Underground in 1993. Nico, an instrumental ballet score and tribute to the singer was performed by Scapino Rotterdam plus an added selection from The Marble Index in 1998, with the score released as Dance Music. Cale has also written a number of film soundtracks, often using more classically influenced instrumentation. His version of Hallelujah was used in the credits in a mini-documentary about John Frusciante's life, called Stuff. Cale's autobiography, What's Welsh for Zen?, was published in 1999.
John Cale was paid tribute by John Cameron Mitchell in the 1998 off-broadway and 2001 film versions of the rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. As the title character, Mitchell employed a vocal affect and cadence that clearly imitate Cale, particularly his spoken word performance on "The Gift" from the 1968 Velvet Underground album White Light/White Heat.
With 2003's E.P. Five Tracks and the album HoboSapiens, John Cale again returned as a regular recording artist, this time with music influenced by modern electronica and alternative rock. The well received album was co-produced with Nick Franglen of Lemon Jelly. That record was again followed with 2005's album BlackAcetate, which consolidated John Cale's reputation as a versatile and tirelessly innovative music auteur.
In 2005, Cale produced Austin singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo's eighth album, The Boxing Mirror, which was released in May 2006. In June 2006, Cale released a radio and digital single, "Jumbo in tha Modernworld," that was unconnected to any album. A video was created for the song as well.
In March 2007 a 23 song live retrospective, Circus Live was released in Europe. This two-disc album, composed of recordings from both the 2004 and 2006 tours, featured new arrangements and reworkings of songs from his entire career. Of particular interest is the Amsterdam Suite, a set of songs from a performance at the Amsterdam Melkweg (archived by the venue on their internet performance repository). A studio-created drone has been edited into these songs. The set also included a DVD, featuring electric rehearsal material and a short acoustic set, as well as a "Jumbo in Tha Modernworld" for 2006 single.
In May 2007, Cale contributed a cover of LCD Soundsystem song "All My Friends" to the vinyl and digital single releases of the LCD Soundsystem original. Cale has continued to work with other artists, contributing viola to the forthcoming Danger Mouse-produced second album by London psychedelic trio The Shortwave Set and producing the second album of American indie band Ambulance Ltd.