Steve Hunter on Lou Reed's Guitar Legacy

May 14, 2014

“It's very difficult to separate Lou Reed the singer/songwriter and Lou Reed the guitar player, because the two went hand-in-hand,” says iconic session guitarist Steve Hunter. “Some of the technical things he did on guitar were a product of his songwriting skills and vice versa. When I worked out his songs, it was obvious that he used harmony in ways I would never think of, and that intrigued, excited, and inspired me. Listen to the chords on “Perfect Day,” for example. When he composed, it appears that he let the melody and chords lead each other, and didn’t care if the progression fit into a strict key, or followed any rules of music theory. That takes a lot of courage. He would hear a melody, and find chords that worked with it no matter what the hell they were. If he went from C to Eb, he didn’t care, as long as that harmonized the melody the way he wanted to hear it.


“As a guitar player, people usually thought he was experimental and abstract, and I think, to a certain extent, that’s true. He liked to push boundaries, and, to him, there was no box to think outside of. He was already outside of it [laughs]. But, like most guitarists, he was also obsessed with finding unique tones. If the sound wasn’t doing it for him, it would make him a little cranky. I loved that Lou was like a child inside an intellectual man’s body. When a new guitar toy came along that really excited him, he’d play with it, and I could see his face light up like a kid’s. I discovered Pete Cornish pedals while on the Berlin tour, thanks to Lou. He loved Pete Cornish pedals, and some were oneoffs built specifically for him by Pete.

“When I first joined up with the Berlin tour, they rented an amp for me, and I didn’t have a particularly good sound with it. Nothing seemed to click. Suddenly, Lou said, ‘Well, I have an extra Tone King amp and an extra Cornish overdrive/distortion. Let’s try those.’ And as soon as we plugged all that stuff in, it sounded amazing. He wasn’t a guy to rule with a hammer, but he was definitely listening, and he’d make suggestions if he didn’t like something.

“As a soloist on the Berlin tour, Lou was exciting, because he liked to make things new every night. I loved what he did on ‘Rock Minuet,’ because the song’s lyrics are pretty darn street raw and the solo is mean, and flowing, and really in your face, but it sucks you in. Sometimes, he had a certain framework, and, sometimes, he’d work without a net. But I don’t think any of his solos were completely planned out—I think he went for certain ideas.”

Steve Hunter first played with Lou Reed in 1973 on the much maligned at the time (but now considered a classic) Berlin, and reprised his role during Reed’s live-performance version of the album in 2006.

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