Steve Hunter's Classic Sessions: Lou Reed's "Rock & Roll"

During the rehearsal and pre-production stage prior to our going into the studio to record the Detroit album, [producer] Bob Ezrin asked us to bring in whatever songs we wanted to do on the album—especially any original songs.
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During the rehearsal and pre-production stage prior to our going into the studio to record the Detroit album, [producer] Bob Ezrin asked us to bring in whatever songs we wanted to do on the album—especially any original songs. I had tried my hand at writing, but I hadn’t really come up with anything good. I needed more experience. Detroit’s frontperson, Mitch Ryder, brought in a cover tune he liked called “Rock & Roll,” which was written by Lou Reed and performed by the Velvet Underground. He thought we could do a more rockin’ version of the song. For some reason, that thought stuck in my mind.

One evening, Charlie Auringer—one of the staff photographers at Creem magazine—knocked on my door and asked if I would like to come with him to the East Town Theater in downtown Detroit to see Mountain. He was going to shoot the concert, and he had a spare pass. As I was a huge Mountain fan, I jumped at the chance to see them live.

They were incredible! The whole band was on fire, but guitarist Leslie West and his awesome vibrato were over the top. They ended up getting seven encores that night. For one of those encores, Leslie came out by himself, and did this incredibly beautiful Volume-knob stuff that sounded like a cello. He got an amazing tone out of his Gibson Melody Maker and those big Sunn amps. It was without a doubt, one of the best rock and roll shows ever. I was wired and inspired after seeing that great band.

A day or two after seeing Mountain, I was listening to Reed’s version of “Rock & Roll.” I liked it. There was something very cool about the song itself and the lyrics. I grabbed my guitar, learned the changes, and sat playing it over and over trying to come up with some ideas on how to rock it up more, but still keep the essence of the song. And then I had a thought: “I wonder how Mountain would play this song?” All of a sudden, a Mountain-type riff came out, and the whole arrangement simply poured out of me. I was very excited to show it to the guys.

When we played it at rehearsal the next day, and Mitch started singing it, the song came alive with all kinds of power. It was an amazing feeling to hear something I had done actually work, and work better than I had thought it would. Bob loved it. He made a few changes and additions, and the Detroit version of “Rock & Roll” was added to the list of songs to be included on our album.

Now, for the amazing part. After the album was released, Reed himself heard the Detroit version of “Rock & Roll,” and was knocked out. He tracked down Bob Ezrin, said he wanted him to produce his next album, and he wanted me to play on it. The next thing I know, I’m on a plane to London to record Lou’s Berlin—which was just the second album I had worked on. But that’s another story to come.

One more amazing thing: Many years later, I finally got to meet Leslie West. He told me people had come up to him when Detroit’s version of “Rock & Roll” came out, and told him how much they loved Mountain’s new single. I guess I got closer to Mountain than I thought!

Sometimes called “The Deacon,” Steve Hunter is an American guitarist best known for his collaborations with Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, and Alice Cooper. Hunter has played some of the greatest riffs in rock history, including the opening solos on Aerosmith’s version of “Train Kept A-Rollin’” and Alice Cooper’s “Cold Ethyl,” and the acoustic intro to Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill.” He also wrote the legendary “Intro” for Lou Reed’s 1973 live version of “Sweet Jane.”

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