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John Cale

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John Cale

John Cale
John Cale playing the electric viola at a concert in Belgium, 2006
Background information
Birth name John Davies Cale[1]
Born (1942-03-09) 9 March 1942
Garnant, Carmarthenshire, Wales
Years active 1965–present
Associated acts
Website .comjohn-cale
Notable instruments
Fender Precision Bass

John Davies Cale, OBE (born 9 March 1942) is a Welsh musician, composer, singer-songwriter and record producer who was a founding member of the NYC-based American experimental rock band the Velvet Underground, of which he is now the last surviving founding member.

Though best known for his work in rock music, Cale has worked in various genres including drone and classical, and studied music at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Since departing from the Velvet Underground in 1968 he has released approximately 30 albums. Of his solo work, Cale is perhaps best known for his album Paris 1919, and his cover version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", plus his mid-1970s Island Records trilogy of albums: Fear, Slow Dazzle and Helen of Troy.

Cale has produced or collaborated with Lou Reed, Nico, La Monte Young, John Cage, Terry Riley, Hector Zazou, Cranes, Nick Drake, Mike Heron, Kevin Ayers, Brian Eno, Patti Smith, the Stooges, Lio, the Modern Lovers, Art Bergmann, Manic Street Preachers and frontman James Dean Bradfield, Super Furry Animals, Marc Almond, Element of Crime, Squeeze, Happy Mondays, LCD Soundsystem, the Replacements and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Cale was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as member of the Velvet Underground in 1996, and appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2010.


  • Early life and career 1
  • The Velvet Underground (1964–1968) 2
  • Solo career 3
    • 1970s 3.1
      • Mid-1970s 3.1.1
    • 1980s 3.2
    • 1990s 3.3
    • 2000s to present 3.4
  • Personal life 4
    • Substance abuse 4.1
  • Discography 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life and career

John Cale was born on 9 March 1942 in Garnant in the heavily industrial Amman Valley of Wales to Will Cale and Margaret Davies.[5] His mother was a primary school teacher and his father was a coal miner.[5] Although Will spoke only English, Margaret brought John up to speak only Welsh.[5] Being unable to speak the same language as his father naturally hindered their relationship.[5] John finally began learning English at primary school, at around age of seven.[5]

Cale was molested by two different men during his childhood.[5][6] One of the men was an Anglican priest who molested him in a church.[5][6]

Having discovered a talent for Fluxus concert, A Little Festival of New Music, on 6 July 1964. He also contributed to the short film Police Car and had two scores published in Fluxus Preview Review (July 1963) for the nascent avant-garde collective.[7] He conducted the first performance in the UK of Cage's Concert for Piano and Orchestra, with the composer and pianist Michael Garrett as soloist. He also enjoyed rock music from an early age and in 1963 he travelled to the United States to continue his musical training, thanks to the help and influence of Aaron Copland.

In New York City Cale met a number of influential composers. On 9 September 1963 he participated, along with John Cage and several others, in an 18-hour piano-playing marathon that was the first full-length performance of Erik Satie's "Vexations". After the performance Cale appeared on the television panel show I've Got a Secret. Cale's secret was that he had performed in an 18-hour concert, and he was accompanied by a man whose secret was that he was the only member of the audience who had stayed for the duration.[8]

Cale also played in La Monte Young and Tony Conrad's ensemble the Theatre of Eternal Music, also known as the Dream Syndicate (not to 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. One of his collaborators on these recordings was the Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison. Three albums of his early experimental work from this period were released in 2001.

The Velvet Underground (1964–1968)

In early 1965, he co-founded the Velvet Underground with Lou Reed, recruiting his flatmate Angus MacLise and Reed's college friend Sterling Morrison to complete the initial line-up. Cale left the band in September 1968, owing in part to creative disagreements with Reed.

Just before the group's first paying gig for $75 USD at a high school gig in Sister Ray") as well as two vocal turns: "Lady Godiva's Operation", an experimental song where he shares lead vocal duties with Reed, and "The Gift", a long spoken word piece written by Reed. Though Cale co-wrote the music to several songs, his most distinctive contribution is the electrically amplified viola and he also played the celesta on "Sunday Morning".

Cale also played on Nico's 1967 debut album, Chelsea Girl, which features songs co-written by Velvet Underground members Cale, Reed and Morrison, who also feature as musicians. Cale makes his debut as lyricist on "Winter Song" and "Little Sister".

Apart from appearing on these three albums, he also played organ[9] on the track "Ocean" during the practice sessions to produce demos for the band's fourth album Loaded, nearly two years after he left the band. He was enticed back into the studio by the band's manager, Steve Sesnick, "in a half-hearted attempt to reunite old comrades", as Cale put it.[10] Although he does not appear on the finished album, the demo recording of "Ocean" was included in the 1997 Loaded: Fully Loaded Edition re-issue. Finally, five previously unreleased tracks recorded in late 1967 and early 1968 were included on the albums VU (1985) and Another View (1986).

With tensions between Reed and Cale growing, Reed gave an ultimatum to Morrison and Tucker, declaring that unless Cale was fired, he would quit the band. Morrison and Tucker reluctantly went along with the scheme.[11] In September 1968, Cale played his final gig with the Velvets at the celesta on "Northern Sky".

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, his collaboration with another classical musician, Terry Riley, on the mainly instrumental Church of Anthrax, was released, although it was actually recorded almost a year prior. 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. The Academy in Peril was his first project for Reprise. His fourth solo record Paris 1919 (1973) steered back towards the singer-songwriter mode; made up of songs with arcane and complex lyrics, it has been cited by critics[15] as one of his best. While at Reprise he produced albums by Jennifer Warnes (her third, Jennifer), Chunky, Novi & Ernie, and the Modern Lovers, their first, which Reprise chose not to release: it subsequently appeared on Beserkley Records, the first of a number of important Cale-produced protopunk records. In 1974 he joined Island, working on records with Squeeze, Patti Smith, and Sham 69, among others. During this period, he was also a talent scout with Island's A&R department.

John Cale playing in Toronto, 1977. Photo: Jean-Luc Ourlin


Moving back to London, Cale made a series of solo albums which moved in a new direction. His records now featured 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 Presley's 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. Both "Leaving It Up To You" and "Fear Is A Man's Best Friend" (from Fear) begin as relatively conventional songs that gradually grow more paranoid in tone before breaking down into what critic Dave Thompson calls "a morass of discordance and screaming".[16]

In 1977 he released the Animal Justice EP, notable particularly for the epic "Hedda Gabler", based very loosely on the Ibsen play. His often loud, abrasive and confrontational live performances fitted well with the punk rock scene developing on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Cale took to wearing a hockey goaltender's mask onstage: see the cover of the Guts compilation (1977). This look predated Friday the 13th's villain, Jason Voorhees, by several years. During one gig in Croydon 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.[17]

In December 1979, Cale's embrace of the punk rock ethic culminated in the release of Sabotage/Live. This record, recorded live at CBGB that June, features aggressive vocal and instrumental performances. The album 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.


Cale performing in Toronto, 1980

In 1980 Cale signed with A&M Records and moved in a more commercial direction with the album Honi Soit. He worked with producer Mike Thorne towards this end.[18] Andy Warhol provided the cover art, in black and white, but against Warhol's wishes Cale colourised it. The new direction did not succeed commercially, however, and his relationship with A&M ended.

He signed with Ze Records, a company he had influenced the creation of and which had absorbed Spy Records, the label he had co-founded 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."[19]

He followed up with the album Caribbean Sunset, also on Ze Records. 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". Different mixes of the two studio tracks appeared on both sides of the Atlantic. His daughter Eden Cale was born in July 1985.

In a last effort at commercial success, Cale recorded Artificial Intelligence, his only album for Beggars Banquet records. This album, written in collaboration with Larry "Ratso" Sloman and with compositional contributions from James Young, was characterised by synthesisers 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". However, "Dying on the Vine" is generally regarded as one of Cale's best songs.

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. This album also included a pair of electric piano "Songs Without Words" and a Cale/Eno collaboration, "The Soul of Carmen Miranda".


John Cale selected the verses by Leonard Cohen which most covers have since followed. First recorded by Cale in 1991 for the Cohen tribute album I'm Your Fan.

Problems playing this file? See .

In 1990 he again collaborated with Eno, on an album entitled Wrong Way Up, the accessible and uptempo album at odds with Cale's description of the fraught relationship between the pair.

Then in 1991 Cale contributed one song, "Hallelujah", to the tribute album to Leonard Cohen, I'm Your Fan. Cale's uptempo version was performed on piano, and his cover forms the basis of most subsequent performances since.[20]

In 1992 Cale performed vocals on two songs, "Hunger" and "First Evening", on French producer Hector Zazou's album Sahara Blue. All lyrics on the album were based on the poetry of 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 "Les Silhouettes" by 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 saw him reunited with Reed, in a tribute to one-time Velvet Underground manager and mentor Andy Warhol. In his autobiography, Cale revealed that he resented letting Lou take charge of the project. The longstanding friction between the two contributed to the passion and lurching frustration evident in the sound of the album, as did the ambivalent relationship Reed had to Warhol. The collaboration eventually led to the brief reunion of the Velvet Underground in 1993.

In 1996 Cale released Walking on Locusts which turned out to be his only solo album of the decade. The record featured appearances by David Byrne and original Velvet Underground drummer Maureen Tucker.

Nico, an instrumental ballet score and tribute to Paradiso in Amsterdam.[21] The concert was shown on Dutch national television and featured a song specially composed for the event and still unreleased, "Murdering Mouth", sung in duet with Siouxsie Sioux.[22]

Cale has also written a number of film soundtracks, often using more classically influenced instrumentation. His autobiography, What's Welsh for Zen?, was published in 1999 by Bloomsbury, a collaboration with Victor Bockris, author of a controversial biography of Lou Reed.

2000s to present

Cale at UCLA's Royce Hall, 2010

In 2001, the motion picture Shrek featured Cale's recording of the Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah", which greatly popularised the song with younger audiences.

Signing to EMI in 2003 with the EP Five Tracks and the album HoboSapiens, 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 followed with 2005's album BlackAcetate.

In 2005 Cale produced Austin singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo's eighth album, The Boxing Mirror, which was released in May 2006.[23] 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 Paradiso in 2004.[24] 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 the video for "Jumbo in tha Modernworld", a 2006 single.

In May 2007 Cale contributed a cover of the 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 Replica Sun Machine, the Danger Mouse-produced second album by London psychedelic trio the Shortwave Set and producing the second album of American indie band Ambulance Ltd.

On 11 October 2008 Cale hosted an event to pay tribute to Nico called "Life Along the Borderline" in celebration of what, five days later, would have been her 70th birthday.[25] This event featured many artists including James Dean Bradfield, Mark Lanegan, Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, the Fiery Furnaces, Guillemots, Nick Franglen of Lemon Jelly, Peter Murphy, Liz Green, and Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance. The event was reprised at the Teatro Communale in Ferrara, Italy on 10 May 2009, with Mercury Rev, Mark Lanegan, Lisa Gerrard, Peter Murphy, Soap&Skin and Mark Linkous.

Cale represented Wales at the 2009 Venice Biennale, collaborating with artists, filmmakers, and poets, and focusing the artwork on his relationship with the Welsh language.

In January 2010 Cale was invited to be the first Eminent Art in Residence (EAR) at the Mona Foma festival curated by Brian Ritchie held in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. His work for the 2009 Venice Biennale 'Dyddiau Du (dark days)'[26] was shown at the festival, along with a number of live performances at venues around Hobart.

Cale in 2010

The Paris 1919 album was performed, in its entirety, at the Coal Exchange Cardiff on 21 November 2009, at the Royal Festival Hall in London on 5 March 2010, and the Theatre Royal in Norwich on 14 May 2010. These performances were reprised in Paris on 5 September 2010, Brescia, Italy on 11 September 2010, Los Angeles, CA on 30 September 2010 at UCLA's Royce Hall, Melbourne, Australia on 16 October 2010, Barcelona, Spain, 28 May 2010 and Essen, Germany, 6 October 2011.

Cale was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours.[27]

In February 2011 Cale signed a record deal with Domino Records subsidiary Double Six and released an EP, Extra Playful, in September 2011.[28]

In May 2011 Cale and his band appeared at the Brighton Festival, performing songs to the theme of Émigré/Lost & Found.[29][30] Cale appeared at the invitation of the human rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who was the festival's guest director.

In the fall of 2012 Cale released Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood, his first full-length studio album since 2005. The album features a collaboration with Danger Mouse, "I Wanna Talk 2 U". Critical reception of the album has been mixed to positive, with The Guardian newspaper describing it as "an album that combines the 70-year-old's experience with the glee of a small child.[31]

In 2014 he appeared as vendor in an episode "Sorrowsworn" of the television series The Bridge.[32]

Personal life

In 1968 John Cale married fashion designer Betsey Johnson.[33] The couple divorced less than a year later.[34]

In 1971 Cale met Cynthia "Cindy" Wells, better known as Miss Cindy of the GTOs[35] and they married soon afterward. Their marriage was rocky and they divorced in 1975.[36]

On 6 October 1981 Cale married his third wife, Risé Irushalmi,[37] and they had one daughter together, Eden Myfanwy Cale, born 14 July 1985.[38] They divorced in 1997.[39]

Substance abuse

As a child, Cale suffered from severe bronchial issues, which led to a doctor prescribing him opiates.[40] He would come to rely on the drug in order to fall asleep.[40] Biographer Tim Mitchell claims Cale's early dependence on medicine was a "formative experience".[40] Cale later told an interviewer that, "When I got to New York, drugs were everywhere, and they quickly became part of my artistic experiment".[41]

He was heavily involved in New York's drug scene of the 1960s and 1970s, with cocaine as his drug of choice.[41][42] He stated to have "taken most of the available drugs in the United States."[41] Cale has said that, "In the '60s, for me, drugs were a cool experiment... In the '70s, I got in over my head."[41] He now feels his drug addiction negatively affected his music during the 1980s, and that he decided to clean up following a series of embarrassing concerts and the birth of his daughter.[41] According to a 2009 BBC interview, the "strongest drug" he was then taking was tea.[41] Cale has also hosted a documentary called Heroin, Wales and Me to promote awareness of the problems of heroin addiction, easy availability of the drug in his native Wales and thousands of addicts.


John Cale in Denmark 2013
Photo Hreinn Gudlaugsson
Studio albums
Live albums
Collaborative studio albums


  1. ^ John Cale at AllMusic
  2. ^ 4 September 2013. "At 71, John Cale is a still-vital living legend of avant-garde".  
  3. ^ Harris, Sophie (7 January 2013). "Musical revolutionary John Cale storms BAM".  
  4. ^ Kozinn, Allan (15 January 2013). "An Eclectic Rock Pioneer Traversing the Borderline".  
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Mitchell, Tim Sedition and Alchemy : A Biography of John Cale, 2003, pp. 24
  6. ^ a b page: "Cold, Black Style: The John Cale Interview."
  7. ^ Fluxus Codex, Jon HEndricks, Harry N Abrams 1988 p221
  8. ^ I've Got a SecretJohn Cale on on YouTube.
  9. ^ Fricke, David. Liner notes to the Loaded: Fully Loaded Edition compact disc, 1997
  10. ^ Fricke, David. Liner notes to the Peel Slowly and See box set, 1995
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Paris 1919 from
  16. ^ Fear from
  17. ^ Mitchell, Tim Sedition and Alchemy : A Biography of John Cale, 2003, ISBN 0-7206-1132-6
  18. ^ Thorne, Michael. The making of John Cale's Honi Soit album
  19. ^ Music for a New Society from
  20. ^ Leonard Cohen Asks for Brief Halt to New Covers of "Hallelujah" Rolling Stone. Retrieved 25-11-2011
  21. ^ Mojo, September 1998, Martin Aston, p.22
  22. ^ Video of Siouxsie & John Cale "Murdering Mouth" on YouTube
  23. ^ Kot, Greg (17 April 2006). "'"Escovedo saves his best for Cale-produced `The Boxing Mirror.  
  24. ^ Archived by the venue on their Internet performance repository
  25. ^ "A Tribute to Nico – Live Event Featuring John Cale, Lisa Gerrard, Mark Lanegan, Soap&Skin and more at the Royal Festival Hall in London, England". 22 September 2008. Retrieved 2 February 2009. 
  26. ^ "MONA FOMA - Blak on blak - Artlink Magazine". Retrieved 2011-07-04. 
  27. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 59446. p. 9. 12 June 2010.
  28. ^ "John Cale". Double Six Records. Retrieved 28 June 2014. 
  29. ^ Bennett, Ellie (25 May 2011). "John Cale Reached Heady Musical Heights As He Mused On Travel & Homecoming @ Brighton Festival". Retrieved 28 June 2014. 
  30. ^ "John Cale". Eden on the Line. 24 May 2011. Retrieved 28 June 2014. 
  31. ^ Simpson, Dave (27 September 2012). "John Cale: Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood – review".  
  32. ^ "Sharing Space with the Cartel – Sorrowsworn (The Bridge)". TV Eskimo. 26 July 2014. Retrieved 16 October 2014. 
  33. ^ Schneider, Jason (November 2005). "John Cale The Velvet Evolver".  
  34. ^ Simon Prince (2010-02-28). "John Cale: The long reign of the alternative Prince of Wales".  
  35. ^ Mitchell, Tim Sedition and Alchemy : A Biography of John Cale, 2003, pp. 82
  36. ^ Fear is a Man's Best Friend page: "Timeline – 1975."
  37. ^ Fear is a Man's Best Friend page: "Timeline – 1981."
  38. ^ Fear is a Man's Best Friend page: "Timeline – 1985."
  39. ^ Mitchell, Tim Sedition and Alchemy : A Biography of John Cale, 2003, pp. 197
  40. ^ a b c Mitchell, Tim Sedition and Alchemy : A Biography of John Cale, 2003, pp. 25
  41. ^ a b c d e f "BBC News Online: John Cale's 'shambolic' drug past". 16 June 2009. 
  42. ^ "WalesOnline: John Cale tells of his shock at Wales' drug problems". 


  • Mitchell, Tim Sedition and Alchemy : A Biography of John Cale, 2003, ISBN 0-7206-1132-6
  • The New Musical Express Book of Rock, 1975, Star Books, ISBN 0-352-30074-4

External links

After leaving the Velvet Underground, Cale worked as a record producer and arranger on a number of albums, including Nico's


Solo career

Arguably, the artistic frictions between Cale and Reed are what shaped the group's early sound much more than any other members. The pair often had heated disagreements about the direction of the group, and this tension was central to their later collaborations. When Cale left, he seemed to take the more experimentalist tendencies with him, as is noticeable in comparing the noise rock of White Light/White Heat (which Cale co-created) to the folk rock of The Velvet Underground, recorded after his departure.

Michael Carlucci, who was friends with Robert Quine, has given this explanation about Cale's dismissal, "Lou told Quine that the reason why he had to get rid of Cale in the band was Cale's ideas were just too out there. Cale had some wacky ideas. He wanted to record the next album with the amplifiers underwater, and [Lou] just couldn't have it. He was trying to make the band more accessible."[14]


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