The Velvet Underground / Sweet Sister Ray (2 x Vinyl LP)
2 x Vinyl LP / Gatefold Cover
Gorgeous print on reversed card
Label: White Heat Records
Out of stock
2 x Vinyl LP / Gatefold Cover
Gorgeous print on reversed card — The records come in a great picture cover using the two famous shots by Ken Greenberg, originally published in Crawdaddy! magazine in 1968.
Sides A and B: La Cave, Cleveland, April 30, 1968
Side C: Cover states this comes from 4rth Fret, Philly Jan. 1970 (2nd Fret, Philadelphia, January 1970) but actually Boston Tea Party, December 12, 1968
Side D: Boston Tea Party, March 15, 1969
Format: 2 x Vinyl LP
Release date: 2023
There’s very little live material left from the John Cale-era of the group, at least that anyone knows about. But one of the strangest, most fascinating treasures of Cale’s time with the Velvets still remains in the hands of bootleggers: “Sweet Sister Ray.”
Recorded at a tiny, subterranean Cleveland, Ohio, club called La Cave in late April 1968, “Sweet Sister Ray” is a near-40-minute jam—a languid, endless boogie. Its titular character aside, it’s a different tune altogether from “Sister Ray”, which closed out White Light/White Heat in a blaze of noise-scuzz fury. Released a few months before the La Cave show, that song was just the beginning of the VU’s exploration of Sister Ray; Cale remembers the band working up several different sequels to the song, including “Sister Ray, part 3” in which Reed would become “a Southern preacher man, telling stories and just inventing these fantastic characters as we played.” But “Sweet Sister Ray” is the only recorded evidence we have of these trips into unknown territories.
The journey kicks off with the band (most likely just Cale, Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison; drummer Maureen Tucker isn’t audible here) chugging steadily, slowly over a spare, spidery riff. It’s easygoing, like they have no particular place to go, though there’s an underlying tension and menace. Reed’s guitar spirals off into a more abstract direction for a bit, almost reminiscent of Roger McGuinn’s flights of fancy on “Eight Miles High”. You lean in. What exactly is going on? Is the band just warming up? Is there even anyone (aside from the taper) in the club? Through the murk, a decidedly surreal atmosphere develops. The music continues at a morphine-drip pace, drifting and droning, with Morrison playing a nervier counterpoint to Reed’s laconic fretwork, Cale rattling around in the background. At some point around the half-hour mark, Cale switches over to keyboards, lending the proceedings a curiously magisterial feel, as Reed begins coaxing beautiful, simmering feedback from his amp. It’s as if some new genre of music is being invented on the spot.
Extended live improvisations were, of course, nothing new for the VU. The aforementioned Columbus show in 1966 features two marathon performances (“Melody Laughter” and “The Nothing Song”) that showcase the band’s most adventurous, avant-garde leanings. But those pieces were created to complement the extravagant multimedia overload of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, with dancers, lights and films adding to the experience. La Cave might’ve had a light show, but it was undoubtedly low-tech. On this particular night in Cleveland, it was just the Velvet Underground, the small audience and “Sweet Sister Ray.”
Throughout the song, Reed steps up to the mic from time to time to sing a few verses. The lyrics may be off-the-cuff (Reed was known for his ability to generate lyrics at will), but they’re not indecipherable. In fact, they might even tell a fairly cohesive story, a veritable prequel to the actual “Sister Ray,” as our titular protagonist watches “the weirdest movie I’ve seen in my days.”
Reed goes on to sing about a topic he was intimately familiar with: electroshock therapy. “All the vaseline on your forehead/ Makes you feel so nice,” he deadpans. “My hair stood on end/ And I thought I’d been frozen with a knife.” It’s a thinly veiled slice of autobiography; Reed was subjected to electroshock as a teenager to curb his homosexual tendencies. And the final lyrics feel even more hauntingly personal, if still oblique: “Just then I saw a hole in the ground /And I jumped right in ‘cause there was no one around.” Down the rabbit hole young Lou eagerly goes, to rock’n’roll, to Warhol, to the dangerous and thrilling dreamscapes of “Sister Ray” itself. Which is right where the rest of the Velvets join him back in Cleveland, as Moe Tucker finally ambles onstage and begins thumping out that unmistakable beat and they segue into what was likely an even wilder excursion. Alas, it’s at this point that the tape fades out …
So where did “Sweet Sister Ray” go after La Cave? There’s some indication that it was further refined and developed into “Sweet Rock And Roll”, a mythical lost VU number from the summer of ‘68. Lou’s old sparring partner Lester Bangs is mostly responsible for the legend, calling the performance he witnessed in San Diego, CA “the most incredible musical experiences” of his life. “It was built on the most dolorous riff imaginable, just a few scales rising and falling mournfully, somewhat like ‘Venus In Furs’ but less creaky, more deliberate and eloquent.”
Will we ever hear “Sweet Rock And Roll”? Probably not. But Sterling Morrison claimed that a tape of the show Bangs wrote about was made, but quickly added that it was “stolen that very night. Stolen within seconds, actually. As soon as it ended, it vanished, never to reappear on this earth.” — Tyler Wilcox
“If I had to list the top forty bootleg albums of all time, the Velvet Underground’s SWEET SISTER RAY would definitely be up there on the list. In fact if I hadda list the top ten bootlegs of all time SSR would definitely be up there amid the likes of METALLIC KO and other definite must-have worthies in both your and my collections. Come to think of it, if I hadda list thee ultimate bootleg album of all time this ‘un just might make the #1 spot because hey, it is like, that essential.”
” Sure SWEET SISTER RAY‘s been booted and rebooted for ages with nary a legit release in sight, but it’s sure nice seeing that double-platter set available on vinyl again. And frankly, I think this take sounds better, perhaps being mastered from original tapes or at the hands of some studio whiz who can take monochromatic-sounding music and beef it up with all of the vim and vigor it takes turning your standard flatzy runaway sixteen-year-old into the top-notch exotic dancer now wowin’ ’em on the sleazier side of town.
Of course the entire 1968 “Sweet Sister Ray” appears spread out on two sides, and that’s definitely a wowzer in itself especially by the time side two hits and Lou Reed and company are doing things with their guitars the krauts could have only dreamed of. Platter two features two powerful versions of Doug Yule-period “Sister Ray,” one being the take recorded direct off Reed’s amp at the Boston Tea Party where enough atonal guitar screech is given off to give Les Rallizes Denudes a run for the money! If you remember Lou Reed’s interview for the LA FREE PRESS where he talked about all of the takes and versions of “Sister Ray” from “Sweet Sister Ray” to “Sweet Rock ‘n Roll” and “Sister Ray Part Two” and how it would tale a good day or so to perform it all, with the interviewer suggesting that maybe they should release a limited edition set just for us manic fans, consider this a down payment. And now that Reed is kaput and not standing in the way of the flood of classic Velvets recordings we all need asap perhaps the day we finally get to hear all of those hidden gems is at hand.” — Chris Stigliano
Sweet Sister Ray 21:01
Sweet Sister Ray 18:07
Sister Ray 25:15
Sister Ray 25:02