Below, Sharon Jones of Sharon Jone and the Dap-Kings recalls her time first meeting, and working with, Lou Reed on his re-imagining of “Berlin” in 2007.
My manager got a call from Hal Willner who was working with Lou on this “Berlin” project. I didn’t really know so much about Lou Reed, other than “and the colored girls sing… ” and I had no idea what “Berlin” was. I listened to it and thought it was dark.
When I met him at rehearsal, he asked me to sing with him and I did my thing. But then I heard from Hal that he didn’t want me to sing with him because I “stepped on his solo.” So the next thing I knew he’s got Anthony [from Anthony & the Johnsons] singing, and he asked me to do some church-type chorus in the background, which was fine. So we did the show [at St. Ann’s Church] in Brooklyn and I never thought I’d see him again. But then he wanted to take it to the Sydney Opera House and asked me to go with him. I said sure.
Lou Reed, Rock and Roll Iconoclast
In between that time, someone interviewed me about working with Lou and I told the story of how he didn’t want me singing with him at St. Ann’s because I “stepped on his solo.” So when we got to Australia, Lou went to do an interview and the reporter asked him: “What’s it like to work with the wonderful, magnificent and talented Sharon Jones? And is it true that you cut her part in Brooklyn?” Well he came back to rehearsal and goes: “Sharon, get over here.” And I’m thinking, “Oh, no. What now?” But instead, he told me that he wants me to sing “Sweet Jane” with him. Well, I’d never heard it before, so he played it for me. He did his thing, you know, he talked when he sang. So I took it up and acted like Sharon. Lou went: “I notice you go up when I go down. I want you to sing it the way you feel.” So I took it Tina Turner. And when we were through, I saw he has tears in his eyes. He called me the magnificent, talented Sharon Jones, and said I took him to the mountain top.
But you know, performing with him was a big deal for me, too. After we were in the dressing room, and I said: “Me being here with you, Lou — I’m here with a big icon. I’m looking up to you like you’re Stevie Wonder or James Brown.” He said, “Wow.” And we got a hug in.
He wanted me to go to Europe with him but I wasn’t able to because I had committed to work on the Denzel Washington movie “The Great Debators.” I thought I could do them both, but three days before I was all set to go, my manager had me pull out because of the movie schedule. Lou was so angry with me that he wanted me cut from the “Berlin” footage.
Then Hal called me again because he and Lou were staging this Doc Pomus tribute in Prospect Park. [Reed’s Pomus tribute took place in the summer of 2007.] I thought Lou was mad as hell at me, so I couldn’t believe Hal called me back. When I saw Lou, I ran over to him and said, “It’s me, Lou!” He turned and walked away from me. So I ran and grabbed him really hard, and I said “Lou! Don’t do that!” He finally turned around and said, “How was the movie with Denzel?” I said, “It was fine, but it wasn’t Lou.” And we hugged and we did a few more things.
I didn’t know he was so sick. I knew he had the liver transplant. It was around the time I was diagnosed with cancer. Just last Wednesday he was looking at the “Berlin” footage with Hal and cheering me. Then, on Sunday, he died. Hal texted me: ‘Lou really loved you.’ I hadn’t heard from him in years. I’ll never forget him. He paid attention to every detail, down to the color of our shirts. He was a very private man. Even at breaks, he’d go off to talk to his wife.
You know, he always took this couch with him. No matter where we went. This couch was shipped and flown everywhere, even to Australia.