The Jades’ single was a moderate success on jukeboxes and the radio, especially in the South. It didn’t do as well locally but did garner some airplay on WINS, then New York City’s biggest rock’n’roll station. (Nowadays WINS has an all-news format.) After “Leave Her for Me” was named “pick of the week,” the Jades were invited to appear on a battle of the bands hosted by legendary DJ Alan Freed.
The saga of Freed is a whole epic unto itself, and more than we have bandwidth to get into here. Wikipedia’s précis is economical and hits all the high points:
Albert James “Alan” Freed (December 15, 1921 – January 20, 1965) was an American disc jockey. He also produced and promoted large traveling concerts with various acts, helping to spread the importance of rock and roll music throughout North America.
In 1986, Freed was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His “role in breaking down racial barriers in U.S. pop culture in the 1950s, by leading white and black kids to listen to the same music, put the radio personality ‘at the vanguard’ and made him ‘a really important figure,’” according to the Executive Director.
Freed was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991. The organization’s website posted this note: “He became internationally known for promoting African-American rhythm and blues music on the radio in the United States and Europe under the name of rock and roll.” In the early 1960s, Freed’s career was destroyed by the payola scandal that hit the broadcasting industry, as well as by allegations of taking credit for songs he did not write and by his chronic alcoholism.
In fact, Freed was bounced from WINS not long after the Jades’ appearance. But though he was a Big Deal, the prize that Lou and the boys really coveted was a spin on “Swingin’ Soiree,” the WINS prime-time show hosted by Murray Kaufman, a.k.a. Murray the K.
This was years before Kaufman would anoint himself “The Fifth Beatle.” The legend of Murray the K is also beyond the scope of this blog, but for a little bit of the flavor, here’s an interview disc he cut with the Fabs in 1964:
When Lou found out that “Leave Her for Me” was going to be played on “Swingin’ Soiree,” he was first thrilled, then disappointed.
They called me up and said Murray the K is gonna play your record tonight. We all tuned into WINS, 1010 loves you. We’re listening and listening and listening, and finally comes on Murray the K, except it’s Paul Sherman. He says Murray the K is ill tonight, and I can’t fuckin’ believe it, right. My big moment. So Sherman played it. He was an asshole. Not that Murray the K wasn’t an asshole, but if you’re going to have an asshole play it, you want the biggest.
Also disappointing was the Jades’ financial return on the single, which amounted to a little over three dollars. (The Long Plastic Hallway strikes again.) They continued to play gigs for a while, often being called upon to lip-sync to their record; then they would do impromptu roadside shows to blow off steam. They never made much money, but there were other benefits. “The girls were screaming like crazy, ripping our ties off and tearing at our shirts,” recalled singer Alan Walters, as quoted in Aidan Levy’s Dirty Blvd.
One time, in a very Blues Brothers–ish touch, they were booked to play a biker bar in Freeport.
“Lou almost got us killed that night,” says Walters. Like [many] other venues, the bar insisted that the Jades lip-synch, but Lou wanted to rock, creating an overdub effect. “Lou, the arrogant son of a bitch that he was, had to sing out loud and was blasting out on his guitar, when something happened on the jukebox.” The record started skipping, and the barflies began throwing bottles. “Lou was screaming at them, antagonizing them.”
Which is trés cinematic, don’t you think? In one version of the Lou Reed biopic we cut right from that to one of his epic onstage rants circa 1978.
But sticking to the timeline at hand, we see the Jades slowly dissolving as Lou grows more difficult, arguing with his bandmates over everything from their musical direction to what color shirts they’re going to wear. Sometimes he seems intent on provocation for its own sake:
At one rehearsal, Alan [Walters] and Phil [Harris] walked into the basement to discover Lou in the buff, soaking himself in buttermilk as a home remedy for a rash. “Why would he have stayed like that as opposed to putting his drawers on? But he seemed to be rather comfortable having us view him soak his balls in buttermilk. He was a strange guy,” says Walters…. “He was tenacious, very focused, but he was a dick.”Dirty Blvd.
In the summer of 1958 the Jades finally called it quits. Lou was about to start his senior year in high school. He continued to write songs and play music; it was during this period that he memorably told a bandmate,
All you need is one chord. Two is pushing it, and by three you’re getting into jazz.
This is one of the all-time great Lou Reed soundbites, though in point of fact his ear was sophisticated enough that he was asked to contribute an arrangement to the single that his ex-bandmate Phil Harris made in 1959 under the pseudonym Bobby Randle. Like “Leave Her for Me,” “Karen”1was released on Shad records and featured Mickey Baker on guitar.
It’s not an unpleasant way to spend two and a quarter minutes, but neither is it anything terribly special. “Karen” must have sold a few copies, as there are a fair number in circulation, but it marked the end of Phil/Bobby’s recording career. Lou’s was just beginning, though, so let’s pace ourselves.