Lou Reed: "The Jades wasn't a band, it was just one guitar and two other guys singing. I was in the background. I wrote the stuff, I didn't sing it. We would play shopping malls and some really bad violent places. I was always, like, tremendously under age, which was pretty cool."
Olivier Landemaine: how did you meet Lou Reed?
Phil Harris: Lou and I met while we were in high school in our senior year. We were in many of the same classes together and quite a few times we went over to his house to hang out. I don't think that we met prior to our senior year, but we were probably in some of the same classes together without realizing it. We were both interested in music and most of the "in" bands and groups of the time. In our senior year, there was a variety show that the school puts on. Lou, another friend named Al Walters, and myself decided to get together to do a "Little Richard" act for the show. I sang lead, and I'm still hoarse to this day. Lou and Al Walters sang background and Lou also played guitar. The skit was very successful based on the applause. After that show, the three of us decided to get together and try and come up with some songs that we could all participate in. One evening, at Lou's house, we started fooling around with some lyrics and during that evening, both "So Blue" and "Leave Her for Me" were written. In those days, it didn't take much imagination to come up with something that required great lyric development skills. You just thought of an experience that you might have gone through, and write it down.
OL: did you or Lou Reed play with other bands before the Jades?
PH: I was never in a band of any sort, but I can't say as to whether Lou might have been in one. He was always musically inclined, but he didn't mention to me that he was playing in another band during the time that I knew him.
OL: do you remember how you were in contact with Bob Shad from Time Records?
PH: during the variety show, Elliot Gotfried, a neighbor of my then girlfriend Karen, was in the audience and enjoyed the act. He asked my girlfriend if we could come over and sing some of the songs that we had written, which we did. After he heard the songs, he said that he knew someone in the record business by the name of Bob Shad. Shad was an A & R man for Mercury records and he was considering starting a new label which he might be able to get us on. Bob Shad invited us over to sing the songs that we had written, and from what we could tell, he was quite impressed. Shad explained that indeed he was starting a new record label by the name of "Time". He offered to put us under contract right then, and from what I can remember, we didn't hesitate to sign. After all, what did we have to loose?
OL: who were the members of the "Jades"?
PH: there were three of us. Lou Reed played rhythm guitar and sang background; Alan Walters sang base as background; and I sang the vocals and held onto the guitar mostly for looks.
OL: so you were the lead singer?
PH: Yes. Lou wasn't much for vocals, but he was very good at arrangements and blending in for background.
OL: did you play any instrument?
PH: during some of our "in person" gigs, I played a little guitar, but I was not a skilled guitarist.
OL: some papers also mention the Legendary King Curtis on sax and also someone named Richard Sigal.
PH: I don't recall the fellow. He may have had something to do with our recordings. When we got to the recording session, Shad had gathered some musicians just for the recordings. King Curtis was part of that band. There was a piano player and drummer. Curtis can be heard on the intro to "So Blue" throughout the song, and also on "Leave Her for Me".
Lou Reed: "[When recording] our lead singer has to stand on a box so he could reach the microphone, 'cause they had a very big black guy singing the harmony parts with the rest of us. I'll always remember ha was huge, and he had a giant mound of snot hanging out of his nose and we were too afraid to tell him."
PH: I think that Lou was right about the box. The way they had the room that I was in set up, there was some sort of sound deadening platform that I had to stand on in order to get close enough to the microphone. I don't remember why they couldn't adjust the microphone down to where I was, but it was somewhere up around my eyes. I got a big kick out of Lou's description of the big black fellow that came in to sing background and him having the snot problem. I was in another part of the recording studio in a room by myself, and Lou, Al, and this fellow were in another small room doing their thing. I think Shad didn't feel as though we had enough backup with the two guys and added Mr. Snot. Al and Lou never told me about that adoring characteristic about him.
OL: what was the role of Leroy Kirkland - he is credited as arranger?
PH: I know that Shad brought in someone to put the whole session together. I would have to assume that it was Kirkland. Someone was in the room with the main board, giving directions as to what had to be done and when.
PH: I wrote all of "So Blue" and helped Lou out with "Leave Her for Me". Each one of us had a little story to tell and each recording was based on that. Lou played all of the music but we both sort of kicked around some cords during the writing phase.
OL: do you know exactly why the Shades had to change their name to Jades?
PH: I believe there were a few groups that came out when we did and a lot of them wore shades during their performances. I think Shad wanted us to be somewhat different from another group wearing shades and got away from that name.
OL: the release date usually mentioned for the Jades 45 is 1958 - Lou was then 16. HoweverLou Reed says in some interviews that he was 14 year old when the record came out.
PH: I think the release date for the Jades recordings was in 1958. I graduated from Freeport High in 1958 and the variety show we were in would have been in late 57 or early 58. Since the recording was made after the show, I believe that any recording would have been in 1958. Since there was no paperwork to verify these dates, my best guess for recording would be 1958. Lou was 16 at the time of the recording, and I'm not sure if he had another recording prior to ours.
Lou Reed: "Our big moment came when Murray the K played it, but he was sick and someone else stood in. He played it once. I got royalties of 78c. We were still in school. We'd open supermarkets, shooping centers, things like that. We had glitter jackets. It was what was called style - later on people would call it punk but at that time what we meant by punk was a pusher, y'know, 'He's just a fucking punk!'."
OL: there are two versions of the "So Blue/Leave Her" 45 - dark blue label stock copy and white label promo. Any idea of how many records were pressed?
OL: was it aired on radio stations? Did it chart?
PH: I remember seeing the song in some diners on the selection gadget that plays records at the table while you were eating. We were never told if the songs ever got on any charts. I doubt that they did or we would have been requested to sing them at a lot more dance programs of the time.
OL: does the song "Belinda" sound familiar to you? It has been said that the original single issued on Time label was later picked up by the major label Dot Records, who substituted another song, "Belinda" for "So Blue".
PH: no, I'm afraid that the song "Belinda" is totally unfamiliar to me. If the record was picked up by Dot Records, I would imagine that they would have wanted both sides of the record to be something by Lou alone which would account for the dropping of "So Blue".
PH: to my knowledge, there were no other unreleased songs recorded during the "So Blue" recording session. Soon after we recorded the "So Blue" record, Bob Shad asked me if I would want to make some more records with him, but for whatever reason, not with the Jades. I asked both Lou and Al whether they would mind if I did that, and guess that they agreed because I did record two more songs with Bob Shad under the Shad label ("Karen" & "Walking in the Shadows"). These records did make the charts somewhere at about number 150 out of 160 releases. I can remember that it made the top of the charts in Atlanta GA. at one point. It never got very high in the New York.
OL: did you play live with the Jades?
PH: we played openings of shopping malls, and other events after the release of the "So Blue" record. We played in bars and other such establishments and anywhere where people would listen. Sometimes they did, and sometimes not. The outfits we wore were classics of the 50's. Shades, peg pants, string ties, and jackets with glitter on them. I would have loved to have some pictures of us during that time.
PH: sorry; I didn't get to see the "Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Heart" documentary. We did have some pictures taken during the time that we were "The Shades", and it is quite possible that the picture that you reference could have me in it (I would be the shorter one).
OL: is there some Jades-related memorabilia in your vaults?
PH: I still have one of my string bowties somewhere. I am presently looking at what might be one of the last of the "So Blue" records. It does have a crack, but it still plays. I'm not sure if anyone else has any copies of it. I don't believe that there are any flyers, tapes, or photos that I have.
OL: were you involved in the post-Lou Jades? Were you involved in any other bands with Lou Reed?
PH: no, I was not involved in the post-Lou Jades. After my second record, I went into the U.S. Navy. I had little or no contact with Lou for the past forty or so years. I have been in touch with some studio owners that have had contact with Lou and his band and there were many stories of what Lou had gone through in the sixties and seventies. I sort of kept up with him that way.
OL: beside "So Blue", the BMI database credits you for two other songs "Angela", and "These are my Questions". Are those songs from the Jades-era or of later musical involvements of yours?
PH: neither. I am not familiar with either of these songs or their derivation. My later songs were solo recordings as indicated above.
OL: any anecdote about this Jades-era?
PH: the only anecdote that I have about the Jades era is that it was a very favorable time in my life and just thinking about it puts a smile on my face. I only wish that Lou and I had stayed in touch with each other. It would have been fun going over those times.
OL: did you have any interest in the Velvet Underground or Lou Reed's solo career?
PH: I have not followed Lou's career on a day to day basis, but am quite aware of it and he should be proud of all of his accomplishments.
OL: what have you done since those days?
PH: since my days with Lou, I have gone through college, spent four years in the Navy, and I am married with, two great kids who are both very involved with music as a hobby. My life today, is typical of life in the work-a-day world. I thought about what it might have been if I had stayed in the music business, but the thrill of knowing that I had something special for a short time, a long time ago, gives me a warm feeling to this day.
Special thanks to Dana Harris who made this interview possible. Thanks to Lau Buur Nielsen and Sal Mercuri.
By Olivier Landemaine