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SXSW Lou Reed Tribute Gathers Steam

Richard Barone enlists Alejandro Escovedo for star-studded show

By Jim Caligiuri, 10:00AM, Wed. Mar. 5

Black Shirts, White Heat: (l-r) Reed and Barone
Black Shirts, White Heat: (l-r) Reed and Barone
photo by Damien Drake

“It’s going to be New York meets Austin,” says Richard Barone. He’s talking about the South by Southwest tribute to Lou Reed, Friday, Mar. 14, at the Paramount Theater. The line-up looks spectacular, with more acts – some only participating in this one event – being added daily. You’ll be surprised by the caliber of talent not yet announced.

Barone, known as a member of New Jersey jangle pop band the Bongos and for his expansive solo career, is co-hosting and co-producing the show with Austin’s Alejandro Escovedo. He was 18 when he first met Reed in a guitar shop in New York City.

“I bought the Rickenbacker that Lou picked out,” he says. “It became my trademark guitar when I was with the Bongos.”

Over the years, their relationship grew. When they were both recording for RCA, they exchanged tips on studios and engineers.

“You might have noticed that we always ended up using the same ones,” he points out. “We ended up having a conversation pretty much all my adult life. Up until two weeks before he died, we were still texting.”

When Barone was invited to play this year’s festival, he asked if he could pay tribute to his friend and the SXSW folks agreed. His next thought was to get Escovedo involved.

“I met Alejandro decades ago when he was in the Nuns or not long after that. We toured England together at the end of 2010 into 2011 and we’d perform a couple of songs together onstage, mostly Lou Reed songs.”

The house band for the tribute might be enough to get people interested: Patti Smith bandmembers Lenny Kaye and Tony Shanahan being joined by Blondie drummer Clem Burke, plus guitars galore from Ivan Julian, Steve Wynn, Escovedo, Barone. Alejandro cohort and Poi Dog Pondering violinist Susan Voelz will lead a string section.

Announced performers include Suzanne Vega Chuck Prophet, the Black Lips, Cheetah Chrome, Rosie Flores, Wayne Kramer, Peter Buck, Garland Jeffreys, Spandau Ballet, and the Fleshtones among others, with even more star power to be announced soon.

“We’ve tried to curate the show so that we get a really cool variety of Lou’s music in different styles,” Barone explains. “A lot of the artists performing are not SXSW participants and will only take part in this show.”

One thing that surprised me after Reed’s sudden passing late last year was the number of musicians that came out with stories about the man, revealing close personal ties and much appreciated advice he’d given. To Barone, those accounts paralleled his own experience.

“People I’d meet who found out I knew Lou would be surprised. They always thought he was a tough guy. I never understood that, because to me he was extremely supportive and most of the artists I know say the same thing. He could be really hard on producers and engineers in demanding the best.

“He was also very demanding in live show situations and that intensity scared people. But he was a nice guy. He was tough on the press, but he used them to create the image that he wanted, which was a tough New Yorker. He went out of his way for me two times fairly recently. I asked for his help at the last minute and he came through.”

“More information and updates on the showcase can be found on the Facebook page that’s been created.

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