When we spoke with Jones in November, she was still dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy and it was just weeks after Lou Reed, who had employed Jones as a back-up singer, had died of complications from liver disease at the age of 71.
Jones began her career in the mid-'90s as a back-up singer, working with Lee Fields before moving on to her solo career. Back in 2006, she was enlisted by Reed's friend and musical director Hal Wilner to sing back-up -- along with Antony Hegarty (of Antony & the Johnsons) -- on a stage revival of Reed's controversial 1973 masterwork Berlin.
"Coming up in the '70s, I remembered 'Walk on the Wild Side' by Lou Reed, but that's all I knew," Jones explains, while offering a few "doo doo doos" from the song's famous chorus. "I wasn't into rock, so when my manager came and asked if I wanted to do this, I said, 'Who? Why? And what for?'"
When Jones went to audition, she realized Wilner was involved, who she shared a mutual admiration with, but she says, "Lou had no idea who I was... And I didn't know Antony of Antony & the Johnsons." She was also a bit put off by the material. "When I heard 'Berlin,' I was like, 'Oh my God, this is so dark and creepy.' And they had kids singing behind it.'" But when she became more familiar with the material, she began to appreciate it. "When they gave me a copy of the lyrics, and Lou was up there, [imitates Reed singing] 'There was a bed / She slit her wrists / That cold and dark night.' It was amazing," she said.
Jones performed Berlin with Reed and company during the six-night stand at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn that was later featured in Julian Schnabel's concert film, and then went on the road with the show to Australia. Although Reed didn't allow Jones to sing a lead vocal in Brooklyn, he reconsidered for the Australian trek, allowing her to duet with him on the Velvet Underground classic "Sweet Jane."
Initially, Jones said that she and Reed butted heads about how she should perform the song. "In my mind, I was getting ready to tell Mr. Reed, 'I'm sorry, Lou, if I have to sing this song like you sing the song, then I'm not going to do it'... But then he said, 'Let me hear what you're going to do it.' I thought of Tina Turner and her rock days, and when I did it like that, he loved it," Jones said. "And at the end of that night, he had tears in his eyes and said that he loved it and I took him to the mountain top."
Although Reed and Jones later fell out after she had to bow out of a European tour to work on the film The Great Debaters, they made up a year later when they worked together again with Wilner on a Doc Pomus tribute in 2007.
Following Reed's death, Wilner sent Jones a message saying that just days before Reed died, he watched the Berlin film with Reed and Wilner said, 'Lou was cheering you on, Sharon. He really loved you.'"
- Arts & Entertainment
- Lou Reed
- Sharon Jones