About John Cale
John Davies Cale OBE is a Welsh musician, composer, singer, songwriter and record producer who was a founding member of the American rock band the Velvet Underground. Over his six-decade career, Cale has worked in various styles across rock, drone, classical, avant-garde and electronic music.
He studied music at Goldsmiths College, University of London, before relocating in 1963 to New York City's downtown music scene, where he performed as part of the Theatre of Eternal Music and formed the Velvet Underground. Since leaving the band in 1968, Cale has released 16 solo studio albums, including the widely acclaimed Paris 1919 and Music for a New Society . Cale has also acquired a reputation as an adventurous record producer, working on the debut albums of several innovative artists, including the Stooges and Patti Smith.
John Davies Cale was born on 9 March 1942 in the mining village of Garnant in the valley of the River Amman in Carmarthenshire of Wales to Will Cale, a coal miner, and Margaret Davies, a primary school teacher. Although his father spoke only English, his mother spoke and taught Welsh to Cale, which hindered his relationship with his father, although he began learning English at primary school, at around the age of seven. Cale was molested by two different men during his youth: an Anglican priest who molested him in a church and a music teacher. He played organ at Ammanford church. The BBC recorded Cale playing a toccata he composed primarily on the black keys of the piano in the style of Aram Khachaturian. His mother was institutionalized for breast cancer when he was 11.
Having discovered a talent for viola, Cale joined the National Youth Orchestra of Wales at age 13. Receiving a scholarship, Cale studied music at Goldsmiths College, University of London. While he was there he organised an early Fluxus concert, A Little Festival of New Music, on 6 July 1964. He also contributed to the short film Police Car and had two scores published in Fluxus Preview Review for the nascent avant-garde collective. He conducted the first performance in the UK of Cage's Concert for Piano and Orchestra, with the composer and pianist Michael Garrett as soloist. In 1963, he travelled to the United States to continue his musical training with the assistance and influence of Aaron Copland.
Upon arriving in New York City, Cale met a number of influential composers. On 9 September 1963 he participated, along with John Cage and several others, in an 18-hour and 40 minute piano-playing marathon that was the first full-length performance of Erik Satie's "Vexations". After the performance Cale appeared on the television panel show I've Got a Secret. Cale's secret was that he had performed in an 18-hour concert, and he was accompanied by Karl Schenzer, whose secret was that he was the only member of the audience who had stayed for the duration. Cale would later attribute Cage's writings with his own "relaxed" artistic outlook, having hitherto been raised to believe that European composers were obliged to justify their work.
Cale played in La Monte Young's ensemble the Theatre of Eternal Music. The heavily drone-laden music he played there proved to be a big influence in his work with his next band, the Velvet Underground. One of his collaborators on these recordings was the Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison. Three albums of his early experimental work from this period were released in 2001.
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