by Max Myers

I loved The Velvet Underground and was mates with Lou Reed’s drummer, Ritchie Dharma, who played on one of the most notable LPs of all time, Transformer. I had met Ritchie around 1977 when he was running a small music agency in London’s Soho district. He asked me if I wanted to do a sideman gig, playing drums, backing up Jonnie Jay, an Australian Elvis impersonator. It was a 7-week tour of discos in Germany and proved to be a very unforgettable experience; but that’s another story.

ddd6Fast forward to 1991 and I’m now living in NYC, working as a doorman at some of Manhattan’s edgier nightclubs. Yeah, it could get gnarly at times, but it was an amazing experience that lasted for almost a decade, off and on. I was still gigging and had put together a 13 piece, Afro-funk band, One Blood. This time around I was playing guitar.

One morning I needed some new strings and I went to a music store in the West Village. The place was quiet except for a rock-and-roll kid blasting out Nirvana riffs with more than a little skill. He was good but it was pretty loud for early in the day. In my mind, I wished that he would pipe down or at least turn it down to a reasonable volume. Then suddenly he stopped playing. Just like that. “Bleedin’ ‘ell,” I thought, “mind over matter.”

dddA minute later I realized it had nothing to do with that. It turned out that Lou Reed was sitting on a stool, playing a beautiful blond Martin D35 acoustic guitar. The kid had stopped out of respect. I stopped to listen as I’m sure everyone in the store did. The funny thing was Lou’s playing was totally ordinary. Everybody knows he’s a flat-out genius but only a so-so guitarist. Of course it didn’t matter because he only used a few chords anyway.

I waited till he took a break and walked over to introduce myself. I wanted to tell him about our mutual friend, Richie Dharma. Here’s the paraphrased dialogue that time has, no doubt, manipulated.

“Hey, man, we have a mutual friend, Ritchie Dharma.”

ddd5My offered handshake went unacknowledged, as did my existence. Reed completely ignored me, except to mumble something under his breath. I got pissed. Where I’m from, the East End of London, copping an attitude in the fashion of Mr. Reed would be seen as a grievous insult and you would likely get your head kicked in.

Plus, I was still bouncing and if you’ve ever done it, you’ll understand when I state that I was suffering from, ‘bouncer head.’ It’s a zone that you get into when dealing with the public. You always have to be ready to fight, or calm down some drunk, or some other belligerent fool who thinks they’re bad and want to prove it.

But it was Lou Reed. I knew I couldn’t just kick his arse even though, viewed in a certain light, he had it coming. So, I turned away, took 2 steps and he mumbled something else. I spun back around:

“Is there a problem, mate? Huh? Is there something you wanna f______ say to me?”

Shocked, Lou Reed looked at me as it dawned on him that being rude was probably not a good idea.

ddd3By now, the 2 punters that were running the store were looking at me like I was a complete tool, which I was. But then so was Lou. The dude behind the guitar counter, horrified that a rock-and-roll legend appeared to be in imminent danger, came hustling over. The dialogue went something like this:

“Max, what the fuck, bro? You know who that is?”

I replied, “I don’t give a s___! He’s a rude a..hole!”

But he was still Lou Reed – man of legendary cool and very bad manners. Or maybe they’re the same thing.

I walked out and never returned – not to that store. However, Reed did repay me, sort of. About 4 years later, I was working as a waiter at the hip and relatively exclusive, China Grill. I had since shaved my head and grown a goatee, which, to my surprise, the management actually liked and allowed me to keep.

ddd7So there I was, working the lunch crowd and who comes in, yeah, that’s right, Lou Reed and his wife, the amazing Laurie Anderson.  Of course he didn’t recognize me. True to form, even though I waited on him and Ms. Anderson, he was completely indifferent to me and everyone else in the restaurant. Laurie Anderson, on the other hand, was sweet, polite and warm. Yeah, the tip sucked, so maybe he did remember me. Or maybe he was just cheap. After all, famous as he was, his records – with a few exceptions – never sold that well.

I never saw him again, and, as oft happens with the blanket of time, I lost touch with Ritchie Dharma. And now Lou Reed is dead and I’m here in L.A. writing about the time I met him. Sometimes I wish I could rewind and handle my first encounter with the iconic legend a bit differently, but  as we all know, there’s no rewind button in life, just on 4-track tape decks.



30 Responses to Lou Reed and Me and a Martin D35

  1. Darcia Helle says:

    What a great story, Max! I’ve read similar things about Bob Dylan and his indifference (rudeness) with fans. Being a celebrity doesn’t give a person the right the be a jerk. And having incredible talent doesn’t make you a nice person. Sometimes we just have to acknowledge that our legends and heroes are flawed people.

    • Max Myers says:

      Agreed, Darcia. When I first moved to LA in 99, I was working at Asia De Cuba, located at the Mondrian Hotel on Sunset. One night there was a celeb party and Dylan was given a private booth. I was instructed to wait on him and approached. I asked him if wold like a drink. He ignored me. The bodyguard, who looked like a granite mountain, didn’t. He looked down at me and shook his head once. I smiled and left. I explained to the manager and he told the rest of the waitstaff to give Dylan a wide berth. He sat there for a while, in the same position, staring straight ahead and then abruptly left. All very odd.

  2. Rick says:

    More often than not, people who meet an artist or other celebrity that they admire find the experience to be extremely disappointing and that it does not live up to their idealized image of the artist. Part of the reason for that is understandable: many artists are besieged by “celebrity-groupies” and are naturally reticent in how they react to members of the general public. For example, if only John Lennon had been more guarded in how he interacted with Mark David Chapman outside of the Dakota (or reported him to the police for loitering there), he might still be alive today.

    On the other hand, many regular folks have had extremely positive encounters with celebrities. While partying with friends on the Sunset Strip in the mid 1980’s, I met Roddy McDowell who was already in an elevator that we had stepped into. After a few seconds, I realized who he was and mustered the nerve to compliment him on his work in the Planet of the Apes movie series. He was very gracious, thanked me for my compliment, and was not the least bit annoyed. We said goodbye as he arrived at his floor and stepped out of the elevator. Mr. McDowell was a true English gentlemen.

  3. Tom says:

    I suppose that to Lou Reed, people coming up to you while playing your guitar, doormen, waiters, and even people he might have played with, were kind of invisible

  4. Susan Stec says:

    Great article. Great pictures too.

  5. Michael Sellers says:

    I never dreamed I would find the perfect opportunity to tell the following Bob Dylan story which is absolutely true. I was a student at NYU Graduate film school in 1975. One night Mel Howard, an instructor and filmmaker, was screening his work-in-progress Dylan documentary (Rolling Thunder Review) and Dylan was there as a guest. I slipped out of the screening and went down to the dingy, dark, basement editing room to work on a film assignment that was due the next day. At some point I became aware of a certain sweetly fragrant aroma. I looked up. Dylan was behind me smoking a joint. I didn’t know what to say. He just said “keep going”- referring to the editing I was doing. But then he offered me a toke. I imbibed. He hung out long enough to finish the fatty, sharing it all the way to the end, then waved and left. True story. I considered his actions to be pretty damn friendly. Just sayin’.

  6. Christine Richmond says:

    I’m Richie’s ex-wife Christine and love the story (though not sure about the agency bit) but he loved doing the Transformer gig and Lou offered him a load of coke to bring back from the States in addition to his fee! As way back in those days drugs and drink were not part of Richie’s scene he wisely said no and brought back one of the first cassette radio players which remained in the family for many years. He sadly died from heart problems when he was in his early 50’s. Love the blog by the way and glad someone else remembers Richie with fond memories.

    • william alan clifton says:

      I worked With Ritchie Dharma for short period of time as a telephone
      salesman at Dallas Musical Ltd in Clifton St London .Unfortunately he started just before they shut up shop there , so it wasnt for very long .He was outgoing and friendly and introduced himself as Ritchie minicab driver from Manchester .Being a drummer myself I soon found out he was one too .After mentioning names like michael Chapman and Mick Abrahams he had worked With I was suitably impressed ,but after I found out his second name was Dharma I realised he was the Drummer on the fantastic Walk on the Wildside .

      • PatrickHMoore says:

        Great story, William. And a fantastic song it is…

        • william alan clifton says:

          And theres more .After Dallas shut down in Clifton Street sometime in 1974 ,I got a job at Fender Soundhouse on Tottenham Court Road.I worked With Vic Creed on the Drum Counter .At some point a Young guy called Peter Ross joined us . His father was non other than Ronnie Ross who Played the sax solo at the end .

          • PatrickHMoore says:

            So then the story that Bowie played that classic sax solo is not true?

            Those were surely the days! :-)

  7. william alan clifton says:

    Is Paul McCartney dead ?

    • PatrickHMoore says:

      Here’s the rub:

      The baritone saxophone solo played over the fadeout of the song is performed by Ronnie Ross, who had taught David Bowie to play the saxophone during Bowie’s childhood.

      The backing vocals are sung by Thunderthighs, a girl group that included founder Dari Lallou together with Karen Friedman, Jacki Campbell and Casey Synge.

      The upright bass and bass guitar are both played by Herbie Flowers who was paid a £17 flat fee.[1]

      The single peaked at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts in early 1973.[2] After the announcement of Reed’s death in October 2013, both the song and the Transformer album re-charted via iTunes.[3]

  8. william alan clifton says:

    Unfortunately my tenuous Connection With the record ends there .But I did know People who knew Herbie Flowers .By the way thanks for a great site Patrick .

    • PatrickHMoore says:

      You’re welcome, William. Come back any time…

      • william alan clifton says:

        hi again Patrick , I dont want to bang on too much about this, but I do in fact have a Third tenuous Connection to Lou Reed .Back in the late sixties I became friendly With a singer songwriter called Mike Khan in my hometown Nottingham .I ended up playing drums on a demo LP he made With his guitarist , a guy called Malcolm .Quite by chance I bumped into him a few years later in London 1971-72 time .He and Malcolm were bringing the house Down every night in a famous Theatre pub called the Kings Head on Upper Street in Islington North London .Mick asked me to join so it became a trio for a short period .When we did gigs in Nottingham we would borrow whatever old car the landlord Dan Crawford had at the time .Once it was an incrdible old Bristol sports Saloon that didnt get us further than Luton just outside London .

        • william alan clifton says:

          Anyway that split up and we went Our separate ways .About 3 years later Im back at Kings Head and I bump into Mick again and this time he is With Harvey Goldsmith the famous promoter who must have been taking an interest in Micks career .They have just come back from a Lou Reed concert ,which Goldsmit had promoted and Mick had been backstage to meet Lou .

  9. william alan clifton says:

    This would have been Lou Reeds gig at Hammersmith Odeon in march 1975 .Dan Crawfords car was not a Bristol ,but an A C 2litre sports saloon .One of the strangest looking cars made in England in the 1950s .The Bristol was similar but not quite so over the top .

    • william alan clifton says:

      Harvey Goldsmith was a very big guy With a beard and very likable .He shook Your hand and took an interest in you .Not at all your classic big-time arsehole .

  10. dave st james says:

    reading max myers article brought back the memories of ritchie dharma. I worked with Ritchie at the Empress Club in Berkley Street in the 80’s ( i played keys). He was the kindest funniest guy i have ever known. I still have a pair of his sticks with the usual tape repair on them. Why buy another pair when these would be perfectly serviceable was his motto.Bobby Patrick was on bass.It was Mac Poole (drummer) who told me of Ritchie’s death. They met in the 70’s on a Billy Ocean session Mac was on Love Really Hurts and Ritchie played on Red Light.I miss Ritchie and always looked forward to his phone calls about once every six months when his happy and positive attitude would always cheer me up.

  11. Jay Dharma says:

    Hi Dave. I’m Ritchie Dharma’s son Jay. I remember Dad taking me and my brother Lee to the Empress Club when we were around 9 or 10 years old. I remember when he was playing with you and Bobby. It would be nice to get in touch with you. Not sure how but my wife is on Facebook – Jo Dharma or she is on LinkedIn or maybe the moderator of this site will be kind enough to pass on my email address. I met Mick Abrahams a few years ago and he told me some great stories about my dad. It is always nice to hear good things about him. It makes me so happy when people remember him and say such nice things! Thank you. Jay

  12. Cam says:

    I was in a band managed by Ritchie Dharma and we also did the whole German disco circuit backing a black girl singer. Ritchie was so funny and gave me kindly advice about my drumming at the time. He told us he was on Walk On The Wild Side and we all thought he was fantasising until learning the truth!!! Hadn’t he also been in Love Affair too? Anyway, very sad to hear of his passing

  13. Walter Ogier says:

    There a multipart video on YT of Wayne Kramer, Fred Sonic Smith, Derek Hughes and Ritchie Dharma playing a full MC5 concert in Helsinki in 1972. Great sound quality, and a ton of close-ups of Ritchie, who plays amazingly, as do his mates. It is really a fine recording and a revelation — most MC5 recordings are inferior quality. Per WPdia, Ritchie was in the MC5 line-up near the end of their initial run.

  14. Glen says:

    That sure looks like Neil Peart.

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