Velvet Underground’s Secret Weapon: The Ostrich

By Stereogum / July 18, 2007

Fans of alternate tunings and/or Lou Reed & John Cale’s magical relationship should be hip to the Ostrich, but WFMU’s Beware Of Blog sketches out the tale of the avian-named tuning for a lesson in VU 101:

One of the secret weapons of the Velvet Underground was Lou Reed’s Ostrich Guitar Tuning, where all the strings were tuned to D. It got its name from the 1964 novelty single “The Ostrich” by The Primitives, a pre-Velvet Underground band fronted by Lou Reed. Originally only a studio project, the song about a fake novelty dance generated enough interest to put together a band for a few live gigs. And amazingly enough, that touring version of The Primitives featured John Cale, Tony Conrad, and Walter DeMaria.

All Music expands:

John Cale, however, was struck when Reed told them that learning “The Ostrich” would be easy, as all the strings were tuned to a single note. This was similar to what Cale and Conrad were doing with experimental composer LaMonte Young; Reed was applying a similar concept to rock’n’roll. The Primitives experience likely was one more factor that helped bind Reed and Cale together, starting a musical partnership that would flower into the Velvet Underground and prove hugely influential on the course of rock music.

And that, kids, is your lesson in rock history for the day. Head over to WFMU for Primitives MP3s (including the infamous “The Ostrich”). Do try this at home, but not without a spare set of D’Addarios laying around. Knew there was some subconscious reason we were bidding on Galifianakis’s ostrich-headed monstrosity.