In this episode of the “Dave’s Old Interview Tapes” podcast, IndyStar reporter David Lindquist and Jim Ryser revisit three chats with John Mellencamp.
Lou Reed and John Mellencamp made Indiana music history 33 years ago today by playing surprise sets at Bloomington’s Bluebird nightclub.
Until a 44-minute video surfaced on YouTube this summer, the performances were basically a “you had to be there” moment shared only by dozens of people in the room.
Tony Philputt, who owned Broad Ripple record and video store Second Time Around in 1987, recorded Reed and Mellencamp with an 8mm camcorder decades before the smartphone era. Philputt didn’t post the footage to YouTube, and he’s somewhat surprised by the attention it’s received.
“After I recorded it, a lot of copies were sent out into the world,” he said. “Maybe nobody posted it to YouTube before now.”
Lou Reed made an unexpected appearance at Bloomington’s Bluebird nightclub on Sept. 17, 1987. (Photo: AP photo)
With Philputt’s assistance, let’s sort out some answers about this treasured artifact featuring a pair of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers:
What brought Reed to Bloomington?
Former Velvet Underground vocalist-guitarist Reed traveled to Indiana to rehearse with Mellencamp’s band in advance of the Sept. 19 Farm Aid festival in Lincoln, Nebraska. Not only did Reed perform Sept. 17 at the Bluebird, he spent part of Sept. 18 as a surprise guest in the Indiana University rock history class taught by Glenn Gass.
Mellencamp’s band backed Reed as well as John Prine in Nebraska. According to reports, Prine performed at the Bluebird following Mellencamp and Reed. If that happened, Philputt missed it. “I don’t remember anything about John Prine at all,” Philputt said. “When (Reed and Mellencamp’s band) were done playing, it seemed like it was over.”
This year’s Farm Aid will be an online event on Sept. 26.
How did Philputt make the recording?
Presently the host of an Indiana-focused music podcast titled The Wrecking Yard, Philputt made more than 50 unauthorized video recordings of concerts in the 1980s. He sold bootleg videos at record conventions, and he said his Indiana tapes were valuable when trading for recordings of rock star appearances on TV shows in Europe, Asia and South America.
Estimating his camcorder to be half the size of a loaf of bread, Philputt hid the device at the bottom of a friend’s “huge purse” they filled with as many items as possible. On Sept. 17, 1987, Philputt received an afternoon phone tip about plans for Reed and Mellencamp to appear as unannounced guests during a performance by Bloomington band the Ragin’ Texans. Philputt was told, “Grab your camera and get down here right now.”
Because the venue wasn’t packed to capacity, Philputt said he was apprehensive about being noticed. “I remember standing in the back being cautious, but I don’t remember anybody from the Bluebird giving me any sort of hassle,” he said.
What’s on the video?
Less than a month after the release of Mellencamp’s “The Lonesome Jubilee” album, the Bloomington-based singer leads his band through renditions of “Small Town,” “Paper in Fire” and “Pink Houses.” The band includes guitarists Larry Crane and Mike Wanchic, bass player Toby Myers, drummer Kenny Aronoff (who helped facilitate the program as a member of the Ragin’ Texans), violinist Lisa Germano, keyboard player John Cascella (who died in 1992) and backing vocalists Pat Peterson and Crystal Taliefero.
Reed, who died in 2013, follows Mellencamp’s three-song set with “New Sensations” (featuring Mellencamp on tambourine), “Sweet Jane,” “Walk on the Wild Side” and “I Love You, Suzanne.”
Is the video worth watching?
It’s difficult to imagine anyone being disappointed by Philputt’s recording. Mellencamp and Reed appear youthful and in good spirits. Reed approximates a high five with Crane at the conclusion of “Sweet Jane,” and Reed tells the audience, “Isn’t this band great here?”
“From what I understand, Lou was in a pretty good mood that weekend – which a lot of people will tell you was not common,” Philputt said.
Rollingstone.com reported on the video last month, billing it as a “truly historic moment in rock history.”
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Who posted the video?
Philputt wasn’t surprised to learn a YouTube profile billed as ScottishTeeVee posted the video. He said he visited a video collector in Scotland in the late 1980s. The ScottishTeeVee account features more than 1,000 videos, including an astonishing 1983 performance by R.E.M. in Indianapolis and a blurry document of the Bangles at the Indiana State Fair in 1986.
Elsewhere on YouTube, you can find Philputt’s recordings of Husker Du playing the Patio in 1985 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the same venue later that year.
As drummer in the Math Bats, the supporting act for both shows, Philputt didn’t need a sneaky mission involving his friend’s purse. When an opening band set up a video camera by the sound board, the headliners assumed the openers were taping their own performance.
“A lot of times you could turn the camera on, put a little piece of black tape over the red light and walk away,” Philputt said.
Contact IndyStar reporter David Lindquist at [email protected] or 317-444-6404. Follow him on Twitter: @317Lindquist.
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