Herbie Flowers: The Story Behind Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” Bass Line

The news of Lou Reed’s passing this weekend led me to revisit some of his music, including the legendary musician’s smash hit “Walk on the Wild Side.”

Here’s an awesome clip taken from The One Show – an interview with the man that created one of the most famous bass lines in rock history: Herbie Flowers.

Flowers, a popular studio musician at the time, was hired by Reed for the session at Trident Studios. The bassist got a big, dark tone from his upright, then decided to build on the line by adding electric bass a tenth above the line. The result is a thick, rich bass line that sticks with you.

And how long was the session that produced such an iconic hit? “About twenty minutes,” Flowers says.

RIP, Lou.

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Leave a Reply to Bret Cancel reply

  1. Herbie Flowers didn’t mention it in this report but, aside from the wonderful tone, the effect of ‘opposing motion’ is a big factor in the irresistible appeal of this bass line. For the most part, the two lines move in opposing directions to each other. As the two parts approach the middle of their progress up or down the listener feels a strange, ticklish, pushing/pulling sensation inside which then subsides with the resolution of the chord, both on the F6 and the C in turn. You couldn’t hope for a tastier hook if you tried. And in the bass line yet!

    • Bret

      I agree Jim, I’ve had to play this line live and the best I can do is play the tonic and the 10th as a 2 note chord both moving in the same direction. With attention to touch and tone I can make it sound acceptable but it will always lack that touch of magic as you well explain it.

  2. Love behind the scenes stuff like this, always trying to compensate for my minimal virtuosity with creative touches like the one Herbie employed, he’s a genius!

  3. Sincere musical utterings – an apt & melodious bass line which hooks one into it’s world most brilliantly; thoroughly enjoyable and unforgettable in the most precious type of manner. WONDERFUL

  4. Dan Armstrong told me that HE played the electric bass part in that song. Used a DanElectro bass.

  5. This is really cool, how he doubled the bass lines.

  6. You mean it sounds cool.

  7. About twenty minutes to create musical history ……… sounds about right!

  8. I’ve read in a hell of a lot of places that Dan Armstrong played the electric parts.

  9. Being a Brit and a bassist I grew up with that story. I’m just glad to see the story is still fresh and on prime-time TV. :)

  10. A quiet and unpretentious lesson for myself and young aspiring musicians.

  11. That double bass line is undoubtedly the hilight of the song!!

  12. According to MixOnLine interview with ‘Transformer’ producer Ken Scott, Herbie Flowers played both parts. A source of confusion about this might be MyRareGuitars (10 Most Important Basses…): ‘…Wild Side was recorded with a 60s Longhorn by Dan Armstrong…”. The wording is ambiguous and suggests Armstrong played the part when he really only built the guitar. Though other sources maintain Flowers used his Jazz bass to record the electric part.

  13. Interesting, I heard “Wild Side” again recently and though maybe it was Danny Thompson on the bass, but I was wrong. Thompson has had a long and varied career, mostly upright bass, and even played bass guitar for Roy Orbison on tour with the Beatles. He is about 75 now and still going strong.

  14. Tony

    And he never got a share of the songwriting credit.