Sony Legacy's recently released 17-disc deluxe box set Lou Reed—The RCA and Arista Album Collection includes Reed's 16 solo studio and live albums for the labels along with out-of-print , hard-to-find and otherwise digitally unavailable Reed material.
Packaged with an 80-page hard-bound book featuring memorabilia from Reed's personal archives, rarely seen photos and artwork, Reed interviews, five 8"x10" prints and a facsimile reproduction of a rare RCA promotional poster, the set is notable—in addition to its contents—for Reed's full involvement up until his death in October, 2013.
"We started working on it in the summer," recalls Sony Legacy VP of A&R Rob Santos. "I'd run into him earlier that year at a Shuggie Otis show at B.B. King's, and we started talking. I'd brought up remastering his catalog through the years, but he kind of forgot about it. But now he said, 'We can do it? And I can oversee it?' And I said, 'Yes,' and Hal Willner prodded him along."
Producer Willner had worked with Reed for many years.
"Hal made it happen," says Santos, "and that summer we started remastering all Lou's records--and he was really involved, every day, no matter how sick he was."
Reed died of liver disease, though he'd undergone a liver transplant five months before his death.
"He seemed to be on the mend," says Santos. "I asked him if he just wanted me to go in and do everything, but he said, 'No. I'll be there!' and he was so into it and was thrilled to have the opportunity to listen to all these records. And for me it was phenomenal to listen to every Lou Reed record with Lou Reed! And with all that he was going through, he was so dedicated to get it done, and was so grateful to me and Sony. I said, 'Are you kidding me? I always wanted to do this!'"
Reed actually emailed his final approval to Santos two days before he died.
"We were planning to film an EPK [electronic press kit] in November to talk about the masters, so it was a surprise to me because he really did look a lot better."
On a personal level, Reed was "such a phenomenal human being," notes Santos. "He was very considerate: I can't tell you how many times he invited me to things--like a very small dinner party where I was sitting next to Bono and David Bowie. All these heavy hitters and I'm thinking, 'Why am I here?' But for his friends, there were no limits to his kindness. I was very fortunate to have been in his orbit for a brief amount of time."
Santos says that The RCA and Arista Album Collection was originally set for release on Reed's birthday (Mar. 2) of the following year--2014--but the label didn't want to look like it was rushing out the box because of his death.
"Laurie [Anderson, Reed's wife] had time to do her thing and get totally involved with her team and Hal and work with the Sony guys in putting the book together—and it's really amazing," he says. "By then my job was pretty much done."