Doug Yule replaced John Cale as bass player for the Velvet Underground in late 1968, and went on to play on their third and fourth albums, as well as continue with the Lou Reed-less version of the group for a while in the early 1970s. Of all the important members of the group from 1965 to 1970, Yule is perhaps the most undervalued. He was not as colorful a character as either Cale or Nico, but as it happens, he is on more Velvet Underground recordings (if you count live albums and outtakes unreleased until the 1980s and 1990s) than Cale is. He was not nearly as innovative as Cale, but he was a decent bassist and fit well into the 1969-1970 lineup that produced the group's best straightforward rock recordings.
In the late 1960s Yule was living in Boston and playing guitar in the Grass Menagerie, a band also featuring well-regarded veterans of the Boston rock scene, Willie Alexander and Walter Powers (who had both played in the Lost and recorded for Capitol). The Grass Menagerie never put out records, although they did some unreleased stuff for Vanguard and RCA. Yule's qualifications for joining a top band (in musical importance, if not sales ) such as the Velvets were not overwhelming. He wasn't even a huge fan of the group. But as often happens in these situations, when Cale was ousted by Lou Reed after some disputes in the summer of 1968, Yule found himself in the right place at the right time. The Velvet Underground often played in Boston, and Velvets manager Steve Sesnick was friends with people who lived in Yule's apartment, so the Velvets would sometimes stay there while they were in town. In that way Yule got to know the band, and in October 1968, Sesnick offered Yule Cale's position. Yule had never even played with them or auditioned; they may have just felt that his personality was suitable, having already hung out with him.
Yule was recording with the Velvet Underground on their third album, Velvet Underground. Like his predecessor Cale, Yule played organ as well as bass, and also added some backup vocals. On "Candy Says," he took the lead vocal in a naive, tentative style that suited the fragile folk-rock ballad well. His vocals were not too dissimilar from those of Lou Reed, although they weren't nearly as strong and tough. He also looked enough like Lou Reed for people to assume they were brothers, and on the Velvets' 1969: Velvet Underground Live album, Reed even calls Yule "my brother Doug" when introducing the band before "Some Kinda Love."
Velvet Underground, the group entered a quieter, more song-oriented phase. As the posthumously released 1969: Velvet Underground Live proves, they could still rock out very hard, in concert too. The departure of Cale robbed them of an avant-garde/classical edge: Yule, unlike Cale, could not play screechy viola, and did not put odd accents into their tracks, such as Cale's gothic spoken narration on "The Gift" and his ominous piano on "All Tomorrow's Parties." However, Yule was a solid and reliable bassist and backup singer, which suited the forceful rock of 1969: Velvet Underground Live, along with an album's worth of unreleased material cut between their third and fourth LPs (now available on various compilations), and the final studio album to be recorded with Reed, 1970's Loaded. As drummer Maureen Tucker told Victor Bockris for the Velvet Underground biography Up-Tight, after Yule replaced Cale, "I don't think it hurt the music that much. I don't think it changed it to weaker music, it just changed it."
Yule took an unassuming, back-seat sort of role in the band when he joined, by 1970 he was becoming more assertive and exerting more of a voice in the band's direction. This was partly because the other Velvets were getting distracted around this time: Tucker took a leave of absence after getting pregnant, and guitarist Sterling Morrison was attending university. In 1995, Yule told interviewer Pat Thomas, "Lou leaned on me a lot in terms of musical support and for harmonies, vocal arrangements. I did a lot on Loaded. It sort of devolved down to the Lou and Doug recreational recording." Reed was still the songwriter and principal lead vocalist. However, in part because Reed's voice was getting worn from live performances, Yule took lead vocals on the key Loaded tracks "Who Loves the Sun" and "New Age"; he also sings lead on the Loaded outtake "Ride Into the Sun." In two of the three cases Yule delivered, but it was a mistake to give him the lead vocal on "New Age," for as Reed noted in the liner notes to the Velvet Underground box Peel Slowly and See, "No slur on Doug, but he didn't understand the lyrics for a second." (Lou Reed does have the lead vocal on the 1969: Velvet Underground Live version of "New Age.")
Yule also appears on the final Velvet Underground recording to include both Reed and Yule, Live at Max's Kansas City, from August 1970. Reed left the band right after that performance, and Loaded limped into the marketplace, with the group's principal creative figure and most charismatic performer not around to promote it. Permanent bad feelings arose between Yule and Reed as a result of the back sleeve credits, which virtually gave the impression that Yule was the leader of the band, listing him first and crediting him with a wealth of instruments and songwriting contributions; Reed was listed third.
Yule was the leader of the band, though that in no way meant he was the leader for the Loaded album. After Reed quit, the Velvet Underground kept on going, bringing in Yule's old friend Walter Powers as a replacement, and even recording a couple of Yule tunes for Atlantic in late 1970 (still unreleased). First Morrison and then Tucker left, and the band slogged on, with another ex-Grass Menagerie partner, Willie Alexander, coming aboard. By the time the Velvet Underground album Squeeze came out in 1972, however, the Velvet Underground name was essentially a front for Doug Yule, recording with the assistance of Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice. The album was a commercial and critical bomb, a Velvet Underground release in name only.
Yule did reunite briefly with Reed in the mid-'70s, touring with him and playing bass on Reed's Sally Can't Dance album. Yule was also part of the mainstream rock band American Flyer, with ex-members of Pure Prairie League, Blues Magoos, and Blood, Sweat & Tears, before drifting out of the music business. As the Velvet Underground legend grew over the decades, members and associates were interviewed at length, but Yule, somehow, was rarely tracked down for this purpose. Finally, in the mid-'90s, Yule did give a few lengthy interviews which added considerably to the body of memories and perspective available about the band. By this time he was living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and working as a project manager for a cabinetmaker. He was not invited to participate in the Velvet Underground reunions in the early 1990s, and was also not one of the members included in the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.