Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Neil Young - A Bit More Detail

Neil Young was born November 12, 1945 in Toronto. As a youth, he survived diabetes, polio, epilepsy and the divorce of his parents. His father was a highly respected sportswriter for The Toronto Sun and authored several books, including Neil & Me, a 1984 title about his relationship with his musician son. In 1960, Neil moved with his mother to Winnipeg, Manitoba. It was there that music first became the driving force in his life. After switching from ukulele to guitar, he was in a succession of Winnipeg-based bands, including The Jades, The Esquires, The Classics and Neil Young & The Squires. 

Initially an instrumental band, a growing trend in pop music with bands like The Ventures, The Squires eventually evolved into a kind of folky rock. Several early Neil originals from the era, including "Ain't It The Truth" and "Find Another Shoulder," would be resurrected years later with the Bluenotes. From early 1963 to mid- 1965, The Squires performed regularly at clubs and dance halls in Manitoba and Ontario. At a club in Fort William, Ontario in '65, The Squires crossed paths with an American folk-rock band called The Company, which featured Stephen Stills. Young and Stills became fast friends, but quickly lost touch.

In 1965, Neil recorded an acoustic demo for Elektra Records featuring early versions of "Sugar Mountain" and "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing," but he failed to secure a recording contract. Returning to Toronto, Young played the same Yorkville district coffeehouse circuit as fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell before he joined The Mynah Birds, a Toronto-based band led by singer Ricky James Matthews, probably better known as the Superfreak, Rick James (one of rock's absurdities, like Hendrix opening for The Monkees). James was arrested and charged with deserting the U.S. Navy. The Mynah Birds disbanded when James was forced to complete his tour of duty. 

Young and Mynah Birds bassist Bruce Palmer packed their worldly possessions into Young's old black hearse and drove from Toronto to Los Angeles. On the Sunset Strip, the hearse was spotted in traffic by Stills and singer/guitarist Richie Furay. The four musicians huddled in a supermarket parking lot and immediately talked of forming a band. With the addition of drummer Dewey Martin, the Buffalo Springfield was born. Fusing folk and rock with dashes of country and R&B, the Springfield gained immediate recognition, often sharing the bill with The Byrds at The Whisky-A-G0-Go.  

Neil quit Buffalo Springfield in the spring of '67, before the band's appearance at The Monterey Pop Festival in June, then re-joined later that year. The band broke up for good in May 1968. With no small amount of original material to work with, Young, now living in Topanga Canyon, launched his solo career . His self-titled debut was released on Reprise Records in January of 1969, and featured such songs as "The Loner" and "The Last Trip to Tulsa." He would later refer to Neil Young as "overdub city." Indeed, most of his recorded work to follow would bear little resemblance to the layered process used on much of the debut. Early in '69, Young was re-acquainted with a rough-hewn Los Angeles-based band he'd first encountered during the early days of the Buffalo Springfield, The Rockets, who featured guitarist/vocalist Danny Whitten, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina. In a matter of weeks, Young and these musicians would record "Down By the River" and then, as Neil Young & Crazy Horse, would go on to quickly record classic tracks like "Cinnamon Girl" and "Cowgirl In The Sand," for the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, which was released in July 1969. From there Neil's solo career would take a bit of a hiatus with his joining Stills, David Crosby and Graham Nash. The band's first real gig was one of the features of Woodstock. While generally lackluster, the performances at Woodstock (even that of Hendrix), particularly in comparison to Monterey, were overshadowed by CSN&Y, Joe Cocker and Santana.

Sometime just before or following Woodstock, Graham Nash visited Neil at Neil's Ranch in Northern California. As the story goes, Neil asked Graham if he wanted to hear something. Nash, of course, said yes and suggested going into Young's studio, but that wasn't the plan.    "[Neil] said, 'Get into the rowboat,'" Nash explained on NPR's Fresh Air in 2013. "I said, 'Get into the rowboat?' He said, 'Yeah, we're going to go out into the middle of the lake.'" Nash assumed that Neil had a tape recording on the rowboat. "Oh, no," he said. "He has his entire house as the left speaker and his entire barn as the right speaker. And I heard Harvest coming out of these two incredibly large loud speakers louder than hell. It was unbelievable. Elliot Mazer, who produced Neil, produced Harvest, came down to the shore of the lake and he shouted out to Neil, 'How was that, Neil?'

"I swear to God," Graham said, "Neil Young shouted back, 'More barn!'" 

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