Backstage with Anti-War Activist, Singer & Songwriter Neil Young

No Lies Radio Music – By Teri Perticone – Saturday October 04, 2020

Early life (1945–1963)

Neil Young[19] was born on November 12, 1945, in Toronto, Ontario.[20][21] His father, Scott Alexander Young (1918–2005), was a journalist and sportswriter who also wrote fiction.[22] His mother, Edna Blow Ragland “Rassy” Young (1918–1990) was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.[23] Although Canadian, his mother had American and French ancestry.[24] Young’s parents married in 1940 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and their first son, Robert “Bob” Young, was born in 1942. Shortly after Young’s birth in 1945, his family moved to rural Omemee, Ontario, which Young later described fondly as a “sleepy little place”.[25] Young suffered from polio in 1952 during the last major outbreak of the disease in Ontario[26]. After his recovery, the Young family vacationed in Florida. During that period, Young briefly attended Faulkner Elementary School in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. In 1952, upon returning to Canada, Young moved from Omemee to Winnipeg for a year, before relocating to Toronto and Pickering. Young became interested in popular music he heard on the radio.[28] When Young was twelve, his father, who had had several extramarital affairs, left his mother. His mother asked for a divorce, which was granted in 1960.[29] Young went to live with his mother, who moved back to Winnipeg, while his brother Bob stayed with his father in Toronto.[30]

Early career (1963–1966)

Young and his mother settled into the working-class area of Fort Rouge, Winnipeg, where the shy, dry-humoured youth enrolled at Earl Grey Junior High School. It was there that he formed his first band, the Jades, and met Ken Koblun. While attending Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, he played in several instrumental rock bands, eventually dropping out of school in favour of a musical career.[37] Young’s first stable band was The Squires, with Ken Koblun, Jeff Wuckert and Bill Edmondson on drums, who had a local hit called “The Sultan”. While playing at The Flamingo, Young met Stephen Stills, whose band the Company was playing the same venue, and they became friends.[39] The Squires played in several dance halls and clubs in Winnipeg and Ontario.[40]

Once they reached Los Angeles, Young and Palmer met up with Stephen Stills and Richie Furay after a chance encounter in traffic on Sunset Boulevard.[46] Along with Dewey Martin, they formed Buffalo Springfield. A mixture of folk, country, psychedelia, and rock, lent a hard edge by the twin lead guitars of Stills and Young, made Buffalo Springfield a critical success, and their first record Buffalo Springfield (1966) sold well after Stills’ topical song “For What It’s Worth” became a hit, aided by Young’s melodic harmonics played on electric guitar. According to Rolling Stone, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and other sources, Buffalo Springfield helped create the genres of folk rock and country rock.[48] In May 1968, the band split up for good.


Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth 1967

Going solo, Crazy Horse (1968–1969)

After the break-up of Buffalo Springfield, Young signed a solo deal with Reprise Records, home of his colleague and friend Joni Mitchell, with whom he shared a manager, Elliot Roberts, who managed Young until his death in 2019. Young and Roberts immediately began work on Young’s first solo record, Neil Young (January 22, 1969),[50] which received mixed reviews. In a 1970 interview,[51] Young deprecated the album as being “overdubbed rather than played.” The album contains songs that remain a staple of his live shows including “The Loner.”

For his next album, Young recruited three musicians from a band called The Rockets: Danny Whitten on guitar, Billy Talbot on bass guitar, and Ralph Molina on drums. These three took the name Crazy Horse (after the historical figure of the same name), and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (May 1969), is credited to “Neil Young with Crazy Horse.” Recorded in just two weeks, the album includes “Cinnamon Girl”, “Cowgirl in the Sand”, and “Down by the River.” Young reportedly wrote all three songs in bed on the same day while nursing a high fever of 103 °F (39 °C).[52]


Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Down By the River (Live at Farm Aid 1994)

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young (1969–1970)

Shortly after the release of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Young reunited with Stephen Stills by joining Crosby, Stills & Nash, who had already released one album Crosby, Stills & Nash as a trio in May 1969. Young was originally offered a position as a sideman, but agreed to join only if he received full membership, and the group – winners of the 1969 “Best New Artist” Grammy Award – was renamed Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.[53] The quartet debuted in Chicago on August 16, 1969, and later performed at the famous Woodstock Festival, during which Young skipped the majority of the acoustic set and refused to be filmed during the electric set, even telling the cameramen: “One of you fuckin’ guys comes near me and I’m gonna fuckin’ hit you with my guitar”.[54] During the making of their first album, Déjà Vu (March 11, 1970), the musicians frequently argued, particularly Young and Stills, who both fought for control. Stills continued throughout their lifelong relationship to criticize Young, saying that he “wanted to play folk music in a rock band.”[55] Despite the tension, Young’s tenure with CSN&Y coincided with the band’s most creative and successful period, and greatly contributed to his subsequent success as a solo artist.

Young wrote “Ohio” following the Kent State massacre on May 4, 1970. The song was quickly recorded by CSN&Y and immediately released as a single, even though CSN&Y’s “Teach Your Children” was still climbing the singles charts.


Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Teach Your Children

After the Gold Rush, acoustic tour and Harvest (1970–1972)

Later in the year, Young released his third solo album, After the Gold Rush (August 31, 1970). Young’s newfound fame with CSNY made the album his commercial breakthrough as a solo artist, and it contains some of his best known work, including “Tell Me Why” and “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”, the country-influenced singles “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and “When You Dance I Can Really Love”, and the title track, “After the Gold Rush”, played on piano, with dream-like lyrics that ran a gamut of subjects from drugs and interpersonal relationships to environmental concerns. Young’s bitter condemnation of racism in the heavy blues-rock song “Southern Man” (along with a later song entitled “Alabama”) was also controversial with southerners in an era of desegregation, prompting Lynyrd Skynyrd to decry Young by name in the lyrics to their hit “Sweet Home Alabama.” However, Young said he was a fan of Skynyrd’s music, and the band’s front man Ronnie Van Zant was later photographed wearing a Tonight’s the Night T-shirt on the cover of an album.


Neil Young-Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Near the end of his tour, Young performed one of the new acoustic songs on the Johnny Cash TV show. “The Needle and the Damage Done”, a somber lament on the pain caused by heroin addiction, had been inspired in part by Crazy Horse member Danny Whitten, who eventually died while battling his drug problems.[56][57] While in Nashville for the Cash taping, Young accepted the invitation of Quadrafonic Sound Studios owner Elliot Mazer to record tracks there with a group of country-music session musicians who were pulled together at the last minute. Making a connection with them, he christened them The Stray Gators, and began playing with them. Befitting the immediacy of the project, Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor were brought in from the Cash taping to do background vocals. Against the advice of his producer David Briggs, he scrapped plans for the imminent release[58] of the live acoustic recording in favour of a studio album consisting of the Nashville sessions, electric-guitar oriented sessions recorded later in his barn, and two recordings made with the London Symphony Orchestra at Barking (credited as Barking Town Hall and now the Broadway Theatre) during March 1971.[59] The result was Young’s fourth album, Harvest (February 14, 1972). The only remnant left of the original live concept was the album’s live acoustic performance of “Needle and the Damage Done.”


Neil Young – Needle And The Damage Done (Unplugged)

After his success with CSNY, Young purchased a ranch in the rural hills above Woodside and Redwood City in Northern California (“Broken Arrow Ranch”, where he lived until his divorce in 2014.[60]). He wrote the song “Old Man” in honor of the land’s longtime caretaker, Louis Avila. The song “A Man Needs a Maid” was inspired by his relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress. “Heart of Gold” was released as the first single from Harvest, the only No. 1 hit in his career. “Old Man” was also popular.


Neil Young – Old Man

The album’s recording had been almost accidental. Its mainstream success caught Young off guard, and his first instinct was to back away from stardom. In the Decade (1977) compilation, Young chose to include his greatest hits from the period, but his handwritten liner notes famously described “Heart of Gold” as the song that “put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore, so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.”

Reunions, retrospectives and Rust Never Sleeps (1974–1979)

Young reunited with Crosby, Stills, and Nash after a four-year hiatus in the summer of 1974 for a concert tour which was recorded and released in 2014 as CSNY 1974. It was one of the first ever stadium tours, and the largest tour in which Young has participated to date.[67]

In 1975, Young reformed Crazy Horse with Frank Sampedro on guitar as his backup band for his eighth album, Zuma (November 10, 1975). Many of the songs dealt with the theme of failed relationships; “Cortez the Killer”, a retelling of the Spanish conquest of Mexico from the viewpoint of the Aztecs, may also be heard as an allegory of love lost. Zuma’s closing track, “Through My Sails”, was the only released fragment from aborted sessions with Crosby, Stills and Nash for another group album.

In 1976, Young reunited with Stephen Stills for the album Long May You Run (September 20, 1976), credited to The Stills-Young Band; the follow-up tour was ended midway through by Young, who sent Stills a telegram that read: “Funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach, Neil.

In 1976, Young performed with Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and numerous other rock musicians in the high-profile all-star concert The Last Waltz, the final performance by The Band.


The Band & Neil Young Helpless

Experimental years (1980–1988)

Neil continued to perform & produce albums during this time.

The first year without a Neil Young album since the start of Young’s musical career with Buffalo Springfield in 1966 was in 1984.

Young spent most of 1984 and all of 1985 touring for Old Ways (August 12, 1985) with his country band, the International Harvesters. The album was finally released in an altered form midway through 1985. Young also appeared at that year’s Live Aid concert in Philadelphia, collaborating with Crosby, Stills and Nash for the quartet’s first performance for a paying audience in over ten years.

Switching back to his old label Reprise Records, Young continued to tour relentlessly, assembling a new blues band called The Bluenotes in mid-1987 (a legal dispute with musician Harold Melvin forced the eventual rechristening of the band as Ten Men Working midway through the tour).

Young reunited with Crosby, Stills, and Nash to record the 1988 album American Dream and play two benefit concerts late in the year, but the group did not embark upon a full tour. The album was only the second-ever studio record for the quartet.

Return to prominence (1989–1999)

Young’s 1989 single “Rockin’ in the Free World”, which hit No. 2 on the US mainstream-rock charts, and accompanying the album, Freedom, rocketed him back into the popular consciousness after a decade of sometimes-difficult genre experiments. The album’s lyrics were often overtly political; “Rockin’ in the Free World” deals with homelessness, terrorism, and environmental degradation, implicitly criticizing the government policies of President George H.W. Bush.[85]


Neil Young – Rockin’ In The Free World

1992’s Harvest Moon marked an abrupt return to the country and folk-rock stylings of Harvest (1972) and reunited him with some of the musicians from that album, including singers Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor. The title track was a minor hit, and the record was well received by critics, winning the Juno Award for Album of the Year in 1994.


Neil Young – Harvest Moon (Official Music Video)

The decade ended with the release in late 1999 of Looking Forward, another reunion with Crosby, Stills, and Nash. The subsequent tour of the United States and Canada with the reformed super quartet earned US$42.1 million, making it the eighth largest grossing tour of 2000.

Continued activism and brush with death (2000s)

Neil Young continued to release new material at a rapid pace through the first decade of the new millennium. The studio album Silver & Gold and live album Road Rock Vol. 1 were released in 2000 and were both accompanied by live concert films. His 2001 single “Let’s Roll” was a tribute to the victims of the September 11 attacks, and the effective action taken by the passengers and crew on Flight 93 in particular.[93] At the “America: A Tribute to Heroes” benefit concert for the victims of the attacks.

In 2003, Young released Greendale, a concept album recorded with Crazy Horse members Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina.

Young’s renewed activism manifested itself in the 2006 album Living with War, which like the much earlier song “Ohio”, was recorded and released in less than a month as a direct result of current events.[99] In early 2006, three years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the sectarian war and casualties there were escalating. While doing errands on a visit to his daughter, Young had seen a newspaper photo of wounded U.S. veterans on a transport plane to Germany, and noticing that the same paper devoted little actual coverage to the story, he was unable to get the image out of his head, realizing the suffering caused to families by the war had not truly registered to him and most Americans who were not directly affected by it. Young cried, and immediately got his guitar out and began to write multiple songs at once. Within a few days he had completed work and assembled a band. He later said he had restrained himself for a long time from writing any protest songs, waiting for someone younger, with a different perspective, but no one seemed to be saying anything.


Neil Young – Living With War (Video)

Most of the album’s songs rebuked the Bush administration’s policy of war by examining its human costs to soldiers, their loved ones, and civilians, but Young also included a few songs on other themes, and an outright protest titled, “Let’s Impeach the President”,[100] in which he stated that Bush had lied to lead the country into war. Young’s lyrics in another song named Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who had not declared any intention to run for president at the time and was widely unexpected to be able to win either the Democratic Party nomination or a general election, as potentially a replacement for Bush. That summer, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reunited for the supporting “Freedom of Speech Tour ’06”, in which they played Young’s new protest songs alongside the group’s older material, meeting with both enthusiasm and anger from different fans, some of whom were supportive of Bush politically. CSNY Déjà Vu, a concert film of the tour directed by Young himself, was released in 2008, along with an accompanying live album.[citation needed]

While Young had never been a stranger to eco-friendly lyrics, themes of environmentalist spirituality and activism became increasingly prominent in his work throughout the 1990s and 2000s, especially on Greendale (2003)[101] and Living with War (2006).[102] The trend continued on 2007’s Chrome Dreams II, with lyrics exploring Young’s personal eco-spirituality.[103] Also in 2007, Young accepted an invitation to participate in Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino, contributing his version of “Walking to New Orleans”.[citation needed]

Young remains on the board of directors of Farm Aid, an organization he co-founded with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp in 1985. According to its website, it is the longest running concert benefit series in the U.S. and it has raised $43 million since its first benefit concert in 1985. Each year, Young co-hosts and performs with well-known guest performers who include Dave Matthews and producers who include Evelyn Shriver and Mark Rothbaum, at the Farm Aid annual benefit concerts to raise funds and provide grants to family farms and prevent foreclosures, provide a crisis hotline, and create and promote home grown farm food in the United States.[104]


Neil Young – Long May You Run (unplugged)

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