Thursday, February 11, 2010
#14 Neil Young, The Godfather of Grunge
Neil Young is not only an artist, he is a force upon the world of music. Since his breakthrough performances as a member of 'The Buffalo Springfield' back in 1966. He has forged a career that is deeply personal and often politically outspoken. His distinctive guitar work and unique tenor voice stand out front in all of his songs. Along with artists such as Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, Neil is one of those singers who you just instantly recognize. Since his debut he has grown immensely as an artist experimenting widely with differing music styles, from swing, jazz and rockabilly blues, to electronic music, industrial, alternative country and grunge. Young's profound influence on the emerging grunge scene caused critics to dub him "the Godfather of Grunge".
A Bit Of History:
After growing up in small town Manitoba, Neil migrated to Toronto, where he started getting popular as a folk singer on the Coffee house circuit. He soon migrated to a more Rocking sound and played with a few different bands over the next few years including groups such as the Squires and the Mynah Birds (a group centered around future funk rocker Rick James). Also in the Mynah Birds was Bassist Bruce Palmer who would join Neil in Buffalo Springfield. Stephen Stills met Neil in Toronto in 1966 and convinced him he should move to California to join their new group that Stills was creating with fellow guitarist Richie Furay. Neil agreed and brought Palmer with him and a short time later Buffalo Springfield was born. This was really one of the first super groups in Rock and Roll. The group contained such an uncontainable pool of talent that few were surprised when they broke up only two years later to pursue solo careers. Stills, Young and Furay were all fantastic song writers, talented guitarists and unique sounding vocalists. Throughout his career, Neil has rejoined Stephen Stills on a number of projects including the band 'Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young' and 'The Stills-Young Band' as well as assisting each other on many of their various solo albums.
With Crazy Horse:
To discuss Neil Young you have to at least touch on Crazy Horse. Throughout his career Neil has released twenty albums with Crazy Horse. He has said in an interview that his work with Crazy Horse was “the essence of my musical life. This is the core, the smoldering thing I come back to over and over again....If I had never done anything else, the Crazy Horse stuff would just stand on its own.”
Neil had known musicians Danny Whitten, Billy Talbot, and Ralph Molina (of the band 'The Rockets') for about a year or so before he bumped into them again and asked them to form his backing trio. They accepted soon after and he gave them the name 'Crazy Horse'. With them, Neil crafted some of the best work of his career including 1969's 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' and partially on his 1970 album 'After the Goldrush'.
Whitten's death from a heroin O.D in 1972, mere days after being fired from the band because of his substance abuse problem had a profound affect on Neil. He was quoted saying "It blew my mind. Fucking blew my mind. I loved Danny. I felt responsible. And from there, I had to go right out on this huge tour of huge arenas. I was very nervous and ... insecure."
It took Neil years to get over the death of Whitten. His next three albums were all very dark and crafted around themes such as the hollowness of the music buisness and of commercial success as well as the tolls exacted by hard drug use, specifically Whitten's death from heroin. Eventually, Neil and the surviving members of Crazy Horse decided to carry on and released their first of many albums sans Whitten, with 1975's 'Zuma'.
Neil Young's solo career over the last forty years has been all over the musical map. He showed us his darker side in the 70's and his experimental side in the 80's. He brought it all back home in the 90's and is now bigger then ever in 2010. Neil has found himself (albeit somewhat reluctantly) as a living icon of Rock and Roll. One thing I have always really enjoyed about Neil's music is that when he creates an album, he does so because he feels the need to make that particular album. He has never cared about how well the albums sell or are received by critics. This mindset has often led him down some strange roads that lose some fans along the way, but overall it has made him a better artist and has given him fans throughout many genres of music.
- Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Twice! Once in 1995 for his solo work and again in 1997 for his work with Buffalo Springfield.
- Neil has directed five film under his pseudonym Bernard Shakey.
- His solo discography alone includes 33 studio albums, and six live albums which makes him one of the most prolific artists in Rock History.
My Fave Album:
-I would have to say my fave album is 1970's 'After the Goldrush'. Most of the album was recorded at a make-shift basement studio in Young's California home. Initially he dreamed it up as a project to merge CSNY with Crazy Horse although in the end Crazy Horse appears minimally on the album and only Stephen Stills is present from CSNY. The album was not very well received critically back in 1970 but over the years has become known as one of Neil's best albums as well as one of the greatest albums in Rock History. Songs such as 'After the Goldrush', 'Southern Man' and 'Don't Let it Bring You Down' contain some of Neil's best lyrics in my opinion and they are all sung so beautifully that in parts his voice is almost other-worldly. The combo of Whitten, Young and Stills sharing vocals on tracks such as 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' and 'Till the Morning Comes' are sweet vocal bliss! This album is a Rock classic and is perfect to listen to while having tea on a rainy day or if you are just in the mood for something a bit more mellow but still want that power that comes from a beautiful Rock record.
Cheers folks, until next time we meet.
Here is a sweet live segment of Neil from 1971. He interacts with the crowd a bit then jumps into an outstanding version of 'Don't Let It Bring You Down'