Neil Young

Neil Percival Young OM (born November 12, 1945, Toronto, Ontario) is a Canadian singer-songwriter, musician and film director.

Young's work is characterized by deeply personal lyrics, distinctive guitar work, and signature falsetto tenor singing voice. Although he accompanies himself on several different instruments—including piano and harmonica—his style of claw-hammer acoustic guitar and often idiosyncratic soloing on electric guitar are the linchpins of a sometimes ragged, sometimes polished sound. Although Young has experimented widely with differing music styles, including swing, jazz, rockabilly, blues, and electronic music throughout a varied career, his best known work usually falls into either of two distinct styles: folk-esque acoustic rock (as heard in songs such as "Heart of Gold", "Harvest Moon" and "Old Man") and electric-charged hard rock (in songs like "Cinnamon Girl", "Rockin' in the Free World" and "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)"). In more recent years, Young has started to adopt elements from newer styles of music, such as industrial, alternative country and grunge, the latter of which was profoundly influenced by his own style of playing, causing some to confer on him the title of "the godfather of grunge".

Young has directed (or co-directed) a number of films using the pseudonym Bernard Shakey, including Journey Through the Past (1973), Rust Never Sleeps (1979), Human Highway (1982), Greendale (2003), and CSNY Déjà Vu (2008), a documentary about the band's controversial 2006 "Freedom of Speech" tour. He is currently working on another documentary about new technology for automobiles, tentatively titled "Linc/Volt".

He is also an outspoken advocate for environmental issues and small farmers, having co-founded in 1985 the benefit concert Farm Aid, and in 1986 helped found The Bridge School, and its annual supporting Bridge School Benefit concerts, together with his wife Pegi.

Although Young sings as frequently about U.S. legends and myths (Pocahontas, space stations, and the settlement of the American West), as he does about his native country (such as in "Helpless" and "Four Strong Winds"), he remains a Canadian citizen and has never wanted to relinquish his Canadian citizenship. He has lived in the U.S. for "so long" and has stated, about U.S. elections, that he has "got just as much right to vote in them as anybody else."


Early years

Neil Young was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada to sportswriter and novelist Scott Young and Edna Ragland (known as Rassy), who had moved to Toronto from their family home of Manitoba to pursue a sport journalism career. He spent his early years in the small country town of Omemee, 130 km northeast of Toronto.

Young was diagnosed with diabetes as a child and a bout of polio at the age of 6 left him with a weakened left side; he still walks with a slight limp.

His parents divorced when Young was 12, and he moved with his mother back to the family home of Winnipeg, Manitoba, where the formative years of his music career began. Neil and his mother Rassy settled into the working class suburb of Fort Rouge 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, later to join him in the Squires.

While attending Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, he played in several instrumental rock bands. Young's first stable band was called the Squires, who had a local hit called "The Sultan." Young dropped out of high school and also played in Fort William, where they recorded a series of demos produced by a local producer named Ray Dee, whom Young called "the original Briggs. While in Thunder Bay, Young first encountered Stephen Stills. In the 2006 film Heart of Gold Young relates how he used to spend time as a teenager at Falcon Lake, Manitoba where he would endlessly plug coins into the jukebox to hear Ian Tyson's "Four Strong Winds."

After leaving the Squires, Neil worked folk clubs in Winnipeg, where he first met Joni Mitchell. Here he wrote some of his earliest and most enduring folk songs such as the classic "Sugar Mountain", about his lost youth. Mitchell wrote "The Circle Game" in response.

In 1965 Young toured Canada as a solo artist. In 1966, he joined Rick James-fronted Mynah Birds. The band managed to secure a record deal with the Motown label, but as their first album was being recorded, James was arrested for being AWOL from the army. After the Mynah Birds disbanded, Young and bass player Bruce Palmer relocated to Los Angeles. Young has admitted in an interview that he was in the United States illegally until receiving a green card in 1970.

Buffalo Springfield

Once they reached Los Angeles, Young and Palmer met up with Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, and Dewey Martin to form 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 (1967) sold well after Stills' topical song "For What It's Worth" became a hit, aided by Young's melodic harmonics played on electric guitar.

Distrust of their management, as well as the arrest and deportation of Palmer, exacerbated the already strained relations among the group members and led to Buffalo Springfield's demise. A second album, Buffalo Springfield Again, was released in late 1967, but two of Young’s three contributions were solo tracks recorded apart from the rest of the group.

In many ways, these three songs on Buffalo Springfield Again are harbingers of much of Young's later work in that, although they all share deeply personal, almost idiosyncratic lyrics, they also present three very different musical approaches to the arrangement of what is essentially an original folk song. "Mr Soul" is the only Young song of the three that all five members of the group perform together. In contrast, "Broken Arrow" was confessional folk rock of a kind that would characterize much of the music that emerged from the singer-songwriter movement. Young’s experimental production intersperses each verse with snippets of sound from other sources, including opening the song with a sound bite of Dewey Martin singing "Mr. Soul" and closing it with the thumping of a heartbeat. "Expecting to Fly" was a lushly produced ballad featuring a string arrangement that Young's co-producer for the track, Jack Nitzsche, would dub "symphonic pop."

In May 1968, the band split up for good, but in order to fulfill a contractual obligation, a final album, Last Time Around, was recorded, primarily from recordings made earlier that year. Young contributed the songs "On the Way Home" and "I Am a Child", singing lead on the latter. In 1997, the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; Young did not appear at the ceremony.

Solo success & CSNY

After the breakup 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 manages Young to this day. Young and Nitzsche immediately began work on Young's first solo record, Neil Young (November 1968), which received mixed reviews. In a 1970 interview, Young deprecated the album as being "overdubbed rather than played," and the quest for music that expresses the spontaneity of the moment has long been a feature of his career. Nevertheless, the album contains some tunes that remain a staple of his live shows, most notably "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 opens with one of Young's most familiar songs, "Cinnamon Girl," and is dominated by two more, "Cowgirl in the Sand" and "Down by the River," that feature lengthy jams showcasing Young's idiosyncratic guitar soloing accompanied sympathetically by Crazy Horse. Young reportedly wrote all three songs on the same day, while nursing a high fever of 103 °F (39.5 °C) in bed.

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 as a trio. 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 - was renamed Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The quartet debuted in Chicago on August 16, 1969, and later performed at the famous Woodstock Festival, during which Young skipped 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". During the making of their first album, Déjà Vu, the musicians frequently argued, particularly Young and Stills, who both fought for control.

"Ohio" was written following the Kent State massacre on May 4, 1970, and was a staple of anti-war rallies in the 1970s. The song was quickly recorded by CSNY and immediately released as a single, even though CSNY's "Teach Your Children" was still climbing the singles charts. Many believe that the release of "Ohio" as a single cut into the sales of "Teach Your Children" and prevented that song from reaching the top ten. In the late 1970s and for much of the 1980s, Young refrained from performing "Ohio" live, as he considered the song to be dated. In the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, however, Young revived the song in concert, often dedicating it to the Chinese students who were killed in the massacre. Crosby, Stills & Nash, as a trio, also returned the song to their live repertoire around the same time, even though Young had provided the lead vocals on the original recording.

Also that year, Young released his third solo album, After the Gold Rush (1970), which featured, among others, a young Nils Lofgren, Stephen Stills, and CSNY bassist Greg Reeves. Young also recorded some tracks with Crazy Horse, but dismissed them early in the sessions. Aided by his newfound fame with CSNY, the album was a commercial breakthrough for Young and contains some of his best known work. Notable tracks include the title track, with dream-like lyrics that run a gamut of subjects from drugs and interpersonal relationships to environmental concerns, as well as Young’s controversial and acerbic condemnation of racism in "Southern Man," which, along with a later song entitled "Alabama," later prompted Lynyrd Skynyrd to decry Young by name in the lyrics to "Sweet Home Alabama." Young was one of Skynyrd's biggest influences, and Young was an admirer of Skynyrd's music. The respectful rivalry and friendship between Young and Skynyrd front man Ronnie Van Zant would serve as a recurring theme in the Drive-By Truckers' 2001 concept album Southern Rock Opera.

With CSNY splitting up and Crazy Horse having signed their own record deal, Young began the year 1971 with a solo tour entitled "Journey Through the Past." Later, he recruited a new group of country-music session musicians, whom he christened The Stray Gators, to record much of the new material that had been premiered on tour for the album Harvest (1972). Harvest was a massive hit (especially with the country-music crowd) and "Heart of Gold" became a US number one single; incidentally, to this day it remains the only No. 1 hit in his long career.

Another notable song was "The Needle and the Damage Done," a somber lament on the pain caused by heroin addiction; inspired in part by the heavy heroin use of Crazy Horse member Danny Whitten, who would eventually die of an overdose.

The album's success, however, caught Young off guard, and his first instinct was to back away from stardom. In the handwritten liner notes to the Decade compilation, Young described "Heart of Gold" as the song that "put me in the middle of the road. Travelling there soon became a bore, so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there."

On September 8 1972, the Academy Award-nominated actress Carrie Snodgress, with whom he had been living, gave birth to Neil Young's first child. The boy, Zeke, was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Young fell in love with Snodgress after seeing her in a movie ("Diary of a Mad Housewife") on television after which Young wrote the song "A Man Needs a Maid" from the Harvest album, featuring the lyric "I fell in love with the actress/she was playing a part that I could understand."

The Ditch Trilogy

Although a new tour had been planned to follow up on the success of Harvest, it became apparent during rehearsals that Danny Whitten could not function due to drug abuse. On November 18, 1972, shortly after he was fired from the tour preparations, Whitten was found dead of an overdose. Young described the incident to Rolling Stone’s Cameron Crowe in 1975, "[We] were rehearsing with him and he just couldn't cut it. He couldn't remember anything. He was too out of it. Too far gone. I had to tell him to go back to L.A. 'It's not happening, man. You're not together enough.' He just said, 'I've got nowhere else to go, man. How am I gonna tell my friends?' And he split. That night the coroner called me from L.A. and told me he'd ODed. That 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."

The album made in the aftermath of this incident, Time Fades Away (1973), has often been described by Young as "my least favourite record," and it is, in fact, one of only two of Young’s early recordings that has yet to be officially re-released on CD (The other being the soundtrack album Journey Through the Past). The album was recorded live over a tour where Young struggled with his voice and called David Crosby and Graham Nash to help perform the music. The tour featured Linda Ronstadt as the opening act. Time Fades Away occupies a unique position in Young’s discography as the first of three albums known collectively as the "Ditch Trilogy," and has also been referred to as the "Doom Trilogy" by some writers.

In the second half of 1973, Young formed The Santa Monica Flyers, with Crazy Horse's rhythm section augmented by Nils Lofgren on guitar. Deeply affected by the drug-induced deaths of Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry, Young recorded Tonight's the Night. The album's dark tone and rawness caused Reprise to delay the release until two years later and only after being pressured by Young to do so. The album received mixed reviews at the time, but is now regarded by some as a precursor to punk rock. In Young's own opinion, it was the closest he ever came to art.

While his record company delayed the release of Tonight's the Night, Young recorded On the Beach (1974), which dealt with themes such as the downside of fame and the Californian lifestyle. Like Time Fades Away and Tonight's the Night, it sold poorly but eventually became a critical favorite, presenting some of Young's most original work. In a review of the 2003 re-release on CD of On the Beach Derek Svennungsen described the music as "mesmerizing, harrowing, lucid, and bleary," a characterization that many would say is an apt description of the entire Ditch Trilogy.

Return to prominence

After completing On the Beach, Young reunited with Harvest producer Elliot Mazer to record another acoustic album, Homegrown. Most of the songs were written after Young's breakup with Snodgress, and thus the tone of the album was somewhat dark. Though the album was entirely completed, Young decided to drop the album and release Tonight's the Night instead, at the suggestion of The Band bassist Rick Danko. Young further explained his move by saying: "It was a little too personal... it scared me".

Young reformed Crazy Horse with Frank Sampedro on guitar as his backup band for Zuma (1975). Many of the songs are overtly concerned with failed relationships, and even the epic "Cortez the Killer," outwardly a retelling of the Spanish conquest of Mexico from the viewpoint of the Aztecs, can be seen as an allegory of love lost—something that didn’t save it, however, from being banned in Franco's Spain.

The following year, Young reunited with Stephen Stills for the album Long May You Run (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 The Band, Joni Mitchell, and other rock musicians in the high profile all-star concert The Last Waltz. The release of Martin Scorsese's movie of the concert was delayed while Scorsese unwillingly re-edited it to obscure the lump of cocaine that was clearly visible hanging from Young's nose during his performance of "Helpless." Young later said, "I'm not proud of that," according to one of his biographers.

American Stars 'N Bars (1977) contained two songs originally recorded for Homegrown album, "Homegrown" and "Star of Bethelehem," as well as newer material, including the future concert staple "Like A Hurricane". Performers included Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Young protégé Nicolette Larson along with Crazy Horse. Also in 1977, Young released Decade: a personally selected career summary of material spanning every aspect of his various interests and affiliations, including a handful of unreleased songs. Comes a Time (1978) also featured Nicolette Larson and Crazy Horse and became Young's most commercially accessible album in quite some time, marked by a return to his folk roots.

Young next set out on the lengthy "Rust Never Sleeps" tour, in which each concert was divided into a solo acoustic set and an electric set with Crazy Horse. Much of the electric set was later seen as a response to punk rock's burgeoning popularity. "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" compared the changing public perception of Johnny Rotten with that of the recently deceased Elvis Presley, who himself had once been disparaged as a dangerous influence only to later become an icon. Rotten, meanwhile, returned the favour by playing one of Young's records on a London radio show. The accompanying albums Rust Never Sleeps (new material, culled from live recordings, but featuring studio overdubs) and Live Rust (a mixture of old and new, and a genuine concert recording) captured the two sides of the concerts, with solo acoustic songs on side A, and fierce, uptempo, electric songs on side B. A movie version of the concerts, also called Rust Never Sleeps (1979), was directed by Young under the pseudonym Bernard Shakey.

Young was suddenly hip again, and the readers and critics of Rolling Stone voted him Artist Of The Year for 1979 (along with The Who), selected Rust Never Sleeps as Album Of The Year, and voted him Male Vocalist Of The Year as well. The Village Voice, meanwhile, honored Young as the Artist of the Decade.

1980s - Experimental years

The 1980s were a lean time for Young both critically and commercially. After providing the incidental music to a biopic of Hunter S. Thompson entitled Where the Buffalo Roam, he recorded Hawks & Doves (1980), a folk/country record. Re-ac-tor (1981), once again with Crazy Horse, was a façade of distortion and feedback obscuring a relatively weak selection of songs, but his strangest record of the decade came with Trans (1982). Recorded partially with vocoders, synthesizers, and other devices that modified instruments and vocals with electronic effects, it is sometimes considered an experiment related to finding a technology that would become a means to communicate for Young’s son (with his wife Pegi), Ben, who has severe cerebral palsy and cannot speak. Many fans were baffled by the radical forms of this album and rockabilly-styled Everybody's Rockin' (1983), and record company head David Geffen even sued Young for making "unrepresentative" music—i.e. music that did not sound like Neil Young—that deliberately lacked commercial appeal. Young later stated that he would have preferred to release the songs featuring the synclavier and vocoder as an EP, and that their inclusion with the Hawaiian-themed rockabilly was a mistake. Also premiered at this time though little seen was an eclectic full-length comedy film Human Highway starring, co-directed and co-written by Young.

In 1983, Young worked with British video director Tim Pope, making two videos - "Wonderin'" and "Cry, Cry, Cry."

In 1985, he reunited with Crosby, Stills and Nash at Live Aid at Philadelphia's John F. Kennedy Stadium. The two songs that they played, "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" and "Daylight Again/Find The Cost of Freedom," were the first songs they had played as a quartet in front of a paying audience since 1974.

Old Ways (1985) saw a return to country music, recorded with a group of friends and session musicians. Landing on Water (1986) is entertaining for the blending of synthesizers and other instruments related to the 1980s into Young’s own style, with lyrics that take pot shots at some favourite targets, including CSN in "Hippie Dream," with a chorus that goes: "But the wooden ships/Were just a hippie dream," and David Geffen in "Drifter," with the line: "Don’t try to tell me what I gotta do to fit." The resumption of his partnership with Crazy Horse on Life (1987) fulfilled his contract with Geffen, and Young was finally able to switch labels.

Director Pope again made a series of videos from the album, including "Touch the Night" and "People on the Street".

Signing with Warner Brothers (which distributed Geffen at the time) and returning to Reprise Records, Young produced This Note's For You (1988) with a new band, The Bluenotes, whose name rights were owned by musician Harold Melvin. Young named his band after a cafe called the Blue Note on Main Street in Winnipeg Manitoba, where he had played. The addition of a brass section provided a new jazzier sound and the title track became his first hit single of the decade. Accompanied by a video which parodied corporate rock, the pretensions of advertising and Michael Jackson in particular, the song was initially banned by MTV (although the Canadian music channel, MuchMusic ran it immediately) before being put into heavy rotation and finally given the MTV Video Music Award for Best Video of the Year for 1989. After Melvin sued over the use of the Bluenotes name, Young renamed his back-up group "Ten Men Workin'" for the balance of the concert tour.

Young also contributed to that year's CSNY reunion American Dream (1988) and CSNY played a few benefit concerts. Young, however, refused to book a full tour with CSN and the foursome would not embark upon a nationwide tour until 2000.

1990s - Return to country-rock roots

Freedom was a mixture of acoustic and electric rock dealing with the state of the U.S. and the world in 1989, alongside a set of love songs and a version of the standard "On Broadway." "Rockin' in the Free World", two versions of which bookended the album, again caught the mood. Some say it became a de facto anthem during the fall of the Berlin Wall, a few months after the record's release. However, most Germans don't remember the song being related to the reunification, understandably so, since the lyrics are not about political repression. Like Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A.", the anthemic use of this song was based on largely ignoring the verses, which evoke social problems and implicitly criticize American government policies. In mid-1989, record executive Terry Tolkin conceived and produced a tribute album to Young's songs called The Bridge: A Tribute To Neil Young, released on his No.6 Records label. It featured cover versions of 15 of Young's songs by the cream of the up and coming Alternative Music and Grunge music bands including Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, Soul Asylum, Dinosaur Jr,and The Pixies. By 1990, grunge music was beginning to make its first inroads in the charts and many of its prime movers, including Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, cited Young as a major influence.

Using a barn on his Northern California ranch as a studio, he rapidly recorded Ragged Glory with Crazy Horse, whose guitar riffs and feedback driven sound showed his new admirers that he could still cut it. Young then headed back out on the road with LA punk band Social Distortion and alternative rock elder statesmen Sonic Youth as support, much to the consternation of many of his old fans. Yet the influence of Sonic Youth could be clearly heard on the accompanying home video and live album, Weld, which also included a bonus CD entitled Arc, a single 35-minute-long collage of feedback and guitar noise that Neil included, evidently at the suggestion of Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore. Arc was later sold separately.

Young's next move was another return to country music. Harvest Moon (1992) was the long-awaited sequel to Harvest and reunited him with some of the musicians from that session, as well as singers Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor. The title track was a minor hit and the record was reviewed and sold equally well, containing songs such as "From Hank to Hendrix" and "Unknown Legend", a tribute to his wife. His resurgent popularity saw him booked on MTV Unplugged in 1993. In 1992 he accompanied fellow Winnipegger Randy Bachman on "Prairie Town," a song that recounts their days in the Winnipeg music scene of the 1960s. That year, he contributed music to the soundtrack of the Jonathan Demme movie Philadelphia, and his song "Philadelphia" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song, losing out to Bruce Springsteen's contribution to the same film. A summer tour covering both Europe and North America with Booker T. and the MGs (with whom he played two songs at a 1992 Bob Dylan tribute concert at Madison Square Garden) was widely praised as a triumph. On a few of these dates, the show ended with a rendition of "Rockin' in the Free World" played with Pearl Jam.

Young was back with Crazy Horse for 1994's Sleeps with Angels, a much darker record. The title track told the story of Kurt Cobain's death; Young had reportedly made repeated attempts to contact Cobain prior to this event. Cobain had quoted Young's "It's better to burn out than fade away" (a line from "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)") in his alleged suicide note, causing Young to emphasize the line "'cause once you're gone you can't come back" in live performances at the time. Other songs dealt with drive-by shootings ("Driveby"), environmentalism ("Piece of Crap") and Young's own vision of America (the archetypal car metaphor of "Trans Am"). Young was inspired to make the record after viewing Cobain's performance on MTV Unplugged. Still admired by the prime movers of grunge, Young eventually performed with Pearl Jam at the MTV Music Awards during what was described as the highlight of a lackluster show. Their collaboration led to a joint tour, with the band and producer Brendan O'Brien backing Young. The accompanying album, Mirror Ball (1995), recorded as live in the studio captured their loose rock sound, and featured the standout track "I'm the Ocean". The year of 1995 also featured Young's entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

After composing an abstract, distorted feedback-led guitar instrumental soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch's acid western film Dead Man Young recorded a series of loose jams with Crazy Horse that eventually appeared as the critically denigrated Broken Arrow. The return to Crazy Horse was prompted by the death of mentor, friend, and longtime producer David Briggs in late 1995. The subsequent tours of Europe and North America in 1996 resulted in both a live album and a tour documentary directed by Jim Jarmusch. Both releases took the name Year of the Horse.

In 1997, Young participated in the H.O.R.D.E. Festival's sixth annual tour.

In 1998, Young shared the stage with the rock band Phish at the annual Farm Aid concert, and later offered them an opportunity to headline both nights of the Bridge School Benefit concert. Phish passed on Young's offer and also declined Young's later invitation to be his backing band on a 1999 tour.

The decade ended with Looking Forward, another reunion with Crosby, Stills and Nash. The subsequent tour of the United States and Canada with the reformed super quartet was a huge success and brought in earnings of $42.1 million, making it the eighth largest grossing tour of 2000.

Young's next album, Silver & Gold (2000), contained a number of understated songs with personal lyrics, which was promoted through a mini-tour of solo acoustic shows. This style was continued in Are You Passionate? (2002), an album of love songs dedicated to his wife, Pegi.

In the aftermath of 9/11

Young's 2001 single "Let's Roll", was a tribute to the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and the passengers and crew on Flight 93 in particular. At the "America: A Tribute to Heroes" concert he performed a cover version of John Lennon's "Imagine". In 2002, Q magazine named Neil Young in their list of the "50 Bands To See Before You Die."

Young hauled out his concept album Greendale in 2003 -- about an extended family in a small town called Greendale, and how they are torn apart by a murder. Greendale was recorded with Crazy Horse members Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina. This tale of the Green family also resulted in a movie called Greendale, written and directed by Young (again using his "Bernard Shakey" pseudonym) and starring a few of his friends, who act out and lip sync the songs from the album. The film was indeed thoroughly experimental, from Young's rambling on-stage between-song narratives, to his reading apparent transcriptions of these ramblings in the liner notes. "When I was writing this I had no idea what I was doing, so I was just as surprised as you are," Young said later. Young toured extensively with the Greendale material throughout 2003 and 2004, first with a solo, acoustic version in Europe, then with a full-cast stage show in North America, Japan, and Australia. While audience reaction was sometimes mixed (drunken requests for "Southern Man" being an aesthetic impediment at most Young performances), the live stage version of Greendale was for many critics the most satisfying incarnation of the material, and bootlegs of the shows have been widely traded. The second half of each concert consisted of high-decibel renditions of Young classics such as "Hey Hey, My My," "Cinnamon Girl," "Powderfinger," and Rockin' in the Free World, as well as rarities such as "The Losing End," "The Old Country Waltz," and "Danger Bird."

Young spent the latter portion of 2004 giving a series of intimate acoustic concerts in various cities with his wife, Pegi, who is a trained vocalist and guitar player.

Recent events

On March 31, 2005, Young was admitted to a hospital in New York for treatment for a brain aneurysm. He was treated successfully by a minimally invasive neuroradiological procedure. Prior to undergoing the procedure, he wrote the first eight songs of a new album, Prairie Wind, in Nashville, with session musicians that included regular Young sideman Ben Keith on lap and pedal steel guitars. The last two songs on the album were written after his aneurysm procedure. Many of the songs, such as "Fallin' Off the Face of the Earth," seem to be inspired by Young's brush with mortality, the recent death of his father (who suffered senile dementia), as well as a connection with his Manitoba roots. Two days after the procedure, Young was forced to cancel a scheduled appearance on the Juno Awards telecast in Winnipeg when the area where the surgeons did his procedure (via the femoral artery) suddenly began to bleed. Young finally was able to return to Winnipeg in 2006 with Crosby, Stills and Nash.

He next performed on July 2, 2005, at the close of the Live 8 concert in Barrie, Ontario. He presented a new song, a soft hymn called "When God Made Me," and ended with "Rockin' in the Free World". He began his set with a cover of the Canadian folk classic "Four Strong Winds" by Ian & Sylvia Tyson. (He had recorded this song on his Comes a Time album)

On September 28, 2005, Prairie Wind was released as a regular CD, a special limited-edition CD and DVD package, and on vinyl. In an interview given to Time magazine, Young revealed that he had planned to keep the news of his aneurysm private until he had the bleeding scare, after which he decided to make news of his condition public.

In 2006, Neil Young: Heart of Gold, a film made by Jonathan Demme, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Filmed over two nights at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee during the premiere of Prairie Wind, it includes both new and old songs as well as behind-the scenes-commentary by Young, his wife Pegi and others.

In April 2006, Young confirmed on his website that he was going to release an album full of protest songs, titled Living with War, one of whose songs is titled "Let's Impeach the President." Recorded using his famous Les Paul electric guitar, "Old Black," along with Chad Cromwell (drums), Rick Rosas (bass), and Tommy Brea (trumpet), it was intended to be a stinging rebuke of U.S. President George W. Bush and the War in Iraq. The album was recorded in a two week period in April, and was then made available over the internet from 28 April 2006 before being released as a CD on 5 May. Living with War was Young's most talked about release for years, creating heated political debate and a return to form with perhaps his most critically-acclaimed album since the early 1990s "Godfather of Grunge" era when he was hailed as major influences on grunge pioneers Pearl Jam and seminal indie band Sonic Youth among others.

In April 2006, it was announced that Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young would embark on their "Freedom Of Speech Tour '06" with Chad Cromwell and Rick Rosas making up the rhythm section. The tour would see them play dates all across North America. The entire Living with War album was performed on the tour, in addition to other CSN and Neil Young classics such as "Ohio" and "Rockin' in the Free World."

In September 2006, the first release from his long awaited Archives project was announced. Live at the Fillmore East features a live set with Crazy Horse including Danny Whitten from 1970. Young had stated in interviews that the release would be followed by a much larger box set of recordings from his early career.

In October 2006, it was announced that a rough-mix version of Living with War, titled Living with War - Raw, would be made available for digital download on November 7. It was also announced that a CD/DVD set of this early version of the album would be released on December 19. The DVD includes videos directed by Young of every song on the album, and contain footage of the Iraq War, demonstrations in the US, and Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. However, when the CD was released, it was titled Living with War: In the Beginning.

It was announced January 16, 2007 that the next release in the Archives Performance Series project would be from January 19, 1971 where Neil performed at Toronto's Massey Hall. The new release, titled Live at Massey Hall 1971 was released March 13.

The first installment of Young's oft-delayed box set The Archives Vol. 1 1963-1972 was officially announced with a trailer and website The box set will feature 8 CDs and 2 DVDs comprising unreleased studio and live recordings, film footage, photographs and personal letters. Also accompanying the release is a 150-page book.

It was announced in August 2007 that Neil Young's Greendale will be made into a graphic novel. A release date has yet to be confirmed.

On August 15, 2007, Young played a new album for 100 people at Reprise Records entitled Chrome Dreams II. (Chrome Dreams was an album he scrapped in 1977, and the name of two different bootlegs.) The new album includes two long songs that time in at 18:13 ("Ordinary People") and 14:31 ("No Hidden Path"), respectively. The album consists of three songs written previously and seven new songs, all by Young. The album was released on October 23, 2007, timed to coincide with a seven-week tour that had kicked off in Boise, Idaho, ten days earlier. On January 25, 2008 the premiere of Young's latest work CSNY Deja Vu was viewed at the Sundance Movie Festival.

On February 11, Neil Young started the European leg of his tour with a concert in Antwerp, Belgium. Young will headline the 2009 Big Day Out festival in New Zealand and Australia, as well as performing sideshows in each city on the tour. Due to production issues, not economic or slow blu-ray adoption, the Archives have been again delayed until Jan or Feb of 2009.The latest NY Performance Series release of NYPS 1 Sugar Mountain Live 1968 will be released November 25, 2008.

Young currently lives on a 1500-acre (6 km²) ranch in La Honda, California, called Broken Arrow. He also owns property in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and on the islands of Hawaii.

Influence, importance and inspiration

Neil Young has undeniably been an important artist in the history of American popular music and remains a distinct influence upon other recording artists. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s "Sweet Home Alabama" was written in response to two of Neil Young’s songs "Southern Man" and "Alabama". "Ohio" which Young recorded with Crosby, Stills and Nash, was a recollection of the tragic events that transpired at Kent State University in May 1970. Young's willingness to be politically outspoken and socially conscious allowed him to influence such important artists such as Phish, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana. Neil Young is referred to as "the Godfather of Grunge" because of the influence he had on Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder and the entire grunge movement. Kurt Cobain quoted Neil Young in his suicide note, using the line “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away” from Young’s song "My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)". Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam inducted Neil Young into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, citing him as a huge influence. He has also been a big influence on experimental rock acts like Sonic Youth and Radiohead. Young’s influence, importance and inspiration within the music scene derive in part from his longevity because of a career spanning more than four decades. His first album was released in 1966 and his latest in 2007.

The Australian rock group Powderfinger attribute their group name to their love of Young.


Young was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1982. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: first in 1995 for his solo work, with an induction speech given by Eddie Vedder, and again in 1997 as a member of Buffalo Springfield.

He has also directed four movies under his pseudonym Bernard Shakey, and released them through his own Shakey Pictures imprint: Journey Through the Past (1973), Rust Never Sleeps (1979) Human Highway (1982) (starring new wave band Devo), and Greendale (2003). The bonus DVDs included in both versions of Greendale and in Prairie Wind are also directed by Young under the Bernard Shakey alias, and all of Young's home video and DVD releases have been co-released under the Shakey Pictures imprint.

As one of the original founders of Farm Aid, he remains an active member of the board of directors. For one weekend each October, in Mountain View, California, he and his wife host the Bridge School Concerts, which have been drawing international talent and sell-out crowds for nearly two decades with some of the biggest names in rock having performed at the event including Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, The Who, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth and Sir Paul McCartney. The concerts are a benefit for the Bridge School, which develops and uses advanced technologies to aid in the instruction of children with disabilities. Young's involvement stems at least partially from the fact that both of his sons have cerebral palsy and his daughter, like Young himself, has epilepsy.

Young was nominated for an Oscar in 1994 for his song "Philadelphia" from the film Philadelphia (Bruce Springsteen won the award for his song "Streets of Philadelphia" from the same film). In his acceptance speech, Springsteen said that "the award really deserved to be shared by the other nominee's song." That same night, Tom Hanks accepted the Oscar for Best Actor and gave credit for his inspiration to the song "Philadelphia".

He was part owner of Lionel, LLC, a company that makes toy trains and model railroad accessories. In 2008 Lionel emerged from bankruptcy and his shares of the company were wiped out. At this time his status with Lionel is unknown, according to Lionel CEO Jerry Calabrese he is still a consultant for Lionel. He was instrumental in the design of the Lionel Legacy control system for model trains and it is believed he will continue to develop the system. Young has been named as co-inventor on seven U.S. Patents related to model trains: Nos. 7,264,208; 7,211,976; 6,765,356; 5,749,547; 5,555,815; 5,441,223; and 5,251,856

Young has twice received honorary doctorates. First in 1992, an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario and secondly in 2006, an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from San Francisco State University. The latter honour was shared with his wife Pegi for their creation of the Bridge School.

In a "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" list in the June 1996 issue of Mojo magazine, Young was ranked No. 9.

In 2000, Young was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame He ranked No. 39 on VH1's 100 Greatest Artist of Hard Rock that same year.

In 2001, Young was awarded the Spirit of Liberty award from the civil liberties group People for the American Way.

In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Neil Young #34 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time

In 2006, Paste Magazine compiled a "Greatest Living Songwriters" list; Young was ranked No. 2 behind Bob Dylan. (While Young and Dylan have occasionally played together in concert, they have never collaborated on a song together, or played on each others' records).

Jason Bond, an East Carolina University biologist, discovered a new species of trapdoor spider in 2007, and named it Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi after Young, his favorite singer.


Neil Young is a collector of second-hand guitars, but in recording and performing, he frequently uses just a few instruments. As explained by his longtime guitar technician Larry Cragg in the film Neil Young: Heart of Gold, they include:

  • 1953 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop—Nicknamed "Old Black", this is Young's primary electric guitar and is featured on Rust Never Sleeps and most other albums. Old Black got its name from a purely amateur paintjob applied to the originally-gold body of the instrument, sometime before Neil acquired the guitar in the late 1960s. In 1972, a mini-humbucker pickup from a Gibson Firebird guitar was installed into the lead/treble position, replacing a P-90 as standard on Les Paul guitars from that era. This pickup, severely microphonic, is considered a crucial component of Neil's sound. A Bigsby vibrato tailpiece was installed as early as 1969 on the guitar, and can be heard clearly during the opening of "Cowgirl in the Sand" from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. This guitar also features a mini-switch that is used to send the signal from the mini-humbucker direct to the amp, without going through the volume or tone controls. A Les Paul Gold Top of the same year as Old Black was assembled by Neil's guitar tech, using same style Firebird pick up in the guitar as well as the same model Bigsby Vib; but, according to Young, was just not the same as the original. Young acquired Old Black from Jim Messina, swapping one of his Gretches for it in 1969 while Messian was assisting Young on his first solo album. Messina, who played briefly in Buffalo Springfield and produced the band's final album, "Last Time Around," still has the Gretch in his possession.
  • Martin D-45—His primary steel-string acoustic guitar; used to write "Old Man" and many other hit songs.
  • Martin D-28—Nicknamed "Hank" after its previous owner, Hank Williams. The guitar came into Young's possession after Hank Williams, Jr. had traded it to another owner for some shotguns and it went through a succession of other owners until it was located by Young's longtime friend Grant Boatwright. The guitar was purchased by Young from Tut Taylor. Young has toured with it for over 30 years. A story about the guitar and inspired song known as "This Old Guitar" can be seen about 50 minutes into the film Neil Young: Heart of Gold. It is Young's primary guitar for the album, Prairie Wind.
  • Neil Young can be seen playing a Martin Backpacker Travel Guitar as he sings "Let's Impeach the President" on The Colbert Report on Comedy Central.
  • A 12-string Taylor 855 is used in the first half of the soundtrack and concert film "Rust Never Sleeps"
  • 1927 Gibson Mastertone—A six-string banjo, tuned like a guitar. It has been used on many recordings and was played by James Taylor on "Old Man".
  • Various vintage Fender Tweed Deluxe amplifiers— Young's preferred amplifier for electric guitar is the diminutive Fender Deluxe, specifically a Tweed-era model from 1959. Neil purchased his first vintage Deluxe in 1967 for $50 from the drummer of Crazy Horse, Ralph Molina, and has since acquired nearly 450 different examples, all from the same era, but he maintains that it's the original model that sounds superior, and is a crucial component to his trademark sound. A notable and unique accessory to Young's Deluxe is the Whizzer, a device created specifically for Young, which physically changes the amplifier's settings to pre-set combinations. It has gone through many incarnations, and now includes effects pedals hardwired into its circuitry.
  • Gretsch 6120 (Chet Atkins)—Before Young bought Old Black, this was his primary electric guitar used during his Buffalo Springfield days.
  • Gretsch White Falcon – Late '50s hollow body that Young purchased near the end of the Buffalo Springfield era; in 1969 Young acquired a stereo version of the same vintage guitar from Stills, and this instrument is featured prominently during Young's early '70s period, and can be heard on tracks like "Ohio," "Southern Man," "Alabama," "L.A.," others. It is Neil's primary electric guitar during the Harvest era.
  • Neil Young replaced his trademark Les Paul for a Gibson Flying V on the "Time Fades Away" tour.
  • Neil Young played a Fender Broadcaster on the Tonight's the Night tour and album.


See also the discographies for Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

See also



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  • Skinker, Chris (1998). "Neil Young". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 607.
  • Adria, Marco, "My Crazy Old Uncle, Neil Young," Music of Our Times: Eight Canadian Singer-Songwriters (Toronto: Lorimer, 1990), pp. 45-64.
  • "Clanging New York Subways, Screeches Intact, Go Miniature ", by Michael Brick; New York Times, September 21, 2006
  • Shakey: Neil Young's Biography, Jimmy McDonough,pp 347-360.
  • Neil Young, the Rolling Stones Files: the Ultimate Compendium of Interviews, Articles, Facts, and Opinions from the Files of Rolling Stone, published by Rolling Stone Press in 1994, ISBN 0-7868-8043-0
  • The Faber Encyclopedia of Rock, Phil Hardy, Dave Laing (editors)


  • Don't Be Denied: the Canadian Years, John Einarson, published by Quarry Press in 1992, ISBN 1-55082-044-3
  • A Dreamer of Pictures, David Downing, published by Bloomsbury in 1994, ISBN 0-7475-1881-5
  • Neil and Me, Scott Young, published by McClelland and Stewart in 1997, ISBN 0-7710-9099-4
  • Neil Young: Zero to Sixty: A Critical Biography, Johnny Rogan, published by Omnibus Press in 2000, ISBN 0-9529540-4-4
  • Neil Young : reflections in broken glass, Sylvie Simmons, published by MOJO Books in 2001, ISBN 1-84195-084-X
  • Neil Young Nation, by Kevin Chong; published by Greystone Books, 2005, ISBN 1-55365-116-2
  • Neil on himself: Neil Young: In His Own Words, by Michael Heatley; published by Omnibus Press, 1997, ISBN 0-7119-6161-1
  • Neil on himself: Greendale, The Book, by Neil Young, James Mazzeo; published by Sanctuary Publishing, 2004, ISBN 1-86074-622-5
  • Neil Young, Carole Dufrechou, published by Quick Fox in 1978, ISBN 0-7119-0092-2

External links

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