An interview with Neil Young

January 28, 2020 • 3:00 pm

Here are two interviews with Neil Young that were made fifteen years ago but apparently have just been released by the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville. Both videos are noted as having been “recorded in the Masterlink Studio in Nashville, TN on June 29, 2005.”

In this first interview (it doesn’t really “reveal the secrets to hit records”), Neil gives credit to musicians who are often seen as less important than the “front men” in bands, including studio groups and arrangers. Listen to why he thought Jimi Hendrix was the greatest guitar innovator of the era.  And he gives huge credit to the underappreciated J. J. Cale. Young obviously has a percipient take on rock music, able to suss out influences that the rest of us can’t. I have to say that he’s a lot more articulate than I thought given his reputation as a wild man.

If you want to hear the first fuzz tone in rock mentioned by Neil, the relevant Marty Robbins song, “Don’t Worry” is here, and the fuzz tone appears at 1:27.

And here’s the second part about what instruments and accoutrements Young uses. There’s a lot of technical stuff here, but I still find it interesting, especially how the musicians swapped guitars.

31 thoughts on “An interview with Neil Young

  1. I’ve probably watched every interview with Neil on the internet. He’s always very funny, charming and insightful, but I’ve never seen him quite as talkative as here. But he’s not talking about himself, but rather giving credit to all the great musicians he’s been influenced by and worked with.

    His (first) book, Waging Heavy Peace, written a few years ago is wonderful too — very honest, unassuming, and quite touching in places.

    He set up a school for handicapped kids, as he has a son with cerebral palsy. He also started developing ways for his non-verbal son to communicate using a computer — that was the motivation for his album ‘Trans’ in the 80s that annoyed so many people. (The song Transformer Man is about his son.) Here he is being interviewed by a couple of kids from the school, who use their computers to ask questions (and eventually tease him). You can see how comfortable Neil is with this form of communication, having done it for many years.

  2. MORT 2 [a.k.a. “Mortimer Hearseburg 2”], THE VEHICLE THAT STARTED IT ALL:
    [well, one much less shiny coffin wagon, similar to the above]

    Mort 2, a black, 1953 Pontiac hearse was what led to the formation of BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD

    While in Toronto in early 1966, Young met Bruce Palmer, a Canadian who was playing bass for The Mynah Birds. In need of a lead guitarist, Palmer invited Young to join the group, and Young accepted. The Mynah Birds were set to record an album for Motown Records when their singer Ricky James Matthews — James Ambrose Johnson, Jr., later known as Rick James — was tracked down and arrested by the U.S. Navy for being AWOL.

    With their record deal cancelled, Young and Palmer pawned the Mynah Birds’ musical equipment and bought a 1953 Pontiac hearse, which they drove to Los Angeles. Young and Palmer arrived in L.A. hoping to meet Stephen Stills, whom Young had previously learned was living in the city. However, after almost a week of searching clubs and coffee houses, the pair had been unable to find Stills. Consequently, on April 6, 1966, Young and Palmer decided to leave Los Angeles and drive north to San Francisco. While the two were stuck in traffic on Sunset Boulevard, they were spotted by Stills & Richie Furay, who were heading the other direction down Sunset. Stills and Furay managed to switch lanes and manoeuvrer behind Young’s hearse, at which point the musicians pulled off the road and reunited.

    Some months later Mort 2 died.

    Neil Young:

    “It broke down immediately as we were going to visit, I think it was the Byrds manager, We went to their office, then we were driving back to our motel room and the driveshaft fell out on Sunset Boulevard. So that was it for that car”

    Why a hearse? Very useful for hauling musicians & gear around – “Mort 1” was the vehicle of choice for The Squires, Neil’s 1963 Winnipeg band.

    1. To use a term from the 60s, it was a trip and a half to learn that Neil Young and Rick James were bandmates. Hard to wrap my head around that but of course that was before they developed their own unique musical and performance styles.

      1. That Rick James was certainly a piece of work! A human pharmacy & general degenerate for sure. I don’t like his stuff from after he started using funk & hip-hop elements – never liked either.

        But the Mynah Birds – that’s different: There’s a track supposedly written by James & Young called It’s My Time [below] – I think Young claims he was involved in the penning, but I wonder if he did really.

        I loved what is called Northern Soul in the UK, Brit dancehall all-night sessions where a DJ plays classic US soul music [pre funk & rap!!] & some crossover stuff. Everyone dancing with an emphasis on footwork & showoffy spinning – that was my 1970/71 winter taken care of when I was 15/16, though I also liked many other genres too [unusual in that crowd].

        That one Mynah Birds track was a popular choice & I’ve just seen a website that puts it down to Rick James, R. Dean Taylor [a Northern Soul god!] & Michael Valvano. The tune is very Brit invasion R&B [Stones & Van Morrison’s Them] with Motown-style rhythm section & Motown musical breaks. That’s definitely Rick James on vocals, but the high skill level of the backing makes me think there’s some session musicians involved [as was common]. If Neil played on the released record, he’s very far back in the mix & in surfer mode or some such. 🙂

        1. The group shows promise! If they keep practicing, telling how far they can go!

          I was no fan of disco, except for the Village People, and knew nothing about Rick James until I saw Dave Chappelle’s outrageously puerile and un-PC Rick James imitations on Youtube, aided and abetted by the late Charlie Murphy, Eddie Murphy’s brother, with commentary by the real Rick James, which had me weeping with laughter, I just had to find some videos of Rick James in his prime. They’re so crazy over the top that I like them — but the video is crucial. Not audio alone; and it must be the earliest production, no epigones.

  3. And here’s Neil Young playing as a studio musician when he was in need of making a bit of extra money. His guitar solo on the bridge is scorching hot. Well, actually, all the way through his guitar is scorching hot.

    And then a very different guitar on this, once again as a studio musician playing with Carole King.

  4. All I can say is, J. J. Cale all the way. Everyone knows Eric Clapton, who made a couple of hits with songs from J. J. Cale, and Mark Knopfler, who’s guitar style is so obviously influenced by J. J. Cale. One of the greatest underestimated musicians of our time, as far as public opinion or knowledge goes, though I think musicians know him far better than the public does. (Hellstrøm fires up his music-app and listens to J. J.)

  5. Incidentally, no one seems to have noticed this, but the great song Danger Bird (on Zuma, 1975) is Neil’s response to Skynyrd’s Free Bird. I don’t know why no one else seems to have picked that up — I find no reference to it, but it’s obvious. Autobiographical (about his break up with Carrie Snodgress), but also like a dark mirror image of Free Bird.

    1. As you know, it was Neil’s Southern Man [1970] & Alabama [rec. late 1971 in his “More Barn” barn] that gingered up Lynyrd Skynyrd to fire back with Sweet Home Alabama [rec mid-1973]. However I don’t hear a connection between Free Bird [rec Apr. ’73] & Danger Bird [rec. June ’75??] – I’ve just listened to both a couple of times. Also Danger Bird is two incomplete [I believe] songs, recorded days/weeks apart, that the producer glued together, it would be interesting to hear both prior to their gluing

      I suggest that Neil ripped Genocide [1969] somewhat by Link Wray, big Wray fan that he is – you can hear where Neil got some of his tone, pacing, chord progressions & licks by gorging on Wray:

      1. He’s often raved about how much he was influenced by Link Wray. Clear similarities between that piece and Neil’s ‘The Sultan’. Checking the authoritative bio, Shakey, the author says he played Danger Bird to Wray, and the latter was moved by it… (I’d never picked up on it being two different songs, though I must’ve read it.)

        He’s always borrowed freely from others, and not complained when others have borrowed from from (as far as I know). Compare his ‘Get Behind the Wheel’ to Tom Waits’ ‘Get Behind the Mule’…

        That’s what gives me the strong impression that Danger Bird is his response to Free Bird. He’s always playing about with things he’s seen others do and he’s liked. Thematically both ____ Bird’s are similar, only Skynyrd celebrating freedom & free love, and Neil finding it oppressive and painful.

        But given that no one else over the last 45 years have thought it was makes me somewhat of an outlier, I guess!

  6. Great Neil Young interviews! I’ve always loved his music, and have seen him live with CSN, but he had always seemed disappointingly very arrogant on the other interviews I’d seen. Here quite the contrary,

    1. He has a lot of sharp corners & he doesn’t like interviews – I get the impression he only consents to his rare interviews when he has a message to broadcast on some aspect of his activism interests [environment, racism, native peoples, corporate sponsorship, audio quality etc]. He turned into an opinionated, prickly, old geezer grumpbox at the age of five I reckon. 🙂

      He’s going to lash out if his host doesn’t know their stuff or host wants to talk at right angles to Young’s current set of obsessions – there’s two movies playing at once in his head, the outside current interactions & the internal Young monologue & they don’t always sync – he does expect to have his mind read just a little bit. Like the Alberta/Hiroshima bollocks where Neil was misinterpreted [possibly wilfully – I dunno enuf to be sure].

      This is what I mean [a bloody good listen]:

  7. November 6th 1991 interview – very interesting if you really like music & you’re still looking – don’t worry about the quality.

    Neil is being interviewed at the Mountain House Restaurant & Bar, 13808 Skyline Blvd, Woodside, CA 94062 [In the hills over Stanford University to the east of there]. That’s his watering hole to this day as it’s only a little bit of a lie away uphill [a tortuous route] from his hard-to-find Broken Arrow ranch to the west. Outside, at the beginning is his 1950 Plymouth Super Deluxe sedan.

    Some bits covered: Sonic Youth & Kim, Sex Pistols, Roy Orbison, Little Richard, Hank Williams, Jimmy Rodgers [country], Dylan, Hendrix, Stealing a truck, early rough Stones, Dire Straits, cerebral palsy [not a band]

    PART ONE [15 MINS]


    1. Though I didn’t meet Neil Young, I spent several days in a cabin at his Broken Arrow Ranch in the early 1970s, courtesy of a mutual friend who was living there at the time. To say the least, it was an unforgettable experience — otherworldly.

  8. Yo gotta love Young. Is it me or does he come across like Harrison Ford somehow – the Indiana Jones of singer songwriter musicians.

  9. I have a friend who is a classical musician. Sometimes at house concerts I’ve been around when she and her pianist friend are preparing the show. I commented once that perhaps Bismark’s (alleged) saying about laws and sausages also applies to music … but I guess if you’re here you are ok with that. 🙂

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