About Neil Young
Neil Percival Young, OC OM is a Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, producer, director and screenwriter. Neil began performing in a group covering Shadows instrumentals in Canada in 1960. In 1966, after a brief stint with the Rick James-fronted Mynah Birds, he moved to Los Angeles, where he formed Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and others. Young had released two solo albums by the time he joined Crosby, Stills & Nash in 1969, in addition to two as a member of Buffalo Springfield. From his early solo albums and those with his backing band Crazy Horse, Young has recorded a steady stream of studio and live albums, sometimes warring with his recording company along the way.
Neil Young was born on November 12, 1945, in Toronto, Ontario. His father, Scott Alexander Young (1918–2005), was a journalist and sportswriter who also wrote fiction. His mother, Edna Blow Ragland “Rassy” Young (1918–1990) was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Although Canadian, his mother had American and French ancestry. 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”. Young suffered from polio in 1951 during the last major outbreak of the disease in Ontario. (The Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, then aged nine, also contracted the virus during this epidemic.) After his recovery, the Young family vacationed in Florida.
During that period, Young briefly attended Chisolm 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. At the age of twelve, his father, who had several extramarital affairs, left his mother. His mother asked for a divorce which was granted in 1960. Young went to live with his mother, who moved back to Winnipeg, while his brother Bob stayed with his father in Toronto.
In the the mid-fifties, Young listened to rock ‘n roll, rockabilly, doo-wop, R&B, country, and western pop. He idolized Elvis Presley and later referred to him in a number of his songs. Other early musical influences included Link Wray, Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs, The Ventures, Cliff Richard and the Shadows, Chuck Berry, Hank Marvin, Little Richard, Fats Domino, The Chantels, The Monotones, Ronnie Self, the Fleetwoods, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Gogi Grant. Young first began to play music himself on a plastic ukulele, before, as he would later relate, going on to “a better ukulele to a banjo ukulele to a baritone ukulele – everything but a guitar”.
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. 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”. The band played in Fort William (now part of the city of Thunder Bay, Ontario), where they recorded a series of demos produced by a local producer, Ray Dee, who Young called “the original Briggs”. While playing at The Flamingo, Young met Stephen Stills whose band the Company were playing the same venue, and they became friends. The Squires played in several dance halls and clubs in Winnipeg and Ontario.
After leaving the Squires, Young worked folk clubs in Winnipeg, where he first met Joni Mitchell. Mitchell recalls Young as having been highly influenced by Bob Dylan at the time. Here he wrote some of his earliest and most enduring folk songs such as “Sugar Mountain”, about lost youth. Mitchell wrote “The Circle Game” in response.The Winnipeg band The Guess Who (with Randy Bachman as lead guitarist) had a Canadian Top 40 hit with Young’s “Flying on the Ground is Wrong”, which was Young’s first major success as a songwriter.
In 1965 Young toured Canada as a solo artist. In 1966, while in Toronto, he joined the 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 Navy Reserve. After the Mynah Birds disbanded, Young and the bass player Bruce Palmer relocated to Los Angeles. Young admitted in a 2009 interview that he was in the United States illegally until he received a “green card” (permanent residency permit) in 1970.
Neil Young Career
Buffalo Springfield (1966–68)
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 (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.
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, “Mr. Soul”, “Expecting to Fly”, and “Broken Arrow”, 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 performed 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 soundbite of Dewey Martin singing “Mr. Soul” and closing it with the thumping of a heartbeat. “Expecting to Fly” was a lushly produced ballad similar to the baroque pop of the mid-1960s, featuring a string arrangement that Young’s co-producer for the track, Jack Nitzsche, would dub “symphonic pop”.
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In May 1968, the band split up for good, but to fulfill a contractual obligation, a final album, Last Time Around, was released, 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 and Roll Hall of Fame; Young did not appear at the ceremony. The three surviving members, Furay, Stills and Young, appeared together as Buffalo Springfield at Young’s annual Bridge School Benefit on October 23–24, 2010, and at Bonnaroo in the summer of 2011.
Going solo, Crazy Horse (1968–69)
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 manages Young to this day. Young and Roberts immediately began work on Young’s first solo record, Neil Young (January 22, 1969), which received mixed reviews. In a 1970 interview, 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).
Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young (1969–70)
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. 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”.
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”. 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.
Neil young Personal life
Young married his first wife, restaurant owner Susan Acevedo, in December 1968. They were together until October 1970, when she filed for divorce. From late 1970 to 1975, Young was in a long-term relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress. The song “A Man Needs a Maid” from Harvest is inspired by him seeing her in the film Diary of a Mad Housewife. They met soon afterward and she moved in with him on his new ranch in northern California. They have a son, Zeke, who was born September 8, 1972.
Young met future wife Pegi Young (née Morton) in 1974 when she was working as a waitress at a diner near his ranch, a story he tells in the 1992 song “Unknown Legend”. They married in 1978 and have two children together, Ben and Amber. Both Ben and Zeke are diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and Amber with Epilepsy. Young lived on Broken Arrow Ranch, about a thousand acres near La Honda, California. The couple were musical collaborators and co-founded the Bridge School in 1986. On July 29, 2014, Young filed for divorce after 36 years of marriage. He gave Pegi the ranch and moved to Los Angeles with his current partner, Daryl Hannah.
Young is an environmentalist and outspoken advocate for the welfare of small farmers, having co-founded in 1985 the benefit concert Farm Aid. He is currently working on a documentary about electric car technology, tentatively titled LincVolt. The project involves his 1959 Lincoln Continental converted to hybrid technology as an environmentalist statement. In 1986, Young helped found The Bridge School, an educational organization for children with severe verbal and physical disabilities, and its annual supporting Bridge School Benefit concerts, together with his ex-wife Pegi Young.
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. He was instrumental in the design of the Lionel Legacy control system for model trains, and remains on the board of directors of Lionel. He has been named as co-inventor on seven US patents related to model trains.
Pono is a high-resolution digital music-download service, and music player being developed by Young, designed to compete against MP3 and other formats. Pono promises to present songs “as they first sound during studio recording”. It was released to backers in October 2014 and officially launched in January 2015.
Young has long held that the digital audio formats in which most people download music are deeply flawed, and do not provide the rich, warm sound of analog recordings. He is acutely aware of the difference and compares it with taking a shower in tiny ice cubes vs. ordinary water. Young and his company PonoMusic developed Pono, a music download-service and dedicated music player focusing on “high-quality” uncompressed digital audio. The service and the selling of the player launched in October 2014.