Neil Percival Young, OM (born November 12, 1945) is a Canadian singer-songwriter, musician and film director. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist in 1995 and also as a member of Buffalo Springfield in 1997.
Young's work is characterized by deeply personal lyrics, distinctive guitar work, and signature tenor singing voice. Although he accompanies himself on several different instruments???including piano and harmonica, his clawhammer acoustic guitar style and often idiosyncratic electric guitar soloing 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 ("Heart of Gold", "Harvest Moon" and "Old Man") and electric-charged hard rock (like "Cinnamon Girl", "Rockin' in the Free World" and "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)"). In recent years, Young has adopted elements from newer styles like industrial, alternative country and grunge. Young's profound influence on the latter caused some to dub him "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 D?©j? Vu (2008). He is currently working on a documentary about electric car technology, tentatively titled Linc/Volt. The project involves a 1959 Lincoln Continental converted to hybrid technology, which Young plans to drive to Washington, DC as an example to lawmakers there.
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 (in this, 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).
Although Young has lived in northern California since the 1970s and sings as frequently about U.S. themes and subjects as he does about his native country, he retains Canadian citizenship, which he has never wanted to relinquish.
Neil Young was born in Toronto, Ontario, to sportswriter and novelist Scott Young and Edna Ragland (known as Rassy), who had moved to Toronto from their family home in Manitoba to pursue a sport journalism career. Neil spent his early childhood in the Toronto suburb of Pickering and the village of Omemee, 130 kilometres (81 mi) 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 his music career began. Neil and his mother 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".
Neil also formed a friendship with musician Randy Bachman. According to Tim Bachman (Randy's younger brother, and former B.T.O. guitarist), "We knew Neil back in the late 50s, early 60s. In fact Randy used to try and give Neil guitar lessons because Neil couldn't precisely copy the top 40 tunes back then. Neil was Neil and that was it. Randy kicked him out of our house and told him to quit the business, be something else! 1 year later to the day we received the 1st Buffalo Springfield album in the mail. On the back in the liner notes was a thank you from Neil to Randy for kicking him out of Winnipeg! He went to San Francisco and the rest is history."
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 lost youth. Mitchell wrote "The Circle Game" in response. Winnipeg band The Guess Who had a Top 40 Canadian hit with Young's "Flying on the Ground is Wrong," which was Young's first major hit as a song-writer.
Many of the rare recordings from Young's Winnipeg years were finally re-released on Vol. 1 of Neil Young's Archives (2009).
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 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.
Main article: 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 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 & Roll Hall of Fame; Young did not appear at the ceremony.
Crazy Horse & CSNY
Main articles: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Crazy Horse
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 Roberts 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 ?°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 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 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, D?©j? Vu, 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.
"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.
Solo album 'Harvest' leads to chart-topping success
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 and "Heart of Gold" became a US number one single. 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. Traveling 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 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
Main article: 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: " 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 OD'd. 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 favorite 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."
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 led Reprise to delay and Young had to pressure them for two years before they would release it. It received mixed reviews at the time, but is now regarded as a landmark album. 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. A review of the 2003 re-release on CD of On the Beach described the music as "mesmerizing, harrowing, lucid, and bleary."
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".
Neil Young in Austin, Texas on November 9, 1976
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 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 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 prot?©g?© 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 often difficult times for Young, both personally and professionally. At the start of the decade, distracted by domestic medical concerns relating to his disabled son, Ben, Young had little time to spend on writing and recording. After providing the incidental music to a 1980 biopic of Hunter S. Thompson entitled Where the Buffalo Roam, Young released Hawks & Doves, a short record pieced together from sessions going back to 1974. 1981's Re-ac-tor, an electric album recorded with Crazy Horse, also included material from the 1970s. Young did not tour in support of either album; in total, he played only one show, a set at the 1980 Bread and Roses Festival in Berkeley, between the end of his 1978 tour with Crazy Horse and the start of his tour with the Trans Band in mid-1982.
The 1982 album Trans, which incorporated vocoders, synthesizers, and electronic beats, was Young's first for new label Geffen Records and represented a distinct stylistic departure. Young later revealed that an inspiration for the album was the theme of technology and communication with his son Ben, who has severe cerebral palsy and cannot speak. An extensive tour preceded the release of the album, and was documented by the video Neil Young in Berlin, which saw release in 1986.
Young's next album, 1983's Everybody's Rockin', included several rockabilly covers and clocked in at less than twenty-five minutes in length. Young was backed by the Shocking Pinks for the supporting U.S. tour. Trans had already drawn the ire of label head David Geffen for its lack of commercial appeal, and with Everybody's Rockin' following only seven months later, Geffen Records sued Young for making music "unrepresentative" of himself. The album was also notable as the first for which Young made commercial music videos - Tim Pope directed the videos for "Wonderin'" and "Cry, Cry, Cry". Also premiered in 1983, though little seen, was an eclectic full-length comedy film Human Highway, co-directed and co-written by Young, and starring Young and members of Devo.
1984 was the first year without a Neil Young album since the start of Young's musical career with Buffalo Springfield in 1966. Young's lack of productivity was largely due to the ongoing legal battle with Geffen, although he was also frustrated that the label had rejected his 1982 country album Old Ways. Young spent most of 1984 and all of 1985 touring for Old Ways 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, teaming up with Crosby, Stills and Nash for the quartet's first performance for a paying audience in over ten years.
Young's last two albums for Geffen were more conventional in genre, although they incorporated production techniques like synthesizers and echoing drums that were previously uncommon in Young's music. Young recorded 1986's Landing on Water without Crazy Horse, but reunited with the band for the subsequent year-long tour and final Geffen album, Life, which emerged in 1987. Young's album sales dwindled steadily throughout the eighties; today Life remains his all-time-least successful studio album, with an estimated four hundred thousand sales worldwide.
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). The addition of a brass section provided a new jazzier sound, and the title track of 1988's This Note's For You became Young's first hit single of the decade. Accompanied by a video that parodied corporate rock, the pretensions of advertising, and Michael Jackson, the song was initially unofficially banned by MTV for mentioning the brand names of some of their sponsors. Young wrote an open letter, "What does the M in MTV stand for: music or money?" Despite this, the video was eventually being named best video of the year by the network in 1989.
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.
1990s: re-return to prominence
Neil Young, Performing in Spain
Young's 1989 single "Rockin' in the Free World", which hit #2 on the U.S. charts, and accompanying 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 Bush-era government policies.
The use of heavy feedback and distortion on several Freedom tracks was reminiscent of the Rust Never Sleeps album, and foreshadowed the imminent rise of grunge. The rising stars of the genre, including Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, frequently cited Young as a major influence, contributing to his popular revival. A tribute album called The Bridge: A Tribute to Neil Young was released in 1989, featuring covers by alternative and grunge acts including Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, Soul Asylum, Dinosaur Jr,and The Pixies.
Young's 1990 album Ragged Glory, recorded with Crazy Horse in a barn on his Northern California ranch, continued this distortion-heavy aesthetic. Young toured for the album with Orange County, California country-punk band Social Distortion and alternative rock elder statesmen Sonic Youth as support, much to the consternation of many of his old fans. Weld, a two-disc live album documenting the tour, was released in 1991. Sonic Youth's influence was most evident on Arc, a 35-minute collage of feedback and distortion spliced together at the suggestion of Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and originally packaged with some versions of Weld.
1992's Harvest Moon marked an abrupt return to the country and folk-rock stylings of Harvest 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. Young also contributed to Randy Bachman's nostalgic 1992 tune "Prairie Town," and garnered a 1993 Academy Award nomination for his song "Philadelphia", from the soundtrack of the Jonathan Demme movie of the same name. An MTV Unplugged performance and album emerged in 1993. Later that year, Young teamed up with Booker T. and the MGs for a summer tour of Europe and North America. Some European shows ended with a rendition of "Rockin' in the Free World" played with Pearl Jam, foreshadowing their eventual full-scale collaboration two years later.
In 1994 Young again teamed up with Crazy Horse for Sleeps with Angels, a record whose dark, somber mood was influenced by Kurt Cobain's death earlier that year; the title track in particular dealt with Cobain's life and death, without mentioning him by name. Cobain had quoted Young's lyric "It's better to burn out than fade away" (a line from "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)") in his suicide note, causing Young to emphasize the line "'cause once you're gone you can't come back" in his live performances. Young had reportedly made repeated attempts to contact Cobain prior to his death. Still enamored with the grunge scene, Young reconnected with Pearl Jam in 1995 for the live-in-the-studio album Mirror Ball and a tour of Europe with the band and producer Brendan O'Brien backing Young. 1995 also marked Young's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"...Young has consistently demonstrated the unbridled passion of an artist who understands that self-renewal is the only way to avoid burning out. For this reason, he has remained one of the most significant artists of the rock and roll era..???
- from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's website.
Young's next collaborative partner was filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, who asked Young to compose a soundtrack to his 1995 acid western film Dead Man. Young's instrumental soundtrack was improvised while he watched the film alone in a studio. The death of longtime mentor, friend, and producer David Briggs in late 1995 prompted Young to reconnect with Crazy Horse the following year for the album and tour Broken Arrow. A Jarmusch-directed concert film and live album of the tour, Year of the Horse, emerged in 1997. From 1996-97 Young and Crazy Horse toured extensively throughout Europe and North America, including a stint as part of the H.O.R.D.E. Festival's sixth annual tour.
In 1998, Young renewed his collaboration with rock band Phish, sharing the stage at the annual Farm Aid concert and then at Young's Bridge School Benefit, where he joined headliners Phish for renditions of "Helpless" and "I Shall Be Released." Phish, however, declined Young's later invitation to be his backing band on his 1999 North American tour.
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 $42.1 million, making it the eighth largest grossing tour of 2000.
2000s: renewed activism and brush with death
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, 2001 attacks, and the passengers and crew on Flight 93 in particular. At the "America: A Tribute to Heroes" benefit concert for the victims of the attacks, Young performed John Lennon's "Imagine" and accompanied Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready on the song "Long Road", a Pearl Jam song that was written with Young during the Mirrorball sessions. "Let's Roll" was included on 2002's Are You Passionate?, an album comprised mostly of mellow love songs dedicated to Young's wife, Pegi.
In 2003, Young released Greendale, a concept album recorded with Crazy Horse members Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina. The songs loosely revolved around the murder of a police officer in a small town in California and its effects on the town's inhabitants. Young, under the pseudonym "Bernard Shakey", directed an accompanying film of the same name, featuring actors lip-synching to the music from the album. 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. Young spent the latter portion of 2004 giving a series of intimate acoustic concerts in various cities with his wife, who is a trained vocalist and guitar player.
From left, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young and Pegi Young perform in Jonathan Demme's Neil Young: Heart of Gold..
In March 2005, while working on the Prairie Wind album in Nashville, Young was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. He was treated successfully with a minimally invasive neuroradiological procedure, performed in a New York hospital on March 29. Two days afterwards, Young passed out on a New York street from bleeding from the femoral artery, which surgeons had used to access the aneurysm. The complication forced Young to cancel his scheduled appearance at the Juno Awards telecast in Winnipeg, but within months he was back on stage, appearing at the close of the Live 8 concert in Barrie, Ontario on July 2. During the performance, he debuted a new song, a soft hymn called "When God Made Me". Young's brush with death influenced Prairie Wind's themes of retrospection and mortality. The album's live premiere in Nashville was immortalized by filmmaker Jonathan Demme in the 2006 film Neil Young: Heart of Gold.
Neil Young on the CSNY "Freedom Of Speech Tour '06"
Young's renewed activism manifested itself in the 2006 album Living With War, which was hastily recorded and released in less than a month. The album's overtly political songs rebuked U.S. President George W. Bush and the War in Iraq and included the provocatively-titled "Let's Impeach the President". Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reunited for the supporting "Freedom Of Speech Tour '06". CSNY D?©j? Vu, a concert film of the tour directed by Young was released in 2008, along with an accompanying live album.
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 and Living With War. The trend continued on 2007's Chrome Dreams II, with lyrics exploring Young's personal eco-spirituality. In 2008, Young revealed his latest project, the production of a hybrid-engine 1959 Lincoln called Lincvolt. A new album loosely based on the Lincvolt project, Fork in the Road, was rolled out on April 7, 2009.
A Jonathan Demme concert film from a 2007 concert in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, called the Neil Young Trunk Show premiered on March 21, 2009, at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas.
Young continues to tour extensively. Most recently, he headlined the 2009 Glastonbury Festival in Pilton, England and, after years of unsuccessful booking attempts, the Isle of Wight Festival in addition to performances at the Big Day Out festival in New Zealand and Australia and the Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona. At Hard Rock Calling 2009 where he headlined, Paul McCartney joined him on stage for his encore of "A Day In The Life."
Young currently lives in La Honda, California on the 1500-acre (6 km??) Broken Arrow Ranch, purchased in 1970 and named after one of Young's early Buffalo Springfield songs.
He is currently a season ticketholder of the San Jose Sharks.
Influence, importance and inspiration
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Neil Young has been an undeniably important artist (the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website begins their article on Young stating flatly that "Neil Young is one of rock and roll???s greatest songwriters and performers") in the history of American, Canadian and worldwide 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 Blind Melon, 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. Dave Matthews lists Neil Young as one of his favorite and most inspirational songwriters and covers his songs on occasion. The British Indie act The Bluetones named their number one debut album after the song 'Expecting to Fly' (written by Young when still with Buffalo Springfield) and covered the song on their recent UK tour. 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.
The Australian rock group Powderfinger named themselves after Young's song "Powderfinger" from the 1979 album Rust Never Sleeps.
The members of the Constantines have occasionally played Neil Young tribute shows under the name Horsey Craze.
While in Winnipeg on November 2, 2008 during the Canadian leg of his tour, Bob Dylan visited Young's former home in River Heights, where Neil spent some of his teenage years. Dylan was interested in seeing the room where some of Neil's first songs were composed.
Young in June 2008
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 five 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) and the documentary, CSNY Deja Vu (2008). 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.
Young has twice received honorary doctorates. He received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario in 1992, and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from San Francisco State University in 2006. 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 2003, Rolling Stone listed Young at #83 in its rankings of "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time", describing him as a "restless experimenter...who transform the most obvious music into something revelatory."
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 (a previous similar case was the dinousaur Masiakasaurus knopfleri named after the musician Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits).
In 2008, Rolling Stone ranked Young at #37 in its list of "The 100 Greatest Singers of All-Time".
In 2009, He was nominated for a Grammy for Best Solo Rock Vocal performance.
It has been announced that he will be honored as the MusiCares Person of the Year on January 29, 2010, two nights prior to the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards.
Neil Young, 2008 in Florence
Neil Young is a collector of second-hand guitars, but in recording and performing, he frequently uses just a few instruments, as is 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 other albums. Old Black got its name from an 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 was installed in the lead/treble position. This pickup, severely microphonic, is considered a crucial component of Neil's sound. A Bigsby vibrato tailpiece was installed as early as 1969, and can be heard during the opening of "Cowgirl in the Sand" from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.
Martin D-45. His primary steel-string acoustic guitar, used to write "Old Man" and many other songs.
Martin D-28. Nicknamed "Hank" after its previous owner, Hank Williams. Hank Williams, Jr., had traded it for some shotguns; 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 the song it inspired, "This Old Guitar," can be seen about 50 minutes into the film Neil Young: Heart of Gold. It is Young's primary guitar for Prairie Wind.
Other notable (or odd) instruments played by Young include:
Vagabond Travel Guitar, used for "Let's Impeach the President" on The Colbert Report.
Taylor 855 12-string, used in the first half of Rust Never Sleeps.
1927 Gibson Mastertone, a six-string banjo tuned like a guitar, used on many recordings and played by James Taylor on "Old Man."
Gretsch 6120 (Chet Atkins model). Before Young bought Old Black, this was his primary electric guitar during his Buffalo Springfield days.
Gretsch White Falcon. Young purchased a late 1950s model near the end of the Buffalo Springfield era; in 1969 he bought a stereo version of the same vintage guitar from Stephen Stills, and this instrument is featured prominently during Young's early '70s period, and can be heard on tracks like "Ohio," "Southern Man," "Alabama," and "L.A.". It was Young's primary electric guitar during the Harvest era, since Young's deteriorating back condition (eventually fixed with surgery) made playing the much heavier Les Paul difficult. This particular White Falcon is the stereo 6137, in which the signal from the three bass strings is separated from the signal from the three treble strings. Young typically plays this guitar in this stereo mode, sending the separate signals to two different amps, a Fender Deluxe and either a Fender Tremolux or a low-powered Tweed Fender Twin. The separation of the signals is most prominently heard on the Harvest song "Words."
Gibson Flying V, on the Time Fades Away tour.
Fender Broadcaster, on the Tonight's the Night album and tour.
Young uses various vintage Fender Tweed Deluxe amplifiers. His preferred amplifier for electric guitar is the Fender Deluxe, specifically a Tweed-era model from 1959. He 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 crucial to his trademark sound. The Tweed Deluxe is almost always used in conjunction with a late-1950's Magnatone 280 (similar to the amp used by Lonnie Mack and Buddy Holly). The Magnatone and the Deluxe are paired together in a most unusual manner: the external speaker jack from the Deluxe sends the amped signal through a volume potentiometer and directly into the input of the Magnatone. The Magnatone is notable for its true pitch-bending vibrato capabilities, which can be heard as an electric piano amplifier on "See the Sky About to Rain". 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.