“As a group of musicians, they were absolutely the peak,” Neil Young says of the International Harvesters, the band of country music veterans he played with on his new live album A Treasure, which was recorded on tour in 1984 and 1985.
The band toured without an album, or support from Geffen, Young’s record label, which sued the singer in 1984 for exploring a country sound deemed “artistically uncharacteristic.” Young had already explored electronic music (1982’s Trans) and rockabilly (1983’s Everybody’s Rockin) since signing to the label. “I just went wherever I felt like I was going at that time,” Young says in our interview, adding, “I created some friction doing that. But in the end, I created a body of work that I’m very proud of – and this is the absolute cornerstone.”
He couldn’t have picked a better team to explore a traditional country sound: the band included pedal steel and slide player Ben Keith, fiddle player Rufus Thibodeaux, pianist Spooner Oldham and Hargus “Pig” Robbins, bassists Tim Drummond and Joe Allen, guitarist Anthony Crawford and drummer Karl Himmel. Thibodeaux played with George Jones and Lefty Frizzell; Robbins has backed Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn and Allen has worked with Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings.
In this interview shot at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville on Monday, Young tells Rolling Stone‘s Patrick Doyle why he went country, why he considers this band his peak and why he’ll never sing “Old Man” with a band again now that Ben Keith has passed away.