What's That Sound? It's Neil Young - Rolling Stone
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What’s That Sound? It’s Neil Young

From Buffalo Springfield to Crazy Horse, no matter who Neil plays with he continues to create inspired and beautiful tunes

Neil YoungNeil Young

Neil Young

Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Neil Young strutted out of the swanky-Americanese coffee shoppe at the Fenway Commonwealth Motor Hotel, on Commonwealth Avenue near Fenway Park, where the Boston Red Sox play ball. He had just finished eating lunch instead of breakfast after waking up late from a midnight concert at The Boston Tea Party, which is opposite Fenway Park.

The Tea Party had spent the week before broadcasting and advertising the one-night, one-show performance, and conservative estimates said that 200 people were turned away and another 2000 or so were sardined in, elbow to elbow and elbow to head.

Neil came on after several hours of intermissions and other groups, laboriously tuned three guitars, walked off stage, came back on and played and rapped an acoustic set of old Buffalo Springfield songs, warming everybody up for a beautifully long set with Crazy Horse. Standing ovation, hoots and howls.

Next morning I couldn’t conceive of the pleasure in his smile when we sat down on your average American motel-room twin-double and got into the kind of stoning session I might have expected to get into had we been longtime friends living on opposite coasts.

How long have you been playing guitar?
About nine years.

How old are you now . . . ?
24. I’m gettin’ tired of this too. Really it’s groovy but I don’t know how much longer I can do it.

Why is that?
I just want to do something else.

Other than music or other than touring?
After this next album I don’t know how much longer it’ll be before I put out another one; of any kind, with anyone. I think I’ll just stop for a while.

Do you lead the kind of life where you’re busy everyday with more than one thing?
Yeah, it’s like living two different lives. People who see me and come over and want to talk to me because of Crosby, Stills and Nash – are weird compared to the people I know through Crazy Horse; and then there’s the people I know who don’t have anything to do with either one of them, who are a whole other trip, and by the time the day’s over I’m just completely screwed up. I start off real well depending on which one I see first.

Is that a reflection of what was in “Broken Arrow,” of being a rock and roll star?
Yeah, that was when I was living in Hollywood, though, that’s a whole other number I was into then. I was a Hollywood Indian.

You were?
I guess so, everybody thought I was an Indian. That was when it was cool to be an Indian. I was wearin’ fringe jackets and everything. I really loved these fringe jackets I used to have with the Springfield. I dug wearing them.

What happened to them?
They died with the Springfield. A lot of changes went down in everybody’s heads when the group broke up. When we got together we thought we were gonna be together about fifteen years. We really thought it was gonna last a long time because we knew how good it was. Nobody else did, though.

You must get this question a lot, but it’s a question a lot of people want to know the answer to, so that’s probably why you get it a lot, but how do you feel now about the Springfield and ever playing with those four people again?
I sometimes think about that and I would like to do another couple of concerts with the original Buffalo Springfield, the original. I think if we could get everybody together, I’d like to do that. It’d be fun.

Has anybody tried to get it together?

Do you think it’s on Jim Messina’s mind, and . . .
Well, I know it’s on Dewey Martin’s mind, and uh, it’s on Messina’s mind probably. Although I don’t know who Steven (Stills) and I would want to use if we could get Bruce (Palmer). But you see that brings up a touchy subject of who we could get, or if we could get Jim Fielder too, from Blood, Sweat and Tears.

You could use them all, if you could . . .
Yeah, but we tried, uh, just a minute . . .

What are you looking for?
I was just looking for another number.

We were just talking about bass players . . .
Yeah, well I don’t know what bass player we’d use.

(All the while we talked over in one end of the room, Susan Young milled – as much as one can mill in a motel-room – around gathering things and getting ready to go out and see what she could see in the 90 minutes that was left over from touring a nation. Neil had spoken earlier to people from Right-A-Wrong, (Raw), who were sounding him out on what he might be willing to do to help Raw’s campaign to legalize marijuana. Neil said he thought they were doing good things, but it was obvious that he was too far into his four guitars and two bands and one wife and home in Topanga Canyon. One of the RAW people came up to the room and a brief rap on politics and ecology ensued).

Five years they’ll come around, five years. This is just starting. The hassle about pollution isn’t gonna go away. The people aren’t gonna get less uptight about it. So naturally the rate at which people respond is gonna get faster. I think five years is when things are really gonna start being done about it.

RAW: It might be a lot sooner, man.
I don’t think so. You won’t get these big plants to shut down and change things so . . .

RAW: Within four or five years there might be a very violent revolution, man, that will stop every wheel turning!
I can dig it. I hope not though, ’cause if it is I’ll be in Big Sur (laugh). I’ll be in Big Sur with my guns.

With his guns . . .
Yeah, I’ll get a big cannon if they’re gonna have a revolution. I’ll sit up on top of my studio there, with my material gains after the game, and uh, contemplate my future . . .

You were talking before about not making any more records for a while . . .
Well, I’m not sure really what I want to do because I think ahead: I’m finishing this tour, then I go home and make a Crazy Horse album, then I go out on the road for 30 or 40 days with C, S & N. It’s getting to be a lot of work. It’s getting to be no privacy at all.

Couldn’t you just say, ‘No, we’re not playing this week, or next week?’
No, I couldn’t do that. Crosby, Stills and Nash have been resting for two or three months, right; they’re ready to go back on the road, so it’s hard for me to say ‘Let’s not go on the road now, let’s wait, because I’ve been on the road playing with Crazy Horse.’ That just doesn’t seem like a very good reason to them.

Well, couldn’t they tour as Crosby, Stills and Nash and as Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young?
The reason that they asked me to join in the first place is cause they couldn’t tour just as Crosby, Stills and Nash, ’cause they haven’t gotten anybody to play the instruments.

What about Dallas Taylor and Greg Reeves??
Well yeah, bass and drums. So what have you got? Bass and drums, rhythm guitar and Steven. It’s not enough for that big sound. They want more. Few guitars, organ at the same time as piano, they wanted a big group, I guess.

How do you feel now about what has gone down with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young?
I think, uh, the tours we’ve done have been pretty successful, I don’t know, it’s blowing my mind – a lot of the applause, a lot of the reaction and everything. I don’t know how it got so big – I knew it was gonna be big and everything because when I joined them they had a lot of hype out and everything. They had a good album out, you know, and they had a rapport there . . . so I mean I knew they were gonna be pretty big but I didn’t think it was gonna be as big as this. It’s big. Makes a lot of money, and its hard to relate to after what I was doin’ before.

I meant musically, though . . . I’ve not seen the four of you play together but from what I’ve picked up in the media, you seem to take a backstage role in the group.
Yeah, I don’t really . . . well the main thing with that group is their singing, the three of them singing, you know, and they sing those three part harmony things and occasionally I sing a fourth part, but not often. It’s the same sort of general role I played in Buffalo Springfield: I play lead guitar and occasionally I’ll sing a song, and I’m quite happy to do that as long as I can do my own thing, because my songs actually require a different kind of thing than that anyway, so I’m quite happy to do them with Crazy Horse. We do most of them, they’re just different. I couldn’t do Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere with Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Did they ask you to join the group . . . how was the contact made?
Yeah, Steve came over to the house one day and asked me to join. First they didn’t want to be called Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. They just wanted it to be Crosby, Stills and Nash. They said, ‘Everybody’ll know who you are, man, don’t worry about that.’

They wanted you to do a George Harrison. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Friends . . .
No. Just Crosby, Stills and Nash . . . but anyway we got that all straightened out because, you know, the music is good, the music is exciting to me, it’s more pop than Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse is liable to have a bad night, you know, and I think Crosby, Stills and Nash just isn’t liable to have a bad night because the personalities are there. If the music isn’t happening that night, just the fact that those three guys are there makes it cool. You know if you see Clapton having a bad night, you’re still seeing Clapton . . . and that’s the way the kids feel, there’s still that other trip happening . . . 

People come to see and to hear.
Yeah, but with Crazy Horse, nobody knows who they are really, nobody’s familiar with them, except for maybe Jack (Nitzsche), and now when we go out to play . . . we’re used to playing at home, playing in the studio.

We have a studio underneath the house, a P. A. system and wood walls and everything, and its really groovy, and we play in there and that’s where we get sound . . . and like we don’t play together very much, ’cause there’s no time. Now we’ve been playin’ together for almost a month, and before that it was six months off, and together for three months before then, and that’s all we’ve played together, so we’re like about as loose as you can get . . .

Why did it take you so long to tune up last night?
Listen, I’ll tell you . . . last night didn’t take me nearly as long as the two days before that.

Really, people had waited for hours and hours for you to come on, and waited through bands that were doing a completely different type of thing than what they were waiting for, and then you came on . . .
Oh, you mean when we came out front and tuned up . . . we were tryin’ to be careful so it didn’t happen during the show. It did happen during the show anyway, but something’s been happening to my guitars during this trip where they just aren’t staying in tune at all. We were just being ultra-careful, rather than have Crazy Horse come out in the middle of the thing, after I’d done six acoustic songs, and then tune right in the middle of things, it wouldn’t make it, you know what I mean . . .

Right, but I think it was really interesting ’cause what happened was that you had not wanted to come out and tune in the middle of a show, but that little thing that you did with tuning those four guitars became a show in itself, and everybody really got into it, and then you walked off, everybody sat there in a kind of limbo . . . like we were talking about people coming to see you as well as to hear . . . well we’d just seen you tuning up for fifteen minutes and then you disappeared.
If there had been a curtain there . . . it happens everytime we play a place without a curtain, but I just won’t go out and get everything together right in the middle . . . I guess it was kind of weird, though, ’cause I did tune three guitars.

That white one you really had trouble with, people wanted to come up and help you . . . about Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, when I asked you before about what had gone down, I meant musically, because Graham Nash particularly does a really different style of music than you do . . .
Yeah, I know what you mean . . . well on the new album, I play on about five songs and sing on three . . .

Three different from the five or three out of the five?
No, three of the five . . . and the ones that I play on we mostly recorded live. Like my two songs, Helpless and Country Girl, I did the lead vocal while I was playing, all at the same time, so the drums and bass, guitar and piano were all going at once, and I was singing the lead, so my things sound different, from over-dubbing, you know. I mean, I probably could have played on all of them, ’cause you know, I can make up lines and put ’em down . . .

Was there any particular reason they were taken live?
Yeah, that’s the way I like to do it, and David likes to do it that way too, ’cause he likes to get off, he really likes to get off. So one of David’s songs, Almost Cut My Hair – yeah, that’s the name of the song, there’s gonna be a lot of reaction to that song. It’s really Crosby at what I think is his best. It’s like all live, three guitars, bass, organ and drums and its all live and there are no overdubs, one vocal and the vocal was sung live . . . we did it in San Francisco at Wally Heider’s . . . and then there’s the other way of recording, which is the way they recorded their first album. And on this second album there are about five songs that sound sort of like the first album . . . 

To tell you the truth, I didn’t like the first album. I like individual parts of it, but as an album it sounds too much like studio-music, it’s the kind of thing that gets into music through the back door, it’s this computer sound that comes out.
Yeah, yeah, I know what you mean. The sound doesn’t really come out of the studio, it somes out of the musicians, it’s true. That’s what I figure is the fault of the first album – as is the fault of my first album. It was overdubbed instead of played. People like to hear these people play together, I think. Playing live is very exicting, especially the guitars really get me off, and everybody playing at once is really groovy; but some bands prefer to do it that way.

Some bands have got to . . .
The Beatles do it that way and that accounts for the difference between the Beatles and The Stones. The Stones almost always have at least four or five guys playin’ at once … and that’s where that funny feel comes from, ’cause if you ever tried to overdub that you can’t have it, ’cause you’d get everything right . . . When somebody makes a mistake, and some other guy does another thing because a guy made a mistake, to make the mistake feel good, and somebody else comes back in, and that is all happening every beat with the Rolling Stones . . . it’s human and you’re, hearing it . . . 

It’s great; that’s what was happening last night . . . but when you first were talking about Live, were you talking about playing before an audience?
No, I’m talking about live in the studio, you know, everybody doing it . . .

Rather than one guy playing it and later having another guy see where it fits . . .
Yeah, or not even knowing what it is when he played the first one.

And C, S & N’s first album was done that way . . .
Yeah, it was all overdubbed, because Steve Stills played the organ and the guitar and the bass and the other guitar and the other organ and the keyboard and the you know . . . because they didn’t have anybody else who could play, I mean there wasn’t anybody in the group who could play any other instruments . . .

Well, why couldn’t they put down the basics and then add to it . . .
They did in some cases, but a basic put down is like bass and drums, and Dallas plays drums and Steve plays bass and sometimes they’d do it that way . . . it’s just a different way of making records, that’s the way they do it. I don’t know how to really explain it, ’cause it isn’t my way. I did one album that way and, although in a lot of cases I was happy with what happened, especially in the new pressing of that first album, it just doesn’t get off, doesn’t get off.

Except for one song, which is great: “I’ve Been Waiting For You.”
Yeah, yeah, that’s the only one that sounds like it got off, but you know all those things were played at different days, every instrument. On that cut, isn’t it incredible . . . you see that’s how it can work, every once in a while. Because when I put on the lead guitar I was really into it that day, you know, and all the moods I was in at all the times that I put those things on . . . See what I do is . . . in the beginning, we put down acoustic guitar and bass and drums, that’s the smallest track that I ever did, one guitar, bass and drums . . . and then the acoustic guitar had a bad sound and the bass wasn’t playin’ the right notes and was a little out of tune, so we did both of these over again; so then we have only one original thing “on it, which was the drums . . . but I played along with the things that I’d done before and Jimmy Messina, who played the bass on it, played the bass part over and then he made up a different bass part so we took off the first one completely and played a whole new one . . . and then we dropped the acoustic gutar, ’cause it didn’t fit with the other things that I put on . . . so then there was nothing left except for the drums. The pipe organ was put on … part of these things were done in different cities . . . 

What about the vocal? The vocal seems to be the thing that really holds it together.
The vocal was done at a different studio . . . it does stick together though, It’s very rare. It’d take you a long time to get whole album of records like that, it’s just not easy to do.

Were you not satisfied with the album as a whole, when it came out?

The first album? I was satisfied with what I’d done, as much as I could be. But then when the mastering job came out on it, it blew my mind, because I couldn’t hear what I’d done . . . but now it’s been remastered and you can almost hear it. It was badly mixed.

They’re putting out new ones now, of the first album.
Yeah, the new ones are much better, much clearer. There’s much more life on it.

Man, an announcement should have been made of it.
I know an announcement should have been made, but they just can’t seem to get it together.

(Neil got up to get a glass of water, as our throats were apparently parched. I got up and noticed a pile of variously sized, colored and assorted pills. ‘My vitamins,’ said Neil. ‘What do you eat?’ I asked. ‘When I’m on the road I eat anything,’ he said. ‘I eat meat, anything. The guys, Crazy Horse, they don’t eat meat, most of them.’)

 . . . They’re really down, I don’t know if you can tell by lookin’ at ’em, but they’re not your usual bunch of rock and roll guys . . . they’re just not that way. They’re very funky, I think they’re great. I don’t know if you have to live with them to know how great they are or what. I don’t know if the people are really hearing what I hear, you know.

How did you meet Crazy Horse?
I met all of them during the first six months that I was in L.A., when the Buffalo Springfield was just getting together, and they didn’t know how to play at that time, not very well . . . they were just hangin’ out, and I was starting to work with the Springfield, and I met Jack Nitzsche shortly after that and then he joined . . . they were called the Rockets.

Ah, Requiem for the Rockets . . . When is your new album coming out?
Which one, with Crazy Horse? It’ll be out in about two months. It’s really gonna be funky, it’s really gonna be a dirty album. We’re gonna do some things on it, some really old things, but we’re gonna do them right. Like I think I might do this one country song that I learned in high school, when I was goin’ through church dancing, junior high, I guess. I just remember the song; I don’t remember who wrote it or anything.

There was this one record they played, sounds like an old Hank Williams song, we might do that one. And then there are some other songs, some songs that I wrote that are gonna be sort of . . . I don’t know how to explain it. I’m trying to make records of the quality of the records that were made in the late fifties and the sixties, like Everly Brothers records and Roy Orbison records and things like that. They were all done with a sort of quality to them. They were done at once. They were done in Nashville . . .

It doesn’t matter where you do it. Nashville, it happened to be done there. Could be done anywhere. It’s just a quality about them, the singer is into the song and the musicians were playing with the singer and it was an entity you know. It was something special that used to hit me all the time, that all these people were thinking the same thing, and they’re all playing at the same time.

Like the early Beatles.
Yeah, yeah, right. That’s what I’m tryin’ to get. That’s what I want to get, on this next album. I started approaching getting it on the last album, on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. It happens on a few cuts, you can hear it. It’s there all the time . . . 

Which cuts would you say . . . ?
Uh, I think “Cinnamon Girl,” uh, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” and, uh, “Round and Round” has that feeling of togetherness, although it was just Danny and I and Robin Lane.

I thought that one was really a little bit too long.
Well, it depends on where you’re at, you know. A lot of people like that better than anything else on the album. I do things like that.

Like “The Last Trip To Tulsa,” in my opinion, after I did it, I didn’t like it and I didn’t want it. After the album came out that’s the one I really didn’t like, you know, and I still don’t, but a lot of people really dug that better than anything else on that whole album. See, its strange. Just because it doesn’t happen to be my favorite part, and I know a lot of people really didn’t like it, you know, and I can dig why. Because it sounds nah, it sounds overdone. It just sounds like it’s a mistake to me, and luckily its cool. It’s the same thing with “Round and Round” on the second album. The acoustic live thing bores a lot of people.

Is that what that was, “Round and Round”?
Yeah, it was all done at once. Did you ever listen to it with earphones on?

Yeah, because the sound of that record, if you get into the sound of it and you know what’s happening, thinking of the fact that there were three people sitting like you and me, and then another, and six microphone booms coming down, absolutely stoned out of our minds in the studio, singing a song with the guitars, three guitars goin’ at once. If you listen to it, “Round and Round” is one of my favorites on the second album, because of some of the things . . . I guess you sort of have to listen to them, ’cause I didn’t bring them out very much . . . but the echo from the acoustic guitar on the right echoes back op the left, and the echo from the guitar on the left comes back on the right and it makes the guitars go like this . . . there’s one line start goin’ like da-da-daow . . . and then you can hear like one voice comes in and out, and that’s ’cause Danny was rockin’ back and forth . . . those things are not featured, they’re just in it, you know, and that’s what I’m trying to get at. I think they last longer that way. Doing it live and singing and playing all at once just makes it sound more real.

Do you remember “Cinnamon Girl” last nite, you did it second to last, or so?
Oh, yeah, I remember that.

I thought that was a really great version, better than the album version.
Yeah, it probably was. The album versions weren’t that hot. We’d only been together for eight weeks when we cut that album. Really literally, we’d only been together for six or seven days when “Down By The River” was cut.

Was there any reason that you did it that soon, instead of waiting? . . .
I just wanted to go ahead and do it, I just wanted to catch it . . . because there is something on those records that was recorded . . . like it was when we were really feeling each other out, you know, and we didn’t know each other, but we were turned on to what was happening. So I wanted to record that, because that never gets recorded. And that’s what that album is, it’s just the bare beginnings. And the change between that album and the next album is really gonna blow a lot of minds.

This story is from the April 30th, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.


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