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Archive for July, 2012

Today marks the two year anniversary of the passing of Ben Keith, who died of heart failure on July 26, 2010. He was 73.

Of all of Neil Young’s musical accomplices over the past five decades, Ben Keith was probably the closest thing to a full-on co-conspirator in Neil Young’s inner-circle. Beginning with Harvest, and continuing right on up until his death, Ben Keith’s playing is heard on at least a dozen Neil Young albums and he has also been a member of any number of Neil Young’s touring bands.

In the video below, Ben Keith is seen in his final concert appearance with Neil Young, at the 2009 Bridge School benefit show:

An accomplished multi-instrumentalist, writer, arranger and producer (his production credits include Jewel), Ben Keith is probably still best remembered for his sublime pedal steel on albums like Harvest Moon and Prairie Wind.

Shortly before his death, Ben Keith was also a member of Pegi Young’s touring band.

We thought we’d mark the two-year anniversary of Ben Keith’s untimely passing, by posting a pair of photos of Ben and Neil performing onstage together in 2009 at Denver’s Magness Arena. The pictures were taken by Tony Stack, who also contributed a number of photos for the Neil Young FAQ book.

In the photo above, Neil and Ben are seen taking their final bows along with Rick Rosas, Anthony Crawford and Pegi Young. Below, Ben Keith is shown in his most familar position, haunched over the pedal steel as Neil Young soars away on the guitar just above him.

Thanks again for the pictures, Tony. And to Ben Keith, thanks for, well, everything.

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Of all of Neil Young’s various genre adventures — and some would call them, though not always justifiably, “mis-adventures” — during the so-called “lost eighties,” none of these continue to divide hardcore fans right down the middle, more than his 1982 album Trans.

Trans, for the uninitiated, was Neil Young’s infamous 1982 journey into the electronic, synthesized bleeps and blurs of what was then widely labeled as new wave “synth” or “syntho-pop.”

During the early eighties, this sound was wildly popular commercially, thanks in part to the influence of the still young video music channel MTV, as well as the “New Wave” synthesizer rock of British import acts like Soft Cell, Human League, and A Flock of Seagulls — who combinined stylish videos with the chillier sounding electronic pop of the day.

A general void within the rock audience at the time — and particularly the disconnect and division between punk-rockers, hair metal, and the power balladry of popular FM rock bands like Journey and REO Speedwagon didn’t hurt the “new wavers” success either.

In a weird sort of way, we probably could have used a unifying enemy like Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga back then.

Oh wait, we had Madonna didn’t we?

Anyway…

The truth is, Neil Young’s own artistic foray into such previously uncharted territory — especially for a “legacy” rock artist best known for his trailblazing work during the 60s and 70s — was probably more influenced by the minimalist “Kraut-rock” of Kraftwerk, then by the trendier and more finely coiffed “new wave” hitmakers of the day.

But what has also become known and acknowledged all these many decades later — which really wasn’t at the time — is that Trans was an album written at least partially as a musical expression of Neil’s often frustrating efforts in trying to find a means of communication for his non-oral, and otherwise physically and mentally challenged son.

With the rearview window of history putting these things into a clearer perspective, the widely dismissed at the time Trans album has found an entire new generation of not only apologetic revisionists, but also fans and former critics who recognize the album as a key, early influence on everything from modern techno and DJ generated sounds, to the more sophisticated soundscapes of Radiohead.

The fact is, after all of this time, Trans not only holds up surprisingly well — it’s continuing influence is a lot more pervasive than anyone could have predicted at the time.

As documented in the Neil Young FAQ book, the 1982-83 Trans tour was, somewhat predictably, a disaster. Between the logistical nightmares of carting the stadium-sized production around to half-filled arenas in Europe and substance abuse issues within the band — particularly those of hired hand and ex-Bufallo Springfield member Bruce Palmer — the tour was probably doomed from the start.

Still, although audiences mostly sat on their hands, open-jawed, during the bizarre new material from Trans, the performances are nowhere near as terrible in retrospect as you might think.

This clip from the now-rare Neil Young In Berlin video from the Trans tour perfectly illustrates this point.

Once you get past Neil’s goofy eighties wraparound shades, and Nils Lofgren’s equally ridiculous eighties Jefferson Starship teased hair and Keith Richards scarves, there is definitely some shredding going on here.

On a more humorous level, check out where Neil’s skinny new wave tie gets tangled in his guitar strings (it comes at about the three minute mark) during “Like A Hurricane.”

Priceless.

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Neil Young FAQ has just scored a very positive review from Houston Press Blog.

In his review, blogger Bob Ruggiero talks about Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold and (Musical) Balls of Steel.” Ruggiero also seems to agree with our own assessment from the book that “Neil Young is probably the only major rock icon from his era who has steadfastly (and, quite stubbornly, many would add), followed his artistic muse without compromise, and often to his commercial detriment.”

In the following excerpt, Ruggiero comments that while Neil Young FAQ could never be taken as a replacement for Jimmy McDonough’s defining NY Bio Shakey (and we’d be the first to agree), he did seem to enjoy our detailed breakdown of the various phases of Neil’s musical evolution through a variety of styles and genres:

Boyd’s book is more of a musical and personal biography than most other in Backbeat’s great FAQ series, though not a replacement for Jimmy McDonough’s indispensable Shakey. That’s the bio that Young himself participated in, then tried to sue to stop its publication.

His particular strength as a journalist is taking the reader through Young’s various musical records and phases, no small task considering the dizzying number of genres he’s dabbled in.

We might also somewhat modestly add that Neil Young FAQ not only takes the reader through some five decades of these numerous artistic twist and turns, but that it covers all of his recorded work from The Squires through Buffalo Springfield and CSNY all the way up to 2010’s Le Noise and the lost International Harvesters recordings found on 2011’s A Treasure .

A Twisted Road indeed. Read more here. And thanks again for the kind words Bob!

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Continuing with our spotlight on some of the photographers whose work appears in Neil Young FAQ, we turn the lens towards some of our favorite shots by Arizona based photographer Mary Andrews.

Mary contributed a stunning array of never-before-seen shots for the book — some going as far back as CSNY’s early 1970’s tours, with others as recent as the Buffalo Springfield reunion.

Below you will find some of our favorites.

As was the case with Jeff Allen, we are also including a number of Mary’s shots that didn’t make the book at all, and are being displayed here for the very first time ever.

Among these, one shot we particularly liked came from Neil’s 2010 appearance at Farm-Aid — Mary seems to have a lifetime photo pass for Willie Nelson’s annual benefit shows. A number of these are seen below, beginning with this beautiful shot of Neil with a Native American friend, followed by backstage shots of Neil with fellow Farm-Aid board members Dave Matthews and John Mellencamp:

Here are a few more of Mary’s Neil Young shots. The first two were taken during a benefit concert in Sedona with Jackson Browne, and the third is of Neil during Willie’s 4th of July picnic.

Gotta’ love that whole Willie Nelson lifetime backstage pass thing:

Finally, a few more choice shots — including one more from the Buffalo Springfield reunion show at Bonnaroo, along with a trio of vintage CSNY shots:

You’ll find more of Mary Andrews great work — including more Neil, more Willie, as well as Springsteen at the New Orleans Jazz Fest and more — at Mary’s photo portfolio on facebook.

Thanks again, Mary!

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One of the things that makes Neil Young FAQ somewhat unique — at least in our own humble opinion — amongst the numerous Neil Young books out there, is Jeff Allen’s great cover shot.

But what makes this great shot even more amazing is the story behind it. As a young teenager, Jeff was somehow able to sneak his way into the 1969 taping for ABC TV’s brief, but amazing weekly concert showcase show Music Scene, hosted by satirical comic David Steinberg.

At this particular show, featuring a performance by Crosby Stills Nash & Young doing Young’s “Down By The River,” Allen was able to snap off an amazing series of shots. In addition to the photo which adorns our cover, only one of Jeff’s other pictures made our book.

But there were numerous others…some of our own favorites of which we now present here for the first time:

You can check out more of Jeff Allen’s great work — which includes equally great shots of Van Morrison, Aretha Franklin and others at his portfolio at the Cache Agency.

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Check us out at our new home on WordPress!

Neil Young FAQ (Backbeat Books, 2012) is the first definitive guide to the music of this mercurial and methodical, enduring, and infuriating icon. From the Archives to Zuma and from the “Ditch Trilogy” to the Geffen years, this book covers every song and album in painstaking detail – including bootlegs and such lost recordings as “Homegrown”, “Chrome Dreams”, “Toast”, and “Meadow Dusk”. Obscure facts and anecdotes from the studio to the road, along with dozens of rare images, make this book a must-have for Young fans.

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former Music Editor at Blogcritics Magazine, and a longtime music journalist whose work has appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen’s work at Blogcritics and The Rockologist.

You can like us on facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Stay tuned to these pages for updates!

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We are pleased to announce that our two Seattle area Neil Young FAQ book signings last month, raised nearly $900 for the Bridge School. Our sincere thanks to the Rusties facebook group and especially to the illustrious Harry O for all of their help — both in successfully launching the book and for helping us make a nice contribution to such a worthy cause.

We also thought it would be fun to post a few choice pics from the events here.

Below you will find yours truly, about midway through signing about 100 books during the Ballard event at Harry’s Haven:

At the same event, Ron Winters purchased twelve copies (for those of you counting, yes that is an even dozen), and can be seen below getting them signed:

At our smaller Seattle event at the West Seattle neighborhood spot, the Rocksport (in one of their final nights before closing just a few weeks later), Harry and I were caught on camera looking like someone had slipped us a few honey slides:

Thanks to all who made it out for the two Seattle area book signings!

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