Neil Young: Gold Rush
GW What about any of the metal players? For example, you were getting pretty thick, detuned tones on songs like “Cinnamon Girl” and “When You Dance, I Can Really Love.” Were you aware of, say, Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath, another guy who tuned down his guitar?
YOUNG Not so much. But I love that music. It’s like classical rock and roll. The Scorpions, Iron Maiden… That whole thing is quite strong. It’s an art form in itself. That’s the thing about metal: some people think one band is great and another is just shit, while a normal person standing there couldn’t tell the difference between the two. So I was never a metalhead, but I’ll listen to a guy like Zakk Wylde play the guitar. And I know a lot of metal guys. They come to our shows because there’s something we do that I guess they connect with.
GW But there was nothing directly influencing you at the time you were first getting loud with Crazy Horse?
YOUNG Well, you know…when you really listen to it, Crazy Horse didn’t get very loud. Not until [1979’s] Rust Never Sleeps. The early Crazy Horse, with Danny, is not a big, whomp-’em, arena-rock sound. That happened with the second version of the band, when Poncho joined. “Cowgirl in the Sand” and “Down By the River”—when you listen to ’em, they’re not that loud. Though they can be, especially when we do them now.
GW Much of the “bigness” that’s associated with Crazy Horse, I suppose, is a result of the grit in the guitar tones, and also the space between the instruments.
YOUNG Yeah, there’s a lot of room in those records. Those songs were written to be explored forever. There’s no finished version.
GW How would you characterize your lead playing?
YOUNG It sucks! It’s just a fucking racket. I get totally lost when I’m playing guitar. I’ll just play a melody over and over again and change the tone, bend a string, do all that. I’m totally engrossed in what I’m doing. At one with it. But I suck. I’ve heard myself.
GW Some people would beg to differ.
YOUNG Well, I have moments where I really express myself on the guitar. But I can’t play acoustic like Bert Jansch, and I can’t play electric like Hendrix or J.J. Cale, who are probably the two best electric guitar players I’ve ever heard. And Jimmy Page, he’s a great one. I really love the way he plays. He’s so slippery. He’s very, very dangerous. Those are three classic guitar players to me.
GW What would you say are your strengths?
YOUNG I have melodies, and I have a sense of rhythm and drive. But it’s not about me, anyway—it’s about the whole band. It’s about everybody being there at once. When I play I’m listening for everything, trying to drive it all with my guitar. My guitar is the whole fucking band.
GW Perhaps an example of what you’re describing would be the famous “one-note” solo in “Cinnamon Girl,” which encompasses everything you’re talking about: lead, rhythm, melody, drive. Though my contention has always been that it’s not really one note…
YOUNG It’s not! Everyone says that, but there’s about a hundred notes in there. And every one of them is different. Every single one. They just happen to have the same name. [laughs]
GW Does it amuse you that people spend so much time evaluating the things you do?
YOUNG You know, I just thought I was playing the right solo. I mean, can you imagine anything else in there? Like, some fucking fast-note thing. Who needs that? It’s rhythm.
GW That said, is there any particular song or moment on Archives that really captures the essence of Neil Young as a musician?
YOUNG No one thing. No one thing. It’s too big. There’s too much information. And you can zero in as close as you like, but then you wind up going too far, and you gotta pull back out. It’s big-picture stuff. But it’s all there. You know, one day I’m gonna put out a download update, and when you open it up, there’ll just be several photographs of kitchen sinks. [laughs] That’s it.
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