Neil Young: Gold Rush
GW Maybe you should go.
YOUNG I think I’d better. I’ve actually been through Hibbing [Minnesota, Dylan’s birthplace], but I’ve never been to Bob’s house. It might not even be there anymore. But there’s something to finding out where people came from. It’s interesting archival stuff. And you know, Bob’s a real musicologist. He’s a guy who could do something like Archives. I’m sure that he has his thing organized to some degree.
GW As far as your development as a songwriter and a guitar player, there’s some information to be gleaned from the versions of “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” that bookend the Topanga 1 (1968-1969) disc. The first one, from early 1968, was recorded with the backing musicians you used on the Neil Young album and is a breezy, acoustic take, accented by woodwind instruments. The version that closes out the disc, cut the following year with Crazy Horse, is in the ragged country-rock style you became known for with that band.
YOUNG Yeah that first one is very…organized. What’s going on there is the difference between recording in a very contrived manner and just playing with a band. One is built, the other just happens.
GW So with Crazy Horse it just “happened.”
YOUNG Well, I knew those guys. I knew them for a while, from back in Laurel Canyon, and I used to jam with them when I was still in the Springfield and they were still called the Rockets. And after doing that first solo record they were what I needed—I needed to play. I needed to go out and do things. I knew it was gonna be good with Crazy Horse. It was free.
GW Is that around the same time Old Black came into the picture?
YOUNG I think so. That’d be about then. I traded Messina for it. [As legend goes, former Buffalo Springfield bassist and producer Jim Messina, who also played on Young’s first solo album, gave up the 1953 Gibson Les Paul goldtop in exchange for one of Young’s Gretsch guitars.]
GW How essential was Old Black to the development of your guitar sound?
YOUNG I don’t know. I really don’t. I mean, that guitar was a different guitar then than it is now. It had a different treble pickup. The Firebird pickup went in after the first one got lost, and that happened a few years after we did Everybody Knows. The first pickup had a really bad buzz, and I sent the guitar to a shop to be fixed. When I went to get it, it was gone. And by that I mean the store was gone. The whole place just wasn’t there anymore. So that was the end of that. When I eventually got it back I tried a Gretsch pickup in there for a while, and then around the time of Zuma the Firebird went in. And that’s been the sound ever since.
GW People think of the Crazy Horse sound as this brute force, but the guitar interplay between you and [Crazy Horse guitarist and vocalist] Danny Whitten was actually a very nuanced and subtle thing.
YOUNG That’s exactly it. If you listen you can really hear how intricate it is, especially with the hi-def sound on the Blu-ray.
GW On “Cinnamon Girl,” to use just one example, your stylistic differences are more pronounced. You’re doing these voice-leading-type lines with a fairly dirty tone, while Danny has a much cleaner sound, and plays nice, ringing arpeggios across the neck.
YOUNG Danny’s tone was always much cleaner than mine. And what you’re hearing with the Blu-ray is basically the way it sounded to us in the studio. It’s almost as good as what we heard. It’s not quite as good, but it’s as good as it can be. Right now, at least.
GW What guitars did Danny use?
YOUNG He was playing a Gretsch most of the time.
GW Through any specific amp?
YOUNG Umm…Probably not. Probably just through one of my amps. Maybe a [Fender] Twin or a Bandmaster.
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