A month ago, Resident Records advertised a forthcoming Neil Young release. It was a box set of 10 CDs for which they were asking £14.99. It came last week and it’s brilliant. The copy that arrived in the post is called “Journey Through The Past” and the version currently on sale is called “Heart Of Gold – Live” although the track listing is identical. It’s not exactly a bootleg but it’s not an official release either. Apparently, it is legal to sell radio broadcasts in the EU. That’s funny, I thought we had left the EU. Anyway, here are 133 live songs performed by Neil Young between 1972 and 1993 on various radio and TV broadcasts. The sound quality is excellent. There are three versions of “Helpless”, “The Needle And The Damage Done” and “Sugar Mountain” and six of “Heart Of Gold”. Here are some random thoughts about the music, the locations and the occasions.
Disc 1: David Crosby & Graham Nash. Special guest: Neil Young. Sheriff Hongisto Prisoners’ Benefit, Winterland, San Francisco. 26th March 1972.
In 1972, Stephen Stills joined Chris Hillman to form Manassas. Having temporarily split from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, David Crosby and Graham Nash were firmly established as rock superstars in early 1972. They had both released solo albums in 1971, before touring successfully as a duo. In March they accepted an invitation from Bill Graham to perform an acoustic benefit for prisoners, shortly after completing work on an album together (excitingly titled “Graham Nash David Crosby”). The set they played features material from that album, as well as earlier classics, and includes an extensive guest appearance from Neil Young. My feelings about Crosby, Stills & Nash are mixed. Musically, they could sound sublime (e.g. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” or “Carry On”). Individually, they contributed some fantastic songs (e.g. “4+20”). On the other hand, they were spoiled, entitled, arrogant rock superstars who didn’t realise when their music sounded like an incoherent mess. This radio broadcast features a lot of pontification about how cool David Crosby and Graham Nash were. There are also some very loose versions of some of their songs along with magnificent versions of “Almost Cut My Hair” and “Wooden Ships”. There’s a terrible version of the worst song ever written, “Teach Your Children”. Luckily, Neil Young comes to the rescue by singing good versions of “Harvest”, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, “Heart Of Gold” and “The Needle And The Damage Done”.
The radio broadcast was a benefit concert organised by Sheriff Richard Hongisto. He was a very interesting character. His Finnish parents moved to San Francisco in 1942, when he was six years old. In the 1960’s he was a San Francisco police officer, and helped to found an African American officer’s group called “Officers for Justice”. He later became a community liaison officer for San Francisco’s gay and lesbian communities. In 1971, he resigned from the police force, became a TV news reporter and successfully ran for Sheriff of San Francisco. He was re-elected in 1975. His liberal credentials are undisputed. For example, he hired an openly gay deputy sheriff, he replaced the City seal on his badge with the international peace symbol and when prisoners protested at conditions in their jail by setting fires to their mattresses, he described it as “a peaceful fire demonstration.” He supported the personal use and possession of marijuana. As Sheriff, Richard Hongisto was determined to improve conditions in San Francisco’s county jails. He opened the jails to groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Friends Outside. He created his own non-profit organization, called Friends of Deputies and Inmates, so he could accept gifts and donations to the jails without having to first get approval by going through the Board of Supervisors. This explains the benefit gig he organised with the counter-culture’s self appointed spokesmen. In 1976, he was held in contempt of court for refusing to evict aging Philipino residents from the International Hotel in Chinatown. He served five days in the County Jail but when he was again ordered to enforce the law, he took the pragmatic view that his rivals would make too much political capital out of his refusal to comply so he took a sledgehammer to the hotel and was photographed smashing down doors to enforce the eviction of the residents. He subsequently became Cleveland’s Chief Of Police before managing New York’s prison system. He returned to San Francisco and became Chief Of Police in 1992 but resigned after the riots following the Rodney King trial.
Disc 2: Recorded At The Bottom Line, New York City. 16th May 1974.
Neil Young recorded “On The Beach” between February and April 1974 and on May 16th, 1974, he played an unannounced gig at The Bottom Line in New York. The audience was expecting to only see Leon Redbone (who loaned Neil Young a harmonica) and Ry Cooder but were honoured to also see a one hour set by Neil Young featuring nine unreleased songs including all three songs from Side Two of “On The Beach”. The recording has been available as a bootleg for several years called “Citizen Kane Junior Blues”, a title that Neil Young jokingly gave to “Pushed It Over The End”. The Neil Young Archives states that this recording is set to be the first release in a “NYA Official Bootleg Series.” The release date is given as early 2021 but there’s no news yet. It is an astonishing performance. “On The Beach” is probably my favourite Neil Young album and these versions are magnificent.
The Bottom Line was a music venue in Greenwich Village which operated from 11th February 1974 until 22nd January 2004. The Leon Redbone / Ry Cooder / Neil Young gig was one of the first gigs to be put on at the small venue which only seated 400 people. What an incredible place it must have been to see any act, let alone this special Neil Young set. Other acts put on in May 1974 included Barry Manilow, Pete Seeger, George Melly and Livingston Taylor. Later gigs included “Live: Take No Prisoners” by Lou Reed, one of the most outrageous live albums ever released. The opening night featured Dr John and had a star studded audience, including Mick Jagger, Carly Simon and Stevie Wonder, who all took the stage at the end of the concert.
Allan Pepper and Stanley Errol Snadowsky had been friends from the age of 8 in Brooklyn and when they heard that a a Dixieland jazz club called the Red Garter was about to close, they took over the space and renamed it the Bottom Line. They decided on the name of the club because Allan Pepper reckoned it was the most common term he heard in business dealings.
Disc 3 Part 1: S.N.A.C.K. Benefit Concert featuring Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson at the Kezar Stadium, San Francisco. 23rd March 1975.
“Students Need Athletics, Culture, & Kicks” (S.N.A.C.K.) was a benefit concert organised by Bill Graham in March 1975 in order to raise money for San Francisco schools. Despite headlines in local papers such as “Angry Board Members Talk: Why Schools Don’t Improve”, there were cuts to budgets and, as a result, extra-curricular activities were cancelled. The concert was held at the 60,000 seater Kezar Stadium with tickets priced at $5 each. Bill Graham presented Mayor Joseph Alioto with a cheque for $200,000 which relieved the crisis for one year. Bill Graham said “We make our living from the youth of San Francisco. This is one of the ways we hope to thank them.”
The concert was performed by three members of The Band, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. The quality of the recording is excellent but the quality of the playing is a little more ramshackle. Bob Dylan was at his most strident around the time, having toured with The Band in 1974 and releasing the live album, “Before The Flood”, a year earlier. Neil Young plays two songs, “Helpless” from “Deja Vu” and “Looking For A Love” which was to be released a year later on “Zuma”.
Disc 3 Part 2: Boston Music Hall. 22nd November 1976.
In November 2018, Neil Young released an album called “Songs For Judy” which consisted of 22 songs recorded on a USA tour in 1976 which took in 18 shows in 12 cities in 24 days. Each concert was in two halves: an acoustic set and an electric set with Crazy Horse. “Songs For Judy” is taken from the acoustic sets that he gave, including four songs recorded in Boston. The nine songs on this CD include those four songs plus five others – all acoustic. All of the songs had been previously released. A bootleg called “A Man a Guitar And A Horse” features songs form the same gig but from the second half of the show (with Crazy Horse).
Confusingly, the Boston Music Hall was closed in 1900 but the Metropolitan Theater (opened in 1925) was renamed The Music Hall in 1962. It is now called The Wang Theater after Dr. An Wang donated $9.8 million to restore the theater to its former glory. It seats 3,600 people. A bootleg of Bob Marley playing at live at the Boston Music Hall was recorded at this theater but should be called Bob Marley Live At The Music Hall, Boston.
Discs 4 & 5: Austin City Limits Studio, Austin. 25th September 1984.
In 1984, Neil Young played a concert with The International Harvesters which was broadcast in its entirety on TV. At the time of recording Rufus Thibadeaux was 50 years old. He had started playing the fiddle when he was 12 years old and he joined Julius Angelle “Papa Cairo” Lamperez’s Cajun band when he was only 15 years old. Julius Lamperez claimed to have written the tune for “Jambalaya”. The front covers to “After The Goldrush”, “4 Way Street”, “Running On Water”, “Bob Dylan At Budokan”, “Rust Never Sleeps” and “Shadows And Light” were all taken by photographer Joel Bernstein, who plays guitar in The International Harvesters. Spooner Oldham plays piano and organ in the band and he played on Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman”, Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally”, and Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved A Man”. The title track on Bob Dylan’s “Saved” album was co-written with bassist Tim Drummond. Another musician in the band was Anthony Crawford on mandolin, banjo, guitar and fiddle (who played with Neil Young in Hyde Park in 2009 when Paul McCartney joined him for “A Day In The Life”). He is quoted as saying “Neil Young is a rock star, 24 hours a day, you can’t approach him. Neil’s got a sign that says, “Caution! Will bite!” Neil’s got a very loving side to him, too. I just think that he’s such a serious artist. He’s deep. He is deep and dark. He goes way deep. He’s a cave.” Also in The International Harvesters were Ben Keith on steel guitar, who played with Neil Young for nearly 40 years, Karl Himmel on drums and Larry Cragg on banjo.
Texas is an amazing State. Politically, it is typical of the American Heartland and 52% of the voting in 2020 was for Trump. Austin, however, is a liberal oasis in the middle of the State. Paddy and I stayed there in 2003 and there were many wonderful things about it, not least the live music that was widely available. “Austin City Limits” is a TV programme broadcast by The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). The first programme was broadcast in 1974 and featured Willie Nelson. The shows took place on the campus of “The University Of Texas At Austin” (in a room with a 300 seat capacity) until 2011 when it started to be broadcast from The Moody Theater in downtown Austin (with a capacity of 2750). Neil Young has only performed there once although many others have made numerous appearances (e.g. Lucinda Williams 5 times, Nanci Griffith 9 times, Lyle Lovett 12 times).
The 20 songs on discs four and five of this CD feature five songs from his country album “Old Ways,” which had been released a month earlier, in August 1984, along with songs from “Harvest”, “Re-Ac-Tor”, “Deja Vu”, “Rust Never Sleeps” and “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”. The version of “Heart Of Gold” is one of six versions that appear on this collection. “Old Ways” is one of the poorest selling albums of Neil Young’s career and was recorded when Geffen records rejected an initial version of the album, demanding a rock’n’roll album. He responded by making the album “Everybody’s Rockin'” which was a 25 minute pastiche of 50’s rock’n’roll recorded with a band that he called The Shocking Pinks. With the addition of Rufus Thibadeaux, The Shocking Pinks transformed into The International Harvesters. When the record company asked for a country album, he released “Old Ways” which was a (brilliant) redneck album full of right wing attitudes and brilliant playing. The moral of the story is, never tell Neil Young what to do. He said “If I build something up, I have to systematically tear it right down before people decide, ‘Oh that’s how we can define him'”. He left Geffen Records soon afterwards.
Disc 6. Westwood One Superstar Concert Series. 1986 Tour with Crazy Horse. broadcast in 1987
Westwood One was an American radio network, based in New York. It was founded by Norman J. Pattiz, a former reservist in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The broadcast features 15 songs from a 38 concert tour of the U.S.A. by Neil Young and Crazy Horse between 15th September and 21st November 1986. This was followed up by a 28 European concert tour between 24th April and 6th June 1987 and rounded off by another U.S.A. Tour: 18 concerts between 13th August and 4th November 1987. That’s a total of 84 gigs in twelve months. The range of material on this CD is crowd pleasing – “Cinnamon Girl”, “Down By The River”, “Heart Of Gold”, “Sugar Mountain, “The Needle And The Damage Done”, “Like A Hurricane” along with songs from “Trans”, “Zuma” and “Rust Never Sleeps”. This is a classic Crazy Horse gig with wild guitar, an insistent beat, maniacal singing and great songs.
Discs 7 & 8. The Cow Palace, Brisbane, California. 21st November 1986
Discs 7 & 8 are taken from the same tour as Disc 6 and 11 of the songs from Disc 6 are played again on these two discs. One song that wasn’t on Disc 6 is called “Neil’s Mom Calls”. This is nearly three minutes long and simulates a phone call from Neil Young’s Mum (or Mom). If you ever wondered if Neil Young may be a little bit mad, listen to this track.
The Cow Palace has been used for numerous different activities including world title boxing fights, basketball, soccer, hockey and American Football. The 1956 and 1964 Republican National Conventions were held at The Cow Palace and the musical acts that have performed there include The Beatles in their first American tour of 1964, The Rolling Stones in 1966, The Who in 1973, Pink Floyd in 1975, Wings in 1976, Elvis Presley in 1976 and Nirvana in 1993.
Disc 9. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at the Californian Hungerton Benefit in The Palace Theater, Los Angeles. 12th November 1988.
Neil Young refused to play with Crosby, Stills and Nash until David Crosby cleaned himself up from drug abuse which he did during his nine months in prison after conviction for weapons and drug abuse in 1986. The reunion album “American Dream” was released in 1988 which was mildly disappointing apart from the very funny video that accompanied the title track. The great Jackson Browne features heavily on this disc but there are no Neil Young songs.
Disc 10. Various Farm Aid concerts. a) Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Kentucky. 1st October 1995 b) Texas Stadium, Irving, Texas. 14th March 1992. c) Indiana Housier Dome, Indianapolis, Indiana. 7th April 1990
The economic conditions for American farmers in the 1980s were the worst they had been since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Weather conditions combined with high interest rates saw many farmers forced from their land and the suicide rate for farmers was double the national average. On 13th July, 1985, when Bob Dylan took the stage at Live Aid, he said “I hope that some of the money that’s raised for the people in Africa, maybe they could just take a little bit of it to pay the mortgages on some of the farms“. In the last verse of “Ballad Of Hollis Brown”, from 1964, Bob Dylan had sung about a farmer from South Dakota, who, kills his wife, children and then himself as a result of the desperation caused by poverty. Bob Geldof thought that Bob Dylan’s comments were “crass, stupid, and nationalistic” but Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young were inspired to start Farm Aid, a benefit concert which has been held every year from 1985 (the concert in 2020 being broadcast from the performer’s own homes). The inaugural concert raised more than $9 million which was used for relief aid, a farming hot line service, counselling, and assistance for destitute farmers in need of legal help and job placements. As well as practical help, the aim was to raise awareness. On 4th October 1985, Neil Young placed a full-page ad in USA Today asking President Ronald Reagan: “Will the family farm in America die as a result of your administration?” Since 1985, the concerts have raised more than $37 million.
The performers that have appeared at Farm Aid include Rickie Lee Jones, The Beach Boys, The Blasters, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Steve Earle, Drive By Truckers, Lucinda Williams and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
There’s a bonus track at the end of this CD. It’s Neil Young playing “Rocking In The Free World” with Pearl Jam at the MTV Awards in 1993. This collaboration resulted in Neil Young making an album “Mirror Ball” with Pearl Jam in 1995. Pearl Jam had a reputation of being a leading exponent in grunge music but Neil Young’s showmanship, musicianship and bonkership completely blew them off stage.