"I AM A PART OF THE NEIL YOUNG LEGACY..."
Anthony has worked with Neil on and off over the years, starting with the Everybody's Rockin' album in 1983. Here he discusses his memories.
The first album of his you were on was Everybody's Rockin'. How did you come to be on it and what are your memories of recording it?
I was 25 years old at the time and I got a call from Elliot Mazer asking me to show up at noon to the studio in Nashville called the House of David. I had always been a fan of Neil's music so naturally I was excited to meet him. Within an hour of being in the studio I was singing on the same microphone with him in a vocal booth on one of the songs that he wrote for his son called My Boy. The original recordings of Old Ways were before he started Everybody's Rockin' and the Shocking Pink's tour and album; however it was all around the same time frame. He was in the middle of a dispute with Geffen records about not sounding like Neil Young as I recall and I remember hearing some heated conversations to which I agree with Neil, yet strangely enough I understand why the record company wanted something that sounded like classic Neil Young. This would prove to be a bad move to ever tell Neil Young what he needs to sound like... just my opinion.
Did you enjoy the tours with him from 83 to 85. What were some of the best gigs?
I very much enjoyed the tours early on with Neil. Everybody was young and had a lot of energy. Every show was great, it's hard to pick just one. Neil let us all loose to be spontaneous and jam. All the musicians were incredible. Some memorable venues were Austin City Limits, Nikon at Jones Beach Theater in New York, the CNE Grandstand in Canada, and Billy Bob’s in Texas. There was also a string of northern California bar gigs that we did where we performed a warm up tour. We played to only 200-300 people. That was rabid.
What was it like playing on the stage with Neil back then? Did you always know where it was gonna go?
It was like mainlining pure energy. Of course it was a lot of fun to be on stage with Neil Young. There were periods where we could all just really stretch out musically in the early days. The set list however had structure to it and it was always the same. Of course, we would change a song from time to time in the set but the songs were performed in the same way every night.
What are you memories of making Old Ways?
There are two different Old Ways recording sessions. One was with the band that was later to be known as the International Harvester's and then there was another session with Nashville musicians at The Castle in Franklin, Tennessee. The first Old Ways session I remember being very intimate. The sessions were at the House of David studio on Music Row. It felt more like a close family gathering. These were the musicians who actually went on the road. The other Old Ways session... Well, Neil seemed to have all the big name country artists of the time; Waylon Jennings, Marty Stuart, and many others. To me, it felt like it was more of an attempt to associate with these people in order to be taken in by the Nashville community to find validity which never happened. Let’s face it, he IS Neil Young, the Godfather of Grunge. So it never happened. Neil was too country for country. People wanted classic Neil. But it was great music and I loved it. I think it was some of the best music he has made and he sounded great doing it. The International Harversters were an all-star band of misfits.
What's it like working with Neil? Is it possible to describe the way he works on a record?
His intensity drills to the core of your musical abilities. He has historically been able to pull the best from the best thus the reason he has so many memorable moments on records. All of it is recorded with the band members in the same room like being on a stage playing a live show with floor monitors. Very few overdubs. And magical performances because of the atmosphere that he created along with all the booze and smoke that gets people in the mood. It was not business for Neil, it was art. He allowed people to get buzzed to the moment.
You didn't record or play with Neil for a few years, then he got back in touch. What was it like recording Prairie Wind?
Prairie Wind was the first time I had seen Neil in 15 years. I got a call from Elliot Roberts, Neil's manager (while sitting on a bus in the middle of a tour with country group Blackhawk), who asked me to be at rehearsals that week. I made a great effort to be there. When I first walked in I was talking to a couple of musicians when Neil yelled across the room “Hey Crawford, don't think you can just come in here and wing it”. I’ll never forget that. His energy was very abrupt, at least towards me, which took me by surprise. I mean, come on, I haven't seen him in 15 years... what, no hello? No how are you? You can imagine my thoughts when the last time I had seen him, he had told me that he always wanted me in his band. 15 years later... this. Something about me or him was not grooving. However, probably because of my brotherhood with Ben Keith, I went on to be in the 2007 to 2010 Neil Young bands that toured the US and Europe.
You were featured on Fork in the Road. What are your memories of that recording?
Fork in the Road was written and rehearsed while on the road in Europe. He would write a song and show it to us at sound check and we would learn it and then play it that night or the next night. The whole album was composed on the road.
Heart of Gold movie is just a brilliant film. Was that a good experience? Did they feel like special gigs?
The Heart of Gold movie, yes, it is brilliant. Fun is not the adjective I would use to describe it. It was intense. We all got Manuel suits or dresses, it was a production and Jonathan Demme did a fantastic job capturing that time. Certainly we all knew it was a special time.
I love A Treasure too as an album. Did you have a good time during that somewhat lost era?
A Treasure is my favourite music released by Neil Young that I was a part of because it is live recordings from the tours in the 83 to 85 time. Talk about brilliant, that was brilliant. I think we all felt like rebels bucking the system. Neil had left Geffen and was doing the music he wanted to do. I think it was liberating to him and we were all just lucky to be a part of that time. Neil was really using my abilities back then... I played banjo, mandolin, guitar, background vocals. I enjoyed those days.
What are your personal favourite Neil songs?
My favourite Neil Young songs are Expecting to Fly, After the Gold Rush and Broken Arrow. These songs are like movies to me. The string arrangements from the great Jack Nitzche would be the reason for this. Not to take away from Neil’s brilliant song writing, but again, the people he surrounds himself with is what all great leaders seem to do. He is a great leader.
What have you learned from working with him?
I have learned everything from Neil Young and the brilliant people he surrounds himself with. It is what shaped me to be the person I am today. On a music level, I respect the man as much as I have ever respected anybody. I am privileged to know what went on in those recording studios. I am able to take that knowledge and use it in my own career as a performer.
What are some of the stand out memories for you looking back, proud moments with him and things you treasure?
The most standout memory I have would be a funny moment after smoking a joint with Willie Nelson and playing the Willie picnic, nobody knew who Neil Young was. The blue hairs were in control, they all wanted Willie. The look on Neil's face was priceless.
Another great memory was performing at Hyde Park and playing Paul McCartney’s part on the piano for A Day in the Life. The band didn’t know Paul was coming out on stage during that song. It was surreal. I spoke with Sir Paul backstage and he has the kind of energy that is paralysing. I have always been an admirer of Paul’s writing and so the moment was big for me. He is a kind and gentle giant. What do I treasure? Well, just being a part of the legacy I guess. There aren’t a whole lot of people who can say they played with Neil Young, especially that are still here on this Earth. I have a lot of great memories in my vault as well as many photos and video footage through the years that I hope to release at some point in the future. I was lucky enough to take the album cover for Chrome Dreams II. Let’s face it, after 700 shows with him, I am a part of the legacy of Neil Young.
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