Thursday, April 17, 2008

Boss Tracks; Down By The River, Neil Young

I just came across a live performance of Neil Young and Springsteen doing "Down By The River" together in 1985. A very good reason to pull out one of my favorite albums, I was a Young fan before even listening to Springsteen, and take a further look at it. "Down By The River" is one of those songs that isn't available on 45 rpm but might as well have been. As a Rock song it proved to be highly successful and memorable. It might never have been on the Billboard charts as a song, but it still is a hit in my book. Neil Young had every right to use it as the opening track of his "Greatest Hits" compilation a few years back. The song closes side A on the legendary "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" album that marked the birth of Crazy Horse. One of the few backing bands, even though they did record a few records without Young, that can compete with the E-Street Band in terms of status. Even though Young strays from them from time to time, he always winds up going back.

"Everybody Knows" was Young's second solo album, released four months after his ill received debut. The approach was strikingly different. While his first album had been a true solo effort, focusing on the songwriting, his second was a real band effort filled with long stretched out jams, fully show casing Crazy Horse. Danny Whitten's (guitar), Ralph Molina's (drums) and Billy Talbot's (bass) road to Crazy Horse had been a strange one, filled with unsuspected turns. The trio started out in an obscure vocal in the early sixties group called Danny & the Memories. An act modeled to the sweet Doo Wop acts of the fifties. Not really roots you'd expect from one of Rock's loudest and meanest outfits. After that they formed Psyrcle and had some music recorded and produced for them by none other than Sly Stone! The material was unfortunately never released. The trio added some guitars to the mix and a fiddle and started calling themselves the Rockets in 1968. An album was released, long since forgotten, but the band didn't last too long. Young was impressed by what he heard on the Rockets' self title album and invited the core trio to record and tour with them, dubbing them Crazy Horse. If the remaining Rockets ever felt any hope of them recording a second album, those hopes were dashed when they saw the back sleeve of "Everybody Knows". Smack dab in the middle of side two there was "Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)". The band died a quick death for all the world to see.

Crazy Horse is linked to Springsteen in more ways than one. Their debut as a self contained band in '71 featured the young Nils Lofgren on guitar, also contributing two songs. Nils had earlier played piano on Young's "After The Gold Rush" and used the exposure he got from being affiliated with Young to get his band Grin signed. That band hopelessly failed, but it did result in Lofgren's solo contract for A&M. Springsteen took notice of his first two albums released in the in the mid seventies, just as he was finishing "Born To Run". When he was shy a guitar player a few years down the line Springsteen simply snatched Lofgren from Young who had just finished up his "Trans" tour with Nils in the band. So the least the Boss could do was pay Young his respects by joining him on stage March 22nd 1985 when both men found themselves in Sydney touring.

"Down By The River" - Neil Young & Crazy Horse
"Down By The River" - Young & Springsteen

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I did not know that Sly Stone had produced Psyrcle. I write about many of the groups Sly produced in the early days in my book Sly: the Lives of Sylvester Stewart and Sly Stone. Check it out at