Neil Young was born in Toronto to well-known Canadian sports writer Scott Young but moved to Winnipeg with his mother when his parents divorced. Like most teenagers in the 1950’s, Young was very influenced by the music coming out of the US and decided to pick up a guitar.
Between late 1960 and 1966 he was a member of such bands as the Jades, the Esquires, the Stardusters, the Classics, several different versions of the Squires, the High Flying Birds, several versions of 4 To Go, and the Mynah Birds. In 1963 he recorded two songs with the Squires, “The Sultan” and “Aurora”, which was released as a single only locally in 1963 on V Records. The Squires played coffee houses in the Winnipeg area, and one of those gigs was opening for the Au Go Go Singers, which featured two people with whom Young would later form pivotal relationships – Stephen Still and Richie Furay.
Young moved to back to Toronto after the Squires split up in 1965, and formed a band with bassist Bruce Palmer, the Mynah Birds. The Mynahs played around the Yorkville area of Toronto for awhile, during which time they also recorded some material, but quickly realized that if they wanted to move ahead musically it would be best if they joined the burgeoning Los Angeles scene, so they moved to L.A. in late 1965. Driving around sightseeing they ran into Stills and Furay again, and the four of them decided to form a band. They called it Buffalo Springfield, and it featured Young (vocals, piano, lead guitar), Stills (vocals, 2nd lead guitar), Furay (vocals, rhtyhm guitar), Palmer (bass), and Dewey Martin (vocals, drums). They toured the area for awhile, then went into the studio in the fall of 1966 to record the first album. Between that time and May 1968, they recorded two more albums, and did three more tours (these being cross-country) during which time Palmer was arrested on drug charges and deported to Canada. Jim Messina, who went on to be part of the Loggins and Messina duo, was brought in to fill his spot. Messina produced the third and last Buffalo Springfield album, and the band split up in 1968. In late 1968 Young recorded his first solo album, which was released in early 1969. Doing solo work has always been important to Young, despite his involvement in other band situations, and since that first album, he has released 21 albums under his own name. He has continually done solo tours in that time as well, his first being in the US before the release of his first album, working around the schedules of his other commitments. He has also pursued music for films, including his own movie, “Journey Through The Past” in 1972 (Warner Bros.), and doing arrangements of seven public domain songs for the soundtrack of “Where The Buffalo Roam” (1980, on Backstreet/ MCA).
After doing a solo tour of Canada in early 1969 following the release of his first solo album, he met a band called the Rockets that featured, among others, Danny Whitten (guitar), Billy Talbot (bass) and Ralph Molina (drums); he convinced these three to join him and together they formed a band called Crazy Horse. They first recorded together in early 1969 and their first album, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, was released in May 1969; it contained the hit singles “Cowgirl In The Sand”, “Down By The River” and “Cinammon Girl”. While they were recording the album they toured the east coast, and their first full tour was in 1970. Since the release of that first Crazy Horse album, they’ve released 12 more albums, touring sporadically to support them. Of these albums, some are considered some of Young’s finest works, including Rust Never Sleeps and Re-ac-tor. With Crazy Horse, Young also scored a film, “Landlord”. Such is the status of this band that when they get back together to record and tour, it is a musical event of epic proportions.
By 1969, Crosby Stills and Nash had achieved some national success with their first album, but felt they would like to augment their sound with a fourth vocalist. Stephen Stills brought in his old friend Young, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (CSNY) was born. This band situation was always meant to be an informal situation for the four singers, so that the individual members could always pursue other work and projects. Still, they toured as CSNY in mid 1969, and in the latter half of that year recorded their first album, Deja Vu, which was released in March 1970. Since then they have released four more albums, including the successful reunion album, American Dream, in 1988, which spawned the hit single of the title track. In 1970 Young had two solo songs (“Down By The River”, “The Loner”) and a CSNY song (“Helpless”) on the soundtrack for “Strawberry Statement” (MGM) and in 1976 Stills and Young also released an album under the moniker of the Stills/Young Band.
Young’s career has been vast and prolific, with commercially and critically successful tours and albums solo, with Crazy Horse and CSNY. He had a solo hit single in 1970 with “Southern Man”, about his impression of life in the southern USA, which prompted Lynard Skynard to record and release a rebuttal, “Sweet Home, Alabama”; while most people thought that Young and Skynard were mortal enemies after this, in fact he did some work with them and wrote some songs for them after all was said and done. In 1971 he did some work on David Crosby’s first solo album, If Only I Could Remember My Name, which kicked off Young’s hobby of appearing on other people’s works, including releases from the Monkees, Emmylou Harris, Nils Lofgren, Warren Zevon, Robbie Robertson, Tracy Chapman, and Randy Bachman, amongst others. One song on the Crazy Horse album Zuma (1975), “Cortez The Killer”, was banned in Spain because it offended General Franco’s regime. In 1983 he did an album of original and R%26B classics with the Shocking Pinks (Ben “King” Keith – alto sax, lead guitar; Tim Drummond – upright bass; Karl Himmel – snare; Larry Byrom – piano, backing vocals; Anthony Crawford and Rick Palombi – backing vocals). In 1985 he came home to Toronto to participate in Canada’s contribution to Ethiopian famine relief, “Tears Are Not Enough” by Northern Lights (when told by producer David Foster that perhaps his one solo line was slightly off-key and asked to perhaps do it again, Young paused for a second and replied laconically, “That’s my style, man!”), which was eventually included on the American lp, “We Are The World” by USA For Africa. In 1995 he released an album with Seattle stalwarts Pearl Jam, called Mirror Ball, but for contractual reasons, Pearl Jam was not allowed to be listed AS Pearl Jam, so the members were simply listed as backing musicians.
In his entire career, Young has handled most of his own production duties, with his solo material as well as with his band projects. However, he has also worked with a dizzying array of producers, including Ahmet Ertegun, Jim Messina, Ry Cooder, David Crosby, Brian Wilson, Stephen Stills, and Danny Kortchmar, to name only a very few. The list of musicians he has recorded with is a veritable who’s who of the international music community, attesting to the level of respect the industry has for the Toronto native. His latest release, Year Of The Horse (1997), is a live album from the tour Crazy Horse did following the release of their last studio effort, Broken Arrow (1996).
As has been the case in the last 30-plus years, 1998 is sure to find Young recording with someone somewhere, with his legion of devoted followers waiting patiently as always for his next effort.