Neil Young biography
Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young arrived in the United States in the mid-1960s and co-founded the band Buffalo Springfield, jump-starting a musical career that has spanned more than 45 years. Young has been inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and is known for writing and recording such time-transcending songs as "Old Man," "Harvest Moon," "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)," "The Needle and the Damage Done," "Rockin' in the Free World" and "Heart of Gold"—a No. 1 hit. Outside of music, Young is a strong advocate for environmental and disability issues, demonstrated in his co-founding of the Benefit for Farm Aid and Bridge School Benefit Concerts.
Neil Young was born on November 12, 1945 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to Rassy and Scott Young. Young grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Before becoming one of the best-known musicans of his generation, he formed his first band, the Jades, while in junior high school. During that time, he also developed his characteristic melodic guitar style and use of the "whammy bar," creating a vibrato effect to accompany his unique and mournful, untrained, yet singular voice.
A few years later, in 1963, Young formed an instrumental and folk-rock band called the Squires. Never one for rigidity, he dropped out of high school and began performing in Fort William, and soon began recording demos with his four bandmates. It was during this time that Young first met Stephen Stills, who was touring with his band, the Company.
By the mid-1960s, Young decided to leave the Squires and begin touring the folk clubs in Winnipeg. While making his cafe rounds, he met fellow folk musician Joni Mitchell—who would later write the song "The Circle Game" in response to the Young's song, "Sugar Mountain." Also during this time, the rock band The Guess Who recorded one of Young's songs, "Flying on the Ground Is Wrong," which would become a Top 40 Canadian hit.
In 1966, Young moved to the United States with friend and bass player Bruce Palmer; the two packed their possesions into Young's black hearse and drove the long road to Los Angeles, California. There, Young and Palmer co-founded the band Buffalo Springfield, which also included Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and Dewey Martin. Their first album, Buffalo Springfield, which included the Stills-authored hit song "For What It's Worth," was a best-seller and introduced both the band and Young to America. The band grew to attract a large following, and was acclaimed for its experimental and skilled instrumental pieces, inventive songwriting, and harmony-focuses vocal composition.
Although Buffalo Springfield fell apart after only a couple of years, the group managed to release two more albums, Buffalo Springfield Again and Last Time Around, in 1967 and 1968, respectively. Despite its short life, Buffalo Springfield was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. It was the first time that Young was enshrined—he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame again in 1995, for his solo work.
By the late-1960s, Young had again embarked on a solo career, backed by a group called Crazy Horse. In 1969, while still working as a solo artist, Young joined former Springfield member Stephen Stills and two other musicians, David Crosby and Graham Nash, to form the band Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Through a contractual agreement, Young was able to work as both a solo artist and a member of CSN&Y simulatenously. Just months after bringing Young into the mix, CSN&Y was invited to perform at the famous Woodstock Fesitval—their second live performance. The band's subsequent tour and album release, Déjà Vu, catapulted them to fame—so much so that they were often referred to as the "American Beatles."
Perhaps due to pressure, or perhaps due to his own ambitions, Young's relationship with Crosby, Stills and Nash soon became contentious. Young and Stills were often at odds over the direction of the band, and Young eventually parted ways in the early 1970s. Crosby, Stills and Nash continued on as a trio, and each of the three remaining members, like Young, became two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees; CSN&Y remains the only band to have all of its members inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame twice, though not all with each other.
After leaving CSN&Y, Young focused on his solo career, backed up again with Crazy Horse. He released several albums over the next three years, culminating with Harvest (1972), a hallmark work that contains the song "Heart of Gold," a No. 1 hit, and the only No. 1 song of Young's career, to date. CSN&Y reunited in 1974, and released a successful compilation album.
In 1979, Young released the album Rust Never Sleeps, which included the anthem "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)," and was both a commercial and critical success. In the 1980s, Young experimented with various styles of music, from computerized sequencers to country music, and most were neither critially nor commercially well-received.
In 1989, Young released the album Freedom, which includes the song "Rockin' in the Free World." The alternative song is often credited with starting grunge music, and earned Young the moniker "Godfather of Grunge," especially after the band Pearl Jam adopted the song and performed it with Young at the 1993 MTV Video Awards. The 1990s also found Young playing with Booker T., touring with Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam, and reuniting with Crazy Horse to record Harvest Moon. Young returned to his roots to create the album, which includes a compilation of folk-rock tunes.
The 2000s found Young reflecting the souls of America, from the patriotic song, "Let's Roll," inspired by the heroism shown after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, to the antiwar-themed album Living with War.
In the 1980s, Young was heavily preoccupied with taking care of his son, Ben, who suffered from cerebal palsy, as did his older son, Zeke.
Young, an avid model-train collector, created a 700-foot model train track within a barn on his property—an idea he developed as a way to interact with Ben.
Young developed special controllers for the train set, allowing his son to control switching and power using a paddle system. The controls later formed the basis for a company called Liontech. In 1995, when the Lionel company was facing bankruptcy, Young put together an investment group to purchase the train company so that he might continue his research and development.
Young's experience with cerebal palsy—as well as the epilepsy of his daughter, Amber Jean, which Neil also struggled with—resulted in Neil and his then-wife, Pegi, founding the Bridge School in San Francisco, a center for children with communication disabilities in the 1980s. The yearly concert benefit for the Bridge School, started in 1986, has attracted thousands of concertgoers and featured many major artists, including Eddie Vedder, Beck, Dave Matthews and Carlos Santana. Young also became heavily involved in advocating for environmental issues by participaing in the organization of yearly concerts for Farm Aid.
In June 2012, following a nine-year break from album-creation, Young released Americana—a collaboration with his longtime back-up band, Crazy Horse, and the 34th studio album of Young's career. Young's prior solo album with Crazy Horse was 2003's Greendale. Americana focuses on electric guitar riffs and features many standard and patriotic folk songs, including "Oh, Susanna," "Clementine" and "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain."
Young seems to have always challenged himself musically, and challenged his audience emotionally, by experimenting with musical styles and genres. His musical versatility, as well as his refusal to stay in one place, or with one band, have bolstered his endurance in a culture that is often influenced by the newest fad. Young once said about his growth as a musician, "As I get older, I get smaller. I see other parts of the world I didn't see before. Other points of view. I see outside myself more."