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Neil Young's philosophy on recording: Let's roll

May 28, 2009 | 10:52 am


From early on, Neil Young has operated on a document-everything, edit-later philosophy.

That became crystal clear when I sat down with the three-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee last week in Santa Monica to talk about his long-gestating “Archives” box set that finally sees release on June 2.

The stockpile mentality has resulted in massive amounts of material in his own storehouses, both at his Broken Arrow Ranch in Woodside, in Northern California, and others in Redwood City and southern San Francisco. Beyond that, he reached out to countless friends, family members and musicians he’s played with over the years to get his hands on memorabilia or recordings they had that might figure into his “Archives” retrospective.

But it was fascinating to hear him talk about his philosophy in the recording studio, whether it was during his first go-round with fame as a member of Buffalo Springfield in the mid-1960s, the solo recordings he made right after the group disbanded in 1968 or his collaborations over the years with Crazy Horse and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

“I always recorded everything,” Young told me at his manager’s office while he walked me through the disc covering the earliest part of his career, when he was a member of the Squires, his high school band in Winnipeg, Canada.

“I recorded everything and kept everything, because I figured the guy who recorded over something to save tape,” he said, practically sneering when he spit out the words “save tape,” “we would kill that guy. And if the guy wasn’t rolling when we started playing a song, we would kill him. The guy wouldn’t be around any more.

“[Producer David] Briggs and I, if you weren’t rolling as soon as one guy sat down, you were out,” he said. “We were not about saving tape. Our whole message was…just be rolling all the time, anytime anybody’s in there. That way there’ll never be a start or an end, because it’s always on. Then musicians relax. There’s no ‘Wait, we’re not rolling.’ There’s none of that…. You just go in that room and you play, and later on you hear what you did.”

As a result, the first installment of this career retrospective, “Neil Young Archives: Volume 1 (1963-1972)," has all sorts of intriguing studio outtakes, radio interviews and other material that help flesh out what we know about Young and his music.

Like this bit of a conversation with Bob Bradburn, the Canadian radio disc jockey and engineer who helped the Squires make their first records.

“Think about some of the early stuff this guy did,” Bradburn says, “As far as I’m concerned, it’s as good as the stuff the Springfield did there for a while."

Then Neil tells me: “He’s right,” listening to his own voice back when he was still a teenager. “That’s the same voice of ‘Expecting to Fly.’...You can kinda hear the Springfield thing in it, but it was a year ahead of that.”

Fortunately, he got it on tape. And saved it.

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Pegi Young