My Eureka moment - my ‘born in the dust’ vocals
Tell us about yourself and your music
This is a tough first question to answer without “writing a book”.
I go back a long way so I have more than enough chapters and pages of life to fill a book – perhaps two.
My music roots were nurtured growing up on the family farm near where I still live in Paris, Ontario. I began singing as a young boy in the choir in the small rural church that I attended with my family.
After the Korean War ended in 1953, while not without its share of issues and concerns around the world, as a teenager I remember the rest of the 1950s as being some of the best years ever. It was wonderful being a part of the legendary 1950s Country/Blues/Rockabilly/Doo Wop era and the dawning of Rock and Roll when Elvis took the stage and the world by storm.
Those were the years when I began to learn to play guitar. My first guitar lessons in my early teens were on an old Hawaiian guitar that a neighbor lady across the road from our farm had given me. The Hawaiian guitar was no substitute though for the music that was churning and burning inside of me to get out. My dear mother, God rest her soul, did not relish the thought of me learning to play the guitar that made “that rock and roll music” as she called it. I persisted and not long after got my hands on one of those ‘rock and roll’ guitars.
That was soon followed by the first two songs that I wrote in 1959, “Got Nothin’ to Lose”, and, “There’s Just the One and Only You” – about a girl I was sweet on. We were married five years later and thanks to her being there for me more times than I can remember we’re still married. She was my first date when I was 15, I was her first date when she was 14 – our mothers approved as we were being chaperoned by my 20-year-old cousin and her boyfriend.
Interestingly, as I was writing book 1 of my novel, ‘The Summer Garden and the Song’, the main character, ‘Mick Neilson’ said to his girlfriend, “there’s just the one and only you” catching me by surprise and reminding me that that was the title of the song I had written 50 years earlier while in high school. From that Eureka moment on, the song became the love theme woven through the pages of the novel.
My wife is fond of reminding me from time to time that there was an electric guitar in our home before there was a washing machine … lol
Like most teenage boys with a guitar in their hands, I had dreams of being a rock and roll star one day. While that was not in the cards for me, little did I know at the time that some 50 years later those two songs would cut my debut CD album, ‘No Looking Back’.
I was a member of ‘no-name’ bands in the 1960s, ‘70’s, ‘80’s and ‘90’s, including belonging to “Downtown Jam” – a club in Toronto participating in weekly make-up jam bands with different musicians every week.
One morning around that time I found myself at that place characterized by the great New York Yankees catcher, Yogi Berra: ‘When you come to a fork in the road, take it.’
I did, and I took it.
It was obviously my lucky day. In a round-about way, it led me back to my country roots, back to the sweet memories of my teen years, and thankfully, back to the music that I had left behind years earlier. Not long after, I was named on the front page of the July 2007 CASHBOX Magazine as ‘one of the awesome indies gracing our independent charts every week’.
In the booklet that came with my debut CD album ‘No Looking Back’ released in August 2007, I wrote, ‘It should come as no surprise that my music and lyrics are colored and shaped by those wonderfully free and inspiring times and experiences. Perhaps in a way through my music, I’m going back to the Fifties. Then again maybe I never really left’.
A promoter who took me under his wings for a couple of years once wrote: ‘From tumbleweeds drifting along old Route 66 and flashy 1950’s convertibles to rusted-out flatbed trucks and hitching a ride in a boxcar, it’s hard not to picture Johnny Cash singing some of Neil’s songs. Even more so with Neil’s self-effacing western lilt and a soft southern drawl influenced in part during his teens while toiling in summer sun-baked Southern Ontario tobacco fields alongside his co-workers from the Carolina’s and Georgia.’
As for anecdotes, one that quickly comes to mind is receiving a lovely hand-written note in August 1986 from Rick Nelson’s mother, Harriet Nelson, thanking me for the lyrics to the song I had written the night Rick died in a plane crash in Texas New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1985. The letter is treasured, framed, and hanging in my music room.
While not related specifically to my music, I was given a credit as Special Consultant in the 2003 documentary film ‘Piaf: Her Story, Her Songs’ featuring California singer Raquel Bitton and legendary composer Francis Lai who wrote for Edith Piaf, and others who knew the French singer.
That involvement took me to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in California for the editing session of the film then back to Toronto Ontario for its debut screening at the elegant Elgin Theatre. The film won first place at the 25th Classic Telly awards.
Shortly after the release of my debut CD album, No Looking Back, Christian Lamitschka, Country Home, Germany’s Premier Country Music Magazine wrote about my debut CD album, “Some dreams come thru really late, but then when it happens, the joy is much bigger. Neil w Young is not a young boy anymore, but he always had the dream to publish his own CD … better late than never. And even the man is over 50, he has the energy of a 25-year-old. His songs have an honesty that hasn’t been heard in a long time.”
Needless to say, music has afforded me many golden opportunities and experiences.
Talk to us more about your latest release
Five months ago in May of this year, 2020, Michael Gogol – a musician in Germany who had been following me on SoundCloud, messaged me and asked if I would listen to some of his music as he would like to work with me if I was interested.
I listened to several tracks that he had not yet published, and when I clicked on this track and it began to play it spoke to me in such a way that I immediately began jotting down notes for lyrics. I knew exactly the direction I would take with the lyrics and with my vocals when it came time to go into the studio to record the song.
We agreed quickly and I went to work on the lyric. The words flowed easily from mind to paper so to speak and soon I had written 9 verses and 4 choruses to go into the 4-minute track. I did suggest one change to the arrangement which Michael agreed to improve the track.
What inspired you to write this release?
There was no lack of inspiration to write the release. Given the arrival of the Coronavirus, Covid-19, on the worldwide scene early in the year combined with what had become an almost daily barrage of worsening and worrisome happenings and events and the unraveling of the threads of democracy, there was no shortage of material for the lyrics.
I knew too that I could come out of the vocal comfort zone I had performed in for years and measure up to the ‘steady and insistent’ vocal style the song demanded
Describe the writing and recording process
I approached the writing of the lyrics and recording the vocals with a renewed passion as an artist. It was more than an uplifting experience and project.
Writing the lyrics was a cleansing of the soul so to speak from the dark and ominous clouds and the brewing storm on the political, cultural, and social horizon that has been hanging over the world for some time.
When I brought Michael’s music to my producer, his first words were, “I don’t know what you can do with this Neil. It’s not like ‘Johnny Cash’ or like anything else you have done.”
I replied, “I do,” as I had written the lyrics and knew it was going to be a ‘bare-knuckler’ 4-minute, 9 verses, 4 choruses no-holds-barred song of the times.
I felt redeemed when my mastering engineer emailed me and said, “WOW, such a stylistic departure for you Neil! Congrats and such a powerful message you’re sending on some very important issues.”
Whenever the chips have been down I have always been prepared to live or die on my own production calls.
My video producer and editor followed up with an equally encouraging email and said, “I admire your courage and conviction in writing this.”
Standing behind the mic in the studio recording the song felt like being set free!
As I was writing the lyrics I was mentally directing the video for the song. I could see most every potential picture or scene for every line in the lyrics. The two fit together like hand-in-glove.
I have a great working relationship with my video producer and editor so he pretty much was able to use the time-coded lyrics I gave him as a running storyboard to follow. He and I selected the clips for the video.
After the video was released just a few short days ago, a fellow artist on IndieMusicPeople.com commented on the public message board, “Kudos to you, Neil, and all involved. It takes a lot of courage to change horses in the midstream with an ‘outside the box’ vocal performance and Dylanesque lyrics. The song transcends genre and succeeds on all levels. Congrats on a monumental accomplishment.”
There is no victory, no justice, and no honor in remaining silent.
Any plans to release a video?
Any plans to hit the road?
I have not been a ‘touring’ artist which I realize has affected the opportunity of building and growing a fan base, and have put all the weight of marketing success on the sale of physical CDs and digital mp3s from streaming web sites which to be perfectly frank has fallen far short to date of carrying the freight. I suspect like many other unknown indie artists looking to find an opening in the music marketplace I have fallen prey at times to the promises of ‘song pluggers’ only to be disappointed that their results were a far cry from the promises they had made.
As an indie artist, how do you brand yourself and your music to stand out from the rest of the artists out there?
Well, given the challenge of using my given first and last name with my middle initial “w” always displayed in the lower case with no period to create a “branding/marketing” style for my name as well as wanting to be seen standing apart in the world of music from my accomplished countryman who shares the same first and last name as I who is three years my junior and who I greatly respect, I have endeavored to remain true to my own ‘born in the dust’ lyrical vocals/voice and genres, save and except for the stylistic departure that I made into the Electro-Pop genre with this new release.
From the many comments and messages I have received from the fans that I do have around the world, I think I have succeeded, at least at a micro-level.
Who have you been listening to lately?
John Prine, Gram Parsons, and Johnny Cash – who have all passed, Kris Kristofferson and Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Who are your biggest influences?
Hands down, my biggest influences were the artists I was listening to as a teenager on my little Channel Master transistor radio – Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, Ricky Nelson, The Everly Brothers, Paul Anka, Elvis, The Diamonds, Fats Domino, and many more. You could say I was addicted to the Top 40 on the Hit Parade charts. The arrival of the Beatles on the world stage put my passion for music into orbit. Even though I wrote my first two songs in 1959 when in high school, during the 1970s and 1980’s my songwriting began to have a prolific impact on my life. It continues to this day.
Tell us about your passions
Even before I graduated from university I have been an entrepreneur at heart. I parlayed that in the 1970s into the world of real estate development, investment, and management, including a foray into joint venture real estate development projects in Las Vegas on top of my own projects here in Ontario.
During my “spare time”, I served as executive director and tour manager of Rhapsody On Ice – an international touring troupe of precision/synchro ice dancers that I founded and took around the world for 7 years between 1985 and 1992.
My other true passion besides music is my ‘other life’ as an author writing as N. W. Young, witness my having had books 1 and 2 of my novel, The Summer Garden and the Song published in the last few years. I am currently writing book 3, the last book of the trilogy.
Perhaps the stamina that I have maintained through my life is related to my being named in my last year at high school as a Western Ontario Secondary School Honour Athlete.
I cannot ever remember waking up in the morning wondering what I was going to do that day.
What else is happening next in your world?
There will be more songwriting, more recording, more collaborations, completing the writing of Book 3 of my novel – The Summer Garden and the Song, and family responsibilities which have always come first in my life.
I do want to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thoughts and appreciation to the new friends and fans that have come into my life had I not came to that fork in the road, for without you I would not have seen this dream of mine come true – thank you one and all for being a special part of it happening.
Oh, as for my Eureka moment – my ‘born in the dust’ vocals … while my music roots were nurtured growing up on the family farm in Southwestern Ontario and attending the small rural church with my family and singing in the choir, it was not until as a young lad old enough to drive our two-cylinder John Deere tractor when I was handed the job of helping to work up the land and cultivating the annual corn crop – field dust billowing and swirling all around my face and head through blazing hot summer days, and when I thought no one could hear me above the insistent steady beat of the John Deere put-put-putting its way from one end of the field to the other – I would be singing my fool head off to songs from some of my favourite country and rockabilly artists in the early days of rock and roll, when like as if struck by a bolt of lightning I suddenly realized that while singing `I was able to speak and say and pronounce words that when not singing I often was unable to say, speak or pronounce because of an embarrassing speech impediment that had eroded and crushed my self-esteem and confidence through my formative early years. From that moment on, it was like being set free never again to be burdened with self-doubt or lack of confidence and I have never stopped singing at any and every chance I had.
Singing, albeit in my country-boy ‘born in the dust’ vocals, has long been my saving light … and my guiding light.
Sing to your heart’s content – it is one of life’s greatest therapies. The benefits are priceless, and it’s free.
Thanks for an awesome interview, Neil w Young
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