My first encounter with Neil was when I wrote him several years after I had left the site, about an issue with an artist I brought to IAC. I soon found that even though he had experienced some frustration with the site he had become majority owner of, he still cared about IAC and the artists there. We had a long running conversation about the future of the site and although at the time I was quite adamant that I didn't want to do a relaunch til the stat situation was fixed, it did become pretty clear that the site was still valued by the heart of the membership, so we did the relaunch anyway. Then we got the stats rolling and did some other vital fixes so what's now IMP is without a doubt superior to the original site. Course I got to know Neil during this time and found him to be a serious artist and musical spokesman. This interview is long overdue but it comes at a time when Neil is releasing a new series of books about his life and music. The man has a lot of stories and there is much to learn from him and his journey.
Scott: So tell us about the first time you picked up a guitar and the first time you wrote a song.
Neil w: Best as I can remember now, it would have been in the early 1950's. I would have been about ten years old perhaps. A neighbour across the road from our farm gave it to me. It already had a few years on it - likely a few more than I had on me. I had already had a taste of writing poetry having co-written one at the time with a cousin a few years older than me. I typed (hunt and pecked) it on my father's shiny black Underwood typewriter - you know the kind I'm talking about - the kind that reporters, journalists and authors used in days gone by to type their stories, essays and manuscripts. I likened my father’s Underwood to one Ernest Hemingway might have used to type his manuscript for Farewell to Arms or For Whom the Bell Tolls, or any of his other great novels.
Not surprising to those who know me, I still have the page that I typed that poem on, although it has yellowed over the many years of being squirreled away in my archives. Sadly, my father’s old Underwood did not survive the years. Not that many years ago, a rusted and long since used relic of the 1950’s, it went the way of likely thousands more from that era. On occasion when I happen to see one like it in a memorabilia store or flea market, I pine for the one I let go. It would have been a nostalgic memory from the time when he started up his John Deere Farm Implement dealership in Simcoe, Ontario.
But I digress, sorry. Writing poetry was a stepping stone for me into songwriting which was to follow a few years later in my teens while in high school during the legendary 1950's Country - Rockabilly era and the dawning of Rock and Roll.
mentor in those early years was
Gerry Risser -a friend and accomplished guitarist. Gerry was a product
birth of rock 'n roll in the 1950's getting his start playing guitar in
Mel-O-Denes', a rock band in his hometown of London Ontario. From that
Gerry performed with The Capers - a London group that included drummer
Hudson who went on to perform with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks and
The Band. The Capers had their own TV show on CFPL Channel 10 in
landed a recording contract in Detroit and had personal appearances
artists as The Everly Brothers, Paul Anka, Jimmie Rogers, Bill Haley
Comets, Johnny Cash and others.
You asked though when I first wrote a song - 1959 was the year that I scribbled two songs in the back pages of one of my high school notebooks - likely during a class when I should have been paying attention to the teacher. Forty-seven years later they both made the cut for my debut CD album, No Looking Back that I was then recording and that was released in August 2007. Those two songs were and are, "Got Nothin' To Lose", and, "There's Just The One And Only You" ... and that presents an opportunity for me to segue into your next question.
Scott:So I hear you've been doing some writing, new books coming out. Tell us about that.
Neil w: Yes, I have been doing some writing other than songwriting and poetry since releasing my debut CD album No Looking Back in 2007, my mp3 Christmas song single, “That’s What Christmas Means To Me” December 2010, and my second album What Difference Will It Make in 2012.
A couple of weeks ago on July 8th, I made my debut as an author with the release of Book 1 of my 2-book novel (fiction), The Summer Garden and the Song. Book 1 (447 pages) is titled The Summer Garden and the Song: The Circle of Life. It is a coming of age story, a love story – a story of loves gained, loves lost, and loves unconditional. It is the story of Mick Neilson, the Circle of Life, the Summer Garden, and a song. It is set in 1959 in Norfolk County – the heartland of tobacco country in Southwestern Ontario.
You might find it curious that the novel was the result and fulfillment of a promise that I had made in my graduation year from university in 1964 to a first year student who I was tutoring in Economics 101 at the time prior to final exams. After learning that I was somewhat of a songwriter and writer of poems and short stories, she asked if I would let her read some of my poems and short stories - all just hand-written on ordinary schoolroom notepaper. One poem had struck her so emotionally that she asked if I would promise that I would write a novel one day. I said I would, although I said I couldn't promise when I might. After graduation, I never saw her again, although she had written to me several times that summer. In her last letter she said she was looking forward to reading my novel. That as I said, was 1964.
I never forgot having made that promise, but like much else in my life after graduation, with a family as well as my multi-focused entrepreneurial career beginning to unfold, there was never a dull moment or free time to even think about writing a novel.
In 2007 though and after releasing my debut CD No Looking Back, two friends, Rosie Hamlin and Dee Dee (Sperling) Phelps played important roles in providing the inspiration and encouragement that resulted in The Summer Garden and the Song seeing the light of day.
Rosie was the lead singer in the 1960's group Rosie and the Originals. Their song "Angel Baby" was a top 40 hit in 1961. The song was covered by John Lennon. It was also featured in the 1995 independent American drama film, My Family / Mi Familia.
Dee Dee and her singing partner Dick St. John Gosting (Dick St. John), known professionally as Dick and Dee Dee, also had a hit single in 1961, "The Mountain's High". The song reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 1961.
I have both of those 45's in my 1956 Wurlitzer Centennial model jukebox. It plays just as good as it did back in the day.
Sadly, Dick St John died in 2006 from falling off the roof of his house in Pacific Palisades, California.
Interestingly, very early in the novel when I was writing a conversation that the two main characters were having, unexpectedly and completely out of the blue, the young man said to his girlfriend, "There's just the one and only you." After giving my head a shake at the coincidence of the song of the same title that I had written in 1959 finding its way into the fictional conversation I was writing, from that point on the song became the love theme woven through the pages of The Summer Garden and the Song.
When I had completed writing the manuscript and about the time I submitted it to my publisher, I set out to try to locate the girl that I had made the promise to in 1964. My first step was to contact the alumni department at the university where I graduated that year. I gave the alumni staff member the information that I knew about her from 1964, and within a few days the member emailed and said she had located the girl and that she was living very close to where I live - proving once again that it really is a small world.
In any event, she received permission from her to give me her telephone number, telling her that I had some interesting news to tell her. I can tell you that when I called her and told her my reason for wanting to talk to her was to tell her that I had finally fulfilled my promise to write a novel, she was more than surprised - dumbfounded and shocked was more like it, but very pleasantly though when it finally sunk in. Just a few days ago, I went to see her - the first time since 1964, and gave her a personalized and autographed copy of Book 1.
Book 2 is already written and is currently going through the final editing and formatting process by the publisher. The title of Book 2 is The Summer Garden and the Song: Harvest. It will be released in October.
Book 1 is available from my publisher, Cavern of Dreams (www.cavernofdreams.com) and also through my website (www.neilwyoung.com). It is also available at Amazon.ca
There may be a Book 3, although that is not currently in my plans for 2017.
Scott: You've been around country music for awhile, ever met any of the big stars? Any anecdotes?
Well, let's say that while my genre of choice in my recording career to date has for the most part been Country, my songwriting and interest in music has not been limited to that genre, although it might be argued that Rockabilly, Rock and Roll and easy-listening ballads all had roots in Country.
I have met a few of the “big” stars of my time and seen many of them too such as Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, Bobby Vee, the Everly Brothers, Paul Anka, Cher, Lou Christie, the Righteous Brothers, The Who, the Rolling Stones, Neil Diamond, AC DC, Kris Kristofferson, the Guess Who, Rush, Tommy Roe, Freddie Cannon, the Beach Boys, the Pointer Sisters, Dionne Warwick, Billy Joel, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Wayne Newton, and yes, I have attended several of my namesake's concerts - tried not to inhale … gave in a few times.
I have met Fats Domino and have seen him several times. I also have met Bobby Vinton as well as Jan and Dean when I promoted their shows in 1987.
As for anecdotes, one that quickly comes to mind is receiving a lovely hand-written note from Rick Nelson's mother, Harriet Nelson, in August 1986 thanking me for the lyrics to the song I had written the night Rick died in a plane crash in Texas that New Year's Eve. The letter is treasured, framed and hanging in my music room.
While not related to country music, I was given a credit as Special Consultant in the 2003 documentary film Piaf: Her story, Her Songs featuring California singer Raquel Bitton along with legendary composer Francis Lai in cameo remembrances and 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. It is available at Amazon and Netflix.
Scott: Do you like the Beatles and Stones? What's your favorite mainstream act that isn't country?
Yes, I liked the Beatles and the Stones from the minute I first heard them in the early 1960's when I was in university.
My favourite mainstream act that isn’t country – if they can still be called “mainstream” would have to be the Rolling Stones, as well as one that might surprise you and that hasn't kicked up much dust lately, a Las Vegas born group – The Killers.
Their video “All These Things That I've Done” and the scenes in the video of Young's Neon Sign Boneyard in Las Vegas brought back memories of the times I had tramped through rows of neon sign skeletons at the Young Electric Sign Company when it was located on Cameron Street in Vegas looking for pieces that I thought I could use. The sign company eventually donated a lot of the signs it had stored at its location to the Neon Museum in Vegas that opened in 2012.
Scott: What was your greatest single memory about your own music as in concert or something else?
Neil w: While it would likely seem insignificant to many, and while being far from earth shaking, the day I held a copy of my debut CD album No Looking Back in my hands was a milestone event in my late-in-life music career as a recording artist.
Actually though, every event and performance has a special place in my memories. Also, seeing people getting up and dancing when I'm performing is as good as a royal salute to me. One of the greatest rewards music has given to me though are the many friends and fans around the world that have come into my life.
Scott: I was listening to your song Tunnel of Love and Bumper Cars. You seem like you are a nostalgic guy. What was it like for you in high school? Do you still communicate with any of those people? What were you like then?
Neil w: Many of the songs that I have written – including “The Tunnel of Love and Bumper Cars” that you mentioned, as well as the two aforementioned songs that I wrote in 1959, speak to the influence and inspiration the many legends of rock and roll, country and rockabilly music that I listened to and loved during my teen and high school years had on me.
The Bio & Photo History page on my website paints a pretty accurate picture of me as a nostalgic kind of guy. In fact a line that I wrote in Book 1 of my aforementioned novel that just might get quoted in time confirms that nostalgia plays an important role in my life: “Next to our dreams, memories are our greatest treasure.”
High school and the influence and inspiration of the music in the 1950's were more meaningful to me than I think I realized at the time, and for sure, they played an instrumental role in how I developed as a songwriter.
As for what was I like in high school: I think it is fairly safe to say that I was popular and well-liked. I was also a Western Ontario Secondary (High School) Honor Athlete in 1960.
Yes, I still keep in touch with several of my high school classmates.
Scott: What's it like going thru life with the name Neil Young? Any stories on that?
Neil w: Well, I was named after my paternal grandfather and great-great grandfather - both old Scotsmen, so the name fits well on me and always has. In reference to your question though referring I realize to my more accomplished and successful countryman, I had already written the two aforementioned songs that made the cut for my debut CD album, had graduated from university, was married with two children and was well on my way going through life as an entrepreneur during the day and a somewhat singer-songwriter at night before Neil became a phenom and household word.
Besides, I am a few years older than Neil, and to tell the truth, it has never bothered me with him having the same first and last name as me (tongue-in-cheek). I'd guess off-hand though that him sharing the same first and last name with me, or me with him, hasn't hurt my late-in-life career as a recording artist - to the contrary likely I would wager, and I'm sure my recording career hasn't damaged his - or at least I would hope not as I have a great deal of respect for Neil, so much so that out of respect I do not cover any of his songs.
As you might expect though, hardly a day goes by that when I have to give my name for anything, it results in being a great conversation starter and invariably gives me an opportunity to do a little shameless self-promotion, and just as often add another potential fan. I always carry 4" x 6" personalized postcards printed on both sides - my picture on one side and promo pictures of my CD covers and other pictures and information about my music and website on the other.
As for any stories about my namesake – well, while I have never met Neil, I would welcome the opportunity should it ever develop. Scott Young though, a Canadian journalist, sportswriter, novelist and the father of Neil and his sister Astrid, autographed his book Neil and Me to me as follows: “To another Neil Young from the proud father of the 1945 one.” That was as much a hint of acceptance into Neil's world as it was a special complement to me.
Scott: You're the Chairman of IMP. How do you think the site is doing?
Neil w: First, and although you didn't ask, it should be clarified that my position as Chairman of IMP has somewhat limited ability given there has yet to be a Board of Directors formed that I would normally report to, however given the fiscal structure of IMP as it now stands, my duties are limited to being an overseer of management activities; making myself available to be involved with the strategic planning of events and to insure that all activities are conducted and carried out in accordance with IMP's mission and generally accepted business practices, endeavoring to maintain a position of neutrality while seeing that business protocols are implemented and followed, and offering advice and insights.
How do I think the site is doing? While it is still not yet out of the woods and is in dire need of revenue, it has made advances and has continued to improve with time following the successful relaunch over a year ago, thanks to the efforts of Scott Stambaugh who I encouraged a couple of years ago to return to the site and to become active again bringing the benefit of his experience and involvement as one of the founders of IACMusic as IMP was formally known, as well as the commitment and drive that he has exhibited to push IMP forward and hopefully upward.
The site has sputtered from time to time in efforts to present a favourable and professional face not only to the existing membership, but also to the general public, as well as presenting an inviting opportunity for new members to join. Further on the positive side, site traffic has continued to slowly improve and new members are in fact being attracted and gained, all of which one would think might or should attract the interest of potential advertisers and resulting in a much needed revenue stream. That has yet to happen.
Since the relaunch, there have been a few bumps and hiccups. The membership is to be commended for their tolerance and patience while the bumps were being smoothed out. I'm sure not all members realize that 99% of the work being carried out behind the scenes is performed voluntarily by a few who have given their heart and soul to IMP, and to IAC before the relaunch, as well as by a very few who have given financially in very substantial terms in their belief and commitment to the site.
Also to be thanked and duly recognized – and greatly appreciated – are those few members who have stepped forward and agreed to be a part of the $20 (Twenty Dollar) Club and who contribute (donate) $20, or however much they can spare monthly, to help pay the server bill, which if not paid, the site goes dark until it is.
Scott: I saw on your page you were involved with Rhapsody on Ice, how did that come about and was it a fun experience?
Neil w: It is a rather long story and perhaps not of a great deal of interest to members of IMP. It came about through both of our daughters having been involved in figure skating at an early age. I took an active interest in the sport and respective organizations serving in several capacities including president of our local figure skating club. After spending 15 years involved in the sport as a parent, a volunteer and an administrator, I became acutely aware of the limitations that existed for young skaters when they reached their mid to late teens with little to no chance of ever advancing any further in the sport or having the opportunity to join a professional ice show such as Ice Capades or Ice Follies, and subsequently hanging up their skates and seeing all they had learned and developed over the years going nowhere from that point on. I saw that as an opportunity to provide and build a program where they could continue in the sport without the strict regimen of tests and competitions, but rather as proud ambassadors of their sport, their hometowns and of Canada.
In July of 1985 I founded Rhapsody On Ice on the premise that it would be a world touring troupe of precision / synchronized figure skaters and ice dancers for girls over the age of 16. Advertisements were placed in area newspapers and interviews were held in August resulting in the selection of 20 girls between the age 16 and 25. Within three months, the troupe was the featured performance in a show that I had organized and that included a number of professional skaters, national and world champions that I had engaged to be a part of the show.
Our next event was being the sole approved Canadian part of the May 26, 1986 world-wide Sport Aid event that was organized by Bob Geldof (The Boomtown Rats). I negotiated use of the ice rink in the West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton Alberta to stage our event that I named “Skate For Life – Skate With The Stars”. I once again engaged a number of professional and national champions who were happy to freely participate, as did a couple of team members of the National Hockey League Edmonton Oilers. Air Canada covered the return air fare for the troupe from Toronto to Edmonton and back to Toronto. I was also fortunate to have Otto Jelinek, a member of Parliament and Minster of Fitness and Amateur Sport in Canada at the time - who with his sister Maria were 1962 World Pairs Champions – agree to travel from Ottawa to Edmonton to officially open and participate in the event.
From there, I took Rhapsody On Ice around the world for seven years between 1986 and 1992, starting with a tour to Australia in 1986 including performances in Hawaii, followed by a U.S. Tour in 1987 to Florida, Arizona, California and again to Hawaii, a tour of New Zealand and Australia again in 1988, Hong Kong in 1989 including being featured performers at the Skate Asia Gala held at the Hong Kong Coliseum, a 1990 tour to England, France and Spain, and to Denmark in 1992.
Planned tours to Yugoslavia and to Dubai were shelved with political caution being provided to us due to the potential and eventual Civil War in Yugoslavia and the Gulf War.
With other responsibilities beginning to occupy much of my time and due to a promoter bailing on sponsoring a tour for a new show – Cotton Club Express, that we had developed and were planning to take on a world tour, following our performances in Denmark I reluctantly closed the curtains on Rhapsody On Ice, but not before having created once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and memories for the skaters that they otherwise would never have had a chance to experience.
It was a fun experience filled though with challenges and hurdles to overcome along the way, in addition to heavy responsibilities during each of the tours the troupe made circling the globe.
There is more about Rhapsody On Ice on my website as well as on two Facebook pages that I set up last year as a walk down Rhapsody's memory lane.
Scott: I looked at your domain site, a whole lot of history there. You look like quite the gentleman in your youth, was yours a strict upbringing?
Neil w: My website includes a fair bit of my history – all too much to repeat here. It is there for the interested.
As for my upbringing, I did not and have never considered it as being strict. As a child I was given and shown love and was taught manners, respect and decorum. I endeavored to give, show and teach those same qualities to my children, as well as treat others throughout my life the same.
Like I said in the lyrics to my song “Old Memories” - the title track of my new CD album of the same name, I was raised a country boy. That speaks to one of the foundations of my upbringing.
Scott: We ask this question of all we interview. Have you had any experiences of high strangeness like UFOs, ghosts, the supernatural?
Neil w: An interesting question. I have not encountered or experienced the sighting of UFO's, although I wouldn't discount the possibility of there being some.
As for ghosts and the supernatural – lumped together, to me they represent “paranormal” events, to which I would begin by saying that while I have likely inherited some of my late father's skepticism (which near the end of his life, those walls of skepticism began to crumble), I have experienced events that a realist might argue were only a figment of my imagination. They were though grounded in and connected to life events that I recognized. I do believe that one has to be receptive to such experiences. Not everyone is.
Scott: How do you feel about the state of America, having had the chance to observe it thru the various generations?
Neil w: I remember the Korean War and the Cold War; I remember Little Rock and the civil rights crisis of 1957; I remember the Cuban missile crisis and President Kennedy's showdown with Russia's Premier Nikita Khrushchev; I remember the failed CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion; I was on my way to a class at university when I heard that President Kennedy had been shot, then two hours later Lee Harvey Oswald being arrested, and then two days later Oswald being shot and killed by Jack Ruby while in custody in front of TV news cameras. Unbelievable! I remember Bobby Kennedy being shot and the Vietnam War, and through it all America survived, continued to see new growth future, set new goals and horizons even into space, and continued to be seen as the leading light and strength in the free world. America overcame all of its dark days in true Pete Seeger “We Shall Overcome” ways and style. Fifteen years later in the aftermath of 9-11, the struggle continues and there are days when the future looks dim.
On another level, I remember as a young boy entering my teens listening to Johnny Ray, Patti Page and Debbie Reynolds on our little AM kitchen radio; I loved – and still do - all the beautiful “American” cars of the 1950's – in fact I had one myself – a 1954 Oldsmobile Starfire convertible; I was there at the birth of rock and roll, I remember when Elvis took the world by storm with his hit “Heartbreak Hotel”, I knew all the words to all the songs on the charts by Ricky Nelson, Johnny Cash, Eddie Cochran, the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Gene Pitney - “Liberty Valance”, Phil Phillips and the Twilights - “Sea of Love”, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bobby Edwards, the Kalen Twins - “When”, Sonny James, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper – the list is full of legends and the signature sounds and songs of guitar gods of the time like Duane Eddy – “Rebel Rouser”, The Ventures – “Walk, Don’t Run”, the Sufaris - “Wipe Out”, and the Rockin' Rebels - “Wild Weekend”; and I remember Drive-In theatres.
I had a little Channel Master 6-transistor radio that I carried with me everywhere I went like everyone does with iPhones and other devices today, and I played cat and mouse during class with teachers in high school trying to listen to bits and pieces of World Series games through the transistor radio earpiece. I faithfully watched American Bandstand, and I cried the day the music died, and through it all America continued to produce more talent and more success.
It wasn't all perfect or wonderful, or without pain and suffering, or hurdles to overcome and challenges to be faced. It is the same today except the challenges are greater and the risks more deadly.
More than ever it seems the world is facing a divisive future – good vs evil.
Given the climate in the current U.S. election campaign, it may be the same for America with the potential of destroying its heart and its greatness.
I hope I'm wrong.
Scott: What's on the agenda for Neil W. Young in 2017 and beyond?
Neil w: Well I have to finish 2016 first – my third CD album, Old Memories has just been released requiring a lot of follow up work to do on its heels; Book 2 of my novel will be released in October, and with a little luck, my first CD album of cover songs from the late 1950's (including one of my rockabilly songs) will be released in November.
2017 might see work begin on my fourth CD album and possibly a Christmas album, and there is an outside chance I might set in to writing another book – perhaps Book 3 of The Summer Garden and the Song.
Hopefully 2017 will see IMP's light shining brighter and its future looking rosier, and I hope in some small way I can continue to make a contribution.
If there was a lucky star, I surely was born under one – to which though I added years of hard work, sacrifice, commitment to family and friends, belief in myself and my life-long passion for songwriting and music - it has been both my guiding light and my saving light.
Thanks for asking the questions, and thanks for the opportunity to share my answers and to give you a look at my world through my window of life.
Neil w Young (lower case “w”, no period)