Comment of the Moment: Remembering Ben Keith
Ben Keith as "Grandpa" in Greendale as filmed by Neil Young - 2002
(Eric Johnson as "Jed", center)
The Comment of the Moment is from Remembering Ben Keith by the always oh-so eloquent BIGCHIEF:
Word's fail to describe the beauty and grace that Ben's pedal steel contributed to the sound on the recordings and live performances associated with Neil Young.
Although 'country rock' was already a genre in progress, the success of 'Harvest' made it acceptable to combine the elements of country music with the ears of the rock-n-roll community during a period in which there were no established boundaries restricting artists to the confines of a creative 'box'. As long as an artist's creativity in deviating from the norm translated into album sales and success at the box office, the record company execs. didn't place any unnecessary 'barriers' restricting an artist from his or her's creative process.
Such was the case with Harvest.
Released on the heel's of the success of his prior release, After The Gold Rush, Neil had already established himself as an artist who wasn't easily confined to a particular style. His previous recordings dating back to his day's in the Buffalo Springfield had already fused elements of Folk and Rock along with obvious hints of country influence in his roots. It wasn't until the release of Harvest, however, with the addition of Ben Keith's masterful pedal steel guitar playing, that allowed Neil Young to express his country sentiments while at the same time not having to sacrifice his R-N-R edge.
Ben Keith completed Neil Young.
Although the many years that would follow the success of those Nashville sessions would find Neil changing musical directions as a moth in a lampshade, it was almost predictable that from time to time the 'muse' would summons Neil to call on 'Brother Ben' to get back to the country and make more of that sweet, familiar 'country flavored magic' that will forever be preserved in our hearts and minds by the 'tracks in the sound' they left for us.
In addition, I would add that the greatness of Ben Keith shouldn't cast a shadow on the other great players who have contributed to Neil's success over the years. When I think of the arsenal of musicians and producers that Neil has had the fortune of working with through the years, it's no small wonder what he has been able to achieve.
The frantic pace in which Neil is driven to create his art must surely place a heavy burden on those who are called upon to support him regardless of the manner in which they are compensated. It appears that loyalty even trumps musical abilities to remain a lifelong member in good standing as a part of Neil's camp. As Nils Lofgren would tell you , as an established guitarist called upon to play piano with little experience, you don't second guess the boss. Playing the role your called upon to do will usually result in being called upon again someday in Neil's world.
Most of his associates from before the Woodstock era are still with him to this day. The 'new guy' in Crazy Horse began some 38 years ago. While the loss of Ben Keith left a void unlikely to be filled, that still doesn't minimize the loss of other members of the 'family' along the way. The technical ability to play an instrument cannot replace the love, trust, and emotional experiences that develop over several years.
While there are plenty of Cajun Fiddlers around, you would be hard pressed to find one with the stage presence as Rufus Thibodeaux. It would be impossible to list those those who fell along the way 'laying their tracks in the sound' while accompanying Neil on his journey. While survival is mans basic instinct, the downside is that along the way there will be those who lose their place along this journey earlier than others. An unfortunate fact of life that we are reminded of each time we lose another one of those who gave us so much pleasure in the beautiful noise they shared with us.
As we grow older and hopefully wiser, we take those whom we care for less for granted, hopefully, and in the case of those who contributed their talents to the music we love so much, we have a document in sound of memories we can cherish forever.
Thanks -- as always -- BIGCHIEF for the Ben Keith tribute.
More on Remembering Ben Keith.