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Friday, March 09, 2012

Remembering Ben Keith: 1937 - 2010

Ben "Long-grain" Keith: 1937 - 2010

Ben Keith, Neil Young's long time band mate and dear friend, would have celebrated his 75th birthday this week. 

Ben Keith (March 6, 1937 – July 26, 2010), was a multi-talented musician who Neil Young first met in Nashville in February 1971 when Neil was recording the multi-platinum LP Harvest who passed away unexpectedly in 2010. 

Bridge Benefit Concert 2008 
Photo by Craig Abaya
Upon learning of Ben's passing, Neil Young issued the following statement:
On the full moon, the Thunder moon, the world lost one of the greatest musicians of all time. Ben was 73 years old the night he died on Broken Arrow Ranch in California, his happy home for the last years of his life. Ben played with Patsy Cline, Faron Young, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Ian Tyson and many other music greats. A great American, the quiet giant, he moved gently through the world, with kindness and grace.

My wife Pegi was lucky to share his last performance a few weeks back in San Francisco, where Ben was playing in her band, supporting her and lending his spirit to her every word as she sang her songs for us.

Of course, in Nashville Ben Keith is legendary, one of the last of the original country greats, the man behind the song. No one will ever fill his shoes. He has countless friends and admirers. They all miss him as much as I do. I will miss him every time I look to my side, remembering him, my brother and fellow traveler.

Thankfully, Ben's masterful playing can be seen and heard in two Johnathon Demme pictures: 'Heart of Gold' and 'Trunk Show,' as well as countless great recordings over the last 50 years. We are so fortunate to have these as memories and lasting documents of his greatness and grace. He started out on a homemade steel guitar he fashioned himself from a piece of wood and left over parts. He loved his music and his life and cherished his many friends and soul mates.

He leaves behind his wonderful daughter Heidi, and his grandchildren who he loved so much, DJ, Rachel, James, Meredith, Aubrey, Fletcher and Caroline.

May he rest in Peace.

Neil Young

Legend has it that Neil asked bassist Tim Drummond if he knew any pedal-steel players in town. Tim contacted Ben, who lived in town and off he went to the studio: "I didn't know who anyone was, so I asked, who's that guy over there?" and was told "that's Neil Young". 

"They were already recording [Harvest] at the time," Keith said in the 2005 concert movie Heart of Gold. "I set up my steel and kind of snuck in there and started playing and we did five songs before we ever stopped and introduced ourselves." Neil Young often referred to Ben Keith as "Brother Ben".

 Ben Keith with Faron Young and band 
 (via Rock Town Hall)

Keith's career dated back to playing on Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces." 


Rick Rosas & Ben Keith @ Cutting Room, NYC, NY 07-19-2007
Photo by Johnny Marr
Photo gallery by Tony Stack on Rock Steady Studios of Neil Young in Denver, CO on 4/27/09
Keith is also known as the producer of Jewel's debut album Pieces of You, which sold more than ten million units. From Jewel remembers producer Ben Keith | | The Tennessean:
For Jewel, though, Keith will always be the man who helmed her breakthrough, Pieces Of You, an album that sold more than 10 million copies. "I was signed to Atlantic Records, completely ignorant about the music business," Jewel said. "I met with maybe 50 different producers, and a lot of them wanted to change what I did. Ben was the first who made me feel comfortable with who and what I was.
He had the mentality of, 'Let the musician be the musician,' and he believed in me when I didn't know how to believe in myself." "He was a champion of the song and the songwriter, no matter what," she said. "He was a defender, and he helped give me confidence. He wanted to pay homage to the song, with no over-singing and no over-playing. He produced that album, and so we both hit the frickin' goldmine. We were dark horses that beat the odds."
Making Greendale  
Ben Keith as "Grandpa" in Greendale as filmed by Neil Young - 2002 
(Eric Johnson as "Jed", center)

Also, see Tribute to Ben Keith | NYA.

Grant Boatright and Neil with photo of Ben Keith 
photo: Zeke Young


More on Ben Keith: 1937 - 2010.

Labels: ,


At 3/09/2012 10:53:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

Listening to the Santa Monica Flyers from London 11-10-73 tonight. First boot TTN sets tour tapes I've heard myself. Liking the vibe, and hearing Ben all over it.

At 3/10/2012 04:26:00 AM, Anonymous rick rosas said...

spooner and i rick rosas missing brother ben so much
he is still with us.

At 3/10/2012 06:16:00 AM, Blogger Jim said...

RIP of my all-time favorite musicians. <3

At 3/10/2012 09:55:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@Rick - yes, the spirit of Ben is still with us all.

Some comments from Facebook | ThrashersWheatNeverSleeps (34) :

John Zebrowski R.I.P, Ben 'Longrain' Keith!
14 hours ago · Like
Sebastian Kills Francis i'm glad i got to see him perform once. best with. x.
14 hours ago · Like · 1
Susan Friedrich Ben and Neil an awesome duo!
14 hours ago · Like · 3
Inez Sjöberg Hedegärd Ben♥
14 hours ago · Like · 1
Wayne Kasper Shakey's shake never forgotten.
13 hours ago · Like · 1
Kevin Burchell Ben Keith, loved his steel playing from the get go. My personal favorite. Although Rusty Young aint half bad. :>)
12 hours ago · Like
Philip Carrizosa Ben Keith could play steel guitar like no one else. He did a great job with "Seven Gates."
8 hours ago · Like
Deydey Cunat Allways and forever in our hearts, Ben - long grain - Keith ! Never forget your heartful playing and the great pair you and Neil were in and out the music field!
5 hours ago · Like

At 3/10/2012 10:48:00 AM, Anonymous The Loner said...

The Loner says:

Love watching Neil and Ben playing "Words" (2009 Glastonbury festival highlights) - sad we will never have the opportunity to witness it live again. But I know you and all the other departed players were there with Neil on his last tour......

At 3/10/2012 04:37:00 PM, Blogger Mr Henry said...

Thanks so much Rick for sharing your thoughts with us. Your comment is just like the music you all created together, and the beauty of love truly does coming ringing through.

I was with my wife and daughter, you and Spooner when Pegi asked that we all raise a toast to Ben's memory and music legacy. That memory will always be with me. What a team you all are! Thanks again Ben for being such a great guy.

One day we shall all be dead
But those who keep moving
Tracing and retracing their steps
They shall never die
--Patti Smith
Art in Heaven

At 3/11/2012 10:01:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grampa, here's your coffee...


At 3/11/2012 02:12:00 PM, Blogger Jerry Wallace said...

Rick: Do you still play the weekly jams at The Joint? Are they Mondays or Wednesdays?

At 3/11/2012 02:17:00 PM, Blogger Jerry Wallace said...

sweet. If I live to Ben's age, my oldest grandchild will be 20 when he brings me my coffee.

At 3/11/2012 03:01:00 PM, Blogger tuned4life said...

When I think of Ben, two concerts come to mind. 8/15/2000 at Saratoga Springs Performing Arts center. That was the first time I ever had Front row PIT seats at a Neil Young concert. I was sitting right in front of Ben and I was just amazed at How He played. But the most Memorable was when I got to chat with Ben and He gave Me His autograph (It's a Treasure) in Kingston Ontario on 4/13/2009. It was Easter weekend in Canada. I went up to Canada a day early on the 12th and as fate would have it I came up behind Neil's Bus on the way into Kingston. I couldn't resist and followed the Bus to the Holiday Inn. Kingston is such a nice place. I happened to run into Larry Cragg on a side street when He was out for a walk taking pictures. I walked with Him a ways and He shared with Me how lucky He was to know Ben. Larry was kind enough to give Me His autograph. And I ran into Rick Rosas outside a small grocery store and He was kind enough to give Me his autograph. thanks Rick. I suspect giving autographs is a huge pain and most times you would rather not be bothered. But for someone like Me, These autograph's are sacred and will be passed on to My son. Doug S Warsaw N.Y.

At 3/11/2012 03:11:00 PM, Blogger tuned4life said...

Going down memory lane, it occurs to Me that it was 8 years ago today (3/11/2004) that I had a front row seat right in front of "Grampa" at the Convocation Center in Cleveland Ohio. I will never forget all the Black Ice accidents on I-90 after the concert.

At 3/12/2012 10:45:00 PM, Blogger BIGCHIEF said...

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.

At 3/13/2012 02:03:00 AM, Blogger BIGCHIEF said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 3/13/2012 01:48:00 PM, Blogger Dmitri Karamazov said...

God Bless Ben Keith!

God bless him today, and every day, for the glorious gift of music that he (and Neil) gave us!!

Was just listening to A Treasure on the way in to work today. Glorious!

At 3/14/2012 04:45:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved Ben Keith.


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