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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Making of “Down By The River” by Neil Young & Crazy Horse


Uncut Magazine Puts Neil Young on The Cover - Nov 2004

Here's the story of the making of “Down By The River” by Neil Young & Crazy Horse. 

From an epic archive feature, in December 2004’s issue of Uncut by Nigel Williamson, Neil Young himself explains the making of every single song on his Greatest Hits album:

“Down By The River” defined the guitar sound Young perfected with Crazy Horse, played on a vintage instrument he called “Old Black”, a 1953 Gibson Les Paul that he’d bought in 1967 for $50. Years later, he was still recalling the excitement of the first time he played it through a vintage 1959 Fender Deluxe: “Immediately, the entire room started to vibrate. I went, ‘Holy shit!’ I had to turn it halfway down before it stopped feeding back.” The sessions for Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere were the first time he’d used the combination in the studio.

Despite being nine minutes long, “Down By The River” was edited down from a much longer jam. “We got the vibe, but it was just too long and sometimes it fell apart, so we just took the shitty parts out,” Young explained. “Made some radical cuts in there – I mean, you can hear ’em. Danny just played so cool on that. He was playing R’n’B kinda things. He made the whole band sound good.”

Bassist Billy Talbot confirms that it was “Down By The River” which patented the Crazy Horse sound: “At first we played it double-time, faster like the chorus is now. It was almost a jazz thing.” They then borrowed a James Brown-style beat, but slowed down to a more stoned pace.

According to drummer Ralph Molina, Young borrowed the chord sequence from a Danny Whitten composition called “Music On The Road”, although Young’s biographer Jimmy McDonough reckoned it owes more to “Let Me Go”, another Rockets song, which appeared on their only album (released in ’68).

Written in bed with a fever on the same day as “Cinnamon Girl” and “Cowgirl In The Sand”, once the sickness passed Young still didn’t seem to have much idea where “Down By The River” ’s lyric came from, with its “I shot my baby” refrain.

“No, there’s no real murder in it. It’s about blowing your thing with a chick. It’s a plea, a desperation cry,” he insisted in 1970.

Yet in a long preamble to the song at a 1984 concert in New Orleans, he told a different story, claiming it was about “a guy who had a lot of trouble controlling himself”. He went on to describe a very literal meeting by a river in which the man tells the woman she’s cheated on him once too often: “He reached down into his pocket and pulled a little revolver out and he said, ‘Honey, I hate to do this, but you’ve pushed me too far.’”

Full December 2004 article "Neil Young on the making of his greatest hits" in Uncut by Nigel Williamson.

   “Down By The River” by Neil Young & Crazy Horse

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At 2/26/2015 09:36:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well the author has the first paragraph messed up. Neil got Old Black in a trade with Jim Messina. It was his Gretsch that was plugged into the Delux that was vibrating the room. Neil got the Delux before Old Black.

At 2/27/2015 01:30:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Yup your right funny listened to night train by James Brown at the moment and if you slow it down it's pretty close to down by the river

At 8/03/2018 11:51:00 PM, Blogger msaint said...

Wherever he got the idea from it's definitely one of the greatest rock albums ever hit the airwaves and it changed my life. I was a young musician from Laguna Beach who'd just got out of Soledad in 1969 for smuggling hash and weed, and had been "volunteered" by my P.O. to work on the clean up crew for the Woodstock concert (he was himself an undercover hippie studying law at Irvine and the cousin of the promoter). We drove across country to New York from California stoned on acid and hash the entire ride, and right after we hit the Pennsylvania state line this album came on the radio. We were in a '69 Lincoln with an excellent sound system that had very deep bass and we were all spellbound at this music, it's a wonder we didn't wreck. To this day I'm still trying to learn to play that lead on 'Down By the River', it's much harder to do than one would think. Anyway, I still play the album at least twice a week and ended up in the early 70's living across the road from Neil in Laurel Canyon.

At 11/19/2019 02:34:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

"Well the author has the first paragraph messed up. Neil got Old Black in a trade with Jim Messina. It was his Gretsch that was plugged into the Delux that was vibrating the room."

So Neill used a White Falcon/archtop on "Down By The River"? I can't find anything that backs that up.

At 3/13/2021 11:01:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I recently started playing a Godin archtop guitar with P-90 pickups and it sounds just like the guitar in Down By the River, in fact I will now start performing that song because of the sound being so great. I think that Neil was on the White Falcon. Breeze

At 5/08/2021 03:57:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

The new mix has speaker separation from the two guitars intertwined throughout the song. Not sure if it was always that way cause ear problems in my later years ha!

At 7/26/2021 10:48:00 AM, Blogger Charles Grommes La Roche said...

Fuckin' sweet!


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