Comment of the Moment: Producer David Briggs and Neil Young
Photo by Pegi Young
(Click photo to enlarge)
Over the years since Producer David Briggs passed away, there has been much discussion of Neil Young's subsequent albums which have been "Briggs-less".
Much of this discussion is on the theme of "If David Briggs had produced the album [insert title, say "Peace Trail"], then it would have turned out more like [insert title of Briggs produced album]."
As folks have observed here on Thrasher's Wheat before, even the strongest sword blade needs sharpening at times.
And that's what Briggs was for Neil, the sharpening stone, the honest critic, the unbiased judge. He let the music speak, and had the talent to detect the subtle changes needed to bring it out fully. It is difficult for someone to have a completely objective take on their own art. They see it only thru the eyes and heart that created it. (Thanks SONY!)
Neil Young's erstwhile Producer David Briggs -- who passed away in 1995 -- was integral to the recording of most of Young's most acclaimed albums beginning with "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere," in 1970. David Briggs also worked on albums with: Spirit, Tom Rush, Nils Lofgren, Steve Young, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and Royal Trux.
Neil Young Albums Produced by David Briggs (Thanks Tom!)
1968 - Neil Young
1969 - Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
1970 - After the Gold Rush
1974 - On the Beach
1975 - Tonight's the Night
1975 - Zuma
1977 - American Stars 'N Bars
1978 - Comes a Time
1979 - Rust Never Sleeps
1979 - Live Rust
1981 - Re-ac-tor
1982 - Trans
1985 - Old Ways
1987 - Life
1990 - Ragged Glory
1991 - Weld
1993 - Unplugged
1994 - Sleeps with Angels
From a Neil Young Interview in MOJO Magazine on David Briggs influence:
- Neil: "He told me what was wrong with my performance at Bob-Aid (1992 Tribute Concert to Bob Dylan). Everyone else was telling me how great it was. He didn't belabour the fact that it was great. His opinion was: 'Yeah, it was great, OK. It was great BUT forget about that because what was wrong was... this, this and this. You sang it in the wrong key, your voice was too low, the drums weren't tight enough 'til half-way through... No-one'll probably notice but... It's not usable.' (Laughs) And I always listen to what he has to say and take note of it. "
Artist James Mazzeo, longtime Neil collaborator said of Briggs:
David Briggs had the capacity to make you feel like an integral part of the whole picture no more or no less than any other part of that picture (or song or Album) than even Neil himself.....Neil (and myself) respected David on the highest of levels when we all were working alongside his illuminations.....David was a brilliant light for all of us to work in.....he could take from us our self doubts and shadows and devour them gone....he was like a black light and the best of us came forth and glowed in his presence ....i miss David and i send 'Thank you's' to his spirit with every new piece i create.From a comment on the post "NEW VIDEO: "My Pledge" by Neil Young" by Scotsman:
David Briggs considered every other project he didn't produce to be inferior.Thanks Scotsman as always for well considered comment and context.
Briggs was known for being quite a gentle and caring man (as well as passionate and opinionated), but alcohol and drugs could (and did) interfere with that from time to time. The thing is not to agree with all his out-spoken opinions, but to recognise the huge influence he had over Neil's work.
In Briggs' words: "If I'm in control, I motivate Neil like nobody else in the world".
Some fans are uncomfortable with Briggs, because they can't relate at all to someone who could be so direct and critical to their hero. They forget that Neil LiKES people like that. People in postitions of power are used to their circle sucking up to them. So when the opposite happens, it's a breath of fresh air.
His real talent was knowing how to produce Neil in away that pushed him into recordng his best music. Briggs didn't produce all of Neil's best records; but he did produce most of them, and his influence is there on all the best ones (even those made since his death). Even Ordinary People is very Briggs-esque in the intense and hard-hitting way it is performed. And the drop off in quality control between Briggs' last Crazy Horse record and the first one without him is notable.
That sense of quality control is something that has been lacking sometimes in recent years. I think it was Jimmy McDononugh who put it memorably as "like cheap chinese parts on a Lionel train". I think in some ways that Neil has become so obsessed with the red herring of audio resolution that he has forgotten there are other types of "Quality" that deserve greater attention. The Monsanto Years doesn't suffer at all from audio resolution; it suffers from (occasionally) half-baked songwriting and band arrangements that are the audio equivalent of wet cardboard. Easy problems to fix; but only if the desire is there to do so.
David Briggs would have fixed these issues. That was his ability, to cut through the nonsense and focus on what mattered. Unfortunately no one else has come along who can take his place. Although Poncho Sampedro seems to inspire Neil in much the same way, as a band member rather than a producer.
Re: Ordinary People. To my ears, Studio version and Jones Beach > Bluenote Cafe. The guitar playing is more exciting on the studio version and Jones Beach versions; there's more a sense of a build up in intensity. But I love Bluenote Cafe in general, and am very glad it eventually got released.
I think the bottom line is that Briggs was a strong personality, and he had the rock 'n' roll attitude. When you are making rock n roll records, those attributes tend to provoke exactly the sort of chemical reaction required to create magic. And of course, Briggs's greatest fan is Neil himself, who dedicates much of Waging Heavy Peace to him in the most reverential of ways. As Neil notes in the book, although Briggs has gone, he feels it is important that his spirit lives on. He also notes that he hasn't always lived up the Brigg's standards since ("I have failed to do that in some instances").
"Briggs and I made my best records - the transcendent ones....we somehow knew the way".
Reading that, there should be no doubt that the "missing friend who's counsel I can never replace" in No Hidden Path refers to David Briggs.
David Briggs Interview: WHFS Radio - 1977
As we posted in 2016 when this interview surfaced: Originally broadcast in November of 1977 on WHFS 102.3 FM (Bethesda, MD) program "Aircheck", from the Thom Grooms show. This is an over-the-air broadcast that was recorded (static can be heard). The music from this original broadcast has been removed per the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, however, the interview in it's entirety, and the original WHFS 102.3 FM commercials remain intact.
- Friends of Neil: David Briggs
- David Briggs in Memorium
- David Briggs Obituary - NY Times, 12/3/95
- Interview with Elliot Roberts on working with David Briggs