Personalities | Neil Young | Universal Appeal | Guitar Heroes

Canadian rock legend Neil Young (b. 1945) has become respected as much for his playing as for his composing and vocal work with his occasional partners Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Born in Toronto, Canada, Young got a ukulele from his father for Christmas in 1958. In 1960, Young moved to Winnipeg with his mother. A poor student, he dropped out of high school to concentrate on the band he had formed, Neil Young & The Squires.

Young later played the Toronto coffee-house circuit, where he met a number of folk artists, including guitarists Richie Furay and Stephen Stills, with whom he formed Buffalo Springfield. They hit big with Stills’ counterculture anthem ‘For What It’s Worth’ and recorded three albums before splintering in 1968.

Young signed a solo deal with Reprise Records, and his second solo effort, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, with his new backing band Crazy Horse, became a major hit, going platinum on the strength of the songs ‘Cinnamon Girl’ and ‘Down By The River’. Young joined David Crosby, Steven Stills and Graham Nash’s supergroup in the summer of 1969. Young eventually recorded three albums as part of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, contributing the hits ‘Helpless’ and ‘Ohio’. His solo career simultaneously blossomed, as After The Gold Rush (1970) and Harvest (1972) both became bestsellers. Harvest was the biggest-selling album of 1972, and the cut ‘Heart Of Gold’ remains Young’s most successful single.

The iconoclastic Young was never comfortable with pop stardom, however, and in the ensuing years, created albums with themes that ranged from dispiriting ruminations on love, loss and injustice to affirmations of the simple life. He was hailed by punk rockers, grunge artists and country fans alike because of albums like Rust Never Sleeps (1979), Freedom (1989), Broken Arrow (1996) and Harvest Moon (1992). Young’s guitar playing always echoed the passion, indignation and directness of his lyrics. More recently, Young has reunited with Crazy Horse, touring and releasing Americana and Psychedelic Pill (both 2012), followed by the solo album A Letter Home (2014).

Young collects guitars, but onstage and in the studio, he uses just a few instruments: a 1953 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop; Martin D-45 and D-28 acoustics; Gretsch 6120 and White Falcon electrics; and a 1927 Gibson Mastertone, a six-string banjo, tuned like a guitar.

Essential Recordings

Solo: After The Gold Rush

Solo: Harvest

with Crazy Horse: Rust Never Sleeps

Solo: Harvest Moon

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