At A Glance
Born: November 12, 1945
Where: Toronto, ON
First Big Break:
Young first became well-known as a guitarist and occasional vocalist for the band Buffalo Springfield
Neil Young has been extolled as a gentle balladeer, a champion of country rock, and the godfather of grunge. Remarkably, he's all three. Among the past half-century's singer-songwriters, only Young's life-long friend and fellow Walk of Fame honouree Joni Mitchell can rival his chameleon-like ability continually to re-invent and re-visit himself.
Born in Toronto on November 12, 1945, the son of celebrated sports writer Scott Young, Neil moved to Winnipeg as a child, after his parents divorced. After performing with various high-school bands and folk groups - already hinting at the stylistic diversity to come - Young returned to Toronto in 1966 and, together with Rick James and Bruce Palmer, spent a brief few months recording unsuccessfully for Motown Records as the Mynah Birds. Then Young loaded up his black Buick hearse and he and Palmer headed for Los Angeles.
Linking up with mutual friends Richard Furay and Stephen Stills, he established Buffalo Springfield, which emerged as one of the most important and influential folk-country bands of the late 1960s. Plagued by internal friction - Young himself quit twice in less than two years - the quartet split in May 1968 after recording three albums.
Young's solo debut LP appeared in 1969. Around the same time, he began jamming with a band called the Rockets, soon re-named Crazy Horse, which provided backing for Young's second '69 album, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. It included three of his most famous compositions - Cinnamon Girl, Down By The River, and Cowgirl In The Sand.
Early in 1970, Young decided to split his time between Crazy Horse and Crosby, Stills and Nash. His third solo album, After The Gold Rush - again backed by Crazy Horse, along with 17-year-old guitarist Nils Lofgren - appeared almost simultaneously with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's Dj vu, confirming Young's rising star status. Two years later, with the release of the chart-topping Harvest, he was, at 26, elevated to international superstardom.
Though the balance of the '70s proved turbulent both personally and professionally for Young, his 1978 Rust Never Sleeps tour with Crazy Horse and the subsequent album put him back on top and loudly proclaimed his decision to move in new, harder directions.
Further experimentation followed throughout the 1980s, marked by the release of the rockabilly collection Everybody's Rockin', then by the country-tinged Old Ways, then by the new-wave-oriented Landing On Water, and the blues-driven This Note's For You. Young capped the decade with his boldest move to date, earning credibility with a new, younger audience by touring with Sonic Youth in support of his boisterous Ragged Glory album.
The 1990s brought more reflection and diversification, marked by the release of the faintly nostalgic Harvest Moon, the haunting, Oscar-nominated title track from Philadelphia, and his dynamic union with Pearl Jam for 1995's Mirror Ball. As the new millennium dawns, so does another Young incarnation with the release of Silver And Gold, his most acclaimed and popular album in years - a powerful culmination of two decades' worth of musical daring.
Quiet, reflective, and intensely private, Young is the rare rock icon who prefers life out of the spotlight. Few, for example, are aware that he founded and supports San Francisco's Bridge School for handicapped children with communication problems. Rolling Stone accurately calls him "a dedicated primitivist (who is) constantly proving that simplicity is not always simple." Young's philosophy is, indeed, deceptively simple. "Listen to your own voice. Don't listen to someone else's," he says. "To me, the way to live is to always move forward - to keep searching for whatever it is that interests you."