A gentle exit for the old year with a trio of songs from Fred Neil. Not generally acknowledged as one of the titans of music, but long a favorite of mine.
Neil was a Florida boy with a rich baritone voice, a unique touch on the 12-string, and a fondness for songs melancholy. Some of his earliest tunes were recorded by Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison; he shepherded callow youngbloods David Crosby and Bob Dylan through the Greenwich Village folk-music scene (Dylan backed Neil on harmonica); he inspired talents as disparate as Jerry Jeff Walker and the Jefferson Airplane. Neil recorded four albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the world took no notice. Afforded a modest living through steady royalties generated by Orbison’s cover of his “Candy Man,” and Nilsson’s cover of his “Everybody’s Talkin’,” Neil left Woodstock and environs in the early ’70s and retired to southern Florida, where he spent the rest of his life, until his death in 2001, aged 64.
“[His retreat] was rightfully deserved,” said Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner. “He was treated rather brutally by the music business, and he was a gentle soul.”
Like many in the music trade, Neil spent time as a narcotics person—see, for instance, “Cynicrustpetefredjohn Raga”—but he left that world behind, too. “Fred went in until the water was up to his neck,” said friend Michael Mann, the film director, “and then he got out.”
Neil spent the last thirty years of his life with The Dolphin Project, which he established with Richard O’Barry on Earth Day in 1970, and which is “dedicated to abolishing the billion-dollar dolphin slave trade.”