1936 to 2001
The Other Side of Fred Neil
Would you like to know a secret
Just between you and me
I don't know where I'm going next
I don't know where I'm gonna be
-From "The Other Side of This Life"
Greenwich Village folk singer Fred Neil, who died recently
at age 64 of apparent cancer-related causes at his Florida
home, was known almost as much for being a legendary recluse
as he was for being a legendary songwriter. Although his classic
tune "Everybody's Talkin'," covered by Harry Nilsson
for the film "Midnight Cowboy," was a tremendous
mainstream hit, Neil spent most of his life in obscurity
which only upraised the mystery that enveloped him.
was mysterious; his background was sketchy," Lovin' Spoonful's
John Sebastian once wrote of Neil. Sebastian was only one
among the many influenced by Neil. Others include the members
of the original Jefferson Airplane, Stephen Stills, Richie
Havens and even Bob Dylan. "He taught me a sizable chunk
of what music was about," said David Crosby, "and
even more about the whys and wherefores of being a musician."
all these heavyweight supporters it seems nearly impossible
to believe that Neil wouldn't have become better known. But
none of the four albums he released in the late 1960s and
early '70s ever troubled the charts, which may have precipitated
his decision to withdraw from the public eye. "[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."
fellow folkie Tim Hardin, who burnt out in a blaze of drugs
and self-destruction, Neil chose to quietly turn his back
on the music industry. "Fred went in until the water
was up to his neck," friend Michael Mann said, "and
then he got out."
a style that leaned as much on blues and jazz traditions as
it did on folk and psychedelia and a voice that Sebastian
called a "honey-laden baritone with the Southern lilt,"
mercurial Neil embodied all that was new and exciting about
the thriving folk movement in the early '60s. "Fred was
the real folk rock ... not the commercial version," Sebastian
Neil's idiosyncratic body of work is small and sporadic it
is also quite distinctive. Thankfully, in recent years, many
of his recordings have become available on CD. The recent
double-disc set "The Many Sides of Fred Neil" compiles
much of what has made him one of the definitive artists of
his songs were made famous by other artists, including Roy
Orbison's take on "Candy Man," the Jefferson Airplane's
cover of "The Other Side of This Life" and Tim Buckley's
version of "The Dolphins." The latter tune, with
its transcendent melody, addressed Neil's deep-felt concerns
for the mammals. According to friend Kathleen Brooks, "His
main interest was with the Dolphin Project," a nonprofit
dolphin-rescue organization Neil founded with marine biologist
Richard O'Barry in 1970.
both animals and people with respect and living a life of
honesty and quiet dignity are what has made him an enduring
character and also what impressed his peers the most. "He
sort of showed how to be a dignified white boy playing music
and not have to play black," Kantner said. "He was
very cool just being Freddy."
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