Neil Young: Howard’s Hero Visits the Stern Show

One of the best interviews of 2014 is with the legendary singer/songwriter

December 31, 2014
Photo: The Howard Stern Show

Howard really doesn’t have too many genuine heroes. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Bob Grant would number among them, as would one of this year’s most incredible guest, Neil Young.

Neil stopped by and opened up to Howard about everything—music, Woodstock, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, songwriting, you name it.

So, imagine you’re sitting with Howard in his childhood bedroom as he spins Neil Young records and gets to ask one of his true heroes everything he’s ever wanted to know.

Here are the highlights from Howard’s interview with Neil Young:

Neil started playing guitar at nine or ten years old—well, actually the instrument he mastered was the ukulele. Little Neil was messing around with it one day and his dad took it from him, tuned it properly, and played a great rendition of “Bury Me Out on the Prairie.” Neil was shocked that his dad could sing. Mr. Young finished the song, put the ukulele down, and never sang for Neil again.

He started to write songs at thirteen and the first song Neil wrote was called “No.” He learned early on that he had to capture the ideas as they came to him. To this day, he’ll stop whatever he’s doing to honor a melody if it pops into his head. He never really walked around with a recorder or anything, so he’d have to repeat it over and over, making sure it stuck in his head.

Neil flunked out of high school and his principal warned him that the “music thing“ wouldn’t last long.

Neil was in an early band called the Mynah Birds, which featured lead singer Rick James. Yes, that Rick James. “Ricky was just a kid,“ Neil noted of working with the future funk icon.

Neil and Bruce Palmer would later found Buffalo Springfield, whose “Mr. Soul“ Neil wrote in about five minutes. Howard couldn’t imagine writing a song so quickly, but Neil countered that Howard writes a song every time he goes off on one of his conversations with Robin.

When Howard played Neil’s first big hit, “Sugar Mountain,“ Neil listened to it and showed Howard how you could actually hear the room it was recorded in—a coffee shop. The song would eventually inspire Joni Mitchell to write “The Circle Game.“

Next, Neil joined Buffalo Springfield bandmate Stephen Stills in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Contrary to popular opinion, Graham Nash never said he wanted Neil as more of a bit player in the band. However, Neil did insist that his name be part of the band name if he was a member.

When CSNY performed at the legendary Woodstock Festival, Neil famously was hostile toward the cameramen and, subsequently, doesn’t appear in the famous Woodstock movie. “I didn’t like the fucking cameras,” he explained to Howard. “They didn’t have to be on the stage. ‘Use your zoom, dickhead.’”

Howard tried to praise Woodstock as one of the great moments in music history and talk to Neil about how cool it was that he got to be part of it. “Who gives a shit?” he replied bluntly.

Neil and David Crosby have feuded famously for years and, while Neil assured everyone that a CNSY reunion tour will never ever happen, he does wish David well in his life. Neil, who is something of a contradiction, said there is love there for David, but there is also nothing there for David.

On his past cocaine use, while Neil said he felt like he was better creatively while he was taking it, that feeling eventually went away. “I got tired of waking up that way and hurting myself and I was getting older,” he noted.

Howard also played Neil’s “Southern Man” which led to Lynyrd Skynyrd name-checking him in “Sweet Home Alabama”—but Neil insists it was all in good fun. In fact, the band even asked Neil for one of his songs to cover and they sent him “Powderfinger.“

Neil is a passionate, passionate man, so when he does something, you know it’s done right.