Although his songs “Southern Man” and “Alabama” painted unflattering portraits of the South, veteran singer-songwriter Neil Young will be welcomed back with open arms on Thursday.
Young and his sometimes backup band, Crazy Horse, will return to Tuscaloosa after an almost 40-year absence for an intimate show at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, along with the critically-acclaimed Alabama Shakes.
Young, who last played Tuscaloosa in February 1973, hasn’t toured with Crazy Horse (Billy Talbot, Poncho Sampedro and Ralph Molina) in more than eight years. And what started as a tour to support the band’s 2012 album “Americana,’ quickly became a live-setting song-writing session that yielded Young and company’s second album of the year, the two-disc “Psychedelic Pill,” which will be released Oct. 30 on Warner Brothers Records.
Young’s show at the city-owned amphitheater will be the venue’s final show until Spring 2013.
“We are very excited to be able to host not only Neil Young, a legend in our industry, but also the exciting new sensation Alabama Shakes,” Tuscaloosa Amphitheater Director Wendy Riggs said. “It should be a great crowd and perfect weather for a concert on the river at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater – we could not be more excited about this show.”
Young appears in Tuscaloosa just weeks after the release of his stream-of-consciousness autobiography, “Waging Heavy Peace.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not really a memoir,” Young said during a recent interview with National Public Radio. “It’s kind of a memoir. It’s more like a diary.”
Although Young can now add published author to his resume, his influence as both a songwriter and musician continues to make an impact.
“There is no other performer that rips me like he does when he straps on that black Les Paul,” Starkville musician Scott “Scooter” Thomas said. “He brings out the most primal aspects of Rock when he is playing with Crazy Horse, and then can turn around and sing the most beautiful, happy or heart-wrenching songs with just his voice and a guitar.
“I love the way when he shows up for other artist’s shows or tributes or whatever, he completely takes over. The guy is a force of nature. He’s like 67 and can still rock harder than 99 percent of other folks. When he passes I’m going have to take off work for a month to deal with it.”
With a catalogue that includes songs such as “Tonight’s The Night, “Long May You Run,” “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man,” Young’s song-writing abilities are much celebrated.
West Point native Brad Smith knows something about song-writing. His song “No Rain” was a huge hit for his band Blind Melon in 1993. Smith, who is currently preparing for a tour of Spain with his solo band Abandon Jalopy and Blind Melon, said Young’s songs are timeless.
“Over the years, he’s appealed to the heart and soul of songwriters,” Smith said Tuesday from his studio in Los Angeles. “All of his music is pretty simple and stripped down — with Crazy Horse it’s really just drums, bass and guitar.
“His songs can go from the political end to a really beautiful love song. He’s still relevant as an artist. He still influences me. You can hear some of his influences on the new Abandon Jalopy album. “Harvest” and “After The Gold Rush” are two of my favorite Neil Young albums.
“He’s never changed with the times. He didn’t release a disco album like The Stones did. He’s an artist of integrity.”
Smith said he fondly remembers his time opening for Young with Blind Melon in the early 1990s.
“I was in awe,” Smith said. “It was amazing. (Memphis soul legends) Booker T. & the M.G.s were his backing band. My favorite part of the show is when he would sing to his son, who has cerebral palsy and was in a wheelchair. Neil would turn and sing “Helpless” to his son every show — I just saw the connection. He was doing it for his family. He’s such a real guy — a down to Earth guy.
“You’ve got to hand it to Neil; he’s no Pavarotti, but no one can sing a song like Neil Young.”
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Jeff Clark was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.
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