Neil & Pegi Young | The Next Chapter

prof_pegiyoung_sm.jpg"On this record, there are three or four songs that are kind of ‘vintage.’ I was surprised they made it with me all these years—I was kind of a vagabond and nomad and moved around a lot."

 

 

 

 

 

When rock veteran Neil Young takes the stage of the Fabulous Fox Theater in St. Louis Nov. 18, his wife, Pegi Young, will step out of the background—where she has spent much of her singing career—and take center stage as his opening act. After a lifetime in the world of music surrounded by some of the finest artists of the craft, Pegi finally released her self-titled debut in June: 11 tracks of both new and acoustic folk tunes with guest appearances by husband Neil on acoustic and electric guitar, electric sitar, harmonica and (a role reversal) backing vocals.

Pegi and Neil Young have collaborated onstage and off for many years as husband and wife, musicians and parents. Pegi co-founded the Bridge School for special needs children like the Young’s son, Ben, who was born with severe cerebral palsy. For 20 years, they have organized the legendary Bridge School Benefit concerts held annually in October at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, Calif. This year’s lineup included such heavy-hitters as Metallica, John Mayer, Tom Waits, Eddie Vedder and Young himself.

In addition to Pegi’s opening set at the upcoming St. Louis show, Neil will play both an acoustic and electric set featuring classic hits as well as music from his new album, Chrome Dreams II (Reprise), a collection of eight new and two classic Young songs. Musicians Ben Keith (pedal steel guitar, dobro and other instruments), Ralph Molina (drums) and Rick Rosas (bass) will perform with Young on the tour.

I got a chance to chat by phone with Pegi Young just before her center-stage debut on this tour. We talked about the timing of her new album and life on the road with Neil, among other topics. She was as down to earth, smart and centered as you’d expect the spouse of a musical genius to be.

prof_pegiyoung.jpgYou’ve done so much musically over the past 30 years, but have mostly remained out of the spotlight, in the background. Why release your first album now? Why is the timing right?

It was just a lot of things coming together to make the time available, and my own personal confidence. I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of singing with my husband and my local singing group here. It is just a function of the kids getting older, my responsibilities at Bridge School have lessened, and my confidence came up; really a convergence of things. The guys in the band were so great; they’ve all been my friends for years. After we got going, it was so much fun, I was like, ‘Why did I wait all these years?’ I’ve been in the studio a lot with my husband over the years, but never playing my own stuff.

What was it like working in the studio with Neil in that capacity?

I didn’t really know if he was going to come be part of my band or not. I put together a band that could stand on its own, then when he came over, it was just a huge add. Everything he did, however subtle or simple (I’m not sure that’s the right word because he’s so complex), but every little thing he put on was so brilliant. And it was so fun. He enjoyed not having the responsibility to be thinking about all the parts and everything.

You’ve had some of these songs stashed away for a number of years. Tell me about how you chose the ones you did, and some of the ones that have a lot of meaning for you.

On this record, there are three or four songs that are kind of "vintage." I was surprised they made it with me all these years—I was kind of a vagabond and nomad and moved around a lot and I had this little suitcase that was my mother’s that had important things to me that somehow made it through all these moves. So when I started thinking about going into the studio, I had, first of all, covers of other people’s work, which I felt was the safest place to start. Songs that I love that I’ve worked up and feel I can get inside and tell a story, my story, even though it’s written by somebody else.

Once we got going, Anthony, the guitar player in my band, said, ‘When are we going to do some of your stuff?’ So I had gone through the papers I had, and some were clearly songs from the get-go, but some were poems I ended up putting music to. Of the ones I picked, ‘White Line in the Sun’ is probably the oldest song on the record. I wrote it many, many years ago on a hitchhiking trip. It’s always had a special bond to me; I always knew if I ever got in the studio and recorded anything, that song was coming out.

When did you first pick up the guitar?

When I was about 14 or 15, I had been playing piano before then, but I liked the idea of guitar because it fit my nomadic lifestyle.

You’ve been around a lot of amazing musicians over the years, including Neil. Who are the biggest inspirations for your musical style?

Lucinda Williams is one of my favorites. One of her songs is the first song I recorded, actually; that didn’t make it on this record, but it’s in the vault. Billie Holliday is a big influence; I love the truth of her singing, it’s so real and honest. Joni Mitchell—now here’s an incredible writer, player and singer. I admire her.

You’re getting ready to kick off your first solo tour, opening for Neil. Are you nervous? Excited?

Yes, nervous, terrified, the whole range. I just feel like, what a great opportunity. Who is going to say no just because you’re scared?

Congratulations on another successful Bridge School Benefit Concert. Tell me about your involvement in the school and its roots.

I started it with another parent and a professional, but it has so far surpassed what we originally dreamed up. I started as executive director of the school for the first six or seven years, then handed it over to a very qualified woman who had been with the school for many years. That is what has really given me the freedom to return to some of my roots. I’m still president of the Board of Directors, involved in the big picture, collectively keeping the vision gong and serving the needs of the kids who get to Bridge School, but also the kids who have transitioned out, and using our outreach programs to educate other communities on how to serve kids with complex needs like this.

How old is your son Ben now? How is he doing?

He is 29 now. His primary job is as an organic egg farmer. He keeps about 150 chickens on our ranch here and is certified by state of California to sell organic eggs to the public. Today is his egg delivery day, so he takes them down to several retailers. Then on the side he has a coffee business, where he goes to Bridge School and takes their coffee orders and brings their coffee back for a small fee. He’s done some entrepreneurial stuff, which I believe when you’re a guy, or anyone, with a severe physical impairment—I mean him not speaking—there are not a lot of places in the existing workplace yet for that, so entrepreneurial endeavors are the ticket, I think.

Tell me about growing up in the Bay Area in the late ’60s and early ’70s with the burgeoning music scene there, following the Summer of Love.

As a young teenager, I spent a lot of time hanging out up in San Francisco in Golden Gate Park and the music venues of the day like the Avalon Ballroom, the Fillmore—which was then the Carousel Ballroom—and the Winterland. There was just so much great music at the time, so real and full, those early bands like Quicksilver, The Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Janis—here’s somebody when you talk about honesty and delivery: she’s so real, one of my heroes. I certainly got my wings during those days and it really influenced my life. | Amy Burger

Neil Young | Chrome Dreams Continental Tour
w/Pegi Young

Fabulous Fox Theater
November 18, 2007
| 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $58-184.50

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