In last March issue Uncut , we brought you the inside story on Neil Young’s long-awaited Archives project. We spoke to his friends, colleagues and conspirators and, over the next few weeks on www.uncut.co.uk, we’ll be printing the complete transcripts of these interviews.
Previous installments are available by using the links in the side panel on the right.
Today, Part 8: Barry Friedman
Aka Frazier Mohawk. Helped Stephen Stills put together Buffalo Springfield, effectively becoming the band’s manager. Later, a noted producer.
Buffalo Springfield was Stephen’s group, so I got to hear about Neil through him. The whole thrust of the group was “Look Stephen, if you want to put a band together I’ll help you do it.” That’s really what it was. He wanted to put together the people he knew and had worked with in various places. It was unfortunate that he had all these great performers who all could work as a single act and were talented, but as it turned out I think we found out that he didn’t play well with others. He preferred to play with himself.
They were never going to last long on Atlantic. If they’d signed with Elektra it would have been a different story, I think. Elektra was more nurturing and [label boss] Jac Holzman had a great understanding of music and musicians. His approach was damn near religious.
So I first met Neil when Stephen met him in LA, driving his hearse. He was just right across from the liquor store, in the parking lot near Schwab’s [Drug Store], right where Laurel Canyon comes down and meets Sunset Boulevard. I just thought he seemed like a nice enough fella, very skinny. Stephen thought a lot of him. He’d worked all these folk clubs and that’s where he’d first run into Neil. He knew a good songwriter when he saw one.
Ken Koblun was in the first version of the Springfield, but he ran away. He left a note on his pillow saying “Sorry, I can’t do it,” and went home. But having lived in Canada myself now for thirty years, I knew exactly where he was coming from. I would have fled too. LA was crazy, while Canada had a degree of sanity about it. It was much more grounded.
The Springfield lived and rehearsed in my house. It was a wonderful house. It had 25-ft. ceilings and was basically one huge room, built by a heroin addict musician whose name I can’t remember. She was arrested and dragged out of the house, after which it came up for rent. It was originally built by Thelma White, who sang with her All-Girl Orchestra in the ‘40s. It had beautiful stained-glass windows and a huge cement bathtub in the middle of the room, with the story of Don Quixote in tiles around it. It was all staged in front of a huge fireplace that took up the whole wall. It was an amazing place, with crystal windows that would create rainbows across the whole room in the mornings. It really was spectacular. I had my bedroom, which was a loft that sort of overlooked the rest of the place, and there was another bedroom in the back. I remember Ken [Koblun] was back in there for a minute. I’m not sure where everybody else was, they must have been there just in sleeping bags.
We eventually found a motel and put everybody up in this motel on Sunset. The motel had a little theatre, with maybe 25 or 30 seats and a little stage, and that’s where Buffalo Springfield rehearsed. It was a wonderful place. I’d watch them work up those early songs, when the whole process seemed to be sans effort. Everything seemed to just fall into place. “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” was a pretty good song. There was an honesty to Neil’s poetry, in that it wasn’t written for effect. It was very direct and made sense. There were so few groups around that it was just assumed that everyone was going to be successful and drive Porsches.
When they began playing live, The Springfield were very good. I never liked the Whisky A Go-Go much, the floors were always sticky. But the Springfield always got big crowds there. And they started getting groupies there. In fact I think Dewey [Martin] got the most, he seemed to be a pro at it. Because he’d been on the road a lot, he understood the process, whereas Neil and the other lads were still figuring out who to say ‘No’ to.
I tried to promote them as having their own personalities. And I also sensed that this was not for ever. So it was important for each of them to be able to have their own successful solo careers when they came out of it. Buffalo Springfield was basically a vehicle for each of them to go onto something else. Neil had his long hair so it was a matter of exaggerating the sense of style that each one of them had. That idea really came from The Byrds, in that David [Crosby] had his cape and they all had their own thing. I would make suggestions as to what kind of things Buffalo Springfield would wear, but it was all very organic. It just kind of developed. Everybody sort of fermented together at the same time and that’s why the blend worked. My choice for drummer was actually Billy Mundi, who was far superior, but Stephen didn’t think he looked right. He had to have a certain look. Did I see Neil as a loner? Oh yeah.
Neil once said I should have stayed with the Buffalo Springfield longer. And I thought that too, but I gave them up at gunpoint so I didn’t have a choice. I was in New York putting on a little Eastern tour with the Springfield, and we were out there with The Byrds. I’d be talking to promoters as we were going about. One day [Atlantic producer/manager] Charlie Greene showed up and asked me out to dinner. So he picked me up in his limo, which I was pretty sure belonged to Ahmet [Ertegun, Atlantic boss] because it wasn’t a rental and he was the only guy I knew in New York with a limo. We drove around and around and Charlie would be talking, saying how he thought he could do a better job with the band. He had a silver revolver that he’d taken out of his waistband and had put in his pocket. The whole time he was talking, he had his hand on it. Eventually I said: “Hey Charlie, how about dinner now?” And he pulled over to a hotdog stand, reached through the window and bought me a hotdog. Then he said “Look, I’ll give you $1,000 for the band”, to which I said no. I think I said I’d think about it, but all I wanted to do was get out of there. So through a series of things, Charlie had written out an ‘agreement’ on a paper napkin. And I hadn’t signed it. As I was finally getting out of the car, and that was the only way I could get out, he stuck $1,000 in my pocket. I said “No no, I really don’t want this.” Charlie said “No, you keep it.” And that was the last I saw of The Buffalo Springfield. Charlie more or less said that if I came back around, I’d be dealt with. It was scary as hell. I never told the band what happened. And to this day, Neil and the others don’t know it happened. It was that whole Sonny Bono group of people at Atlantic. Ahmet was a very aggressive and forceful businessman and he got what he wanted. Yes, he had great ears and did wonderful things with music, but I certainly wasn’t happy.
I was the one who introduced Neil to Jack Nitzsche. He lived way up on top of a hill in the Hollywood hills. I did actually record Buffalo Springfield once at Capitol Studios. The guy who had the tapes was Peter Asher, who set it all up through Apple Corps. I would love to hear those recordings now, they were great. We only did four or five songs, but I can’t remember what was on there. I just know it was all good. Only Peter Asher would know if they’re still around. The band were real easy to produce. None of us really knew anything so we were all learning together.
I remember the time after Neil had had his first epileptic seizure. It was at the World’s Fair at Hollywood Palladium, I think, and he was in this garden apartment being nursed back to health by a herd of lovely ladies. I thought Ah, now I get it. [Producer] Paul Rothchild once told me that you can always tell how successful a group or artist is going to be by the quality of their groupies. If there are smart women around them, it’s a good sign. And Neil had smart women.
Neil’s in a class by himself. And there’s a lot to be said for longevity. Jackson Browne is another guy who’s stuck to his musical guns and has kept his purity and honesty. There are only a few of them around. Neil is one, but Stephen isn’t one. Stephen’s a real good player and musician, but I don’t get the feeling he’s terribly religious when it comes to his music. He always wanted to be very rich.
As for what happened next, I have to say I was surprised that no one got killed in CSNY. When you look at all those personalities together, there was a lot of tension going on. But maybe that’s what made it work.
INTERVIEW BY ROB HUGHES