Neil Young’s Motown Escapades

Music podcast Indiefeed (look for it on iTunes – free and awesome) recently hipped me to the little known fact that Neil Young and Rick James were once in a Motown band together called The Mynah Birds. The Mynah Birds were on Motown Records, but were based out of Toronto, which makes this little nugget of musical intrigue that much cooler. The downside is that due to James’ various legal troubles and the inherent idiosyncrasies of record labels, the majority of their work is unreleased. Supposedly James was arrested for going AWOL from the Navy during one of The Mynah Birds recording sessions. The band also featured future greats Bruce Palmer and Bruce Cockburn. Below are a few excerpts from an article about the band at Read the full article here:

“Those lucky enough to see any of the band’s few gigs say they were electrifying. ‘Neil would stop playing lead, do a harp solo, throw the harmonica way up in the air and Ricky would catch it and continue the solo.’”

(This quote was excerpted from Jimmy McDonough’s definitive Neil Young biography Shakey, it is unclear who is speaking.)

From Ear Candy magazine’s Mynah Birds Part II- Rock ‘N Roll Case Study:

“[The Mynah Birds] rescue came in the form of an unlikely figure – struggling folkie, Neil Young. As Bruce Palmer remembers the fortuitous meeting, he was walking down Yorkville Avenue when he ran into Young, carrying his acoustic guitar and balancing an amp on his head, coming in the opposite direction. After exchanging pleasantries, Palmer invited Young to join the band. It seemed a ridiculous decision introducing an acoustic player into a rhythm and blues outfit. But by combining Young’s folk inflected guitar and Matthews’ R&B vocals, the Mynah Birds, as noted rock historian John Einarson aptly put it, successfully bridged the two Toronto styles – Yorkville Village’s folk and Yonge Street’s R&B. Mason, who says he never got along with the band’s new guitarist, remembers Young’s first job with the band – the Inferno, a club on Toronto’s east side. ‘They put rubber gym mats out for us to play on! The first song we go to do, Neil goes up to do his lead and unplugs his guitar. He plays the whole lead without his guitar plugged in. Didn’t even know what he was doing.'”

Supposedly the only one of their few recordings ever released is called The Mynah Bird Hop. If anyone can find this song or any of their other recordings, please let me know: Thanks!

About Daniel Fitzsimmons

Staff writer for the Manhattan weeklies Our Town, Our Town Downtown and the West Side Spirit.
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