On April 14, years after first hinting they were coming, Neil Young is finally releasing two Seventies concert bootlegs. The first one, High Flyin’, is a series of recordings from his 1977 under-the-radar Santa Monica, California summer club tour with the Ducks, a supergroup of sorts featuring bassist Bob Mosley from Moby Grape, guitarist Jeff Blackburn, and drummer Johnny Craviotto. Check out a preview of “Little Wing” right here.
The Ducks never played outside Santa Cruz, and all four members took turns singing lead. Their sets only featured a handful of Young originals, including “Mr. Soul,” “Sail Away,” and “Long May You Run. “I just play my part,” Young told a reporter at the time. “This band isn’t just me and some other guys who back me up…it kind of reminds me of the time I was in Buffalo Springfield.”
Under The Rainbow, meanwhile, was recorded on November 5, 1973, at the Rainbow Theater in London, England. This was the Tonight’s the Night tour, where Young was backed by the Santa Monica Flyers, which included the guitarist Nils Lofgren, pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith, and the Crazy Horse rhythm section of drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot.
The tour came just a year after the success of Harvest transformed Young into a superstar, but he’d recently lost Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry to heroin overdoses and was in a state of deep mourning. The shows were famously drunken, sloppy affairs where most of the set came from Tonight’s The Night, which wouldn’t be released for well over a year. “People booed every night,” Lofgren tells Rolling Stone. “They were incensed. They’d yell ‘Play ‘Old Man!’ Where are the hits? We don’t want this!’”
Making matters worse, the Eagles opened up every night with a tight set of harmonies and crowd-pleasing hits like “Take It Easy” and “Desperado.” Melody Maker spoke for many fans with the headline “Go Home Neil Young!” “I paid £2.50 to see Neil Young and came away with a love/hate relationship,” wrote one fan, “Hating Neil Young, but loving the Eagles…All I can say is that the rumors must be true. The real Neil Young is dead.”
When audiences grew especially antagonistic, Young would promise to play “something you’ve all heard before.” He’d then proceed to play “Tonight’s The Night,” the standard show opener, for a second time. There were even some evenings when he played it three times. “It was just insane,” recalls Lofgren. “He’d start pounding the piano and screaming about Bruce Berry selling his guitar and sticking it up his arm. I’d leap up on the piano, start kicking it, and play guitar with my teeth while Neil was going off on this extemporaneous rap poetry. It was a healing, commiserative experience since we were trying to deal with the fact that all our friends and heroes were starting to drop dead.”
Young played a series of lucrative arena dates in America earlier that year. Big money offers were starting to come in for a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young reunion tour. To Elliott Roberts, Young’s manager, spending time playing combative theater gigs in England was simply madness.
“After every show, Elliot would grab Neil and take him to the back of the bus,” says Lofgren. “Everyone was drinking tequila and smoking Thai weed. He’d go, ‘Neil, listen! Right now, I can get you a car. I can take you to Heathrow. I can take us back to the States. We can do Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young shows and make millions of dollars. This is madness. You’re going to lose like 10 grand to be over here for a few weeks. What are you doing? This is crazy!”
As Lofgren remembers it, producer David Briggs would often intervene at this point. “He’d grab Elliot and be like, ‘Get the hell away from my singer, man!’” Lofgren says. “‘This is beautiful. This is powerful shit. This is art! Get the fuck away from him. Don’t you know what we’re doing here?’”
Unfortunately, they didn’t have the foresight to record any of this art, meaning the only way to hear any of these UK Tonight’s the Night shows for the past 50 years was via bootleg. Thankfully, super fan Pete Long — author of the indispensable Young book Ghosts On The Road — taped the Rainbow show. His recording is the source of Under The Rainbow. “That’s great, great, great news,” says Lofgren. “That tour blew my mind. I’m glad that someone had a tape that Neil and his team could doll up. It’s just fabulous.” (Here’s a recording of “Human Highway” from the show.)
In 2018, Lofgren joined Crazy Horse after the retirement of guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, reuniting him with Talbot and Molina for the first time since the Tonight’s The Night tour. The new lineup of Crazy Horse has recorded three albums with Young (2019’s Colorado, 2021’s Barn, and 2022’s World Record), though they’ve played a mere seven concerts because of the pandemic.
On March 31, Crazy Horse are releasing All Roads Lead Home. It’s a collection of songs written and recorded by Lofgren, Molina, and Talbot. It was created largely without Young, though he did contribute the track “Song of the Seasons.”
Here are the complete track listing for High Flyin’ and Somewhere Under The Rainbow.
The Ducks’ High Flyin’
I Am a Dreamer
Are You Ready For The Country?
Hold On Boys
My My My (Poor Man)
I’m Tore Down
Wide Eyed and Willing
Gone Dead Train
Leaving Us Now
Honky Tonk Man
Somewhere Under The Rainbow
1. Tonight’s The Night
2. Mellow My Mind
3. World On A String
4. Speakin’ Out
1. New Mama
2. Roll Another Number (For The Road)
3. Tired Eyes
4. Tonight’s The Night – Part II
1. Flying On The Ground Is Wrong
2. Human Highway
1. Don’t Be Denied
2. Cowgirl In The Sand