On Tuesday the music world mourned the loss of one of the greatest hired guns we ever knew. Ben Keith, long time collaborator with (amongst others, but most famously) Neil Young passed away at the age of 73. Neil paid a touching tribute to him at last night’s tour show, with a version of Old Man. You may not all know Ben, but you all should know his work. Anyone who’s ever heard Harvest (and there can’t be that many left that haven’t) will have been entranced by his beautiful pedal steel playing the odd drop of backing vocal. The pedal steel, in my humble opinion, had two great exponents: “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow and Ben Keith. In his honour, I have compiled for you the five best bits of Ben that exist on Neil Young records, where he will be longest remembered. I therefore invite you to crack open a can, kick back and just enjoy that magical sound that only the pedal steel can bring to a record. In no particular order then:
See The Sky About to Rain from On The Beach – The ethereal drift of the steel throughout this song is one of the finest examples of the craft you’ll ever find. Just have a listen to the way it soars behind Neil’s voice and then provides the beautiful focal point of the 90-second coda.
Heart of Gold from Harvest – Neil’s only number one that you’ve heard a million times. But listen again, and listen for the steel on the chorus.
Mellow My Mind from Tonight’s The Night – The recording of this album was a mad, crazy mess and most of the record sounds as though it’s about to fall in on itself. But the slide guitar on this track is guaranteed to make you feel as though you’ve inhaled in that way politicians never do.
Four Strong Winds from Comes a Time – The closer of this record (produced largely by Ben) became something of a hippy anthem for a while, with its nature-centric lyrics and powerful imagery, and the slide guitar lends the track an air that perfectly frames Neil’s words. Emmylou Harris on backing vocals makes this something of a supergroup session.
Cowgirl in the Sand from Road Rock Vol. 1 – A slight change of tack for the last one, this live track sees Ben on rhythm guitar as Neil takes this already epic song to a mammoth 18-minutes. Ben keeps the song together, letting Neil do his thing.
So there you have it. I’ve not put this list together on Spotify, because I can’t bear the idea that your reverie might be interrupted by adverts, but you can do this yourself if you like. If not, you can always pop round mine. Bring beer, and we’ll get the hi-fi fired up. Rest in peace Ben.