Honey Slides (Godfather Records G.R. 563)
Recorded Solo & Acoustic at the Bottom Line, 15 West 4th Street (& Mercer Street), New York, NY, USA, May 16, 1974
Pushed It To The End / Long May You Run / Greensleeves / Ambulance Blues / Helpless / Revolution Blues / On The Beach / Roll Another Number / Motion Pictures / Pardon My Heart / Dance, Dance, Dance
Some people prefer the simplicity of a slightly less than digital recording. George Harrison for instance marveled at the early recordings of Hoagy Carmichael & the fact that the sound was grungy & crackly rather than pristine & glossy – These were obviously not ‘recorded from the back of the venue near the toilets’ recordings but something The releases is one of those releases – as ingrained as our ears might be by today’s standard of soundboards, studio quality outtakes & ALD recordings then sometimes nothing beats the ‘tape recorder on a table’ ambiance of a certain type.
The type of which isn’t so much audio – fatigue inducing as a fly on the wall – or maybe bar fly – recording that gives the listener the impression that they’re in the middle of the audience as apposed to being right on the wings of the stage. This tape has been around on the internet before – mainly noted as a soundboard – and has been released as both ‘Roll Another Number’ ( No Label ) & ‘Citizen Kane Junior Blues’ previously on the TNT label but is given a rightful & beautiful resurrection on the Godfather label.
Tonight’s performance comes courtesy of an unannounced Neil appearance following a Ry Cooder show at the Borderline – To which extent it’s a wonder as to who exactly was recording the show – either an ardent Ry Cooder fan ( the recording for Ry’s appearance exists so it may be that some went for one show & found himself recording two .. ) or recording equipment laid on by one of Neil’s cohorts by special request. Neil didn’t tour solo this year but would embark on the road with Crosby, Stills & Nash for a brief jaunt through America later on in the year but may still have wanted this pop-up show to have been recorded for his own personal ‘archives’.
This show comes in the midst of one of Neil’s low periods & at the beginning of the ‘Ditch’ trilogy of albums – the very much downbeat ‘Tonight’s The Night’ album which, as legend would have, when it was played in concert would upset the crowd that they weren’t getting their fill of oldies so after playing the album Young would ask the assembled if they’d like to hear something that they’d heard before only to go back to the start of the album & play it again .. – was the first pointer & losing both Crazy Horse’s guitarist Danny Whitten & roadie Bruce Berry to their raging addictions was the next but this show finds a happier & more chatty Neil than this previous year. Ready to spin dry witticisms & stories about his life, workload & reminiscences.
Nearly all of tonight’s songs were unreleased at the time of his performance ( apart from Déjà Vu’s “Helpless” ) so the crowd here are some of the very first to hear these tracks – There are some wonderful reactions to some of the songs here particularly as there seems to be a potent kind of cigarette being hawked around the venue to the laughter quota is, um, ‘high’.
The tape begins with an understated P.A. announcement & rapturous applause. Neil is unprepared for his set baring the songs as he introduces the first track as ‘I’d like to start with a quite song it’s called .. um .. it’s called, um .. Citizen Kane Junior Blues” A track that would be played at the later CSNY concerts but had since been discarded & would never be officially released despite it’s intended inclusion on the first ‘greatest hits’ package “Decade”.
It rolls on for over six minutes & The ambiance for the show shows itself clearly throughout the track – Picking Neil’s gentle strum, his tremulous voice & the drop of his foot against the stage, as the crowd are respectfully silent & various other bar noises – glasses chinking, wrappers being eased open & coughs. Once the track finishes the near silence is broken by a call for the Buffalo Springfield track “Mr. Soul” instead Neil grabs his harp blows a few notes & mentions the ‘sweet smell from the audience’ & ruminates how he wrote the next song about his car & about the fact that his just bought a new bus for touring in. “Long may you run” – the title causing a ripple of smokey hilarity from the audience – wouldn’t be released for another 2 years until 1976’s Stills – Young band album.
The audience also roundly applaud the Beach Boys reference in the lyrics – it’s either a spiteful dig at the Brothers Wilson or just a jostling in-joke between them. The following is a strange trick to pull as Neil then performs the traditional English folk song “Greensleeves” Written in the 16th century, very possibly by King Henry VIII for his then wife Anne Boleyn. Neil has always been a fan of English folk & has mentioned being a fan of folkie Bert Janch – Indeed he would tour with Bert on the ‘Twisted Road’ Tour in 2010. That Neil sings the original words rather than re-interprating his own is also a nod to his love for the original.
The first track from the recently completed ‘On The Beach’ album follows with a spoken introduction about it’s gestation & how Neil would sit in coffee shops when he was younger & listen to fast paced, joyous folky songs & then the next performer would appear & play a down beat song. Neil calls this ‘Another bummer’.
“Ambulance Blues” is track all Neil fans should know already but hearing one of it’s first plays outside the audience of Neil’s insider friends is rather sweet. It’s history also rests it’s foundation with a melody that ‘unintentionally’ quotes Bert Janch’s “Needle Of Death” & the line ‘You’re just pissing in the wind’ – which gets one of the biggest applause of the night – vents Neil’s frustrations against his critics, president Richard Nixon & the culpability of CSN towards some of Neil’s problems.
Going back through the past Neil heads towards the very same band who he was just spitting venom at & after admitting that he came with no songs prepared & searching for his ‘c’ harmonica spins a delicate “Helpless” for the assembled who help Neil in their own way by providing subtle harmonies for him underneath the acoustics. He also mentions there is someone whom he respects that has told him that this ‘Is a really fine song .. ‘ though Neil doesn’t mention who this person is.
The crowd get a little braver next & rather than nervously saying the titles of songs they know they positively shout them out to which extent Neil try’s to placate them by telling them that he can fall in to the songs easily but having performed them so often it gets harder to relate to the original form in which they took so he takes the tack of playing another unreleased song “Revolution Blues” Neil’s song on the subject of Charles Manson & his followers whom seems to have worked his way charm around some of America’s most credible stars.
Speaking in 2008 neil said ‘Spooky times. I knew Charlie Manson. A few people were at this house on Sunset Boulevard and the people were different. I didn’t know what it was; I was meeting them and he was not a happy guy but he seemed to have a hold on girls. It was the ugly side of the Maharishi. You know, there’s one side of the light, nice flowers and white robes and everything, and then there’s something that looks a lot like it but just isn’t it at all.’ It’s noted as a violent song, one that David Crosby initially warned Neil not to perform such was the fear around Manson & his followers.
It’s nasty lyrics would seem to hint at someone scared and with a very fragile frame of mind & of course we know that Neil was heading towards something like this at this certain point. Whether anyone in the audience made the connection between the words & the Manson killings is never quite noted. The atmosphere is a slightly muted one once the song finishes – everyone is obviously shocked by what they’ve heard here & Neil lets the mood glide before making a sly joke & then playing the title track to ‘On The Beach’. Another morose song with a sparse arrangement & lyrics that again seem to hint at Neil’s feelings of loneliness.
Obviously the crowd aren’t too sullied by this deathless change in mood & someone calls out for some ‘country & western’. Neil gives them what they want & pulls out “Roll Another Number (For the Road)” A brief & jaunty rendition of a track that wouldn’t appear until ‘Tonight’s The Night’ that Neil calls a ‘novelty song’ dedicating the track to someone in the audience who is braying loudly a corny, southern accent that he appropriates with C&W.
The final song that Neil wants to sing is delayed by his long introduction in to the track brought on by a small contingent of the audience that call out for “Southern Man” which reminds Neil of a story about that song & the reason that he was reticent to play it. He regales the audience with a yarn about playing at a recent show in Oakland, his boredom with Southern Man & the fact that a black police officer had approached a rambunctious member of that audience, that that had shaken Neil’s nerve & he had simply put down his guitar, walked off of stage & driven home.
Neil then remembers the story about “Motion Pictures ( For Carrie )” & about how he & his crew were sat around drinking honey slides, a syrupy concoction of bee’s honey & ‘low grade marijuana’, while watching T.V. in a motel & how the song came about while playing around with various chords with Rusty Kershaw & Ben Keith while Neil was “Trying to get ( my ) act together”. The song was written with regards to actress Carrie Snodgress – An actor on Neil’s film ‘Journey Through The Past’ & the ‘maid’ in the song “A Man Needs A Maid” ( Named after her appearance in the film ‘Diary Of A Mad Housewife’ ) – It is one of Neil’s own regarded finest ( Although the album was deleted in the early 8o’s possibly in part to Neil’s unfeeling for his ‘Ditch’ period & the problems he was having over custody of his son Zeke with Carrie in the early 1980’s ) & is a smooth & luxuriant bathe where Neil relinquishes everything around his life for the love of his woman.
Finally Neil thanks the crowd for listening & notes that they have the choice of listening to either of the songs that Neil has prepared to play. Their choice is that Neil plays them both & so he capitulates & offers that he segues the two together – slow song first – to “Flash the shit out of everyone with the fast one at the end”. “Pardon My Heart” is ‘A love song that I learned recently .. I wrote it too!’
Its stanza is reminiscent of “The Old Laughing Lady” but this is nothing new for Neil as tracks have appeared then reappeared with different lyrics throughout the years. It was to be included on the unreleased ‘Homegrown’ album but after that faded in to obscurity after being deemed by Neil himself as a ‘down’ album that circumnavigated closely around Neil’s diminishing relationship with Carrie.
The set ends without the segue in to the next song that Neil threatens but instead he picks up another harmonica begins to play “Dance, Dance, Dance” a song that he premiered at live shows in 1971 & gave to Crazy Horse for their first album.
There is a small portion of the audience who must remember the track but despite it’s obscurity it gets a few hands clapping & feet stomping. Towards the end Neil stops playing guitar & continues for the coda acapella. It’s heartwarming to hear Neil – who was embittered to say the least at this point – sounding like he’s really caught the attention of the small crowd & is still happy that his new & rarely heard material can get such a reception.
The gatefold sleeve is full of relevant information pertaining to the time with regards to Honey Slides ( From where the CD obviously gets it’s title .. ) by replicating the introductions that Neil makes during the gig & also features a brief note on the night by ‘Ghosts On The Road’.