Michael Buckner | Frazer Harrison, Getty Images Now this is a collaboration that…
- Posted on May 4th 2007 5:00PM by Gaylord Fields
It's a strange enough fact that in the mid-'60s, rock 'n' roll legend Neil Young and Rick James, the Super Freak himself, actually inhabited the same band. But that's a mere punch line, something for the music trivia buffs. What puts the actual twist in the tale is the bizarre circumstances that led to how this odd musical couple got together and what might have come from their brief union.
The circumstances that led to this unlikely of pairings began in 1964, when Rick James, born James Johnson Jr. in Buffalo, N.Y., went AWOL from his U.S. Naval Reserve post, making the trek -- as did many Vietnam-era draft dodging and deserting Yanks -- across the border to Canada. Landing in Toronto, he adopted the combination alias and stage name of Ricky James Matthews and made the ultimately fateful decision to hide in very plain sight.
In 1966, Neil Young, who had been kicking around his city of birth after spending his teen years in Winnipeg, was asked to join the group as a guitarist. This coincided with the band being signed to Motown Records, as a rare mostly white combo on the hitmaking soul label. At this point, the James-fronted Mynahs were known for their Rolling Stones-inspired R&B-ish rock, and, true to the bird known for its mimicking skills, the future funkmaster patterned his vocal and stage style on his hero, Mick Jagger. The result was the curious sight of a black American imitating a white Englishman imitating a black American.
Soon thereafter, James, Young and the other Mynahs traveled to Detroit to record at Motown's Hitsville studio, where they laid down enough tracks for an album, recorded under the supervision of Smokey Robinson. A single was chosen: 'It's My Time,' a two-minute burst of garage rock that, with James' Jagger snarl and Young's jangly 12-string guitar, conjures up both the Stones and the Byrds, and its b-side, the soulful ballad 'Go On and Cry.' But just before the 45 could see the light of day, James' past finally caught up to him, and he was captured by American authorities and thrown into the brig to serve a one-year sentence for desertion. Without a band to promote the record, Motown shelved the single and album, with the songs finally seeing the light of day only this past December, on a Motown singles box set.
After James' involuntary departure, Young and Palmer moved to Los Angeles, where they birthed the Buffalo Springfield and Young became one of the most enduring artists in rock history. James eventually got a second crack at Motown in the '70s and gained the massive success that eluded him initially -- and often sported some wild bird-inspired outfits of his own choosing.