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In Anticipation Of Black Friday...

Fred Neil biographer Peter Lee Neff has generously gifted us with an exclusive excerpt from the essential tome pictured above.  This is the chapter that sets the stage and details the recordings that make up 38 MacDougal:

Excerpt from THAT’S THE BAG I’M IN: The Life, Music and Mystery of FRED NEIL      

 By Peter Lee Neff                                                                                                                                                                                              

A WAY OUT

In early 1965, work on Fred’s solo debut album began at Elektra’s

midtown Manhattan recording studio. From the outset, it was obvious

the relationship between producer and artist had only worsened. Neither

man cared for the other; neither was willing to bend. Peter Childs

conceded that in a studio setting, Fred could be difficult. But according

to Vince Martin, producer Paul Rothschild was cruel to Fred, pushing

him “to record more, and more, and more.” This put everyone on edge

and dredged up everything Fred hated about the world of professional

recording. Therefore, every day of the Bleecker & MacDougal sessions became

a grinding tug of war.

“Fred realized he could be chewed up by this thing if he wasn’t careful;

that this could be a viable record,” recalled John Sebastian. “Then he’d

start to pull back. Paul was pissed for a reason because Fred wouldn’t

give him his money shot. He was frustrated: Fred doesn’t show up or he’s

not right, or whatever, and it was daily. Those sessions were very mercurial.”

Peter Childs agreed. “That’s a mild word for it. There was a lot of

friction, and it was hard on Paul, terribly hard on Paul. But Paul didn’t

know how to handle Freddie.”

Artistic temperament, personality conflicts, ego, and frustrations

fueled the anger between producer and artist, until it blew up right

there in the studio. “Freddie walked out on that record two or three

times,” Childs recalled. “I don’t want to toot my own horn too much,

but that last time I really don’t think he would’ve come back.” Two thirds

of the album was in the can, and Peter wasn’t about to let Bleecker

& MacDougal fall by the wayside. “I figured the best chance to get

him back wouldn’t be to try to persuade him verbally, so I got him over

to the apartment for a bit of music-making. It was by way of keeping

him musically alive at a point where he had walked out of the studio

with an awful strong air of finality.”

Before their late night jam, Peter Childs turned on his tape recorder.

The music he recorded captured the spontaneity and magic that

happens when two extremely talented musicians are relaxed and communicating

musically on the highest level. With Childs on electric and

acoustic guitar and Fred on twelve-string guitar, the two eased into

Fred’s elegiac ballad “Little Bit of Rain,” followed by “Country Boy,”

Fred’s autobiographical Bo Diddley inspired rocker. Peter switched to

dobro for “Gone Again,” and for “Candy Man” went back to the electric

guitar. Before jumping into “Candy Man,” Fred, being silly, shouts, “Take

one, Dick Clark.” Next was “Travelin’ Shoes,” another offbeat, riff-based,

up-tempo tune, and like all the previous selections, a Neil original. From

out of nowhere, Fred pulled out the traditional Appalachian folk ballad,

“Once I Had a Sweetheart.” It’s a rare, unique performance by Fred who

sings the song straight without any lyric or melodic alteration.

The last two songs were flawless: “Sweet Cocaine,” and, because the

tape ran out, a truncated “Blind Man Standin’ by the Road and Cryin’,” a 

biblical story refashioned as a spiritual and more commonly known as

“Blind Man Stood by the Road and Cried.” Fred rarely performed “Blind

Man”; his is a leaner, less hopeful, less faith-based, and seemingly more

personalized version. It’s the story of a man so spiritually torn, his confidence

and emotions so shattered, that he’s rendered inert. He wants desperately

to believe that God will answer him, but fears he won’t. What

the tape caught of Fred’s performance is riveting.

 

Blind man, standin’ by the road and cryin’

Blind man, standin’ by the road and cryin’

Crying, oh Lord, won’t you show me the way to go

Blind Man, standin’ by the road and cryin’

 

So what was it about “Blind Man”? Is this how he felt that night—a

blind man at the crossroads? Fred never did a song just because it was

popular—far from it. Billie Holiday once said, “I’ve got to live with my

tunes before I can sing. It’s got to mean something otherwise I can’t sing.

It don’t mean nothin’ to me.” Fred’s music attests that this was true for

him too.

Without that jam session, Peter believes, the album might never

have become a reality. Peter’s recording may well have captured a pivotal

moment of decision. You can hear the subtext, it wouldn’t be copping

out, would it, Lord, if the music is just too good to leave behind? Perhaps

Fred realized what was at stake and, more importantly, all that Bleecker

& MacDougal could be.

 

Copyright © 2019 by Peter Lee Neff   used with permission