Fred Neil – Hootenanny Live At the Bitter End – “Drop the Atom Bomb the Day My Ship Comes In”

by | Dec 1, 2019 | 5 comments

Revolving in the ‘rock room’ today is an obscure mono folk
record from the FM label released in 1964. The LP titled, Hootenanny – Live At the Bitter End spotlights a number of artists from the heady days of the Greenwich folk scene which included familiar artists like, Bob Dylan, John Sebastian and the focus of today’s ‘rock room’ rant, Fred Neil. Famously known as the composer of the song “Everybody’s Talkin”, Neil
towered above the majority of artists that passed through The Bitter End as is
illustrated on the record. As famed critic Richie Unterberger stated in his
review of the LP:  “All of the other performers sing sincere, twee
coffeehouse folk that illustrates (if only in retrospect) just how necessary it
was for gutsier artists like Neil to come along and blow them out of the
water”.


Neil performs three songs (hailing from 1963) on the record
in his far out folk blues fashion. Leading on strident 12 string acoustic
guitar, Neil with unknown backing musicians (on bass and harp respectively)
ties everything together like tightly knotted rope. No disrespect to fellow artists featured on the record, Bob
Carey, Len Chandler and Jo Mapes, but when the record is played in its entirety
it is obvious to the ‘rock room’ who is the timeless talent. Prior to Neil
appearing on the Hootenanny record he
had released a number of rare singles (1957-1960) while quickly falling out of
the ‘Brill Building’ school of songwriting. Following Hootenanny, Neil would record the influential, Tear Down the Walls record with fellow folkie Vince Martin and
later following with four of his own solo recordings.
The first of three Neil songs on the record is “Linin Track”
recorded by Huddie Ledbetter. Neil sits in the lead engine car initiating the
groove. Neil states, “I heard that all Bitter End people have rhythm” as his wiry
12 string scrubs rock into a unique folk blues groove. “Linin Track” rises like
locomotive steam as it races down the track. Neil is accompanied by as
previously stated an unknown bass player who thumps out a mantra on the
standup. Neil starts off the song with his ethnic box car chording. The
strident and seductive percussion less rhythm expands and contracts as Neil
bellows over the top of the rocky churn. His hearty voice elongating the verses
and deep diving into the lower register. Midway through the song and through
the musical smoke Neil shouts, “Here We Go” as he initiates another round of
fibrous riffing. “Linin Track” languidly veers off course and segues seamlessly
into “Grizzly Bear”; a 1962 single for Jake Scott which was co-written by Neil.
Neil begins to shout out the lyrics and then the dynamic
call and response chorus to “Grizzly Bear” while requesting that Village
singer/songwriter Major Wiley come on stage and assist with the lyrical echoes.
Rolling down the mountain and through the briars and brambles Neil gets the “Bitter
End” and Major to collaboratively get down. Neil brings the chunky groove lower
and lower until concluding the “Linin Track’ bookend with a reprise. The crowd
responds loudly and the vibe is bright.
The next track on the LP, “Sky Is Falling” is a Fred Neil
original that never made it on one of his official LP’s.  Here again, Neil is joined by an unknown bass
player who lends a warm walking bass line to the track. Neil precipitates a
ticklish acoustic prelude before beginning the lyrics with his irresistible
golden tenor. Neil croons his unique brand of blues, contemplating the falling
sky and the eventual world “fall out”. Loose and intimate the song levitates
between earth and sky, delicately balanced on Neil’s internal syncopation. Neil
really huffs and puffs on the golden horn for the last verse as his voice hits
spots where the listener can ‘feel’ it.
Neil introduces the final song on the album as, “another work
song I learned from Bobby Dylan”. A humorous aside as Dylan actually backed
Neil at the “Bitter End” in 1961 and they often traveled in many of the same
Greenwich songwriting circles. “That’s the Bag I’m In” follows and is a Neil
original that would later be recorded on 1966’s self-titled album Fred Neil.

A ‘rock room’ favorite and a Fred Neil classic, “That’s the
Bag I’m In” begins on a circular fingerpicked lick and lists a litany of “shit
happens” moments to our narrator. He immediately burns his fingers on the coffee
pot and misses his connection amongst other unfortunate daily events. Eventually,
“same thing gonna happen again, cause that’s the bag I’m in”.  The version here is a bit faster than the
eventual studio recording with a kenetic strumming pattern. Another unknown
musician joins Neil, this time on harmonica. I will throw it out there that I
believe this spectral player to be John Sebastian (who often played in the
Village and with Neil). Neil states to the player, “Get the bag” as both he and
Neil accelerate the tempo and enter into a guitar/harp run through the changes.
Connecting the dots and dressed with off mic asides, Neil sings the opening verse again to conclude the song
with some gritty gusto on the exiting words.
In the ‘rock room’s meaningless opinion, Fred Neil is one of the
finest songwriters to be birthed from the early 1960’s coffeehouse folk “hootenannies”.
While some of these talented artists became bigger than they could ever
imagine, some like Neil have not even been given the benefit of hindsight.
Obviously his compositions such as “Everybody’s Talkin” and “Dolphins” have
endured and influenced over the years, yet the man is still underrepresented.
David Crosby, Bob Dylan, Tim Buckley, John Sebastian and Joni Mitchell are only
a few of the famed and talented songwriters whom were assisted or inspired by
Neil. Full scale musical acceptance would allude Neil for his entire life but
he would contribute to the world in other ways. Neil would slowly retreat from
music and head for the deep. His work with ocean and dolphin preservation would
become his calling and he would leave an indelible mark on it just as he had as
a songwriter.

5 Comments

  1. Bob W.

    Fred Neil was a major influence on many musicians, you have listed a few. I would add Paul Kantner/Jefferson Airplane. They played Another Side Of This Life at many of their concerts. Kantner wrote The House At Pooneil Corners and The Ballad Of You & Me & Pooneil in part as a tribute to Fred.

    Unfortunately Fred's unhealthy use of hard drugs made him very unreliable. He used to play in NY for a while, get strung out, go to Coconut Grove, Florida, get cleaned up, and go back to NY and start the cycle again. Much of Fred's impact on musicians was in Coconut Grove. Crosby, Stills, Sebastian and many others, played with Neil while there. Sebastian wrote the Lovin' Spoonful song Coconut Grove after hanging there with Fred.

    An amazing performer and writer who never reached the mass audience he deserved.

    The three songs from the Hootenanny Live At the Bitter End are available on the Fred Neil CD – The Sky Is Crying.

    Reply
  2. talkfromtherockroom

    Thanks for the information Bob! I agree on all counts. There is a new Neil bio that just came out called 'That's the Bag I'm In' by Peter Lee Neff. I just picked it up.

    Reply
  3. Bob W.

    I'll have to get that. Thanks for the tip.

    Reply
  4. Bob W.

    My wife bought the book for my Christmas present. Thanks for letting me know about it.

    Reply
  5. talkfromtherockroom

    Great! I just finished it today. Wonderful book, you will love it. Enjoy!

    Reply

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