Rick James and Neil Young
The Mynah Birds, The "Super Freak" and Neil
Neil Young News
Funk legend Rick James, the flashy Motown Records artist best known for his 1981 hit 'Super Freak,' died on August 7, 2004 at age 56.
While much is known about James' "Super Freak" period, relatively little is known about the period during the 1960's when he formed a band known as the Mynah Birds with Neil Young, Goldie McJohn (later of Steppenwolf) and Bruce Palmer (later of Buffalo Springfield). The name of the band Mynah Birds was apparently a takeoff of the well known folk-rock band The Byrds.
In an interview with Neil Young in MOJO Magazine in 1995, Neil was asked about a 1965 Mynah Birds album being recorded which never was released.
The origin of the band name is somewhat disputed. Some have claimed that it was a takeoff of on The Byrds. Another story goes that Rick James partnered with a Yorkville (Toronto Canada area) pet store which sold Mynah birds. As a promotion, the Mynah Birds dressed in yellow boots, black leather jackets and yellow turtlenecks as an advertisment for the pet shop. (See Toronto Star.)
In Jimmy McDonough's definitive Neil Young biography "Shakey", "James, fancied himself the next Mick Jagger, a claim particularly ironic since he was black, although as Bruce Palmer told Scott Young, "as far as we knew he was white then."
Those lucky enough to see any of the band's few gigs say they were electrifying. 'Neil would stop playing lead, do a harp solo, throw the harmonica way up in the air and Ricky would catch it and continue the solo.'
Unfortunately, everything screeched to a halt when James was busted in the studio for being AWOL from the navy. "We thought he was Canadian," said Palmer. "Even though there are no Negroes in Canada." A single, "It's My Time," was allegedly pulled the day of release, and the album recordings were shelved and remain unreleased to this day."
When author McDonough asked Neil Young what it was like to work with Rick James, Young replied:
Rick James was really into the Stones. "Get Off My Cloud," "Satisfaction," "Can I Get a Witness" - all these songs we used to do. We got more and more into how cool the Stones were. How simple they were and how cool it was.
We were the only white band at Motown."
The brief period of the Mynah Birds is recalled in the song "Big Time" on the album Broken Arrow. From an analysis of the lyrics of Neil Young's 'Big Time' from The I Magazine:
The devout will recognise the setting and the story, but for those who don't ... In 1965, Young recorded an acoustic demo for Elektra Records featuring early versions of Sugar Mountain and Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing but wasn't offered a contract by the label. Returning to Toronto, Young played the same Yorkville district coffeehouse circuit as fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell before he joined The Mynah Birds, a Toronto-based band led by singer Ricky James Matthews (later to be known as Rick James who would go on to have several smash dance hits, in particular Super Freak, a song which would later heavily influence Prince).
The Mynah Birds recorded several songs for Motown Records (the first white band to ever be signed by the label)in Detroit that were never released. During one of these recording sessions, James was arrested and charged with deserting the U.S. Navy. The Mynah Birds flew apart when James was forced to complete his tour of duty. Only one song ever saw the light of day: Mynah Bird Hop on Columbia Canada."
The Mynah Birds recorded 16 songs and signed a seven-year contract with Motwon Records. From a book by John Einarson titled Neil Young`s Canadian Years there is a mention of the legendary Mynah Birds sessions: "A listen to the tapes years later reveals no trace of Neil's characteristic guitar or vocals."
Bummer. Rest in Peace, Ricky. :(
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