Fred Neil

Frederick Neil (March 16, 1936 – July 7, 2001)[1] was an American folk singer-songwriter in the 1960s and early 1970s. He did not achieve commercial success as a performer[2] and is mainly known through other people's recordings of his material – particularly "Everybody's Talkin'", which became a hit for Harry Nilsson after it was used in the film Midnight Cowboy in 1969.[1][3] Though highly regarded by contemporary folk singers,[2] he was reluctant to tour and spent much of the last 30 years of his life assisting with the preservation of dolphins.[3][4]

Fred Neil
Fred Neil circa 1964
Fred Neil circa 1964
Background information
Birth nameFrederick Neil
Born(1936-03-16)March 16, 1936
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
DiedJuly 7, 2001(2001-07-07) (aged 65)
Summerland Key, Florida, U.S.
GenresBlues, folk
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter
InstrumentsVocals, guitar
Years active1964–1975


Born in Cleveland, Ohio, and raised in St. Petersburg, Florida, Neil was exposed to music at an early age, travelling around the US with his father, who was a representative for Wurlitzer jukeboxes.[5] Neil was one of the singer-songwriters who worked out of New York City's Brill Building, a center for music industry offices.[6] While composing at the Brill Building for other artists, Neil also recorded six mostly rockabilly-pop singles for different labels as a solo artist.[5] He wrote songs that were taken by early rock and roll artists such as Buddy Holly ("Come Back Baby" 1958) and Roy Orbison ("Candy Man" 1961).[7]

With his 12 string guitar and spectacularly deep baritone voice, Neil was considered the King of the MacDougal Street/ Greenwich Village folksingers. He was a major influence on dozens of other artists including Tim Buckley, Stephen Stills, David Crosby and Joni Mitchell.[citation needed] His most frequently cited disciples are Karen Dalton, Tim Hardin, Dino Valenti, Vince Martin, Peter Stampfel of the avant-folk ensemble the Holy Modal Rounders, John Sebastian (the Lovin' Spoonful), Gram Parsons, Jerry Jeff Walker, Barry McGuire, and Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane). When Bob Dylan came to New York, his first gig was playing backup harmonica for Fred Neil. Neil met Vince Martin in 1961, and they formed a singing partnership;[8] his first LP, Tear Down The Walls (1964) was recorded with Martin.[9] During 1965 and 1966 Neil was joined on many live sets by the Seventh Sons, a trio led by Buzzy Linhart on guitar and vibes. Neil released Bleecker & MacDougal on Elektra Records in 1965,[10] reissued in 1970 as A Little Bit of Rain. His album Fred Neil, released in 1967, relaunched in 1969 as Everybody's Talkin', was recorded during his residencies in Greenwich Village and Coconut Grove, Florida, with one session taking place in Los Angeles.[9]

After "Everybody's Talkin'", Neil's best-known songs are "Other Side of this Life" and "The Dolphins", which were later recorded by several artists, including Linda Ronstadt, It's a Beautiful Day, the The, Billy Bragg, Beth Orton, Tim Buckley, and The Jefferson Airplane, for whom Neil was a major influence. Neil was a frequent visitor to The Jefferson Airplane's Haight-Ashbury House at 2400 Fulton Street in San Francisco. Neil reminded Grace Slick of Winnie the Pooh, her name for him was "Poohneil". The Airplane song "The Ballad Of You & Me & Pooneil" was written for Fred Neil. Neil was teacher and mentor to the Airplane's Paul Kantner. [5] Sebastian's song "Coconut Grove" from the album Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful was a tribute to Neil.[11]

Blues and folk singer Lisa Kindred credits Neil with being her mentor in the early 1960s.[12]

Interested in dolphins since the mid-1960s, when he began visiting the Miami Seaquarium, Neil, with Ric O'Barry, founded the Dolphin Research Project in 1970, an organization dedicated to stopping the capture, trafficking and exploitation of dolphins worldwide.[5] Increasingly involved in that pursuit, Neil progressively disappeared from the recording studio and live performance, with only occasional performances in the rest of the 1970s.[5]

Later life and deathEdit

Neil left Woodstock in the mid-1970s and spent his remaining decades on the shores of southern Florida, involved in the Dolphin Project. After a guest appearance with Stephen Stills at New York City's Madison Square Garden in 1971, Neil began a long retirement, performing in public mostly at gigs for the Dolphin Project Revue in Coconut Grove. He played a benefit show for the Revue in Tokyo in 1977.[citation needed] He performed with his core group of John Sebastian on harmonica, Harvey Brooks on bass, and Pete Childs on guitar at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July 1975.[13] Michael Lang, one of the organizers of the 1969 Woodstock Festival and a habitué of Coconut Grove in the 1970s, tried unsuccessfully to release this as a live LP. Neil's last public performance was in 1981, at an outdoor concert at the Old Grove Pub in Coconut Grove, where he joined Buzzy Linhart for one song and stayed onstage for the rest of the set.

Many of Neil's 1970s recordings remain unissued, including a 1973 session with Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John Cipollina and some Woodstock recordings with guitarist Arlen Roth. According to Ric O'Barry, Neil recorded two albums of cover songs in 1977 and 1978 that Columbia Records did not release.[14] Barry said he produced the first of the recordings in Miami, and that Neil was joined by Pete Childs on guitar, John Sebastian on harmonica, and Harvey Brooks on bass. The second album was more fully arranged, with Neil accompanied by the New York session band Stuff and some old friends, including Slick Aguilar. The songs on these albums were written by Bobby Charles, John Braheny, Bobby Ingram, Billy Joe Shaver, and Billy Roberts (composer of "Hey Joe").

Neil died of skin cancer in 2001.[1]


Neil gained public recognition in 1969, when Nilsson's recording of "Everybody's Talkin'" was featured in the film Midnight Cowboy; the song became a hit and won a Grammy Award. He was one of the pioneers of the folk rock and singer-songwriter musical genres,[15][16] his most prominent musical descendants being Tim Buckley,[17] Stephen Stills,[18] David Crosby and Joni Mitchell.[citation needed] His most frequently cited disciples are Karen Dalton, Tim Hardin, Dino Valenti, Vince Martin, Peter Stampfel of the avant-folk ensemble the Holy Modal Rounders, John Sebastian (the Lovin' Spoonful),[18] Gram Parsons,[19] Jerry Jeff Walker, Barry McGuire,[18] and Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane).[20][18][citation needed] Some of Neil's early compositions were recorded by Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison. He played guitar on the demo version of Bobby Darin's 1958 hit "Dream Lover" and was a demo singer on a late-1950s Elvis Presley movie soundtrack session.[citation needed]

In Neil's obituary in Rolling Stone, Anthony DeCurtis wrote, "So why is Neil a hero to David Crosby? Because back when Crosby was an aspiring folkie who just arrived in New York, Neil bothered to take an interest in him, just as he did for the young Bob Dylan, who backed Neil on harmonica at the Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village. 'He taught me that everything was music,' Crosby says."[21]

In his memoir, Richie Havens recalled Neil and his then-partner Vince Martin making an entrance through the audience, without microphones, and getting the audience up and clapping by relying only on their harmonious vocals.[citation needed]


  • 1964: Tear Down the Walls (Elektra) with Vince Martin
  • 1965: Bleecker & MacDougal (Elektra), reissued in 1970 as A Little Bit of Rain
  • 1967: Fred Neil (Capitol), reissued in 1969 as Everybody's Talkin' [22]
  • 1967: Sessions (Capitol)
  • 1971: Other Side of This Life (Capitol), live and alternate versions
  • 1986: The Very Best of Fred Neil (See for Miles)
  • 1998: The Many Sides of Fred Neil (Collectors' Choice)
  • 2003: Do You Ever Think of Me? (Rev-Ola)
  • 2004: The Sky Is Falling: The Complete Live Recordings 1965–1971 (Rev-Ola)
  • 2005: Echoes of My Mind: The Best of Fred Neil 1963–1971 (Raven)
  • 2008: Trav'lin' Man: The Early Singles (Fallout)[9]
Anthologies including tracks by Neil
  • 1963: Hootenanny Live at the Bitter End (FM)
  • 1964: A Rootin" Tootin' Hootenanny (FM)
  • 1964: World of Folk Music (FM)

Selected songsEdit

  • "Candy Man"
  • "Everybody's Talkin'"
  • "Ba-di-da"
  • "Tear Down the Walls"
  • "The Dolphins"
  • "Green Rocky Road"
  • "The Other Side of This Life"
  • "Country Boy & Bleecker Street"
  • "That's the Bag I'm In"
  • "Blues on the Ceiling"
  • "Wild Child in a World of Trouble"
  • "FareTheeWell"
  • "Just A Little Bit Of Rain"


  1. ^ a b c Doc Rock. "The Dead Rock Stars Club 2001". Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Fred Neil and the '60's folk scene in New York". Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  3. ^ a b Dick Weissman (2006). Which Side Are You On?: An Inside History of the Folk Music Revival in America. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8264-1914-3. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  4. ^ Stuart Shea (2002). Rock and roll's most wanted. Brassey's. ISBN 1-57488-477-8. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d e Brend, Mark (2001) "Fred Neil", Record Collector, No. 265, September 2001, p. 11.
  6. ^ Gray, Christopher (December 3, 2009). "Streetscapes – The Brill Building – Built With a Broken Heart". Retrieved December 4, 2010.
  7. ^ Rush Evans (September 2001). "Searching for the Dolphins: The Mysterious Life of Fred Neil". Discoveries magazine. Retrieved December 5, 2010. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ Mike Powell (2008). The Oxford American Book of Great Music Writing. University of Arkansas Press. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  9. ^ a b c Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. p. 683. ISBN 1-84195-017-3.
  10. ^ Various Mojo Magazine (November 1, 2007). The Mojo Collection: 4th Edition. Canongate Books. pp. 77–. ISBN 978-1-84767-643-6.
  11. ^ Sims, Judith (February 1968). "These Two Men Are Important". TeenSet. p. 60.
  12. ^ Golden Gate Grooves – Issue 11, The Golden Gate Blues Society Quarterly, Johnny Ace & Cathy Lemons, October 2011. Retrieved December 23, 2018.
  13. ^ [1] Archived May 24, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "Fred Neil » Ric O'Barry". Retrieved December 4, 2010.
  15. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Fred Neil: Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved March 10, 2011.
  16. ^ Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian David; eds. (2004). Fred Neil. The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. Simon and Schuster. p. 572. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8. Retrieved March 10, 2011.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  17. ^ Browne, David (2001). Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley. HarperCollins. p. 83. ISBN 0-380-80624-X. Retrieved March 11, 2011. fred neil.
  18. ^ a b c d Unterberger, Richie (2002). Turn! Turn! Turn!: The '60s Folk-Rock Revolution. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 120. Retrieved March 11, 2011.
  19. ^ Hundley, Jessica; Parsons, Polly (2005). Grievous Angel: An Intimate Biography of Gram Parsons. Da Capo Press. p. 40. ISBN 1-56025-673-7.
  20. ^ "Interview:Paul Kantner (Jefferson Starship,Jeffferson Airplane) • Hit Channel". April 16, 2014.
  21. ^ DeCurtis, Anthony (July 20, 2001). "Rocking My Life Away: Fred Neil". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 10, 2011.
  22. ^ Mathew J. Bartkowiak; Yuya Kiuchi (June 15, 2015). The Music of Counterculture Cinema: A Critical Study of 1960s and 1970s Soundtracks. McFarland. pp. 136–. ISBN 978-0-7864-7542-1.

External linksEdit