Ben Keith

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Best known as a pedal steel player, multi-instrumentalist Bennett Keith Schaeufele (6 March 1937 – 26 July 2010), better known as Ben Keith, was a fixture on the Nashville country music scene before working with Neil Young.

You'd have to say that he was one of the great, but unrecognised, side men.

Unless, of course, you're a Rustie (a member of the Neil Young on-line fan community) where news of Ben Keith's passing was initially greeted with comments along the lines of No way! and You're kidding! Sadly the reports proved to be true and a gifted player who linked some unlikely names in the course of a career that stretched back to the late fifties has left us.

Ben Keith was working as a studio musician in Nashville when he met Neil Young during the sessions for Harvest in 1971. He'd lived there since 1956, played pedal steel on many late 1950s and 1960s country classics, including Patsy Cline's I Fall To Pieces and was called in to play on the Harvest sessions on the recommendation of bassist Tim Drummond. Ben lived two blocks from the studio, and arrived to find the sessions already in progress, set up quietly and had played on five songs before the introductions were made.

Young was in Nashville to tape an appearance on the Johnny Cash Show and was planning to use the Harvest material as the basis of a live acoustic album, Live At Massey Hall 1971, later released as part of Young’s Archive Performance Series. 

After meeting producer Elliot Mazer at a party, Young changed his mind and decided to cut an album at Quadraphonic Sound with drummer Kenny Buttrey and bassist Tim Drummond. When a pedal steel was needed, Ben Keith got the call. He subsequently appeared on Journey Through The Past, Time Fades Away, On The Beach, Tonight's the Night, American Stars 'n' Bars, Comes A Time, Hawks 'n' Doves, Old Ways, Freedom, Harvest Moon, Silver and Gold, Prairie Wind, Chrome Dreams II, and the live Unplugged and Road Rock Vol. 1. That's a fair chunk out of Mr Young's extensive discography.

Actually, subsequently appeared on doesn't do justice to someone who was a key ingredient in the Neil Young sound, playing in almost every non-Crazy Horse tour band, and a close member of Mr Young's inner circle, appearing as Grandpa in the Greendale movie and producing or co-producing American Stars 'n' Bars, Comes A Time, Old Ways, Harvest Moon and Prairie Wind.

Other session credits include Terry Reid, Todd Rundgren, Lonnie Mack, The Band, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Paul Butterfield, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon, Ian and Sylvia, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Anne Murray and Ringo Starr. 

Another great one gone...

Need convincing? Find a copy of Harvest and check the opening Out On The Weekend (the woman I’m thinking of/ She loves me all up/ But I’m so down today...)

Some links:

The Cool Groove     Entertainment Weekly     Chart Attack     The Guardian    

Neil Young on playing with country music legends

B© Ian Hughes 2012