Memories (Peter Childs)

Well, it seems about time I set down a few memories of my old friend, one of the most golden souls it has been my privilege to meet in this life. I first met Fred in the Village, I think, although it could have been in the Grove. I used to sit in with him in the Village clubs, and we hung out a lot, often in the apartment on Macdougal Street that I shared with John Sebastian. Those were magic days (mostly nights; sometimes we didn’t see the light of day), much of which one can read about elsewhere on this website. There’s no way I can describe the life we lived, except to say that it was the New York early stages of what we now call the Sixties. We were young, we were artists, and we were almost entirely unconstrained by the societal norms out of which the sixties emerged. To say that we enjoyed each other’s company would be an understatement; we had so many good times that we will never lack for memories. I remember sitting on the floor of the MacDougal Street apartment with Fred in the wee hours, playing along with the predominant note of the New York night, with our guitars tuned closely enough to that note and to each other that a beat frequency would be created, and that beat was what we were concentrating on (although anyone else who may have been in the room was unlikely to be aware of it). This is the kind of musical subtlety that Fred was capable of.

Bleecker & MacDougalI worked with Fred on the Bleeker and Macdougal album in New York (I actually have a tape of Fred and me practicing for that album, honest to God!), and then spent a fair amount of time in the Grove (Coconut Grove in Florida), where Fred, Bobby, Ric, Vince, and others formed a group of friends who stay in touch to this day. So many memories: In a motorboat with Fred on the Bay, singing “Amazing Grace” to the note of the outboard. Or on a sailboat, skipping over the ocean like a stone (Fred swore I helped him write “Everybody’s talking”, but I don’t remember it.) Fred and me playing music to dolphins, and his introducing me to a dolphin named “Lady”, to whom I wrote a song a few years later when Fred, Ric, and I were scuba-diving on Grand Cayman. I happen to have a tape of Fred singing that song (“Lady, Lady”); one of the tracks for the Columbia album that wasn’t. What the heck; I’ll include the lyrics, and readers can imagine what it’s like to have that tape on next to “Dolphins”.

Lady, lady, smile at me
Through the sunlight rippling on the water.
Tell me what I know I see
In the calm beneath the stormy sea.
Lady, lady, in your eyes
I can feel the song that you are singing.
Though I know I am not wise
I can tell that this was meant to be.
Every stream will run into the sea;
Every wave will carry you to me.
Lady, lady, let it be.
Someday I will know the things I have to.
Time and tide roll over me;
Lady tell me love will always be.
In the calm beneath the stormy sea…
Lady, lady, smile at me.

Fred NeilI happened to be living in L.A. when Fred headed out there, and I played on the Fred Neil and Sessions albums. Nic Venet, may I say, knew how to handle Fred; he lit a whole bundle of incense, turned the studio lights down low, started the tape, and sat back. Very informal, you might say. Fred didn’t do formality (Not to say it could get loose, but there is a guitar track that Fred swore I played but I’m sure it was Bruce.) A few years later, when we were in Paris after doing the Montreaux Jazz Festival, I stood next to Fred in the Cathedral of Notre Dame (while a group of college choirs sang chorales), as he lit a candle in memory of his grandmother, after whom he took the name “Neil”.

Then in 1971 I moved to the hills of Northern California, where my wife and I raised two kids on our little homestead (no phone, kerosene lights for fourteen years). Fred used to hang out in this neck of the woods for a couple of months at a time, and he was one of our favorite house guests. I remember sitting out by my garage with him, trying to see how big a chunk of roast beef a yellowjacket could fly away with (You’d be amazed!). And now let me tell you a story about Fred, which I promised him I wouldn’t tell. Now that he’s moved on, I figure he won’t mind. I was bitching to him one day about how screwed up our health care system is; both my wife and I needed operations, and we couldn’t afford health insurance. Fred did a little rummaging around, and I shortly found nine thousand dollars on the table. I got insurance and we both had our operations.

So I remember this wonderful man as the finest artist I ever worked (played) with, and as a friend whose memory I treasure. I’m sure I’ll be seeing him again.

Peter Childs