It’s no surprise that Neil Young plays guitar, harmonica and electric sitar on his wife Pegi’s first-ever CD. What’s unusual is how it happened.
Pegi used the recording studio on the family’s northern California ranch and, when the time came to make her dream of making a disc real, set up sessions with some of the top-notch players who had worked with Neil over the years. Her husband was not included.
“Neil was always encouraging me to do it,” she said, “but I didn’t want to lean on him and he didn’t want me to have to lean on him.”
The musicians, in effect, set a trap.
Not wanting to risk an insult, they set aside space and an empty chair in the studio just in case Neil stopped by. The first day he popped his head in, but only to listen. The second day he sat down and picked up a guitar. By the third day he was a regular member of Pegi’s backup band.
Judging by the results on the self-titled disc, Pegi leans toward the “Harvest Moon” side of her husband’s catalog. If a vanity project, at least it’s a pleasant and inoffensive one.
Pegi, 54, wrote verse, sang for fun and was living in a teepee around the time she met Neil, in 1974. They raised a son and daughter, and her son Ben’s cerebral palsy led her to found the Bridge School for special-needs children. She has stepped away from day-to-day operations there, although she is still chairwoman of the board.
She came back into singing in 1994 when her husband asked her to add backup vocals for a performance of “Philadelphia” at the Academy Awards, and has since appeared with some of his touring bands.
Some of the songs she wrote for her CD date back to the 1970s, including one reflection on a cross-country hitchhiking trip she had taken when 20. “Heterosexual Masses” came from watching the nightly mating dance when she worked as a bartender.
She was more scared about opening herself up to the professional musicians than in putting her work before the public and critics.
“I’m ready for that, as ready as you can be,” she said. “I’ve been living alongside a very talented and creative guy for a long time, and some people get what he does and sometimes they don’t. That really doesn’t change the authenticity of what he does and the authenticity of what I tried to do.”
She’s certainly aware that many people will believe the only reason she was able to release a CD is because of who she’s married to (it was released a few weeks ago on the Warner Bros. record label; her husband is on its sister label, Reprise, under the Warner Bros. Records label group).
Her only plea to them? Give it a listen.
“See how it stands on its own, and not compare it to anybody else’s work,” she said. “It’s an obvious perspective, I suppose, but I didn’t want to have that stop me from doing it.”