The above photograph, captioned “Bob Dylan, Karen Dalton, and Fred Neil at the Cafe Wha?, February 1961″ was reprinted in the liner-notes of the Fred Neil compilation album “Everybody’s Talkin” (REVOLA CREV 021CD, 1993) and in several Dylan photo-biographies.
I used to play in a a place called Cafe Wha?, and it always used to open at noon, and closed at six in the morning. It was just a non-stop flow of people, usually they were tourists who were looking for beatniks in the Village. There’d be maybe five groups that played there. I used to play with a guy called Fred Neil, who wrote the song “Everybody’s Talking” that was in the film “Midnight Cowboy.”
Fred was from Florida I think, from Coconut Grove, Florida, and he used to make that scene, from Coconut Grove to Nashville to New York. And he had a strong powerful voice, almost a bass voice. And a powerful sense of rhythm … And he used to play mostly these types of songs that Josh White might sing. I would play harmonica for him, and then once in a while get to sing a song. You know, when he was taking a break or something. It was his show, he would be on for about half an hour, then a conga group would get on, called Los Congeros, with twenty conga drummers and bongoes and steel drums. And they would sing and play maybe half an hour. And then this girl, I think she was called Judy Rainey, used to play sweet Southern Mountain Appalachian ballads, with electric guitar and small amplifier. And then another guy named Hal Waters used to sing, he used to be a sort of crooner. Then there’d be a comedian, then an impersonator, and that’d be the whole show, and this whole unit would go around non-stop. And you’d get fed there, which was actually the best thing about the place…
Bert Kleinman Interview, Ritz-Carlton Hotel, NYC, NY, Jul 30, 1984.
Fred Neil – Everybody’s Talkin’
Fred Neil was one of the great village performer songwriters of the 1960’s, one of the finest songwriters (Dylan aside) this country has produced in the past 30 years. (Among other compositions, he wrote music for the movie Midnight Cowboy, “Everybody’s Talkin at Me,” and was recorded by the lovin spoonful and Peter Paul and Mary (“the other side to this life,” and Ritchie Havens (Searching for the Dolphins and a few others. But he was an extrordinary singer with great phrasing a deep mellow voice and a very bad drug habit that threatened to kill him. He also was cut up into about 250 percent by various managers and was unable to see his way clear to continue with his recording performing career.
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.”
By Richie Unterberger
One of the most influential folk-rock musicians of the 1960s, Fred Neil is also one of the most mysterious cult legends in all of rock. His songs have been recorded by major artists like the Jefferson Airplane, Harry Nilsson, Linda Ronstadt, the Lovin’ Spoonful, and Tim Buckley; Bob Dylan, John Sebastian, Stephen Stills, and others have all acknowledged Neil’s formidable influence upon their work. Yet Neil himself has shunned the spotlight with a vengeance, not releasing an album since 1971, seldom performing in public since the late 1960s, eluding media interviews, and maintaining an impenetrable seclusion that would be the envy of Greta Garbo.