Primarily known for his work with Neil Young & Crazy Horse, David Briggs will go down in history as one of the great non-technical producers in the rock & roll idiom. Eschewing technical chops for raw feel and spontaneity, Briggs' contributed to what are admittedly Young's greatest recorded works, from his first solo album (Neil Young in 1968) to 1994's Sleeps With Angels (with Crazy Horse) in 1994, just prior to his death.
Briggs began his career as a house producer for Bill Cosby's Tetragrammaton Records in the mid-'60s after his arrival in Los Angeles in late 1961. One of his first productions was an album for comedian Murray Roman, which, according to Briggs, was "the first record released to ever say 'f*ck' on it." Briggs met Neil Young in 1968, soon after the musician's final exit from Buffalo Springfield, while he was hitchhiking in Malibu, CA. The two struck up a lifelong friendship. The first project the two worked on was the singer/songwriter's Reprise solo album, along with producer/arranger Jack Nitzsche. Although a brilliant record filled with studio moxie, Young's formation with Crazy Horse in 1969 allowed the producer to bring his live, film noir vision of well-recorded rock & roll to it's rightful fruition. Briggs fully understood the concept of a band performance, as well as how to successfully transfer this to tape. The first result of this was 1969's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, which gave the listener an in-your-face performance quality to it which Briggs, in most of his subsequent productions, rarely strayed. According to Graham Nash in The Encyclopedia of Record Producers, "David was more an alchemist than anything. David was into capturing the moment and fully knowing when that moment was and when that moment had passed. So, he was perfect to work with Neil."
Perhaps Briggs' finest hour was on 1975's Tonight's the Night, which, although considered Young's "sloppiest, drunken party" record, remains one of the greatest albums of decade, and is filled with a scary ambience that is even more prevalent and relevant almost decades later.
Aside from working with Young, Briggs worked on several other noteworthy projects, particularly Spirit's adventurous 1970 album, Twelve Dream of Dr. Sardonicus; as well as a series of critically acclaimed (but commercially disappointing) albums for Nils Lofgren and Grin, and several excellent albums (and also commercially disastrous) albums by Crazy Horse, sans Young. In the 1990s, he worked with such acts as Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and Royal Trux.
But his work with Young remained his centerpiece, and as if to bring his career to a full circle, his final production, Sleeps With Angels, recalled the murky, 'O.D. letter' ambience of Tonight's the Night. Although Briggs worked on all of Young's records with Crazy Horse from 1969 to 1994, the band did not discontinue recording after his passing. On the contrary, according to Young and the bandmembers, Briggs left the band with a powerful legacy which they still carry with them, as can be witnessed on 1996's Year of the Horse. On that subject, Neil Young commented in Jim Jarmusch's film of the same name, "Briggs said (just prior to his death), 'You've just got to keep getting closer and closer to the source; you just have to keep getting more pure....'" ~ Matthew Greenwald, Rovi
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