How Neil Young and ‘Homegrown’ Drummer ‘Butted Heads’
Veteran drummer Karl Himmel recalled how he risked his future with Neil Young when the pair “butted heads” the first time they worked together.
Himmel was recommended by Levon Helm as Young worked on his album Homegrown in 1974. Although the record wasn’t released until last year, the sessions led to a professional relationship that lasted for decades.
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Himmel said he was first approached by coproducer Ben Keith: “[He] said, ‘Come by the studio and I’ll introduce you to Neil. And Levon needs some equipment.’ I’d known Levon for years, and I said, ‘I’ll give him anything he wants.’ But I was working a couple of times when they were in the studio. I also didn’t want to go to someone else’s studio when I’m not the drummer. The last day that they were recording, Levon said to me, ‘You gotta come down.’ And so I went, and he introduced me to Neil.”
When Helm said the drummer job was vacant because he had to take care of business elsewhere, Himmel and Young’s first professional exchange took place. “Neil said, ‘I really like your snare drum.’ Then I go, ‘I like your pretty guitar,’” Himmel said. “It was just a great meeting. ... But we butted heads that first time in the studio. I’ll never forget the look on Ben Keith’s face. … We were doing a song, and Neil said, ‘What’s the drummer’s name?’ Ben Keith goes, ‘Karl.’ And Neil goes, ‘Karl, I think you’re pushing me.’
“At the time, I thought I was bulletproof since I worked with a lot of people. I went, ‘What’s that guitar player’s name?’ Ben said, ‘Neil.’ I said, ‘Neil, I think you’re out of tune.’ He smiled and went, ‘That’s it! I gotta get another drummer!’ And he started laughing.”
Himmel reflected: “That’s how it is with Neil. We still laugh when we talk, but he’ll go, ‘Why don’t you call?’ I go, ‘I don’t call anybody.'”