Lately I’ve been listening to a good bit of Fred Neil. Neil gave Bob Dylan his first gig (he managed the daytime schedule at the folk club Cafe Wha?) and wrote “Everybody’s Talkin'”:
I suppose Harry Nilsson’s is overfamiliar, but Neil’s is fresher to my ears, and a little less folksy.
Neil seems to have been an enigmatic figure, indifferent to commercial success despite giving many massively successful artistes their initial break. He also found his true vocation was not, perhaps, music, but dolphins:
Fred Neil really did go searching for the dolphins in the sea. He retreated to Coconut Grove, Florida and dedicated the rest of his life to dolphin research and preservation. He helped to found the Dolphin Project, an organization dedicated to preventing the capture and exploitation of dolphins worldwide. His interest in dolphins had been there all along, as some years earlier, he had even befriended Cathy, the central character on the television series, ‘Flipper.’
On only a few occasions did he resurface to perform music in the years since 1971, and those were benefit concerts for dolphin research (including performances in 1975 with John Sebastian, 1976 with Joni Mitchell, and 1977 with Jackson Browne in Japan). In 2000, he contributed music to a documentary videotape released by the Dophin Project. All of his royalties for ‘The Dolphins’ (covered by many, most notably Tim Buckley, Richie Havens, and Billy Bragg) have been donated to the organization for some time.
In 2000, Mojo magazine published a lengthy and thorough article detailing his role in those early years, his influence on others, and his remote and frequently drug-induced temperament. Neil himself wrote a letter to Mojo after the article’s publication, commenting only on his beloved Dolphin Project. He made no references to his life or his music.
Appropriately enough then, The Dolphins has become the song most associated with Neil, and has been covered many times. From The The:
Dion (a very 60s arrangement):
And many more. To my ears, none really touch the original – indeed they seem haunted by a certain over-reverence. Harry Nilsson made “Everybody’s Talkin'” very much his own, to the extent that Neil’s original seems like the cover from today’s perspective.