Neil Young Sideman Ben Keith Dead at 73

Nashville is full of guys like Ben Keith–fantastic musicians who live in the background of larger stars, while giving their music that little bit of extra color or edge to make it really shine. Thanks to Neil Young, Keith was able to break out of that anonymity on occasion and get some broader recognition. He died at Young’s ranch this week at age 73.

For years, I only knew of Keith as Neil’s sideman. He began playing pedal steel alongside Neil on the Harvest sessions, and their working relationship was off and on again for nearly 40 years. In fact, the two best Neil shows I’ve seen, the Silver and Gold tour in 2000 and the Chrome Dreams 2 tour in 2008, didn’t feature Crazy Horse, but rather one of Neil’s many ad hoc bands with Keith on pedal steel and Telecaster. Even in his 60s and 70s at the time, Keith could hang with Neil during a 15-minute “Cowgirl in the Sand.”

He got his start in 1961, playing steel on Patsy Cline’s “Fall to Pieces.” His resume also includes stints with Todd Rundgren, Warren Zevon, CSN, Terry Reid, The Band, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. He even produced Jewel’s “Pieces of You.”

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