Neil Young and Rick James: now, a lot has been said about Canadian songsmith Neil Young, but I’ve not heard him called a superfeak. You know who is? RICK JAMES. Legendary funk bassist had a 1981 hit with a song by that name and the riff was sampled by the likes of MC Hammer. What connects these two? They had a band in the mid-60’s that almost made it to the big time. You’re probably thinking, much like the author when this was made known, HESAYWUTNOW?!? Neil Young has a healthy repertoire of genres, from influencing singer-songwriter folk to becoming one of the “godfathers of grunge”, but funk, let alone working with Rick James? Surely material was just running low for the column and this was fabricated… but it happened.
The Mynah Birds were comprised of Neil Young, Rick James, Goldie McJohn (future Steppenwolf member), and Bruce Palmer, who would go on to play with Young in Buffalo Springfield. Having heard “Superfreak” and being very familiar with Neil’s work, I was AGAIN surprised with the groups sound and style. With their yellow boots, black jackets, and yellow turtlenecks, they must have fit in well with the 1966 crowd, and had a sound eerily similar to the Rolling Stones of the era. Even though Rick was singing, it would be hard to tell these recordings apart from studio outtakes from Mick, Keef and the boys. All available accounts of live performances were stunning, as to be expected by anyone familiar with Young, James, or any other of the members and their future careers. Given the time period and the stage of these men’s careers, these tracks are everything you’d expect them to be. This band was the final jumping-off point before Young delved into the waters of the singer-songwriter acoustic art, where his fame really took off.
Recorded in 1966, Motown chose not to release the album because James was taken from the studio for being AWOL from the US Navy. The distribution of their single “It’s My Time” was halted the day of release, and the other recording have never been officially released (again, which really surprises me). As videos are available on Youtube of at least 3 tracks, obviously somebody got a hold of a bootleg and it made its rounds. Happy hunting! Here is their single, “It’s my Time”: