On November 26, 1995, David Briggs passed away after a long illness. Fifty-one years old, Briggs was a legendary producer in the history of rock n roll. A rebellious iconoclast in the mold of such producers as Sam Phillips, Ike Turner, and George "Shadow" Morton, Briggs was renowned for his ability to push musicians to the very limits of their capabilities and he utilized a low-tech, highly emotional approach which invariably brought out the best in the artist and the song. Briggs was a generous man when it came to creativity, always recognizing and including all the individual contributions a band had to give. "When I'm making records it's like group art," he said during an unpublished 1991 interview. "Everybody participates." David Briggs was born on February 29, 1944, in Douglas, Wyoming. He grew up in Wyoming until Christmas day, 1960, when he hitchhiked to Los Angeles, and outside of a brief stint in Canada in the early seventies, various locales in California were to be his home for the rest of his life. Briggs got involved in the production end of the music business in the mid-sixties, working as a staff producer at Bill Cosby's label, Tetragrammaton Records. This led to work on his own, and during the late sixties/early seventies, Briggs would work with a host of artists, producing albums for Alice Cooper, Spirit, Jerry Williams, Nils Lofgren and Grin. But it was his over twenty-five year association with Neil Young -- and Young's long-time band Crazy Horse -- that brought Briggs his greatest acclaim. Shortly after picking up Young hitchhiking in Topanga Canyon, Briggs would co-produce the artist's first solo record NEIL YOUNG (1968). In 1969 came EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE, which featured the debut of Crazy Horse. 1970's AFTER THE GOLDRUSH was recorded in a tiny, cramped room in the bottom of Young's Topanga house beginning a long tradition of making on-the-spot recordings in living rooms, rehearsal halls, equipment barns, and other impossible places which simultaneously drove Briggs crazy and brought out the best in his art. Briggs went on to co-produce (usually along with Young and long-time engineer Tim Mulligan) TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT (primarily recorded in 1973 but not released until 1975, and considered by many to be Young's finest work), ZUMA (1975), AMERICAN STARS 'N' BARS (1977), DECADE (1977), RUST NEVER SLEEPS (1979 album and motion picture soundtrack), LIVE RUST (1979), HAWKS AND DOVES (1980), REACTOR (1981), TRANS (1982), OLD WAYS (1985), LIFE (1987), RAGGED GLORY (1990), WELD (1991, album and motion picture soundtrack), and SLEEPS WITH ANGELS (1994), which would be the producer's last released work. Briggs received a solo production credit on UNPLUGGED (1993), had tracks on various other Young albums and soundtrakcs, co-produced Young's work on the 1994 Dylan tribute, and contributed heavily to Young's as yet unreleased career anthology. In 1988 Briggs married the love of his life, Bettina Linnenberg, and she served as production coordinator on many of the projects Briggs (along with engineer John Hanlon) would work on in the 90s, including such artists as Nick Cave, 13 Engines, the Sidewinders, Royal Trux, plus a number of unreleased recordings, among them work with John Eddie, Blind Melon, and the Sweet and Low Orchestra, the producer's last project. While Neil Young has worked with a handful of other producers, he always returned to Briggs, and many regard his work with the producer as the artist's most extreme and intense, including Briggs himself. "When people ask 'You produce Neil Young?' I'm not ashamed to say 'Only the best ones'," he stated in 1991, and it was this unrepentant attitude that made Briggs a beloved figure among music fans. "When you make rock n roll, the more you think the more you stink -- it's *this* attitude," said Briggs in 1991, pausing to give the interviewer the finger. "Rock n roll is not sedate. Is not safe. Has nothing to do with money. Rock n roll is elemental - it's like wind, rain, fire. Rock n roll is fire, man, *fire*. It has to do with how much you can thumb your nose at the world." When not working, David Briggs enjoyed reading books; chasing beautiful women; driving fast cars; going to Las Vegas; insulting managers, lawyers and record executives; and a number of other endeavors ill-suited for publication. A forceful personality, if Briggs was mad at someone, he'd kill them -- or not talk to them for a few years, which was worse. But if he liked where somebody were coming from, they could do no wrong -- the sky was literally the limit. He had a masive effect on people's lives. No one pushed Neil Young further into his art than Briggs, and his death leaves a huge void. Some people there are just one of -- one Roy Orbison, one Howlin' Wolk, one Jimmy Reed. There will never be another David Briggs. He is survived by his wife Bettina of San Francisco, and son Lincoln of Los Angeles. ---Jimmy McDonough ---
Born in Douglas, Wyoming on February 29, 1944, Briggs moved to California during the '60s and found employment as a staff producer at Bill Cosby's short-lived Tetragrammaton label, where he worked with comedian Murray Roman. Briggs' home in Topanga Canyon became something of a refuge for visiting musicians, including Spirit. Drummer Ed Cassidy remembers a carefree atmosphere in which everyone smoked dope, hatched crazy plans and recorded on shoestring budgets.
After a fortuitous meeting with Young, Briggs rapidly produced two highly diverse albums, the second of which, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, became a classic guitar album of its period. Briggs was in free flow at this point, swiftly going on to complete Spirit's Twelve Dreams Of Dr Sardonicus, which may well be his finest achievement. The work epitomised the free-thinking experimentation of late '60s LA rock, fusing psychedelia and studio wizardry but never in a self-indulgent fashion. The clarity of the guitar work and careful mixing revealed Briggs' love of contrasts and dramatic tension.
During the early '70s Briggs produced a number of acts, including Alice Cooper, Tom Rush, Grin/Nils Lofgren, Nicky Hopkins, Jerry Williams, Simon Stokes and Kathy McDonald. His earliest work pointed to a likely career as a prominent LA producer, and it would have been no surprise to see him moving on to The Eagles, Jackson Browne and other high-profile performers. Instead, he remained on the periphery and devoted himself almost exclusively to Neil Young over the ensuing decade.
Although he often encouraged Young to work with other musicians, it was the long-standing collaboration with Crazy Horse that brought out the best in their partnership. The raw live sound, captured with such fidelity on albums like Tonight's The Night, Zuma and Ragged Glory became something of a Briggs trademark. It also drew the attention of younger performers, resulting in Briggs producing work by Nick Cave (Henry's Dream) and Royal Trux (Thank You).
Briggs' final album with Young was 1994's Sleeps With Angels, a mysterious album which now serves as a suitable epitaph to the producer's talent. Young will sorely miss his contribution, not merely on future albums but also in the production and remastering of a treasure trove of still unreleased recordings.
. . . .Johnny Rogan
The passing of David Briggs, age 51, on November 26th, 1995, from lung cancer could have a similarly profound effect on Neil Young's recording career, just as the passing of Jerry Garcia did with the Grateful Dead's live performances. Things just won't be the same without both influential men in their respective bands. While this won't be the demise of Neil Young's recording career it certainly is the end of an era.
One thing is for sure, David Briggs enjoyed the anonymous nature of being a producer. There was almost a transparent feature to his production work that focused more on bringing out the best of what a particular "group" had to offer than any signature his production values might have imposed.
"In an age when records are put together with extreme artifice David's mission was to break through that," explained Joel Bernstein who is the Neil Young tape archivist, musician and photographer. "He not only tried to bring out the best performance out of the artist he also wanted to present the listener with a realistic true picture of music being played in a room. He went after that live in a room sound! There was no technical trick that he and Neil wouldn't do to get that live feel, however."
David Briggs the producer always preferred a very emotional "live" sound that he could capture best in living rooms, basements, big barns and rehearsal warehouses like Studio Instrumental Rentals (S.I.R.).
Very little is known of the David Briggs that worked with Neil Young. Briggs was born on February 29th, 1944 in Douglas, Wyoming. He worked for a time as a staff producer for Bill Cosby's label, Tetragrammaton. David Briggs met Neil Young when he picked him up hitchhiking in Topanga Canyon. Shortly after that meeting Briggs produced several cuts on the debut solo album by Neil Young that was released after he left the Buffalo Springfield. It wasn't till their second album together, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, that the live sound that he pursued with Neil Young came to the fore.
David Briggs was best known in rock circles as producer of Neil Young's most beloved works but he was also at the production helm for acts like Nils Lofgren and Grin, Spirit, Jerry Williams, Alice Cooper and more recently Virgin Records' Royal Trux, Nick Cave, 13 Engines and the Sidewinders.
"There certainly weren't any recordings of Neil Young and Crazy Horse that David Briggs wasn't involved in," Joel Bernstein recalled.
David Briggs was often confused by fans and journalists alike as being the same session musician and producer who owns House Of David in Nashville. Since parts of the country album by Neil Young called, Old Ways, was recorded at House Of David this only added to the confusion. The David Briggs who played keyboards for people like Elvis Presley, J.J. Cale, Arthur Alexander, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez was the other David Briggs and he lives in Nashville.
"They are both David Briggs, they both produced records, and they both always got miscredited," Bernstein insisted. "If you look in the Record Producers File, that came out like twelve years ago in Scotland, they put under David Briggs name all the albums they both produced. Our David Briggs (who lived in California) always referred to him as the 'other' David Briggs."
"When not working, David Briggs enjoyed reading books, chasing beautiful women; driving fast cars; going to Las Vegas; insulting managers, lawyers and record executives; and a number of other endeavors ill-suited for publication," according to the "official" Neil Young biographer, Jimmy McDonough, in an obit in the Los Angeles Times.
Jimmy McDonough has been working on a Neil Young biography for over five years and has interviewed over three hundred people for the book. McDonough said over the phone that he has enough interviews with David Briggs alone to do a very interesting book. He laughed when he said it will be published right around the time the archives come out.
"When you make rock 'n roll, the more you think the more you stink--it's *this* attitude," said Briggs pausing to give the finger in an unpublished interview with Jimmy McDonough in 1991. "Rock 'n roll is not sedate. Is not safe. Has nothing to do with money. Rock 'n roll is elemental - it's like wind, rain, fire. Rock 'n roll is fire, man, *fire*. It has to do with how much you can thumb your nose at the world."
At the time of his death David Briggs had been heavily involved with Joel Bernstein with the Neil Young Archives project. This has been discussed for over five years in the press and could involve anywhere from three to twenty CDs worth of unreleased material.
"He was very passionate about his work," Joel Bernstein told the online Internet magazine ATN. "He never did anything halfheartedly. He was very direct, very opinionated, and told you to your face what he thought and expected you to do the same. He'll be sadly missed."
. . . .Jim Mckelvey (c) 1995
On November 26, record producer David Briggs died of lung cancer at the age of 51. Although he worked with a wide range of artists from Nick Cave to Alice Cooper, he's best known for the 18 albums he helped Neil Young create.
Briggs flew to Toronto in 1991 to see our band, 13 Engines. The first time I met him, he was dressed in black -- black boots, black leather jacket and reflective aviator sunglasses -- drinking Mexican coffee in an upscale downtown restaurant. After a twisted weekend, we agreed that he would produce our next album, which came to be known as "A Blur To Me Now."
That was the beginning of a saga that would take us through a week-long rehearsal at Neil Young's ranch, a week recording in Los Angeles, and a further three weeks recording and mixing atop a Malibu mountain in what was once John Barrymore's booze shack. Briggs was an unapologetic man of extremes. He could be gentle, but more often than not he was loud, intense and highly opinionated. He'd always say exactly what he thought and expected no less from others.
Much of his behaviour in the studio was designed to inspire those around him to reach further. Some producers will tell you that the second kickdrum beat in the 17th bar was late -- not Briggs. He didn't care if you were out of time or out of tune, as long as the feel was right.
There was one late night after everyone else had left the studio when Briggs got in a reflective mood. He told me of how, at the age of 15, he'd left behind his Wyoming home and his abusive father and headed out on the road. Eventually, he ended up in Los Angeles, where he changed his name to David Briggs. He never looked back, never saw his father again.
Wide-eyed, Briggs spoke of how he continued to pursue a vision with as much intensity as ever. He wondered how many of his contemporaries still followed their dreams, how many hadn't become self-parodies or retired, burned out or passed away.