Thursday, April 12, 2012

Danny, the Needle and the Setting Sun

It is unfortunate for Danny Whitten that the most famous thing he ever did was die.  Many rock 'n roll fans might recognize his name but may not be able recall his accomplishments.  Yes, he is the drug addict that inspired the Neil Young song, The Needle and the Damage Done, but he was much more.

I always thought that Danny had died of a heroin induced overdose, but he died from a fatal combo of Valium and alcohol.  The Valium was used for the pain from an arthritic knee.  He was drinking heavily to help him get over the heroin addiction.  The Needle and the Damage Done appears on the Harvest album and it was during these session which Young kicked Danny out of the band.  As one of founding members of the band, Crazy Horse, Danny was one of the guitarists involved in the recording of Harvest in Young's San Fransisco home studio.  When Young noticed that Danny wasn't keeping up with the rest of the band and becoming a disruptive force, he bought Danny a plane ticket home to LA.  It was later that night, November 8th, 1972, that Danny died.  You cannot help but think of the lyric:  "Every Junkie's like a settin' sun."  Young obviously saw a beauty in his friend, one which would come to an end too soon.  It was one of the first of many anti-drug rock songs to come out in the early 1970's.

Danny played guitar and sang with Neil on some of his most rocking tunes.  On one of my favorite albums, Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere, Young's second solo album, Danny played guitar and sang on Cinnamon Girl, Down By the River and Cowgirl in the Sand.  Some believe that in these sessions grunge was born.  The driving pulse of the electric guitar in these songs can be heard in some of the best songs of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters.

Danny was also a song writer.  His most famous song was I Don't Want To Talk About It which was made famous by Rod Stewart in 1971.  Crazy Horse was the first to record it.  It was on their first album.  It was also recorded by Rita Coolidge and Everything But the Girl.  My favorite version of it is by the Indigo Girls.  I won't be able to hear this song now without thinking of the lost potential of Danny Whitten.

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