EXPIRED: 07/26/10 – Ben Keith, 73, died doing what he loved to do best – being a sideman.

Only this time, rather than being a sideman to Neil Young, who he had been working with for over 40 years, Keith, a musician-producer of great acclaim, had just finished a small tour supporting Young’s wife Pegi in support of her second CD, Foul Deeds. He died of a heart attack while staying in the Young’s home.

His death was acknowledged that night during a Neil Young concert in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He then played his song Old Man in honor of his old friend.

One of the reasons Young loved playing with Kieth, especially live, was because Keith was a multi-instrumentalist – mastering guitar, piano and saxophone. “You’re much more flexible with one musician who can do many things than with many who can do one each,” Young used to claim.

But what Keith was really known for was his abilities on the steel guitar. As a studio musician in Nashville, his steel guitar sets the tone for Patsy Cline’s 1961 hit, I Fall to Pieces.

And Nashville is here he met Young 10 years later while the famous rocker was laying down tracks for what became one of his most popular albums, Harvest. You can hear the steel guitar prominently on two hits from the album, Heart of Gold and Old Man. Through the years, he contributed to many of Young’s albums, including Time Fades AwayOn the Beach, Tonight’s the NightComes a TimeHarvest Moon and Prairie Wind. He’s also featured in Heart of Gold, a concert film produced at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium in 2005.

But he didn’t confine himself to the Young household. He also worked with Ringo Starr, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Linda Ronstadt, The Band, Emmylou Harris, Todd Rundgren, Lonnie Mack, Paul Butterfield, J. J. Cale, Warren Zevon, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Anne Murray. In fact he produced and played on Pieces of You, Jewel’s 1995 breakthrough album, which went 12-times-platinum, making it one of the best-selling debuts of all time. Pieces of You contained the hits Who Will Save Your Soul and You Were Meant for Me.

Among his own recordings, Keith released To a Wild Rose in 1984 and a holiday album called Seven Gates, in 1994, in which he was joined by Johnny Cash and the Youngs on vocals.



2 responses to “RIP – BEN KEITH

  1. Excellent article on an unheralded musician.
    One punctuation mistake (shame on your editor):
    In the last paragraph, it should be “Youngs,” not
    “Young’s.” (One apple, two apples–get it?)

    • No editor – just me. Thanks for keeping me honest. I am sure there are many more typo’s too.


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