Born: March 6, 1937 | Died: July 26, 2010 Primary Instrument: Guitar, steel
An American pedal steel guitarist, from Bowling Green, Kentucky. Ben worked as a session musician in Nashville in the late 1950s and 1960s.
He is most famous for his work with Neil Young, both in stage shows and on albums such as “Harvest”, “Journey Through The Past”, “Time Fades Away”, “On The Beach”, Tonight's the Night, “American Stars 'n' Bars”, Comes A Time, “Hawks 'n' Doves”, “Old Ways”, “Freedom”,Harvest Moon, “Silver and Gold”, Prairie Wind, “Chrome Dreams II”, and the live albums “Unplugged” and “Road Rock Vol. 1”.
He played the role of “Grandpa Green” in the Neil Young feature length movie Greendale, released on DVD. He has also worked with Terry Reid, Todd Rundgren, Lonnie Mack, The Band, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Paul Butterfield, J. J. Cale, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon, Ian and Sylvia, Hungry Chuck, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Anne Murray and Ringo Starr.
Keith is also known as the producer of Jewel's debut album Pieces of You and as a solo recording artist. He toured with Crosby Stills Nash & Young on their 2006 Freedom of Speech tour.
From classic recordings by country's brightest golden-era stars to right hand man status with one of rock's most enduring icons, even to the leading edge of the current pop/rock wave, Ben Keith's role in American music continues to grow after more than four decades.
As a steel guitarist and a member of Nashville's “A Team” of session musicians in the late fifties and early sixties, he recorded with a host of the day's top stars; that's Keith on Patsy Cline's megahit, “I Fall To Pieces.” By the late sixties he was producing country and blues acts and recording with the likes of Ringo Starr and Mother Earth.
In 1972 Neil Young, in Nashville to tape an appearance on The Johnny Cash Show, heard Ben and called him to play steel on his next album. The session would result in Harvest, seen by many as one of Young's definitive works.
Keith's tenure with the singer/songwriter, which continues to this day, includes touring and serving as co-producer on 1993's Harvest Moon (which received a Grammy nomination for Record Of The Year), as well as Comes A Time, American Stars And Bars and Old Ways.
Working with Young opened many doors for Ben; he became one of the rock world's premier backing musicians, with recording credits that include Todd Rundgren, Lonnie Mack, The Band, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Paul Butterfield, J.J. Cale, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon, Ian and Sylvia (Great Speckled Bird), Hungry Chuck and others.
Still, he never turned his back on his country roots. You can hear his deft touch on Emmylou Harris' “Pieces Of the Sky” and albums by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Ann Murray and many more.
But Keith may have made his greatest impact to date as producer of Jewel's 1995 Atlantic Records debut, Pieces Of You. The album's phenomenal success sixteen weeks on Billboard Magazine's top 10 and more than 5,000,000 in sale and critical acclaim lavished on the young singer have made her one of today's most influential artists. For Ben, it marks the latest chapter in a career filled with creative contribution and sparkling highlights.
Over the years, a good many of Keith's workdays have resulted in landmark recordings, but not all have begun with such gradual introductions. For the Harvest sessions, his first with Young, Ben had to hit the ground running.
“I'd heard of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, of course,” Keith remembers, “but I had no idea that Neil recorded solo. I arrived for the session after he'd already started playing, so I set up real quietly, and I could tell that this was not just another session, that this guy had some real magic happening. We cut half the album before he stopped to introduce himself! After that it got pretty exciting.”
Inevitably, Keith would turn his attention toward recording his own albums. The first, 1984's To A Wild Rose (En Pointe), featured his steel along with the guitar of J.J. Cale and Paul Butterfield's harmonica (it would be the legendary bluesman's last recording).
In 1994, Ben released Seven Gates: A Christmas Album By Ben Keith And Friends. The project's beautiful renditions of Christmas classics include performances by Cale, Johnny Cash, Nicolette Larson, Neil & Pegi Young, among others. With work on Seven Gates completed, Keith resumed balancing work with Neil with production projects.
To A Wild Rose
Seven Gates: A Christmas Album
Ben Keith And Friends
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