Neil Young’s influence is far-reaching with numerous artists forged out of his mould popping up all across the musical landscape. The genre of grunge is linked intrinsically with Seattle, and the 1990s is the most excellent example of Young’s influence, hence why he is often dubbed the ‘Godfather of Grunge’. Even though Dave Grohl wasn’t a Seattle native, and didn’t grow up with his Nirvana bandmates, their shared love of Neil Young helped make him the perfect fit for the group.
Young’s 1979 record, Rust Never Sleeps, is often viewed as being the precursor that inadvertently sparked off the grunge movement primarily because of the heavily distorted nature of his guitar. He played a pivotal role in influencing the next generation, a movement of artists who were raised on a diet which heavily consisted of the former Buffalo Springfield man’s work.
Young’s records famously inspired both Pearl Jam and Nirvana immensely and, once grunge had ascended to the mainstream by 1993, the two acts were quick to point out how much they owed their success to the rocker, a musician who taught them that there was another way that the guitar could sound. It wasn’t until Nirvana and Pearl Jam started to publically declare their love for Young that he would become the Godfather of this exciting new scene.
Grohl’s late Nirvana bandmate, Kurt Cobain, famously etched Young’s lyrics as part of his suicide note and that in itself remains a clear example of how much the artist meant to him. Young poignantly detailed in his memoirs about how he had been scarred by discovering that Cobain had quoted his lyrics: “When he died and left that note, it struck a deep chord inside of me. It fucked with me,” he said. “I, coincidentally, had been trying to reach him. I wanted to talk to him. Tell him only to play when he felt like it.”
Following Cobain’s death, Young channelled his grief into the track ‘Sleeps With Angels’, a track taken from his 1994 album of the same name. In fact, Young even dedicated the song to the late Nirvana frontman and revealed he had been trying to contact him before his premature death.
Even though Neil Young’s music sat in a different lane from the brand of punk that Grohl and Cobain listened to, both musicians felt a connection to his work. Remarkably Grohl was even initially embarrassed that he worshipped Old Shakey and used to listen to his sister’s Young records in secret.
“When I was listening to crazy hardcore punk rock, she(his sister) was really into Neil Young,” Grohl recalled to 6 Music’s Matt Everitt in 2015. “As a punk rocker, it wasn’t really cool to listen to Neil Young. So I would wait until she went to sleep or went to school, then I’d grab her records and listen to them. She had the greatest hits collection, Decade, that compilation of all of his music y’know.
“I swear to God, I still listen to that album from front to back, and it just reminds me of being a kid in Virginia. One of the things that was kind of lacking in a lot of that hardcore punk rock that I was listening to was melody and craft, like songwriting. Not only is Neil a hero today because he’s always walked it like he’s talked it and he has the history and integrity of a real legend, he’s amazing, but, he’s an incredible songwriter.
“People call him ‘The Godfather of Grunge’ because he’s always played like feedbacky, loud rock but sort of behind all that is a really brilliant songwriter. I love him to death, plus he’s a great dude,” Grohl lovingly concluded.
When Young asked Foo Fighters to take part in his 2011 Bridge School Benefit Concert, Grohl couldn’t refuse. Not only did he dedicate ‘My Hero’ to Young, but he also got to make his childhood dream a reality by jamming along to a raucous version of ‘Rocking In The Free World’ at the end of the evening with his idol.
Watch the glorious footage below and try not to smile.