Rev. Neil Down
I recently caught up with the Rev. Neil Down during a cigarette break outside the Georgia World Congress Center. Rev. Down delivered the Keynote Speech at the recent convention of the American Association of Reverends and General Healers (AARGH for short).
I really enjoyed your American Friend CD. It’s good old, basic rock and roll with an Americana edge. I love the inclusion of the accordion, and I’m a real sucker for a mandolin. Altogether, this release has a very unusual quality. It sounds like music that’s been around for a very long time; yet there’s nothing that I can put my finger on to say exactly why that is. I’m sure that part of this must have something to do with your influences and with the two legendary sidemen that you have managed to get to play on this record. Tell me a little bit about their background and how you came to be associated with them. Are they a regular part of your band?
I wish. Jerry Scheff is truly a legend. I’m proud to call him my friend. He has a resume and discography that’s just astounding. He contributed to recordings by Dylan, Elvis, the Association, Sammy Davis, Jr., Neil Diamond, everyone from the Ventures to Carlos Montoya. Just incredible. After he worked on the Doors’ L.A. Woman sessions, he was approached about joining the group, since they always used the keyboard bass live. Unfortunately, Jim Morrison went to Paris right after the sessions, and well, you know the rest. (Bit of trivia here — the last recording that Elvis ever worked on, “Fire Down Below,” was a Jerry Scheff-penned number.) Some of the others work with me on occasion. I believe that we’ll all be working together again. It’s not like I’m on the road enough to say that we are a full-time band. A good bit of my time is spent fishing, enjoying Alaska’s rich bounty, and engaged in various other pursuits that feed the soul and spirit.
Some people say you sound like Jim Morrison. I can hear some similarity in the vocals on a couple of the songs. I also thought I heard some Capt. Beefheart influence in “Finish Your Dream.” After reading more about you and your associations and experiences, I get it — I think. (Note: Check out http://www.revdown.com for the biographies) I thought maybe it was just the 1890’s prospector influences that you picked up in Skagway. This on top of the other influences that you and Jerry bring to the table makes for a simple yet powerful mix.
Well, thanks, I guess. I wasn’t trying to sound like anybody, but I guess we all have subconscious influences. Most of it is just regional, but there might be a little bit of all of that in the way back there in my brain. There’s definitely a prospector influence. Time moves a little bit slower where I’m from. That’s how I like it.
I read about your Albert Collins experiences on your Web site. Are there any other influences that we’ve not covered?
Oh, many. I’ve got to mention my friend Henry McCullough. His name may not ring a bell to some, but I’m sure each and every one your readers have heard him. Among MANY other things, he was a member of the Grease band and later, Paul McCartney’s Wings. He gave us that beautiful guitar part in “My Love.” That’s also him on “Live and Let Die.”
What’s Henry doing now?
He’s still plays a bit. Not touring a whole lot. He’s done some incredible work in the past few years, though. He had a hit in Ireland called “Failed Christian.” He’s got a hell of a record that’s never been released in the U.S. He deserves major success. I’m trying to get him over here.
I’ve heard some of his later work. It is incredible. He does such a range of styles and does them all so very well. From country to the blues to almost bluegrass. His song “Couldn’t Sleep For Thinking of Hank Williams” is just a classic waiting to happen. Upon hearing it, my first thought was, “if John Lennon were still alive, he’d be probably wanting to do this type of music by now.” They had some similar experiences and backgrounds, didn’t they?
In some ways they did. They started about he same time. Henry was maybe a little earlier in starting his professional career. Lennon did the eight-hour-a-night gigs in Hamburg. Henry earned his wings playing for many hours on end in show bands. The guy can play anything. His experience gives him an edge that makes it possible for him to play things that other, possibly “more-skilled” guitarists cannot handle.
Back to this conference. I’ve never heard of AARGH.
That’s totally understandable. I just formed it this year.
That’d explain their choice of you as the Keynote Speaker.
That was a mighty short speech. What was it, ten minutes?
About that long. No point in dragging it out. I like to get right to the point.
Could you summarize your message for our readers?
Everybody is a healer. Healing is where you find it. Some find it in music, some through the laying on of hands, and some through other methods. It’s whatever works for the individual, I say. It’s just important that you find it.
Either of the two you mentioned works for me. That is, as long as it’s the right hands and the right music.
Exactly. It’s all about recognizing a healer when you see one, and putting yourself within their reach.
So you don’t have to have Benny Hinn hair to knock people out?
Nah, man. You just gotta know where to touch ’em.
Your headquarters is in Skagway, Alaska, about 100 miles north of Juneau, on the edge of the Yukon Territory. That’s REALLY off the beaten path. Doesn’t that make touring kinda rough?
It’s sorta hard on the dogs, but I really don’t mind it. It’s a really peaceful place to come home to. It’s all about freedom. I could walk all the way from my cabin to the North Pole and never see a fence.
So, are you doing any shows while you’re down here?
I’m doing a show to close the convention. That’s as far as it goes down here. It was hard to find a booking on such short notice. I’ll do a few dates in the Northeast on the way back.