Danny Whitten PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 29 October 2008 18:30

Danny Ray Whitten

Born: May 8, 1943, Columbus, Georgia, U.S.

Died: November 18, 1972, Los Angeles.

Age: 29

Cause of death: Heroin overdose

Notable because: Wrote 'I don't want to talk about it' but was consumed by drugs. Neil Young had to fire him, giving him $50 and a plane ticket. Whitten promptly bought $50 worth of heroin and died. He is the inspiration for Neil Young's 'The needle and the damage done'.


Danny Whitten was an American musician and songwriter best known for his work with Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and for the song "I Don't Want To Talk About It", a hit for Rita Coolidge and Rod Stewart. 

Whitten was born on May 8, 1943 in Columbus, Georgia. His parents split up when he was young. He and his sister, Brenda, lived alone with their mother, who worked long hours as a waitress to support her children. His mother remarried when he was 9 and the family moved to Canton, Ohio.

Whitten joined Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina among others in the doo-wop group Danny and the Memories. After recording an obscure single, "Can't Help Loving That Girl of Mine" which failed to light up the charts, the core members of the group moved to San Francisco. There they morphed into a folk-psychedelic rock act called The Psyrcle with Whitten taking up the guitar, Molina the drums, and Talbot both the bass and piano.http://www.thebauknechts.com/pictures/memorial/dannywhitten.jpg

By 1967, the group expanded to include brothers George and Leon Whitsell on additional guitars and vocals, as well as violinist Bobby Notkoff, the sextet calling themselves The Rockets. They signed a contract with independent label White Whale, pairing them with producer Barry Goldberg for the group's self-titled album in mid-1968. The album sold poorly, a total of around 5000 copies, and the group seemed destined for obscurity. An encounter at a Los Angeles music club would change all that.

Songwriter Neil Young, fresh from departing the splinters of his group Buffalo Springfield with one album of his own under his belt, began jamming with the Rockets and expressed interest in recording with Whitten, Molina and Talbot. The trio agreed, so long as they were allowed to simultaneously continue on with The Rockets: Young acquiesced initially, but imposed a rehearsal schedule that made that an impossibility. At first dubbed "War Babies" by Young, they soon became known as Crazy Horse.

Recording sessions led to Young's second album, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere credited as Neil Young with Crazy Horse with Whitten on second guitar and vocals. Although his role was that of support, Whitten sang the album's opening track "Cinnamon Girl" along with Young, both duplicating the melody line in harmony, and Whitten and Young blazed on guitar alongside each other, the two meshing seamlessly on the record's epics, "Down By the River" and "Cowgirl in the Sand." The latter two tracks would be influential decades later on the grunge movement of the 1990s, and all three songs, due in no small part to Whitten, would be counted among Young's most memorable work, continuing to hold a place in his performance repertoire to this day.Danny Whitten

As did so many other rock musicians in the late 1960s, Whitten began using heroin and quickly became addicted. Although he participated in the early stages of Young's next solo effort, After the Gold Rush, Whitten and the rest of Crazy Horse were dismissed about halfway through the recording sessions, in part because of Whitten's heavy drug use. Whitten performs on "Oh, Lonesome Me", "I Believe in You", and "When You Dance I Can Really Love".

Acquiring a recording contract and expanded to a quintet in 1970, Crazy Horse recorded its first solo album, released in early 1971. The debut album included five songs by Whitten, with two standout tracks being a song co-written by Young which would show up later on a Young album, "(Come On Baby Let's Go) Downtown," and Whitten's most famous composition, "I Don't Want To Talk About It," a heartfelt ballad that would receive many cover versions and offer the promise of unfulfilled talent.

Unfortunately, Whitten continued to drift, his personal life ruled almost totally by drugs. He was kicked out of Crazy Horse by Talbot and Molina, who used replacements on the band's two albums of 1972. In October of that year, after receiving a call from Young to play rhythm guitar on the upcoming tour behind Young's Harvest album, Whitten showed up for rehearsals at Young's home outside San Francisco. While the rest of the group hammered out arrangements, Whitten lagged behind, figuring out the rhythm parts, though never in sync with the rest of the group. Young, who had more at stake after the success of Harvest, fired him on November 18, 1972, giving Whitten a plane ticket to Los Angeles and fifty dollars to get himself some help. Once in Los Angeles, Whitten spent the $50 on heroin and promptly overdosed, dead at age 29. After Whitten's death, all of his belongings - which consisted of some clothes and a gold record - fit into a cardboard box.http://content.answers.com/main/content/img/amg/pop_artists/DRP100/P181/P18199Q110Q.jpg

Years later, Young told biographer Jimmy McDonough that for a long time after Whitten died, he felt responsible for Whitten's death. It took him years to stop blaming himself. "Danny just wasn't happy", Young said. "It just all came down on him. He was engulfed by this drug. That was too bad. Because Danny had a lot to give, boy. He was really good."

Danny's death was apparent in Young's music also, though never mentioned, it could be said that Young's entire Ditch Trilogy is Young dealing with Danny's death. Tonight's the Night contained a live version of Young and Crazy Horse from 1970 of "(Come On Baby Let's Go) Downtown," ironically a lament about scoring drugs, which Whitten wrote and sang lead vocals on.


Last Updated on Thursday, 02 April 2009 18:11

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