Friday, November 12, 2010


In the spring of 1977, former Moby Grape vocalist and guitarist Jerry Miller was working with various combinations of people and Young found his way on stage one night with Miller (whom he knew from his Fillmore days) and a singer/songwriter named Jeff Blackburn (who co-wrote "My My Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)". Young began hanging out and jamming with Blackburn in the days that followed with Blackburn on rhythm guitar, Bob Mosley on bass, and Johnny Craviotta on drums. Craviotto had previously played on tracks for Arlo Guthrie, Ry Cooder, and Buffy Sainte-Marie. They decided to call themselves the Ducks and within weeks every duck call within miles had been purchased.

The local entertainment tabloid got wind something was up and had a conversation with the group. They announced they were forming a band called the Ducks, that would play local clubs for cover charges of less than $3. Further Young was moving to Santa Cruz and would stay "as long as it remains cool." This exchange was later written up as a front-page story in a local newspaper. He also said they could play "Mr. Soul" better than Buffalo Springfield. By mid-June the Ducks began to play, usually two sets a night, three or four times a week. Sometimes there was enough warning that they'd be listed in the Good Times. The Ducks became a secret, local institution.

The set list for their shows was very democratic. All four could sing and had material, so they took turns throughout the sets in a strict manner. Highlights included "Mr. Soul", a Blackburn tune entitled "Silver Wings", a Moby Grape tune of Mosley's entitled "Gypsy Wedding", and hard Chuck Berry-esque rock and roll sessions sung by Johnny Craviotto. "Comes a Time" was played as a country rocker before turning up in its acoustic studio authenticity. They also did "Homegrown", a cover of Ian and Sylvia's "Four Strong Winds" with Young singing lead, and an instrumental guitar showcase entitled "Windward Passage". Early in the summer "Windward Passage" was done in a kind of psychedelic/surf manner, it grew into a more traditional Young guitar piece as the weeks went on. Young played "Old Black" which sported a Santa Cruz sticker that summer. He usually wore a plaid shirt with drawstring pants that were high fashion at the time. In the smaller clubs the band would shake hands with the crowd at the end. Even in larger venues like the Catalyst which had a maximum capacity of 1,000 people, people would often bump into Young and company waiting in line at the bar between sets. Young was spending some of his big star money that summer on the band, by midsummer they were doing exceptional projections of animations overhead and large mobile recording vans were usually spotted in the alley during most gigs.
They played every venue in town, from the showcase Catalyst, to the very cozy Crossroads, to down-to-earth spots like the Veteran's Hall. They were not without some rock and roll cliché drama, Craviotto seemed kind of thirsty some evenings, and he passed out behind the drum kit during intermission at a show. Near the end of the summer they played two larger shows, one at the Civic Auditorium that had the current edition of Moby Grape, which the benefit turned out to be their final performance with Young. And an outdoor gig at Cabrillo Community College opening for Elvin Bishop.
Neil Young in Austin, Texas on November 9, 1976

Young had a contract with Crazy Horse that specified he could only tour with them, and so the Ducks were required to confine themselves within the city limits so as not to tour.One interesting moment came when Crosby & Nash came into town for a concert, and Young took the stage with them.
The Ducks managed to end a mere seven weeks after they began. Young's rented house was burglarized and he lost a number of instruments and other items of great sentimental value. As word had spread in the national media about Young joining a local group, crowds increased with out of town "Duck Hunters" less content to let the band have its own identity and more inclined to mindlessly yell requests for old Neil Young classics. The Ducks continued on for a while without Young and held out hope that he might return, but it was not to be.

The Ducks played a total of twenty-two shows and one hundred and seventy-eight performances. Their longest show featured twenty-eight songs, which took place at the Crossroads Club in Santa Cruz, California. Their shortest, at Santa Cruz's Civic Auditorium, featured eighteen songs.


John Cronin said...

I saw The Ducks in Santa Cruz, thanks for sharing this treasure.I used to live in Ben Lomond, Santa Cruz Co. Do you have anything by "Snail" from Santa Cruz. I have their LP's, but they have never been released in CD.

Anonymous said...

Any chance of a repost, please? Larry

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