July 26, 2010 – Ben Keith Schaeufele was born on March 6th 1937 in Fort Riley, Kansas and later relocated to Bowling Green, Kentucky.
As a member of Nashville’s A-Team in the 50s and 60s, one of his early successes was his steel guitar playing on Patsy Cline’s 1961 hit “I Fall to Pieces” and was a fixture of the Nashville country music community in the 1950s and 1960s.
Keith met Young in 1971 in Nashville, where the rocker was working on what would become his commercial breakthrough album, “Harvest.” Keith came to the recording studio at the invitation of bassist Tim Drummond, whom Young had asked to find a steel player for the sessions. When Keith arrived, “I didn’t know who anyone was, so I asked, ‘Who’s that guy over there?’ ” and was told “That’s Neil Young.”
“I came in and quietly set up my guitar — they had already started playing — and started playing,” Keith recalled in a 2006 interview. “We did five songs that were on the ‘Harvest’ record, just one right after the other, before I even said hello to him.”
This spawned a collaboration that would last nearly 40 years, as Keith went on to play with Young on over a dozen albums and numerous tours. Keith also played the role of Grandpa Green in the Neil Young feature-length movie Greendale, a film accompaniment released on DVD to Young’s 2004 album of the same name.
Working with Young opened many doors for Ben; he became one of the rock world’s premier multi-instrumentalist backing musicians, with recording credits that include Terry Reid, J. J. Cale, Todd Rundgren, Lonnie Mack, The Band, Blue, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Willie Nelson, Paul Butterfield, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon, Ian and Sylvia, Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Anne Murray and Ringo Starr.
Keith was featured prominently in “Neil Young Trunk Show,” shot in Pennsylvania at a stop on Young’s 2007-2008 concert tour. Young said a key reason he chose to tour with Keith, bassist Rick Rosas and Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina, rather than convening the full, hard-rocking Crazy Horse trio, was that “I can do more variety this way, because Ben plays so many instruments.”
He also served as the producer of Jewel’s highly successful debut album Pieces of You, and has worked as solo artist. He toured with Crosby Stills Nash & Young on their 2006 Freedom of Speech tour.
Keith died of a blood clot in his lung while at his home on Young’s ranch in Northern California on July 26, 2010 at the age of 73.
Jonathan Demme, who directed Young’s concert films “Neil Young Trunk Show” from earlier this year and 2006’s “Heart of Gold,” said Keith had been staying at Young’s ranch in Northern California, working on new projects with his longtime collaborator.
Demme called Keith “an elegant, beautiful dude, and obviously a genius. He could play every instrument. He was literally the bandleader on any of that stuff… Neil has all the confidence in the world, but with Ben on board, there were no limits. Neil has a fair measure of the greatness of his music, but he knew he was even better when Ben was there.”