Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2019

The Superfreak and Shakey

The Superfreak and Shakey

Can you imagine Bob Dylan and Prince, playing in the same band, writing songs together and harmonizing? Bizarre, right? Such megalomaniacs could never co-exist.

Well, there’s an equally bizarre duo with two titanic egos, not unlike Dylan and Prince, who actually made music together in the 1960s. “Superfreak” Rick James and Mr. Shakey himself, Neil Young, both played in the rhythm and blues group, the Mynah Birds.

In 1964, Rick James dodged the draft and fled to Toronto. While James was there, he adopted the moniker “Big Jimmy” and formed his first band with Nick St. Nicholas, who would later go on to join Steppenwolf.

The following year, bassist Bruce Palmer (who would later go on to form Buffalo Springfield with Neil Young and Stephen Stills) replaced St. Nicholas, and the band changed its name to the Mynah Birds.

In 1966, with guitarists Tom Morgan and Xavier Taylor and drummer Rick Mason, the Mynah Birds auditioned for Motown. Morgan was unhappy with Motown’s handling of musicians, so he quit the band. That’s when Neil Young joined the group.

The Mynah Birds eventually recorded an album for Motown, but their manager stole the band’s advance money. When the Mynah Birds fired their manager, he squealed on James, informing Motown that he had gone AWOL. Motown advised James to turn himself into the FBI, and the Mynah Birds’ album was cancelled.

While Rick James was imprisoned, the Mynah Birds disbanded, and Neil Young and Bruce Palmer relocated to Los Angeles to meet up with Stephen Stills, with whom Young had briefly played with two years earlier.

When James was released a year later in the summer of 1967, he formed a new version of the Mynah Birds and re-recorded the Rick James and Neil Young composition “It’s My Time.” Ironically, the Mynah Birds’ reformation was actually the beginning of their demise. The band would break up shortly after the recording.

In Jimmy McDonough’s biography of Neil Young, Shakey, Young describes his experience working with Rick James:

Ricky was great. He was a little bit touchy, dominating—but a good guy. Had a lot of talent. Really wanted to make it bad. Runnin’ from the draft. I wasn’t a driving force behind the Mynah Birds—I was the lead guitar player; Ricky was the front man. He’s out there doin’ all that shit and I was back there playin’ a little rhythm, a little lead, groovin’ along with my bro Bruce. We were havin’ a good time.