Musicians pay tribute to Neil Young

When Neil Young receives his Grammy award for person of the year this weekend, a star-studded cast of performers will be on hand to serenade the Toronto-born rock legend.

When Neil Young receives his Grammy award for person of the year this weekend, a star-studded cast of performers will be on hand to serenade the Toronto-born rock legend.

Sheryl Crow, Elton John, James Taylor, k.d. lang and John Mellencamp are just a few of the names who will perform at Friday's MusiCares gala.

Young was named the U.S. Recording Academy's MusiCares person of the year, an honour he earned for his long association with activism and charity, including co-founding the Farm Aid benefit concerts and raising funds to help educate children with severe speech and physical challenges.

Young's peers are pleased that he's receiving the honour — especially considering he's never actually won a Grammy. (He's nominated for two going into Sunday's show).

Randy Bachman, who grew up with Young in Winnipeg, says the Toronto-born, Manitoba-raised musician has a distinctive sound that is uniquely his.

"You could go to any street corner in the world, and I mean in the world, and play a cassette or CD or whatever of Neil Young and [people] will say '[That's] Neil Young," he said.

"He has a voice like no one else, he plays guitar like no one else and he writes these songs that are so honest and ... first takes, if you know what I mean. He doesn't really polish up anything. It's whatever comes out."

Norah Jones, who will perform at the MusiCares function for Young, has been a fan since she was in college.

"I bought After the Gold Rush and I just fell in love with him," she recalls. Jones says she met Young after performing at his Bridge School Benefit.

"He's just so open and giving and just such an amazing musical force," Jones said. "He's really sweet."

Jeff Tweedy, whose Chicago band Wilco will perform at the MusiCares event, calls Young a "an influence" and mentor.

"He's kind of just a force of nature. And I take him for granted sometimes like I take the sun for granted ... I'm really happy the sun comes up every day and I'm happy Neil Young keeps making records."

"He's always been a really gracious guy, a really down-to-earth guy," added Tom Cochrane, the Canadian rocker best known for his song Life is a Highway.

'Our Canadian John Lennon'

"That's what impressed me the most about him, outside of obviously his prodigious songwriting talents and the fact that he's a lot like John Lennon. He's like our Canadian John Lennon. He always wrote songs from his heart and never pulled his punches. He's been a great role model for me and countless numbers of other artists and I'm very proud to say that he's a Canadian singer/songwriter."

Next month, Hal Willner will bring his Neil Young Project to Vancouver, as Lou Reed, members of Broken Social Scene and Ron Sexsmith celebrate Young's catalogue with a concert during the Olympics.

Sexsmith calls Young one of his musical heroes.

"When I started out playing bars, I had to learn an awful lot of Neil Young songs, because that's pretty much all anyone wanted to hear," he recalled.

"I'm sure if you went to any bar in Ontario or across Canada, you'd still hear it. ... He has this strange place, anyone can pick up an acoustic guitar and play one of those songs. As a songwriter, that's something you kind of aspire to."