In the summer of 1977, following the release of his eighth studio solo album, American Stars ’N Bars, Neil Young moved to Santa Cruz, the northern Californian city that was at the time a haven for stoners and surfers. There, from July to September, he jammed and gigged with The Ducks, a bar band supergroup comprising bassist Bob Mosley of Moby Grape, guitarist Jeff Blackburn – co-writer of My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue) – and drummer Johnny Craviotto.
The band broke up after three months and so the 20 shows that The Ducks played together have become the stuff of legend, and widely bootlegged. But only now, 46 years later, are their live, mobile studio recordings being released, with the 25-track album, High Flyin’, as part of Young’s Original Bootleg Series.
Bob Mosley first met Neil Young when Moby Grape shared the stage at the Whisky A Go Go in LA with Buffalo Springfield in ’66. He tells MOJO today that he thinks there was more than one reason why Young was attracted to both Santa Cruz and The Ducks.
I think Neil wanted to be part of a band again.
“I think he wanted to be part of a band again,” he says. “And it was summertime and he wanted to surf. The local surf shop built him a board. So, it worked out good. He got to do two things.”
“This band isn’t just me and some other guys who back me up,” Young told Dan Coyro of Good Times magazine in ’77. “It kind of reminds me of the time I was in the Buffalo Springfield.”
The group were very much a democratic outfit, with all four taking lead vocals and throwing songs into the mix. “We just made a setlist and Jeff would introduce them,” Mosley remembers. “The most memorable thing was the guitar playing that Neil played. It was so beautiful. It was high energy and it fit for songwriters real well.”
Young’s long-time friend, Sandy Mazzeo, quoted in Jimmy McDonough’s 2002 Neil biography Shakey, recalled the source of the band’s name. “We were driving around town for days, throwing out names… There were a lotta ducks crossing the street and somebody yelled out, ‘The Ducks’.”
Local stores quickly sold out of duck calls, bought by fans who loudly honked them in-between songs. “Oh yeah,” Mosley chuckles. “‘Quack quack!’ Great fun.”
But due to Young’s contractual touring obligation to Crazy Horse, The Ducks never played outside of Santa Cruz. There was vague talk of a Ducks album at the time, and many of the shows were professionally taped. But come the end of the summer, Young quit the city after his rented bungalow was burgled and his TV and guitar stolen.
“Neil just had enough, I guess,” says Mosley. “Neil didn’t come around any more, so we didn’t play any more. Plus I was doing stuff with Moby Grape again.”
Following years of listening to their bootlegs, the bassist is clearly very happy to finally hear an official Ducks album. “It’s much cleaner and it’s got all the songs from all the different gigs,” he enthuses. “It has quality.” Two years ago, Mosley and Young even spoke on the phone for the first time in nigh on half a century. “He told me he was 75, and I told him I was 78. And he said, ‘Oh, I remember when I was 33 and a third…’ (laughs).”
The Ducks’ High Flyin’ is out now on Reprise.