Rock legend's wife finds her own groove

Wife of Neil Young takes leap forward on latest

Pegi Young & The Survivors perform Sunday at 1884 Lounge inside Minglewood Hall.

Pegi Young & The Survivors perform Sunday at 1884 Lounge inside Minglewood Hall.

Pegi Young & The Survivors with Among the Cranes

8 p.m. Sunday at 1884 Lounge, 1555 Madison, inside Minglewood Hall. Tickets: $12, available at the box office and online at minglewoodhall.com. For more information, call 901-312-6058.

Last month, Pegi Young, wife of two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Neil Young, took the stage of the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, Calif., along with a star-filled roster of artists for the 26th annual Bridge School Benefit, a fundraiser for the school for children with speech and physical disabilities that she and her husband founded in 1986.

"Neil played with (Crazy Horse), but he usually invites me up to sing a song or two with them at the beginning, and then I join in on the finale," Young says. "One of these years I'll get The Survivors up there. It's one of those things that just because you can doesn't mean you should. That timing is going to happen when it's right."

The Survivors, who perform Sunday at Memphis' Minglewood Hall, are the 59-year-old's late-in-life bid to expand the musical legacy of the Young family. Young first assembled the group, then without a name, in 2007 for her self-titled solo debut album. Their third and most recent album, Bracing for Impact, was released last year.

Though she may be late to the table, Young's music career is no vanity project.

"Even before I got married, I was playing," says Young, who wed Neil Young in 1978. "I was playing on an amateur level, never professionally because I was way too shy. But I had always been writing, too."

For the early years of their marriage, Young's songs were reserved for friends and families. Most of her time was dedicated to raising the couple's three children, including son Ben, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and daughter Amber Jean, who like Neil Young suffers from epilepsy.

It was Ben's illness that inspired the Youngs to start The Bridge School near their home in the San Francisco Bay Area. For its first decade, Pegi Young also played a huge role in the establishment and early running of the school

But by the early '90s, the children were older, and Young had started to step away from the school. She decided the time was at last right to come out of her musical cocoon.

Young's professional performing debut was a doozy, backing up her husband in a performance of his Oscar-nominated "Philadelphia" at the 1993 Academy Awards. By 2000, she was singing background vocals in Neil's band.

"I was playing more, and I was just getting my confidence a little bit," Young says of this formative period. "I think it was Elliot Roberts, my manager and Neil's longtime manager, who said, 'Why don't you think about going in the studio and making your own record?' So I thought, 'why not?'"

Produced by Elliot Maze, Pegi Young featured longtime Neil Young collaborators Ben Keith and Spooner Oldham as well as song contributions from Grammy-winning songwriter Will Jennings, a favorite writer who has popped up on three of Young's records. The 2010 follow-up, Foul Deeds, expanded on Young's sound — a soulful roots vibe that recalls a mixture of Neil's This Note's For You and Harvest — and was the last to feature Keith, who died that year.

"After Ben died, we all took that pretty hard," Young says of the events that led to her band, which also includes bassist Rick Rosas and drummer Phil Jones, getting its name. "Then when Anthony (Crawford) decided to leave the band and pursue his own music with his wife, we were sitting around the kitchen table, and I said, 'Well, you guys, I guess we've got our name now. We're the Survivors.'"

Though guitarist Kevin Holly has now joined the band, Crawford can still be heard on Bracing for Impact. After two albums that were almost half made up of covers, the new record, featuring eight originals among its 11 tracks, is an artistic leap forward for the increasingly prolific Young.

"The songs are way more contemporary to my life," she says. "On the first record, a lot of my songs that we did were my early writing. You write these songs as a young girl, and then to be singing them again as a woman with a lot more life experience is interesting. … But once I got started, it was like the genie was out of the bottle. We keep going, and I keep writing."

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