A Canadian disc jockey thought he'd struck gold when he found a tape of four songs he'd recorded in the early '60s of a teenage Neil Young playing with the Squires, one of his preBuffalo Springfield bands.
But Young's manager, Elliot Roberts, dashed the disc jockey's hope that he'd found lost nuggets from one of rock's greatest songwriters.
"They are rare tapes," Roberts said, "but they're tapes that already existed. We already have other copies."
Roberts said the songs, which he confirmed were among Young's earliest professional recordings, were already slated for inclusion on an upcoming retrospective box set which Roberts said he expected to consist of eight CDs, including live and rare material.
"People didn't know we knew about them already," Roberts said.
The disc jockey, Bob Bradburn, who hosts the morning show at radio station CQHT-FM in Edmonton, Alberta, said he found the recording while moving.
"It was just on the reel, it wasn't even in a box, and oddly enough, the quality didn't deteriorate at all," Bradburn, 62, said. "There was a little hand-scribbled thing, 'The Squires,' and I just didn't put Neil's name on it. It didn't trigger right away at all. ... When I [realized what it was], I couldn't believe it."
Bradburn worked as a disc jockey in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1964. He often served as master of ceremonies for local sock hops, at which the Squires Young, guitarist Allan Bates, bassist Ken Koblum and drummer Ken Smyth would play.
Bradburn said he and the band decided to tape some of its music to play on the radio for promotion, so they set up a two-track, reel-to-reel deck state-of-the-art at the time and recorded four songs, all written by Young.
Two of the tunes, "Aurora" and "The Sultan," were released shortly thereafter on V Records, a Winnipeg specialty record label. Many sources date the 7-inch single's release to 1963.
Jef Michael Piehler, who runs Sidestreet Records, an online mail-order record shop specializing in Young's music, said fewer than a dozen copies of the 45-rpm disc are known to exist. One such record, in any condition, would be worth more than $500 to a serious collector, Piehler said.
Both songs on the 45 are instrumentals that Bradburn describes as being in the jazzy, guitar-driven style of the Shadows.
Neil Young biographer David Downing, in his book "A Dreamer of Pictures" (the title is taken from a line in "Cinnamon Girl" [RealAudio excerpt] from Young's 1969 album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere) said that both "The Sultan" and "Aurora" have "ancestral echoes" in "From Hank to Hendrix" (RealAudio excerpt), from Young's 1992 album, Harvest Moon.
The other two songs on the tape are an untitled instrumental in the style of surf-rock pioneers the Ventures and "I Wonder," on which Young sings.
"I Wonder" is a prototypical rock 'n' roll song, with a natural reverb sound commonly found on live recordings of the period. Young's guitar tone is dry, soloing on Chuck Berrystyle riffs inflected with occasional whammy bar bends.
"Well I wonder who's with her tonight/ And I wonder who's holding her tight/ But there's nothing I can say/ To make him go away/ Well, I never get too much anyway/ Well I guess then I'll forget her someday," Young croons.
Young revisited the melody to "I Wonder" on his 1975 album Zuma, incorporating it into "Don't Cry No Tears."
"The style of [Young's] guitar hasn't changed a lot; however, the style of his voice has," Bradburn said. "He was a lot smoother back then I guess that goes with age and other things."
Young, who has played with his fair share of bands since those days, earned the moniker the "Godfather of Grunge" in the 1990s, influencing and playing with noisy guitar bands such as Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam. He is currently on the road with reunited 1970s supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Even though Bradburn who hopes to get an engineering credit when the songs he recorded appear on Young's box set can't claim he made a valuable discovery, Piehler gives the DJ enormous and perhaps overstated due for his role with the Squires.
"He's like their Brian Epstein," Piehler said, referring to the man who discovered and then managed the Beatles.