Steve Kilbey and Ricky Maymi

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Steve Kilbey and Ricky Maymi


In the background watching Neil’s manic public antics stood Steve Kilbey, Neil’s childhood friend and touring bass player. Neil’s life descended into farce, and his life ended with a bizarre amalgam of drugs, guns, sexual perversion and airline safety issues. “A panel of experts was called in to determine the exact cause because the guy who shot him survived the plane crash, you know,” Kilbey says. “So the experts argue whether the bullet got him first or the drugs got him first or injuries from the crash because somehow I guess that was important.”

Kilbey had first met Neil in Canberra in 1974 when Neil was dating Kilbey’s twin sister Kathy. “He was just this Canadian guy and I bought pot from him,” Kilbey says. “I think he was studying something at the ANU but he got kicked out.” Neil had somehow managed to organise an American tour in the spring of 1974; Kilbey’s sister was heading over as well, and Kilbey got the call to play bass.

Noted Australian music nerd Ricky Maymi [Brian Jonestown Massacre], were only two years old when Neil’s life was cruelly cut short. “When I was 15 I went into pawn shop and bought a beat up 12-string acoustic guitar for sixteen dollars and when I got it home, a prescription slip was in the case and it said David Neil on it and had some address in Canada on it,” Maymi recalls. “I later found out that it actually had been his guitar when I brought it to Sydney and Steve saw it and said, ‘That’s David’s guitar!'”

It didn’t take long for Maymi, once introduced to Neil’s obscure canon of work, to embrace the lost cult legend. “I think the essence of David Neil’s music is that it’s the true spirit of rock ‘n roll with a few awful bits thrown in,” muses Maymi.

Kilbey, however, sees Neil’s legacy as one of lost opportunities. “I think the essence is that David’s life was cut short and the implications of what he could have done if he lived,” Kilbey says.

Despite his lingering affection for Neil’s work, Kilbey is under no illusions about Neil’s personal failings. Neil’s personal proclivities were the subject of regular rumour and innuendo. “David was a womaniser and a ladies man it broke my sister Kathy’s heart to tell you the truth,” Kilbey says. “He literally was juggling women all around this world and some of ’em were definitely married.”

Maymi has heard enough road stories from Kilbey to gauge Neil’s personal style. “Steve told me about when him and David got arrested for possession of marijuana in North Carolina‚Ķ they were handcuffed together in a cell and David still managed to seduce a female cop and get his weed back and get a police escort to the airport!” Maymi laughs.

Not everyone, however, has found a spot for Neil in their critical heart. To his critics – and there are many of them – Neil was a talentless, drunken pervert whose only ideas were derived from the inspiration of others. Kilbey isn’t blind to such criticism. “David’s work is derivative like all great rockers, but he still manages to impose himself on rock’n’roll for all that,” Kilbey says. “Please remember he was only 24 when he died and consider what he might have done if he’d cleaned up his act and left the ladies alone.”

For all of Neil’s pretensions to artistic integrity, it’s recently been suggested that one of his songs might be licensed for a television advertisement. Kilbey isn’t phased by such a commercial move. In fact, Neil would applaud such a move. “David would have fucking compromised in a second – it’s just that the chance never came along,” Kilbey says. “If one of his songs was used in an ad, he would cash the cheque, buy some drugs and check into a good hotel with his little black book and get the party moving along – and he wouldn’t care what the ad was for either.”

This month Kilbey and Maymi will hit the road to celebrate the lost music of David Neil, with an album, The Wilderness Years, due to be released in July. The tour and album follow Kilbey and Maymi’s painstaking efforts to rake over the coals of Neil’s career. Maymi has offered his help to the project, though – like Neil himself – he’s lost sight of the details. “Well, Biff played the drums, Johnny played guitar and Jim Jim plays bass,” Maymi says. “But the tapes were kinda screwy so I had to doctor up what those guys did on a new reel of tape. Recreated some of their parts and added a little string synth here and there. Now I can’t even tell who’s doin’ what anymore so, I think it turned out the way David would have wanted it.”

Kilbey says the potential for Neil’s work to evolve from cult to mainstream won’t diminish his attraction. “I think it’s how David would have wanted it. I mean he was a useless drug taking gigolo type but still he wanted some success and now he can laugh from the grave.”