Incognito: David Briggs

Incognito is our weekly look at the neglected musical geniuses behind some our favorite live acts. Because these instruments don’t play themselves.

Producer David Briggs may never be a household name, but he will always be present with his influential hand in some of Neil Young‘s best-known work. Briggs’ legacy is fairly massive, as he was involved as a producer on all of the material Neil Young’s Crazy Horse released. But he loved the anonymity of his role—he poured himself into the creation of a very specific sound, using his signature aesthetic to bring out the best in any artists that he worked with.

Briggs was born in 1944 and grew up in Douglas, Wyoming before deciding to hitchhike his way out to California. He began working for Tetragrammaton Records—founded by Bill Cosby in the 60s, and responsible for the Deep Purple’s first releases and the American issue of Two Virgins—and gathered some experience there before meeting Neil Young. Briggs picked Young up while he was hitchhiking in Topanga Canyon, and the two wound up cutting tracks that later became Young’s first solo album, released post-Buffalo Springfield. It was on Young’s second solo album that Briggs really found himself as a producer in the signature intimate live sound that he strove for.

Artists like Alice Cooper, Jerry Williams, Nils Lofgren, Spirit, and Nick Cave have all received Briggs’ treatment as a producer. His work constantly aimed to bring down the wall he felt that records built and capture an artist at their best performance, and paint a realistic picture of who they are as they play live in a room. He died following a battle with lung cancer in 1995, still working on the music he loved, amidst involvement with a Neil Young Archives project.

In a 1991 interview, Briggs was quoted saying, “Rock n roll is not sedate. It is not safe. It has nothing to do with money. Rock n roll is elemental—it’s like wind, rain, fire. Rock n roll is fire, man, fire. It has to do with how much you can thumb your nose at the world.”

Check out this concert footage of Neil Young and Crazy Horse from 1991 in all their hard-rocking live glory that Briggs worked so hard to bring out on their records.

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