Danny Whitten (1943-1972)

Danny Whitten was an American guitarist and singer-songwriter, best known for his work with Neil Young and Crazy Horse.

Whitten's musical career began in the 60s, singing in a doo-wop group called Danny & The Memories, which also featured Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina. After a while the group moved to San Francisco and became a rock group called The Psyrcle, with Whitten playing guitar, Talbot on bass and Molina on drums. By 1967 they had been joined by the brothers George and Leon Whitsell (both on guitars) and violinist Bobby Notkoff, and renamed The Rockets. They released one eponymous album, which sold poorly. However it did come to the attention of Neil Young, who took Whitten, Talbot and Molina and used him as his backing group on his second album, 1969's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. He renamed them Crazy Horse, and thus was started a long and fruitful alliance. Whitten's guitar and backing vocals are prominent on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and can also be heard on the archive album Live At The Fillmore East. Crazy Horse were a vital ingredient in what made Young's early solo sound so unique.
They also backed him on a few songs on his breakthrough album After The Gold Rush, and it was here that they met guitarist Nils Lofgren and pianist/producer Jack Nitzsche. With Lofgren and Nitzsche they expanded into a quintet to record a self-titled album, released in 1971. Whitten was the most dominant artistic force on Crazy Horse, writing five of the songs and singing most of the lead vocals. It featured his best-kown song, "I Don't Want To Talk About It", which was later covered with great success by both Rita Coolidge and Rod Stewart.
However, at the same time Whitten was suffering from a heroin addiction, which proved to be his downfall. Talbot and Molina kicked him from Crazy Horse, and he began to struggle. In 1972 Young asked him to join his touring band in support of his massively successful Harvest album, but Whitten proved a liability, and could not keep up with the rest of the band in rehearsals. In the end Young sent him home before the tour began, on the 18th of February. That same night Whitten died, from an overdose of valium and alcohol (which he was using to try and get over his heroin addiction).
The legacy of Danny Whitten is one of sadly wasted potential. Based on the strength of the songs he wrote and performed with both The Rockets and Crazy Horse, he could have had a very successful career ahead of him either as a band leader or a solo singer-songwriter. Unfortunately his life was cut too short.

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