Suggest a Songfact / Artistfact
Album: HarvestReleased: 1972Charted:
Young wrote this about the caretaker of the ranch he bought in 1970. The song compares a young man's life to an old man's and shows that the old man was once like this young man.
The caretaker of the that cattle ranch? His name was Louis Avila. The ranch was the Broken Arrow Ranch, purchased for $350,000 in 1970 (just think about those real estate prices compared to now!). Reportedly, Avila was giving Young a tour of the place and asked him how a young man like him could afford a place like this. Young, aged 25, replied "Just lucky, Louie, just real lucky." Avila was quite bemused.
James Taylor played the banjo on this song.
It was immediately after the success of "Old Man" and the Harvest album that Danny Whitten, central to Young's band Crazy Horse, passed away. Young invited Whitten to audition for his backing band the Stray Gators on the condition that he cleaned up his substance abuse. Young gave him a trial, but it looked to be the same old story with Whitten, so he fired him. Whitten promptly went home and overdosed, found dead with Valium and alcohol in his system.
Young got the call that night, and was devastated. Whitten's death was part of the darkening of Neil Young's act during the time following "Old Man;" it wasn't just the success or being "headed for the ditch."
At the memorial service for actor Heath Ledger, "Old Man" was chosen as the song to play over a slideshow showing his various roles and life.
Bob Dylan frequently covered this song on his 2002 tour.
This song has appeared in various films over the years, including Due Date, Lords of Dogtown, and Wonder Boys.