A Nick Drake Tribute at the Cedar Cultural Center

Producer Joe Boyd remembers his time with the influential English singer-songwriter and pays tribute with “Way to Blue.”

by Joseph Kleinschmidt

What: Nick Drake’s Musical Legacy

Who: Joe Boyd presents Mason Jennings, Steve Tibbetts with Wendy Lewis and Haley Bonar

Where: Cedar Cultural Center, 416 S. Cedar Ave, Minneapolis

When: 7:30 p.m., Tuesday

Cost: $10


Only slight traces of Nick Drake remain today. Before his death in 1974 from an overdose of antidepressants, the English singer-songwriter refused to give interviews or regularly perform in front of audiences.

Without widespread success, the Cambridge University graduate recorded his feathery but grave voice with American producer Joe Boyd. Boyd, who’s worked with everyone from R.E.M. to Pink Floyd, gives a human understanding of the folk musician now mythologized.

“People felt very protective of him because they thought he was fragile,” Boyd said, recalling his time working with Drake on his first two releases. “Although, he was very strong.”

In fact, Boyd said, he holds a record in the 100-yard dash at his school in Wiltshire.

Most people remember Drake for his voice, though acclaim among critics and fans would only arrive years later.

In response to Drake’s resurgence of popularity, Boyd organized various tribute concerts in 2009. “Way to Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake” collects the best live renditions of the folk singer’s spare songs.

“Recording a live concert is the closest I get to working the way I used to work in the studio,” he said, “because everybody these days works very differently.”

Countless musicians, including Kate Bush and Beck, give Drake credit for influence. On “Way to Blue,” both Robyn Hitchcock and Vashti Bunyan appear in especially haunting performances of “Parasite” and “Which Will.”

“To get that live feeling and energy that I like to get on a record — the only way to do it is to put people up on a stage and record them that way.”

Boyd’s relationship with Drake represents a brief time in his life, but the producer still held onto song rights in 1999, when an advertisement sparked even more interest for “Pink Moon.” Recorded in two midnight sessions spanning four hours, the album suddenly received interest from a car company.

“I got a message that Volkswagen wanted to use ‘Pink Moon’ in a car commercial, and I said, ‘Forget it.’ That didn’t sound like a good idea at all,” Boyd said.

When he later looked at the storyboard for the commercial, he realized no voiceover would taint the lyrics to the title track of Drake’s final album.

“I thought it looked to me more like a commercial for Drake than a commercial for Volkswagen,” he said.

Boyd accepted Volkswagen’s offer, and the use of “Pink Moon” led to more appreciation for Drake’s music. “White Bicycles,” Boyd’s 2006 memoir, chronicles his time in the psychedelic and folk scene among British artists in the ’60s and ’70s. But Drake still holds a special place in his memory. At the very least, “Way to Blue” offers a small window into Drake’s legacy.

“I do feel that it’s wonderful music, and it’s gratifying that people appreciate it now,” he said.

“I wish they would’ve appreciated it sooner.”