Chris Janson Has a Wild Story About Meeting Neil Young in Downtown Nashville
Chris Janson has met a lot of people over the course of his career, but way back at the beginning of his journey in country music, he had one very memorable encounter with Neil Young. In fact, the experience kind of jump-started Janson's career!
It all started back when Janson was a young artist in Nashville, sleeping in his car behind what is now Honky Tonk Central and paying his dues playing late-night sets at the famed honky-tonk Tootsies. One night, he was at the tail end of a sparsely attended set.
"It was kind of a slow night. I was playing in the back room, and it was, like, 12:30 or one o'clock in the morning. I had another hour and a half to go," Janson recalls. "And these guys walked in."
One of the newcomers, the singer recalls, was pretty engaged in his music, but the other hung back. "[He] was kind of stand-offish and meandered around a little bit. Turned out, that was Neil Young," Janson continues, adding that -- although he didn't know it yet -- he was about to sing the iconic performer's own hits back to him.
"I was playing Neil Young songs, because, at that time of night, you're not playing for your Top 40 or traditional audience -- you're kinda just playing what you want to play," Janson explains. So, still unaware that Young himself was in the audience, Janson delved into some of the iconic singer-songwriter's deep cuts. Though it didn't seem to make much of an impression on the man himself, the other man who'd walked in with Young came over to talk to Janson in between songs.
"Dude goes, 'Um, you know that's Neil Young out there.' I go, 'Hah. Cool,'" Jason recounts. "He was like, 'No, that's Neil Young. Here's my card.' They were about to leave, so he was like, 'Give me a call or an email or something.'"
As it happened, Janson had stumbled into a gig.
"They were shooting this documentary," the singer recalls. "Turns out, they were shooting that Neil Young Heart of Gold rock documentary ... He was like, 'We'd like to use you or portray you in some way. I just love everything that's going on [with you].' Keep in mind, I'm crashing on couches and sleeping in the backseat of my car. When they came back, they shot at the Ryman ... and they came back and they hired me.
"[If you watch that movie], are you gonna see me in some big role? No," Janson continues with a laugh. "You're gonna see, like, three seconds of some crazy-haired kid playing out in front of the Ryman. But it's kinda neat how it came full circle like that, because they gave me a shot and gave me a break. Once that happened, it was the first year that I was able to leave Tootsies."
Janson's timeline took off at that point, and he landed the first of what would go on to be several record deals. However, it was that chance encounter with Young that kicked off that year of change and success.
"Most people don't know, but now you do: My first paycheck was from Neil Young," Janson says with a laugh.