"Cortez the Killer" wasn't initially one of the Neil Young songs Great Peacock planned to record. The Nashville Americana troupe wanted to cover Young simply because they are fans of the singer, but when another tune wasn't going well, the trio decided to take on the 1975 anthem, which Billboard premieres exclusively today (Sept. 11).
"We needed one more song and somebody jokingly said, 'Let's do 'Cortez,' 'cause it's been covered by a million people," frontman Andrew Nelson tells Billboard. "Then we all laughed, [thinking], 'We can't do that!' I said, 'What if we play it faster? What if we play it like Drive-By Truckers would play it?' So we did that, and we liked it and we started playing it live in the spring of this year and people liked it — particularly people who actually know what the song is. We said, 'Let's re-record it in a real studio and give it a nice touch and put it out.'"
Great Peacock's "Cortez" is a standalone single, though the original intention was a five-song EP tentatively titled Canadian Tuxedo. The group has also recorded Young’s "Helpless," "Powderfinger" and a stripped down version of "Cinnamon Girl." Nelson says the high-octane "Cortez" is also a precursor for Great Peacock's third album, which the group is currently deep into recording and is also self-producing.
"We're moving in more of a rock direction," Nelson reports. "It's our third album, so we want to go somewhere and do something and show a real progression. It's not classic rock but it's in the vein of classic rock where it feels like everything is placed perfectly. I got this awesome delay pedal, a Korg SDD 3000, which is the same thing Daniel Lanois and The Edge used, and it's definitely opened up ideas and textures for this album, too."
Great Peacock has a few fall tour dates lined up in the south and expects to add more. Nelson and his bandmates will be amendable if "Cortez" opens a certain other door for them with Young.
"I don't think he knows who we are," Nelson says. "But we do joke, 'Hey, maybe he'll hear it, like it enough so we can get that gig that Lukas Nelson [and Promise of the Real] has.' We could be the Peacock of the Real!"
Listen to "Cortez the Killer" below.