Ben Keith, 73, a veteran steel guitarist who played on Patsy Cline's 1961 hit "I Fall to Pieces" before befriending Neil Young and going on to play on more than a dozen of the Canadian rocker's albums, has died.

Keith died of a heart attack, director Jonathan Demme said Tuesday. Demme, who directed Young's concert films "Neil Young Trunk Show" from earlier this year and 2006's "Heart of Gold," said Keith had been staying at Young's ranch in Northern California working on new projects with his longtime collaborator. No other details were available.

For "Neil Young Trunk Show," shot in Pennsylvania at a stop on Young's 2007-08 concert tour, Young said a key reason he chose to tour with Keith, bassist Rick Rosas and Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina, rather than convening the full, hard-rocking Crazy Horse trio, was that "I can do more variety this way because Ben plays so many instruments."

Demme called Keith "an elegant, beautiful dude, and obviously a genius."

Most recently Keith had been touring with Young's wife, Pegi, in support of her second solo album, "Foul Deeds," for a handful of West Coast performances. He'd played earlier this year with Neil Young on his first completely acoustic tour in several years.

Keith met Young in 1971 in Nashville, where the rocker was working on what would become his commercial breakthrough album, "Harvest." When Keith arrived, "I didn't know who anyone was, so I asked, 'Who's that guy over there?' and was told, 'That's Neil Young.'" He recalled in 2006: "We did five songs that were on the 'Harvest' record, just one right after the other, before I even said hello to him."

He also played live or in the studio with artists including Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Ringo Starr and David Crosby. Keith also produced Jewel's debut album, "Pieces of You."