Getting back to what they do best
By John Benson
Distorted guitars and long Crazy Horse jams conjure up a vision of a hunched over Neil Young rocking crazily back and forth with his hair flaying around a worn-out flannel shirt.
What sounds like a description from years ago is actually what fans can expect from the new Neil Young & Crazy Horse original album “Psychedelic Pill,” which is due out later this month, as well as a Monday show at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland and a Tuesday date at the Petersen Event Center in Pittsburgh.
In particular, the song “Ramada Inn” has Young feeling nostalgic with the lyrics “Visiting an old friend feels right/People you haven’t seen in forever.”
Actually those words describe his recent reunion with Crazy Horse, which resulted in new CD “Americana” earlier this year as well as the aforementioned soon-to-be-released album. The former featured folk songs turned into hard rock tunes.
On and off for decades, Young with Crazy Horse created the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee’s hardest rocking tracks such as “Powder- finger,” “Cortez the Killer” and “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).”
The Vindicator talked to Crazy Horse guitarist Poncho Sampedro, who was formerly Kevin Eubanks’ assistant on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” about the recent reunion with his long-time friend and musical collaborator Young, the new albums and the future of the outfit.
Q. First of all, in talking to Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills, Nash and sometimes Young, it sounds like you never know when a call from the mercurial “Cinnamon Girl” singer will come, saying he’s ready to record or hit the road. Is this your experience with Young?
A. Once I got in the band in 1973 and “Zuma” came out in 1975, I had no idea what the dynamic was going to be. And he left us for a while. As a matter of fact, he was playing with the Stills-Young band. I felt this big void. I didn’t really know what to do. But from that moment on, I realized I had to just go on with my own life, getting a job and doing whatever it is I have to do. So when the call comes, let it be a blessing. But I never really sat around waiting for it because that will drive you nuts.
Q. So eight years after “Greendale,” the last project with Young, were you more surprised by the fact Crazy Horse reunited with its singer or that you guys actually released two studio albums?
A. I was surprised we did a bunch of folk songs. And I was really surprised we did a good job. All in all, those songs on “Americana” are really great, and I enjoy playing on them, but there’s a part [of me] that really my heart and soul is not into. I don’t want to say I was disappointed with “Americana” but it just didn’t feel like it was going to be our last record. At the end of [recording] that I told Neil, “We never did what people know us for. We didn’t jam.” And he said, “You’re right, maybe there should be a jam song on there but I don’t have one.” The next time we got together, we just started playing these two chords and Neil had a song in mind. It was “Driftin’ Back.” It was the first time we jammed. And these new songs on “Psychedelic Pill,” Neil wrote some really beautiful and emotional songs that suit our playing. We put everything we had into them and they’ll be a part of me forever. I’m so happy with this record.
Q. From your experience, what’s the biggest misconception about Young?
A. Basically with Neil, people might think when he does all of these different genre type records, he’s just coming up with ideas and trying to sell something to the public, but that’s not the way it is. No matter what it is, at that moment he’s 100 percent and he’s not thinking of the next thing. He’s in it.
Q. Finally, with that in mind, what’s the future of Young & Crazy Horse?
A. I don’t think anybody is going to talk about the future. Personally, I know we’re older now, and I don’t really see another tour in the future. That’s just my feeling. That has nothing to do with Neil or the business aspect, but just in my mind I’m treating it to give it everything I’ve got and have a good time because this could be it.