Crazy Horse (band)

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Crazy Horse
Crazy Horse in 1972
Crazy Horse in 1972
Background information
Also known as
  • Danny & the Memories
  • the Rockets
  • the Psyrcle
  • Neil Young & Crazy Horse
OriginLos Angeles, California
Years active1969–present
Past members

Crazy Horse is an American rock band best known for their association with Neil Young. Beginning in 1969 and continuing to the present day, they have been co-credited on a number of Young's albums, with 15 studio albums and numerous live albums being billed as by Neil Young and Crazy Horse. They have also released six studio albums of their own, issued between 1971 and 2009.

Billy Talbot (bass) and Ralph Molina (drums) have been the only consistent members of the band. On four of Crazy Horse's studio albums, Talbot and Molina serve as the rhythm section to entirely different sets of musicians. Except for two notable intervals, Frank "Poncho" Sampedro (rhythm guitar) regularly performed with the group from 1975 until 2014.


Early years[edit]

The band's origins date to 1963 and the Los Angeles-based a cappella doo-wop group Danny & the Memories, which consisted of lead singer Danny Whitten and supporting vocalists Lou Bisbal (soon to be replaced by Benjamin Rocco, the husband of actress Lorna Maitland), Billy Talbot, and Ralph Molina.

Sly Stone produced a single for the group (by then re-christened the Psyrcle) in San Francisco on Lorna Records (a subsidiary of Autumn Records)[citation needed]; however, it did not sell very well either regionally or nationally.

Back in Los Angeles, the group evolved over the course of several years into the Rockets, a psychedelic pop/folk rock ensemble that juxtaposed the rudimentary instrumental abilities of Whitten (rhythm guitar), Talbot (bass) and Molina (drums) against the more accomplished Bobby Notkoff (violin) and Leon Whitsell (lead guitar).[citation needed] After leaving the group as sessions for their first album commenced, the mercurial and reclusive Whitsell was promptly replaced by his younger brother George, a R&B-influenced guitarist also respected in the band's social circle. After Leon petitioned to return, it was decided that both Whitsells would remain in the group.

This sextet recorded the Rockets' only album, a self-titled record released in 1968 on White Whale Records. Whitten and Leon Whitsell contributed four songs apiece, with one song credited to Talbot and Molina and another, "Pill's Blues", to George Whitsell. Whitten's "Let Me Go" was prominently covered by Three Dog Night on their 1968 debut; during this period, vocalist Danny Hutton considered recruiting Whitten for that band.

Although their album sold only about 5,000 copies, the Rockets soon re-connected with Neil Young, whom they had met two years earlier during the early days of Buffalo Springfield. In August 1968, three months after Buffalo Springfield dissolved, Young played with the group during a Rockets performance at the Whisky a Go Go; Molina would later recall that Young's idiosyncratically distinctive guitar style "blew George Whitsell's away. He was kind of overshadowed."

With Neil Young, 1968–1970[edit]

Shortly after the club collaboration, Young enlisted Whitten, Talbot, and Molina to back him on his second solo album. Although all parties initially envisaged the Rockets continuing as a separate project, the older band soon folded due to Young's insistence on having his new backing trio keep to a strict practice schedule. According to George Whitsell, "My understanding was Neil was gonna use the guys for a record and a quick tour, bring 'em back and help us produce the next Rockets album. It took me a year and a half to realize that my band had been taken."

Credited to Neil Young with Crazy Horse, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere was released in May 1969. During a ninety-eight week chart stay, it peaked at No. 34 on the Billboard 200 in August 1970 after Young had come to greater prominence as a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.[1] It included the No. 55 pop hit "Cinnamon Girl" and the extended tracks "Down by the River" and "Cowgirl in the Sand", alongside country and folk-influenced songs such as "Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)," a tribute to the defunct band featuring a guest appearance by Notkoff.

Crazy Horse toured clubs with Young throughout the first half of 1969 and, with the addition of frequent Young collaborator Jack Nitzsche on electric piano, in early 1970. That year's tour was showcased on the 2006 album Live at the Fillmore East. Young would later say that "[on] some of the stuff, Nitzsche was in the way, tonally... Crazy Horse was so good with the two guitars, bass and drums it didn't need anything else."[2] Although Nitzsche openly disdained the rhythm section of Talbot and Molina, he retrospectively lauded Whitten (who was of Scotch-Irish American ancestry) as "the only black man in the band."[3]

Shortly after beginning work on his second album with Crazy Horse in 1969 (including an unreleased take of Whitten's "Look at All the Things" and a performance of Young's "Helpless" that failed to make it to tape due to an engineering error), Young joined Crosby, Stills & Nash as a full fourth member, recording an album and touring with the ensemble in 1969 and 1970.[4] When Young returned to his solo album in 1970, Crazy Horse found its participation more limited. Aside from overdubbed backing vocals, the group as a whole appears on just three of the eleven tracks on After the Gold Rush: "When You Dance I Can Really Love", "I Believe in You", and a cover of Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me" from the 1969 sessions.[5] Young "fired" the group in the aftermath of the 1970 tour due to Whitten's escalating heroin abuse (partially attributable to Whitten's severe rheumatoid arthritis) following an incapacitated performance at one of the Fillmore East performances; according to Molina, Whitten also felt that Young was "holdin' him back" as a guitarist and songwriter.[6]

With and without Young, late 1970–1989[edit]

Crazy Horse capitalized on its newfound exposure and recorded its eponymous debut album for Reprise Records that year. The band retained Nitzsche (who co-produced the album with Bruce Botnick) and added Lofgren as a second guitarist; singer-songwriter and guitarist Ry Cooder also sat in on three tracks at the behest of Nitzsche to substitute for the ailing Whitten. Although the album peaked at only No. 84 on the Billboard 200 chart in 1971, Whitten's "I Don't Want to Talk About It" would later be covered by a wide range of artists, including Geoff Muldaur, the Indigo Girls, Pegi Young, and Rod Stewart.

Following the commercial failure of Crazy Horse, Lofgren and Nitzsche left the group to pursue solo careers; meanwhile, Whitten's drug problems pushed Talbot and Molina to dismiss him and turn to outside musicians. The band released two albums (Loose and At Crooked Lake) on different labels to critical and commercial failure in 1972; along with Talbot and Molina, guitarist/singer-songwriter Greg Leroy was the only musician to appear on both albums. While the former saw Rockets guitarist George Whitsell briefly return to the fold, fronting the band in conjunction with Leroy and keyboardist John Blanton, the latter was dominated by the polished country rock of Rick and Mike Curtis, formerly of These Vizitors and best known for their later work as the Curtis Brothers.

In the fall of 1972, Young placed Whitten on retainer with a view toward including the guitarist in his new touring band, the Stray Gators. However, following his poor performance in rehearsals at Dress Review Sound Studio in Hollywood, the band pressured Young to dismiss him. Although Young let Whitten live on his ranch near Woodside, California and worked with him one-on-one during off-hours in an unsuccessful effort to keep him in the group, Young fired him and Whitten died several hours after returning to Los Angeles, his death attributed to a fatal overdose of alcohol and Valium.[7]

After Whitten's death and the tepid reception of their most recent albums, Talbot and Molina were left as the only members of the band. They let the Crazy Horse name go unused while resolving not to retire it altogether.[citation needed] In mid-1973, Young brought together a band comprising Talbot, Molina, Lofgren, and pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith to record a new album, the majority of which became the basis of 1975's Tonight's the Night. In the autumn of 1973, that ensemble (initially billed as Crazy Horse for the inaugural concerts at the Roxy in September 1973)[citation needed] toured Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States as the Santa Monica Flyers. Molina and Whitsell would subsequently contribute to Young's On the Beach in 1974.

Shortly after aborted Young sessions involving Talbot, Molina and Keith at Chicago's Chess Studios in late 1974, the band spontaneously reconvened without Keith at Talbot's Echo Park home in 1975. These jam sessions cemented the role of rhythm guitarist Frank "Poncho" Sampedro, a friend of Talbot who began to play with the group during the Chicago sessions and proved to be a long-time member of Crazy Horse. "It was great," Talbot would say of the gathering and the chemistry it evoked. "We were all soaring. Neil loved it. We all loved it. It was the first time we heard the Horse since Danny Whitten died."[8]

After the five-year hiatus since 1970, Neil Young, Crazy Horse, and producer David Briggs, quickly recorded Zuma in the summer of 1975, in the basement of Briggs' rented house in Malibu. Sampedro's lack of technical proficiency at the time ("Neil kept writin' simpler songs so I could play them") and desire to see Young "rockin' and having fun" would greatly inform the sound of the record.

Following a warmup tour of unannounced appearances at various San Francisco Bay Area bars (dubbed by the media as the Rolling Zuma Revue in contrast to Bob Dylan's contemporaneous Rolling Thunder Revue) in December 1975, Young and the band toured Japan and Europe from March to April 1976. However, they were shut out of a proposed leg of touring when Young re-kindled his collaboration with Stephen Stills. Crazy Horse toured America that autumn when Young was forced to make up a series of canceled concert dates after leaving the Stills-Young tour before it was finished.

Following sessions in November 1975 for an aborted Crazy Horse album, the band went on to appear on both 1977's American Stars 'n Bars (including the entire first side alongside a band dubbed The Bullets), and 1978's Comes a Time on two tracks: "Look Out for My Love" and "Lotta Love".

In 1978, Crazy Horse released Crazy Moon, their fourth original album. It features instrumental contributions from Young, Bobby Notkoff, Greg Leroy, and Michael Curtis. Before the album's release, the band joined Young on the tour that served as both the basis of the live/studio album Rust Never Sleeps and the tour document Live Rust, both credited to Neil Young & Crazy Horse.

As Young spent much of the eighties pursuing his most experimental work to date, Crazy Horse recorded with him sporadically, beginning with the 1981 album Re·ac·tor. The band began to record Trans before Young evolved the project into a solo album, and a 1984 album was abandoned after their performances were dubbed by Young and Briggs as subpar. Following sporadic performances in 1984 and 1985, Neil Young & Crazy Horse eventually toured in 1986 and recorded the album Life, releasing it in 1987.

Following the Life Tour, Young included all three members of Crazy Horse in a horn-augmented ensemble, the Bluenotes, and toured clubs in the fall of 1987. But when Talbot and Molina proved ill-suited to a blues-oriented approach, Young replaced them while retaining Sampedro, who would remain with Young in various band permutations over the next two years. Immediately thereafter, Talbot and Molina hired former Rain Parade lead guitarist Matt Piucci and recruited Sonny Mone from Hanover, Massachusetts to provide lead vocals and rhythm guitar. With seven songs by Mone, this incarnation of the band recorded the pointedly-titled Left for Dead, released in 1989.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse: 1990–present[edit]

The split with Sampedro and Young proved relatively short-lived, as the duo reunited with Talbot and Molina under the name Crazy Horse in 1990 for the acclaimed album Ragged Glory and for a tour in 1991 that generated the live album Weld and the sound collage Arc. Over the next 12 years, Crazy Horse would steadily collaborate with Young, joining him for Sleeps with Angels (1994), Broken Arrow (1996), the live album Year of the Horse (1997), the shelved Toast (recorded 2001) and Greendale (2003). Sampedro was instructed to sit out the recording of Greendale, as Young felt the material called for only one guitar, and considered leaving the band; he ultimately joined the band on guitar and organ for the ensuing tour of 2003-2004.

According to Jimmy McDonough, Crazy Horse had begun a sixth album of its own in the mid-1990s, but left the project unfinished when Young called upon the group to join him for some secret club dates in California (for which the quartet billed themselves as the Echoes), leading to the recording of Broken Arrow.[9]

Crazy Horse remained on hiatus for seven years following the Greendale tour. Although Sampedro was employed as a full-time assistant to Kevin Eubanks on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno from 1992 to 2010, the band continued to rehearse several times a year and more intermittently with Young during this period.[10][dead link] Trick Horse—based on previously unreleased Crazy Horse recordings, possibly derived from older Sampedro-funded sessions where session musicians were hired to play the instrumental parts—was released on iTunes in 2009.[11] According to Young in a 2011 interview with American Songwriter, "They have to be together before I can be together with them. They haven't been doing anything together, so they need to be able to do it. I don't have the time to support things. I have to go with things that are going to support me. But I think they can do it."

Shortly thereafter, Neil Young and Crazy Horse convened to record two new albums, both of which were released in 2012. Americana was composed entirely of covers, mostly of American folk music revival songs and standards, while Psychedelic Pill featured original Neil Young songs written for the band. Neil Young and Crazy Horse embarked on the Alchemy Tour throughout 2012 and 2013 in support of both albums, traveling to the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe.

In 2013, Talbot, Molina, George Whitsell, and lead vocalist/guitarist Ryan James Holzer formed Wolves. They released their first recording, Wolves EP, on February 16, 2014.[12]

With the addition of background singers Dorene Carter and YaDonna West, Young and Crazy Horse toured Europe in the summer of 2014 to make-up cancelled dates from the Alchemy Tour, relating to an injury suffered by Sampedro. For the tour, longtime Young collaborator Rick Rosas stood in for Talbot, who was recovering from a minor stroke. Rosas died from pulmonary hypertension with cardiac arrest on November 8, less than three months after the tour concluded.

In May 2018, Lofgren joined Young, Talbot, and Molina for a series of five minimally advertised "open rehearsal" concerts in Fresno, California and Bakersfield, California, with the marquee reading "NYCH" (the band described by Young as the "Horse of a Different Color").[13] According to Young, "Life is an unfolding saga [...] Poncho is unable to join us right now but we all hope he will be back."[14] In 2021, Sampedro confirmed that he had retired from music due to complications from arthritis in both wrists and a 2013 finger injury: "It became painful for me to be on the road. When we were on that last tour [in 2014], I was rolling down the road with both of my hands in ice buckets and one foot in an ice bucket, every night. That’s really not that much fun. Then I got my finger slammed in the door [on the 2013 European tour]. There were too many signs saying it was over for me. It wasn't for any other reason. [...] I was messing things up on the last tour during the early songs in the set."[15]

In February 2019, the Lofgren-era line-up performed two shows in Winnipeg. Its first album, Colorado, and was released in October 2019, and began the most prolific period of recording in the band's history. A second album, Barn, was released on December 10, 2021, and was recorded entirely in Young's barn in Colorado. In 2022 the band released the shelved album Toast, retaining Sampedro's guitar parts, and later the same year they released a third album with Lofgren in the lineup, World Record.

Re-issued recordings[edit]

The self-titled debut album was re-issued on CD in 1994. In 2005, Rhino Records' Handmade division released the two-disc set, Scratchy: The Complete Reprise Recordings, in a limited edition of 2,500 copies. It included re-mastered versions of the debut album and their second, Loose in their entirety on the first disc, with the second disc containing nine rarities and out-takes (including both sides of a 1962 single by Danny and the Memories). The original set is currently out of print, but was re-issued on Rhino in England and Wounded Bird in the United States. Loose was also re-issued as a stand-alone CD by Wounded Bird in 2006. The Australian re-issue specialty label Raven Records put out Crazy Moon in 1999 with seven rare bonus tracks, as well as a 20-track retrospective in 2005, Gone Dead Train: The Best of Crazy Horse 1971–1989, featuring material from each of the group's five albums, with the exception of its second one, Loose. Left for Dead was released in 1995 on the Sisapa/Curb label, and Crazy Moon was re-issued on CD again as a BMG import in 2005. At Crooked Lake was re-issued in 2013 on the Floating World label.


Neil Young tenures[edit]

  • Neil Young – lead vocals, lead guitar, keyboards, harmonica (1969–1970, 1973–1976, 1978–1987, 1990–present;)



Crazy Horse[edit]

Studio albums


Neil Young and Crazy Horse[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Live albums[edit]

Films and videos[edit]

  • Rust Never Sleeps (1979)
  • Weld (1991)
  • The Complex Sessions (1995)
  • Year of the Horse (1997)
  • Greendale (2004)
    • video release includes "Be the Rain" live at the Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario, 9/4/03

Other appearances

Session work[edit]

Neil Young

Other artists

Related albums[edit]

The Rockets

Billy Talbot

  • Alive in the Spirit World (2004)
  • On the Road to Spearfish (2013)


  1. ^ "Neil Young Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere Chart History".
  2. ^ McDonough, p. 337
  3. ^ McDonough, p. 328
  4. ^ McDonough, p. 322-23
  5. ^ McDonough, p. 333-37
  6. ^ McDonough, p. 387-88
  7. ^ McDonough, p. 388
  8. ^ McDonough, pp. 481–482
  9. ^ McDonough, p. 723
  10. ^ "Q&A: Crazy Horse's Frank Sampedro on 37 Years With Neil Young". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 14 December 2017.
  11. ^ "Neil Young News: Review: Crazy Horse's Scratchy & Trick Horse". Retrieved 14 December 2017.
  12. ^ "Wolves". Retrieved April 14, 2015.
  13. ^ "Neil Young News: NYCH: Warnor Theater Marqee, Fresno, CA".
  14. ^ Greene, Andy (April 25, 2018). "Neil Young Plots New Crazy Horse Gigs With Nils Lofgren". Rolling Stone.
  15. ^ Greene, Andy (2 March 2021). "Neil Young and Crazy Horse's Frank 'Poncho' Sampedro on New Live LP, Why He Left the Band". Retrieved 21 August 2021.

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]