Crazy Horse (band)
|Also known as||Danny & the Memories, the Rockets, the Psyrcle, Neil Young & Crazy Horse|
|Origin||Los Angeles, California|
|Genres||Garage rock, folk rock, country rock, hard rock|
|Labels||Reprise, Epic, Rhino|
|Associated acts||Neil Young|
|Past members||Danny Whitten|
Frank "Poncho" Sampedro
Crazy Horse is an American rock band best known for their association with Neil Young. Beginning in 1968 and continuing to the present day, they have been co-credited on a number of Young's albums, with 12 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.
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 Bengiamino 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); 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). 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 set 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," the group's unofficial anthem) 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.
With Neil Young, 1968–1970
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 jammed 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."
Shortly thereafter, 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 concern, 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. A sleeper hit that peaked at No. 34 in the United States in August 1970 during a ninety-eight week chart stay, it included the American No. 55 pop hit "Cinnamon Girl" and the extended guitar workouts "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 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 opine 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." 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."
Shortly after beginning work on his third solo 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. 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" (recorded toward the end of the album's recording sessions, the majority of which included Ralph Molina in a semi-acoustic quartet with erstwhile CSNY bassist Greg Reeves and multi-instrumentalist Nils Lofgren) plus a cover of Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me" and "I Believe In You" from the 1969 sessions. Young "fired" the group in the aftermath of the 1970 tour due to Whitten's escalating heroin abuse (partially attributable to the rhythm guitarist'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.
With and without Young, 1970–1989
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 deputize 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. Stewart would record the song three times and score a hit with it on the same number of occasions, most notably as a UK No. 1 double A-side in 1977 with Cat Stevens's "The First Cut Is the Deepest." In 1988, the song would become a Top Ten hit in the UK again, this time a No. 3 for Everything but the Girl. Two songs from the album were covered by Scottish hard rock band Nazareth: Lofgren's "Beggar's Day" appeared on Hair of the Dog (1975), while Nitzsche's "Gone Dead Train" is the second track on Expect No Mercy (1977).
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 on different labels (Loose and At Crooked Lake) to critical and commercial indifference 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 roots rock stylings of Rick and Mike Curtis, formerly of These Vizitors and best known for their later work as the Curtis Brothers.
Concurrently, Young placed Whitten on retainer in the fall of 1972 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, Whitten died several hours after returning to Los Angeles, his death attributed to a fatal overdose of alcohol and Valium.
After Whitten's death and the tepid reception accorded to both albums, Talbot and Molina were the only full-fledged members of the band. They let the Crazy Horse name go unused while resolving not to retire it altogether. In mid-1973, Young brought together a band comprising Talbot, Molina, Lofgren, and pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith to record Tonight's the Night, the majority of which eventually saw release in bowdlerized form with additional material added in 1975. In the autumn of 1973, that ensemble (initially billed as Crazy Horse for the inaugural concerts at the Roxy in September 1973) toured Canada, Great Britain, and the United States as the Santa Monica Flyers. Molina and Whitsell would subsequently contribute percussion and guitar (respectively) 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 (sans the pedal steel guitarist) 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 (to the initial chagrin of Molina) during the Chicago excursion and proved to be just the right person to help resurrect 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." After a five-year hiatus Neil Young and Crazy Horse was born again, and Young marked the occasion by finishing off the lyrics to "Powderfinger", soon to become one of the new line-up's signature songs.
With Sampedro and producer David Briggs in tow, Young and Crazy Horse quickly recorded Zuma later that year in the basement of Briggs' rented house in Malibu, initiating their most prolific period of collaboration. Sampedro's lack of technical proficiency ("Neil kept writin' simpler songs so I could play them") and desire to see Young "rockin' and having fun and seeing chicks' asses swaying in the audience" would greatly inform the tenor of the record.
Following a warmup tour of unannounced engagements at various San Francisco Bay Area bars (ironically dubbed 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 in March–April 1976. However, they were shut out of a proposed summer stadium tour when Young re-kindled his collaboration with Stephen Stills. They toured America that autumn when Young was forced to make up a series of canceled concert dates after walking out midway through the tour with Stills. From late 1975 to 1977, Young recorded feverishly in various solo and group configurations; Crazy Horse appears on all but two songs of 1977's country-inflected American Stars 'n Bars (with many tracks featuring an augmented line-up that included Ben Keith, Carole Mayedo, Linda Ronstadt, and Nicolette Larson), while Comes a Time features two performances with Crazy Horse: "Look Out for My Love" and the Fleetwood Mac-inspired "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. Later that year, they joined Young on the tour that led to the successful Rust Never Sleeps and Live Rust, both credited to Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
As Young spent much of the eighties working in genres mostly outside the band's idiom, Crazy Horse recorded with him more sporadically, appearing only on Re·ac·tor, an unspecified portion of Trans, and Life. Sessions for a planned 1984 album with the band ended after they were "spooked" by the addition of a professional horn section, although a bootleg of a performance at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz containing many of the intended songs remains an enduring fan favorite.
Several years later, Young included all three members of Crazy Horse in another horn-driven ensemble, the Bluenotes. But when Talbot and Molina proved ill-suited to a blues-oriented approach, Young reluctantly replaced the Crazy Horse bassist and drummer 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 (1989) and filmed a music video for "Child of War".
With and without Young, 1990–2004; 2012-2014; 2018-present
The split with Sampedro and Young proved relatively short-lived, as the duo reunited with Talbot and Molina under the Crazy Horse imprimatur in 1990 for the acclaimed album Ragged Glory and for a tour in 1991 that generated the live album Weld. Over the next 12 years, Crazy Horse would steadily collaborate with Young once more, joining the singer for Sleeps with Angels (1994), Broken Arrow (1996), the live Year of the Horse (1997), "Goin' Home" on Are You Passionate? (2002), and Greendale (2003). Sampedro agreed to sit out the recording of Greendale, as Young felt the material called for only one guitar; he joined the band on guitar and organ for the ensuing tours of 2003 and 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. Young and Crazy Horse attempted to record for three months in San Francisco in 2000; few takes were finished to the band's satisfaction, and Young re-recorded most of the material with Booker T. & the M.G.'s for Are You Passionate?. Toast, an album culled from the San Francisco sessions, was announced for imminent release in 2008 as part of Young's Archives series; as of 2020, it remains unreleased.
Crazy Horse remained on hiatus for eight 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. Trick Horse—a collection of hitherto unreleased non-Young recordings possibly derived from older Sampedro-funded sessions where session musicians were hired to play the instrumental parts, enabling the band to focus on their vocal performances—was released on iTunes in 2009. 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 release two albums in 2012. Americana was composed almost entirely of covers of American folk music revival songs and singer-songwriter standards, while Psychedelic Pill featured original Neil Young songs written for the band. Neil Young and Crazy Horse toured 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.
With the addition of background singers Dorene Carter and YaDonna West, Young and Crazy Horse also embarked on a summer 2014 European tour following a solo Young American tour spanning the winter and spring. 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 "open rehearsal" concerts in Fresno, California and Bakersfield, California. Initially billed as Neil Young and Crazy Horse, the group (characterized by Young as the "Horse of a Different Color") ultimately performed as NYCH. According to Young, "Life is an unfolding saga [...] Poncho is unable to join us right now but we all hope he will be back." In 2021, Sampedro confirmed that he has 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. I just couldn’t slide my fingers the way I used to when I played those lines."
In February 2019, the Lofgren-era line-up performed two shows in Winnipeg. Its first album, Colorado, was credited to Neil Young and Crazy Horse and released in October 2019. The line-up's second album, Barn, is scheduled to be released on December 10, 2021.
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.
- Billy Talbot – bass, vocals (1968–present)
- Ralph Molina – drums, vocals (1968–present)
- Nils Lofgren – guitar, keyboards, vocals (1970–1971; 1973; 2018–present)
Past members who performed with Neil Young and Crazy Horse
- Danny Whitten – guitar, vocals (1968–1971; died 1972)
- Jack Nitzsche – keyboards, vocals (1970–1971; died 2000)
- Frank "Poncho" Sampedro – guitar, keyboards, mandolin, vocals (1975–1988; 1990–2001; 2003–2014)
Other past members
- George Whitsell – guitar, vocals (1971–1972)
- Greg Leroy – guitar, vocals (1971–1972; 1978 [guest])
- John Blanton – keyboards, harmonica, cello, vocals (1971–1972)
- Rick Curtis – guitar, banjo, vocals (1972)
- Michael Curtis – keyboards, guitar, mandolin, vocals (1972; 1978 [guest])
- Sonny Mone – rhythm guitar, vocals (1989)
- Matt Piucci – lead guitar, vocals (1989)
- Crazy Horse, Reprise 1971
- Loose, Reprise 1972
- At Crooked Lake, Epic 1972
- Crazy Moon, RCA 1978
- Left for Dead, Crazy Horse Recordings 1989/Sisapa/Curb (reissue) 1990
- Gone Dead Train: The Best of Crazy Horse 1971–1989, Raven 2005
- Scratchy: The Complete Reprise Recordings, Rhino Handmade 2005
- Trick Horse, 2009
Neil Young and Crazy Horse
- Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969)
- After the Gold Rush (1970) - credited to Neil Young; "Oh Lonesome Me", "When You Dance I Can Really Love" and "I Believe in You"
- Tonight's the Night (1975) - credited to Neil Young, with most tracks featuring Lofgren, Molina and Talbot as the Santa Monica Flyers; "Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown" (recorded live at the Fillmore East on March 7, 1970)
- Zuma (1975) - all songs except "Pardon My Heart" and "Through My Sails"
- American Stars 'n Bars (1977) - credited to Neil Young; all songs except "Star of Bethlehem" and "Will to Love"
- Comes a Time (1978) - credited to Neil Young; "Look Out for My Love" and "Lotta Love""
- Re·ac·tor (1981)
- Trans (1982) - credited to Neil Young; "We R in Control" and "Computer Cowboy (aka Syscrusher)"
- Life (1987)
- Ragged Glory (1990)
- Sleeps with Angels (1994)
- The Complex Sessions (EP, 1995, promo only)
- Broken Arrow (1996)
- Are You Passionate? (2002) - credited to Neil Young; "Goin' Home"
- Greendale (2003)
- Americana (2012)
- Psychedelic Pill (2012)
- Colorado (2019)
- Barn (2021)
- Rust Never Sleeps (1979) - "Powderfinger", "Welfare Mothers", "Sedan Delivery" and "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)
- Live Rust (live, 1979)
- Weld (live, 1991)
- Arc (live, 1991) - a 35-minute composite of feedback, guitar noise, and vocal fragments culled from endings of songs performed live
- Year of the Horse (live, 1997)
- Live at the Fillmore East (live, 2006; recorded Mar 6–7, 1970)
- Return to Greendale (live, 2020; recorded Sep 4, 2003)
- Way Down in the Rust Bucket (live, 2021; recorded Nov 13, 1990)
Neil Young and Crazy Horse on film and video
- Rust Never Sleeps (1979)
- Weld (1991)
- Sleeps With Angels (1994, promo only)
- 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
- Be the Rain (2004, promo only)
- Farm Aid 2003: A Soundstage Special Event (c. 2004)
- includes "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" live at the Germain Amptheater, Columbus, Ohio, 9/7/03
- A MusiCares Tribute to Bruce Springsteen (2014)
Billy Talbot solo
- Alive in the Spirit World (2004)
- On the Road to Spearfish (2013)
- She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Vanguard, 1971
- Head like a Rock, Ian McNabb, 1994 (on four songs only; without Sampedro)
- McDonough, Jimmy. Shakey: Neil Young's Biography (first Anchor Books edition, 2003)
- "Neil Young Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere Chart History". Billboard.com.
- McDonough, p. 337
- McDonough, p. 328
- McDonough, p. 322-23
- McDonough, p. 333-37
- McDonough, p. 387-88
- McDonough, p. 388
- McDonough, pp. 481–482
- McDonough, p. 723
- "Q&A: Crazy Horse's Frank Sampedro on 37 Years With Neil Young". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 14 December 2017.
- "Neil Young News: Review: Crazy Horse's Scratchy & Trick Horse". Neilyoungnews.thrasherswheat.org. Retrieved 14 December 2017.
- "Wolves". Billytalbot.com. Retrieved April 14, 2015.
- "Neil Young News: NYCH: Warnor Theater Marqee, Fresno, CA". Neilyoungnews.thrasherswheat.org.
- Greene, Andy (April 25, 2018). "Neil Young Plots New Crazy Horse Gigs With Nils Lofgren". Rolling Stone.
- Greene, Andy (2 March 2021). "Neil Young and Crazy Horse's Frank 'Poncho' Sampedro on New Live LP, Why He Left the Band". Rollingstone.com. Retrieved 21 August 2021.
- Danny Ray Whitten Website
- Allmusic Crazy Horse Page
- VH1 Crazy Horse artist page
- Thrasher's Wheat page for Crazy Horse & Neil Young
- Rhino Handmade page for Scratchy compilation
- McDonough, Jimmy. Shakey: Neil Young's Biography (first Anchor Books edition, 2003)
- Long, Pete. Ghost on the Road: Neil Young In Concert 1961-2006
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