Frank "Poncho" Sampedro (born February 25, 1949) is an American guitarist and member of the rock band Crazy Horse, known mainly for his longtime collaboration with singer-songwriter Neil Young. Sampedro has also played and recorded with Young in many other configurations aside from Crazy Horse, and has co-writing credit on several Young songs, most notably the 1989 anthem “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Out of all Young’s musical collaborators (aside from the late Ben Keith), Sampedro has proved perhaps the most adept at working with the mercurial artist. “Most people turn a corner, Neil ricochets,” says Sampedro.
Born in a mining camp in Welch, West Virginia and raised in Detroit, Sampedro started playing guitar at age 11. “I saw this kid from my neighborhood walking down the street holding a guitar. I said, “Where’d you get that?” He said, “I’m taking lessons…if you take lessons with me, we get a cheaper price…We only have to pay a buck-sixty-five and they give you the guitars.” “I’m in!” That’s how it all started and it’s never stopped since.” He played in local Detroit bands like DC and The Coachmen and The Chessmen ("We were bad, man. More like a gang than a band," recalled Sampedro) until he left home at sixteen for California.
Sampedro joined Neil Young and Crazy Horse in 1975 to record Zuma. He was introduced to the band by Billy Talbot in November 1974, exactly two years after the death of original Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten. "Poncho was a resource to be reckoned with. He made it possible to play with the Horse," said Young later.
With the addition of Sampedro on rhythm guitar, Crazy Horse developed a new, bashing, hard-rock sound (as opposed to the more free-form approach of the Whitten era) that served as a seminal influence in the development of grunge and noise rock while also enabling Neil Young to focus more on his lead playing.
Sampedro brought a rawer edge to the Horse, and not just musically. "Rock n' roll--I thought that meant Loot the Village and Rape the Women," said Sampedro. On a wild 1976 tour of Europe and Japan, Poncho (along with another member of the Horse) took LSD before stepping onstage in Tokyo, at the Budokan. "I'd hit the strings of my guitar --they were like eighty different colors--and they bounced off the floors and hit the ceiling. Describing this period with Sampedro, Young confessed “we did a lot of illegal things.”
The Sampedro version of the Horse would contribute to Young’s next two albums and be the backing band for his acclaimed 1979 album Rust Never Sleeps, as well as the subsequent movie of the tour. That same year Crazy Horse put out their own album 'Crazy Moon' (which featured six songs written or co-written by Sampedro). The Horse was also present for Young’s 'Re-ac-tor' (1981) and 'Trans' (1982) and Life (1987).
As Young moved on to other projects and other bands in the late eighties, Sampedro remained. His importance to Young’s work at the time was such that Young's co-producer Niko Bolas stated at the time, “You can’t do a Neil Young album without Poncho …there’s no one thing he does, but if he wasn’t there it’d come apart.”
Sampedro played on the 1987 This Note’s for You album and subsequent tour (the live recordings from that tour were finally released as Bluenote Café, a double-CD album in 2015) and contributed heavily to Young’s critically acclaimed 1989 “comeback” album, Freedom. On the September 30, 1989, broadcast of Saturday Night Live, Sampedro (alongside drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Charlie Drayton) backed up Young for “Rockin’ in the Free World,” regarded by critics as one of the greatest live rock television performances of all time. (The band, said one writer, looked like a “like a bunch of car thieves.” Sampedro also accompanied Young on mandolin and piano on the subsequent solo tour, including an acclaimed concert at the Hammersmith Odeon on December 12, 1989.
In 1990, Crazy Horse returned for Young’s 1990 album Ragged Glory and the albums recorded on the following tour, Weld and Arc. Young then used the Horse for Sleeps with Angels and Broken Arrow. Sampedro's proficiency in emerging computer technology allowed him to cultivate a second career. He worked as an engineer on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno under bandleader Kevin Eubanks running the ensemble's MIDI board as well as being an assistant/project manager to Eubanks.
In 1997, Crazy Horse was featured on Young’s live Year of the Horse album, and Sampedro’s appearance in Jim Jarmusch’s documentary of the same name led San Francisco Examiner critic to state “the funniest parts” of the movie “are when guitarist Frank ‘Poncho’ Sampedro repeatedly berates the director…Sampedro accuses Jarmusch of trying to make "an artsy-fartsy film" to try to look cool and "impress his New York friends."
Sampedro sat out the Crazy Horse-recorded 2003’s Greendale but returned for the tour. Trick Horse, a collection of previously unreleased non-Young Crazy Horse recordings pseudonymously produced by Sampedro as "Poncho Villa" was released on iTunes in 2009. In 2012, the Horse not only played on Young’s eccentric album of covers, Americana, but Psychedelic Pill, with Sampedro playing rhythm guitar and occasional keyboards, for the 2012-2014 tours.
Sampedro, who had retired from The Tonight Show in 2010 after eighteen and a half years, moved to Hawaii and studied with the esteemed Korean agricultural expert Master Cho for a degree in Natural Farming. Sampedro told Rolling Stone in 2014 that he now concentrates on “gardening and working with different farmers here …I love going swimming here and snorkeling and kayaking and checking out the whales and the dolphins… in one way I’ve retired from a certain world, but I haven’t stopped working a day.”
As a member of Crazy Horse:
- Crazy Moon (1978)
- Gone Dead Train: The Best of Crazy Horse 1971-1989 (2005)
- Scratchy: The Complete Reprise Recordings (2005)
- Trick Horse (2009)
As a member of Neil Young & Crazy Horse:
- Zuma (1975)
- Rust Never Sleeps (1979)
- Live Rust (live, 1979)
- Re·ac·tor (1981)
- Life (1987)
- Ragged Glory (1990)
- Arc/Weld (live, 1991)
- Sleeps With Angels (1994)
- Broken Arrow (1996)
- Year of the Horse (live, 1997)
- Americana (2012)
- Psychedelic Pill (2012)
Contributions to other Neil Young albums:
- American Stars 'N Bars (1977)
- Comes A Time (1978)
- Trans (1982)
- This Note's For You (1988)
- Freedom (1989)
- Are You Passionate? (2002)
- Chrome Dreams II (2007)
- Bluenote Café (2015)
- Rust Never Sleeps (1978)
- WELD (1991)
- Year of the Horse (1997)
- Rock House (2009)
Contributions to records by other artists:
- Glimmer, Kevin Salem's second solo album from 1996 (guitar);
- Harlem, a Shawn Amos album released in 2000 (guitar).
- Bonner, Michael. “A Long Interview with Frank Poncho Sampedro,” Uncut, December 19, 2014. http://www.uncut.co.uk/blog/the-view-from-here/a-long-interview-with-neil-young-guitarist-poncho-sampedro-most-people-turn-a-corner-neil-ricochets-823#HtGC2ZAediMypbhp.99
- Atkinson, Brian T. “Founding Guitarist Frank ‘Poncho’ Sampedro Talks Special Thing that is Crazy Horse, Working with Neil Young and, of course, the Jam.” http://www.austin360.com/news/entertainment/music/founding-guitarist-frank-poncho-sampedro-talks-spe/nSYQW/
- McDonough, Jimmy (2002). Shakey: Neil Young's Biography. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-679-42772-8. OCLC 47844513, p. 478
- McDonough, Shakey, p. 490
- McDonough, Shakey, p. 477
- McDonough, Shakey, p. 496.
- McDonough, Shakey, p. 490.
- McDonough, Shakey, p. 478.
- McDonough, Shakey, p. 638.
- “Young, Crazy Horse Ride High in Jarmusch Film,” San Francisco Examiner, October 31, 1997. http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Young-Crazy-Horse-ride-high-in-Jarmusch-film-3092604.php
- Green, Andy. “Neil Young Guitarist Poncho Sampedro Wants One Last Crazy Horse Tour,” Rolling Stone, September 5, 2014. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/neil-young-guitarist-poncho-sampedro-wants-one-last-crazy-horse-tour-20140905#ixzz3mNd5J3ts
- An interview with Neil Young in which he discusses his and Crazy Horse's equipment choices.