You never know what musical left turn Neil Young might take and earlier this year, the classic rocker got back together with Crazy Horse, the garage rock band with which he first started collaborating in 1969. First, the band released Americana, its first studio effort in almost a decade, and later this month, it’ll issue Psychedelic Pill, an album that, as its title implies, features extended garage rock jams. Guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampredo talked about why being back in Neil Young’s camp has been a good thing and why he doesn’t feel Crazy Horse needs to do any more albums on its own. Young and Crazy Horse play the Wolstein Center at 7:30 p.m. on Monday. Infantree and Los Lobos open, and tickets are $47.50-$103.
“This tour has been more fun than ever,” he says via phone from a tour stop in Windsor, Ontario. “Other interviewers have asked what its like working with Neil now that he’s straight. I can’t say that getting high made it worse, and I don’t know what drove him to get straight. Whatever it is that happened, everything is really positive. He has a book coming out and movies coming out and records coming out. He has movies coming out. He has a big smile on his face. He’s working really hard all the time. There’s no fighting the record label. Everything is moving in a positive direction. It all trickles down so when you listen to Americana and Psychedelic Pill, you can hear that we are having a good time.”
Sampredo didn’t actually get off to a great start with Young and Crazy Horse, whom he first met in the early ’70s.
“I was such an idiot,” he says of his initial meeting with Neil, which included an impromptu jam. “I did not have a clue that the next day [after jamming] we would be in the studio playing these same songs. I wasn’t in that world at the time. I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t recognize it and I was just a naïve junkie sitting there thinking, ‘I’m playing with Neil Young. Cool.’”
Eventually, things got on track and Young and Crazy Horse delivered classics in 1975’s Zuma and 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps. Heavily criticized for their lack of musicianship, the guys in Crazy Horse don’t pretend to be consummate players. Rather, they work off their emotions and let Young do the driving.
“I just play straight up rhythm and get a big groove and let Neil ride the wave,” explains Sampredo. “All that stuff is really cool but it’s not that important. That’s like saying, ‘Look at me’ instead of driving the song through the roof.”
Sampredo says that’s why he doesn’t feel like making Crazy Horse albums without Young.
“The thing we have with Neil is a diamond in the rough. It’s this really beautiful thing that’s really special and if we keep trying to do Crazy Horse stuff that isn’t up to snuff, it will deteriorate what we have with Neil," he says. "Emotionally, it breaks my heart to put all my stuff out there and only sell ten copies. I just thought, 'Wait a minute. If you’re a millionaire, do you buy lottery tickets?' No. We’re rockers in this great rock band with Neil Young. Do we really have to do something else? Even though Neil doesn’t use us that much, in a lot of ways that’s a blessing in disguise. We play with this great guy and make great records and then we get years off when we can do whatever we want to do. [Bassist] Billy [Talbot] and [drummer] Ralph [Molina] want to make music all the time. I told them they could find someone to replace me but I can’t do that. It breaks my heart.”
So after these two albums, does that mean Crazy Horse will back Young on his next album?
“It’s funny. We did Americana and then this record and things were so slamming, it was insane,” says Sampredo. “He played back 'Ramada Inn' and 'Walk Like a Giant.' Those were the first two I heard. I cried during 'Ramada Inn' and 'Walk Like a Giant' blew my mind. I said, 'Why should we stop now? Let’s do a third record now.' Neil just said, 'Poncho, you can’t get greedy.' There’s a guy who has a good vision of the future. I’m a minute to minute guy and really don’t know what’s going on. But if you invite me to the party, I’ll come and have a good time.”