Crazy Horse Guitarist Frank 'Poncho' Sampedro: 'My Gut Tells Me This Is the Last Tour'

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You play on Trans. What are your memories of that project?
Well, that was a record where we did a lot of recording, and then Neil became involved with a program for his son Ben. He had to do a lot of physical activity with different nurses and helpers. He kind of got lost in time and couldn't have us there all the time. He ended up getting a synclavier and going back and overdubbing a lot of those tracks. A lot of times we weren't there for all that crazy stuff that went on. We came back up and listened to it and were like, "Wow, what did you do?" [Laughs]

Did you like it?
I liked that record. I was talking about doing "We R in Control." It would be fun trying to do that song now. I think we could play it really good.

Definitely. It was a bold move for Neil to record something so aggressively uncommercial. I guess he just doesn't give a shit about that though.
Nah. It's funny, we were having dinner before a show at catering recently. It was all of us and someone said, "You know what we need? A hit." We just started laughing really hard. I just came out at a funny time. All of us looked at each other and we laughed for about five minutes.

He jumped from one genre to the other in the 1980s – from new wave to rockabilly to country to blues. How did you feel about that as it was happening?
When I'm not working with Neil, I don't pay a lot of attention to what he's doing. I just try to enjoy myself and my own work. I look at it like that's the time where he's out there taking care of himself and his family and everything else, and that's what I should be doing.

In the late 1980s you played in his blues band the Bluenotes. You were switched over to keyboard. How did that all go down?

Neil called me for that and was like, "Come up and play. This is without Billy or Ralph. We got a horn section and this and that." I said, "Neil, you're not going to believe this, but I was pretend fighting with this girl. [Laughs] I went to block a kick and I stuck me hand down and she happened to kick my hand. I broke my finger and my thumb in my left hand. I don't think I'll be playing guitar for a while." He said, "Come up and play keyboard then. Use one hand and maybe use your thumb or something to hit the low notes." I really learned how to play keyboard on that tour. 

You guys were playing smaller halls and just doing the new material. It was a pretty bold move.
Oh yeah, that was a lot of fun. There's a double live album of Bluenote material. I can hardly wait for that. I had a copy of it on cassette at one point. I know I have it somewhere, but for the life of me I can't find it.

Was it a challenge playing shows composed solely of new songs. I imagine the audiences weren't too thrilled.
Most of the time it was pretty cool. We warmed up with a couple of smaller shows at bars. I remember one guy in the front just hollering in front of the stage going "Hey Hey, My My!" [Laughs] Neil went up to him and said, "How much did you pay for your ticket?" The guy told us and Neil reached into his pocket and gave the guy 20 bucks and said, "You can leave now." [Laughs]

He said, "Keep your ticket. It doesn't say Neil Young and Crazy Horse." Later on in the show we were really rockin' and everybody was going crazy, really into it. Neil said, "Hey, if anyone sees that guy out in the parking lot, let him back in."

Tell me the story of how you coined the phrase "Rockin' in the Free World."
We were on the road with the Los Dogs in 1989. I was riding on Neil's bus at the time. I was his cook on the bus, so we were hanging out 24/7. All this stuff was going down with the Ayatollah. I don't know if you remember that footage of them passing the casket along over the heads of thousand and thousands of people. 

There was a lot of "Hate America" demonstrations and we were supposed to do this exchange. We were going to Russia for the first time. It was a cultural exchange. They were getting us in exchange for the Russian Ballet. [Laughs] And it just fell through. Neil was like, "Damn, I really wanted to go." I said, "Me too. I guess we'll have to keep on rockin' in the free world." He was like, "Wow, that's a cool line." Then I said it again later and he said, "That's a really good phrase. I wanna use it."

He told me he was going to use it. We were checking into our hotel and the manager was like, "That's stuff going on with the Ayatollah and alI this turmoil in the world." I said, "There's a song there, man. Come on, get to it." [Laughs] The next day he came up to me and told me to check out this lyric sheet. I only questioned one of them. I think it was "Keep Hope Alive" or something. He said, "No, no, no. That's a good one." We just started signing it and he taught me the harmony part.  

That night we played it in Seattle. It was this cool theater. We didn't even rehearse it with the band. I was telling the chords to [bassist] Rick Rosas as we went along. 

The song gave Neil a lot of momentum, and when you launched the Weld tour in 1991 the entire band seemed reinvigorated.
Yeah, that was a lot of fun. That tour and the [1986] Live in a Rusted Out Garage tour kind of blur together in my head. I like that we brought back the big amps. We sold out everywhere and everyone was super accepting of the music we played. I can't remember anything bad happening on those tours.

The Year of the Horse documentary was shot on the next tour in 1996. Do you think it captured the band properly?
[Laughs] That's a funny question. Am I a fan of the movie? In a way, yes, and in a way, no. I think if people really think that's Crazy Horse . . . it's a pretty soft version of us. You don't really see what goes on. But then again, some stuff is so personal you don't want people to see it all. It would be like one of those weird reality shows. There's a lot more turmoil than what you see there, and intensity as well. 

But at the same time, it was good that Jim Jarmusch got us to do all those interviews. I never really watch it, but on the DVD they have some bonus footage of interview with us. It's the best group interview we ever did in our lives.  

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