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

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Neil brought you guys back into the studio in 2000 to cut an album called Toast. What happened there? It never came out.
Everybody got sick. [Laughs] We were recording the album and really playing pretty good. Then we went on this tour of South America right in the middle of it. One of them was Rock in Rio. It was a huge amount of people, like 300,000 or something. The audience was going wild and it really inspired us. We did "Like a Hurricane" and they were humming the melody the whole time like a soccer chant. It just blew us away. I looked over and saw Neil and he was gone. He just threw his head up in the air and was just playing guitar. It was gigantic. All of us remember it.

Then we came home and went back into Toast. Everything we tried to play, we kind of played Latin style. [Laughs] We got confused down there. I don't mean we didn't know how to play our instruments or we didn't know what we were doing or Toast is shit, but all of a sudden we were going in different directions. We just weren't in the same place as when we left. We kept playing and recorded some things, but it just didn't work out.

The one song you released from those sessions, "Goin' Home," is absolutely fantastic though.
Yeah, I love that song.

I spoke to Neil about five years ago and he was super excited about Toast. He said he had big plans for a release, but it obviously didn't happen.
I remember during the making of Sleeps With Angels I found myself in the studio without the rest of the band. All of a sudden, here comes [Warner Bros. Records chairman] Mo Ostin and his son Michael with some other cats. They had nobody to talk to besides me, and they basically cornered me and said, "When are the archives coming out?" He was talking about them coming out that Christmas [of 1994.] I said, "As far as I know, man, he's all over it. He says he's got it ready. It's really coming out." And here we are.

He did finally release that first box set a few years ago, but imagine part two is still a ways away. I feel like he lost interest.
Do you think Volume Two will have Bluenotes material?

I think that's Volume Three. I think Volume Two will be 1973 to 1979. It's a real big six years.
I remember once a long time ago, someone around the studio said there's 154 unreleased songs.

What's your favorite song you guys never released?
Well, take "Surfer Joe & Moe the Sleaze." We just did that song in Australia. Afterwards Neil was going, "That was really cool." I said, "What happened to the verse that went, 'You remember my sister Flo and something about the boardwalk and a ferris wheel.'" He was like, "Oh yeah! That's the greatest verse!" Then we listen to the record and it's not on the record either.

You ever hear the song "Eldorado?"

Yeah, I love that song.
Crazy Horse did a few versions of it that I really like. Those never came out. 

Oh man, check this out! When we played "Cortez the Killer" in Australia the power suddenly went out in Billy's amp and mine. We were standing there and Neil was just playing it by himself with drums. We lost power on one side of the stage and we just kept it going. I walked over and said, "You're on your own brother. I have no power."

We kept going and the power came back on and we finished it. We were talking afterwards and Tim Mulligan said, "I loved that out there. I thought it was kind of like when we made the record." (A power outage during the recording of "Cortez the Killer" cut off the final verse.) 

After the release of Are You Passionate? in 2002, there was a brief tour where the backing band was called Poncho and the MGs. Why was it so quick?

We recorded in the studio and it went really well, even though it was a little intimidating. We went on the road in Europe and Neil got really sick. He was just so bummed. I remember I was in his room with him and Pegi after the night we cancelled. He was actually beating himself up. "Why me? Why does this have to happen? Everything sounds so good." I don't know what happened after that. We went home and that was over.

He released Greendale in 2003 under the name Neil Young and Crazy Horse, but you don't play on the album. Did that bother you? 

Well, it depends how you look at it. [Laughs] I didn't mind that I wasn't on the album, but at the same time that was a turning point for me. They ended up calling it a Crazy Horse record. I was like, "Alright, then I'm not in the band." They used me on the tour. I don't think they used me so wisely. I just sat there and played a few notes on a keyboard. I guess I was just there to play a few of their hits at the end. 

After that, we didn't play again for eight or nine years. That whole time I felt like I wasn't really in the band. It separated us in a way, but at the same time it gave me a place where I could feel independent and I gathered strength from that. I feel a lot stronger playing with Neil, and the whole band concept, to me, doesn't mean as much as it used to. 

I'm not saying that I don't love the band, but I'm just saying . . . if you want to look at it black and white, I was out of the band.

Well, you were on the tour.
Well, it depends how you look at it. [Laughs] I never had a thought of, "Oh, I don't want to play with them. They dissed me." None of that came to my head. But when I went to play with them again I said, "OK, I have to bring enough to the table to be independently accepted as me and not as part of the band. I have to make 'me' happen If I want to keep this gig." 

The wait after the Greendale tour was the longest ever. Did you ever think it was done forever?
No. A lot of people thought that and asked me about that, even my friends. I said, "No, we'll play again. At least one more time." I had no idea it would be for two or three years in a row. [Laughs]

When he gets into something, he really gets into it.
So when do you think this will be over?

I don't know. I can see you guys doing this in your early seventies. Why not?
No, come on. We're going to tour Europe. We already did the States and Canada. When we come back, what are we going to do? 

I think maybe you'll do another leg sometime in September or October in America. Right?
Yeah, I think so too. Something like that toward the end of the year. But I guess they're planning . . . there will probably be a live album. And then what? 

Hard to say. He might want to revive that Buffalo Springfield reunion.
Yeah. He also might want to go out and with Crosby, Stills and Nash again.

Yeah. They haven't played in Europe since a single gig in 1974.
I can't remember why they didn't go to Europe. I guess it's because they became so popular here during the period of political unrest with the Vietnam War and everything, and it wasn't so big in Europe.

Is there serious talk of the current tour coming back to America in the fall?
There's been talk since the beginning of coming back. It's on again, off again, on again, off again. No one's mentioned a date yet. Until I start hearing dates, they're probably not booking it yet. So, I don't know. It's just an idea.

Tell me about playing "Born in the USA" at the MusiCares Springsteen tribute this year.

It was a lot of fun playing with Nils Lofgren. I just never imagined myself playing that song, and I haven't played it since. But it was pretty rockin.' Neil wasn't born in the USA. He was born in Canada, so he delegated us to sing the choruses. I kind of dominated as the lead singer of the choruses, so I got to have fun. I got to pretend I was Bruce. That was my moment in the sun.

You guys did a rare acoustic set at the Bridge School Benefit last year.
I wasn't a fan of that show. I don't think we spent enough time getting a good guitar sound. It sounded when we played together in a room, but on stage we weren't feeling the guitars enough to really project. But I liked the ending with Lukas Nelson.

I know you worked for Jay Leno at The Tonight Show for all those years. Are you surprised that Jimmy Fallon is going to take over and bring the show back to New York next year?
That's such a corporate thing. They've got a five-year plan, a 10-year plan. I remember when Jimmy Fallon first came to our studio there. I saw the heads of Late Night just huddling around him like he was a newborn child. That was a long time ago, but look what happened? He got the show. He's the young face to America. That's what they want. 

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