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Q&A: Crazy Horse's Frank 'Poncho' Sampedro on 37 Years With Neil Young

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There definitely is something about the sound of you four playing together. I've heard "Cinnamon Girl" by countless bands, but nobody does it like you guys.
It's the truth. I mean even when I see CSNY do it, they do a pretty good version but it's still not the same … Let me ask you something. Do you think Neil is going to go out with Crosby, Stills and Nash again?

He's a hard guy to predict, but they haven't toured Europe with Neil since the early 1970s. They'd make a killing over there. But who knows?
Well I always say, "Neil doesn't turn corners, he ricochets around them. So you just have to hold on to your hat." [Laughs] But a lot of the solo acoustic stuff he did is really tasty stuff.

It's amazing. I think he's best either solo acoustic, or playing with you guys … the Buffalo Springfield situation was a bummer. Richie Furay said they were going to do 30 dates. But things change when it comes to Neil.
Yeah. All my friends are calling now because of these tour announcements. They're going, "Can we see you here?" And I'm going, "That's in October. I kind of don't feel like saying anything till I have a ticket in my hand."

But the shows are already on sale. He can't back out now.
One thing you have to take into consideration, and I hate to say this, but our age … we're older. Any one of us could trip and hit our head on the stairwell or something. 

True … Well, try and be careful.
I'm trying to. Since I started thinking about being careful, I squished my finger on a workout bench. And then I cut myself. I go, "Poncho just don't think about anything and everything will be cool."

It has to be a little frustrating that Neil has so much control over your life.
Well, that's one thing that's a little bit different with me than the other two guys from Crazy Horse. Early on, I had my heart broken. We were supposed to go on a big tour and do all this stuff. I think this was 1976. And he ended up going out with Stills-Young Band. And that tour he bailed on, too.  We were ready to go. We had our own record almost finished and it was gonna be coming out, and were gonna be doing a tour with his record, our record. It was gonna be a big deal, and then it was just over. I got a call from [Neil's manager] Elliot [Roberts] saying, "Neil's going out with Stephen. Good luck. Bye." [Laughs] I was heartbroken. But I just went out that day and started hitting up my friends and got some work. I just always never waited, I always got another job. I always tried to find something to do. 

But Billy and Ralph…
They really do wait and anticipate. I think it drives them nuts. But even working at the Tonight Show was something I thought maybe would last one or two years, maybe three. I remember when Kevin was playing behind Branford Marsalis when he joined the Tonight Show. Neither one of us had a gig that lasted over three months. So there we were; we were kinda waiting for it to fold, but three years in, we kind of realized we were gonna be here for a while. And we ended up calling it the golden handcuff gig. Because you wanna leave, but the money's so good you just can't.

Tell me more about the follow-up to Americana that you guys are working on.
That's a pretty exciting record. It's really us, and it's no covers, and we're jamming and having a lot of fun. So I can hardly wait for that one to be done and come out. 

Were the songs just written there in the studio?
That first one I told you about earlier, he kind of had a little sketch of it in his head. After we recorded it, he filled in the sketch. And the next ones, I think he was a little more diligent. Before we played them, he had it more organized and he actually had a structure for us to follow. Some of them start off with just a jam. And then all of a sudden, he starts singing.  It's like, "Wow, this is a song."

What's it like recording without David Briggs? Has that been a big change? [Young's longtime producer, David Briggs, died in 1995.]
Andy, man, you're pulling stuff out of me! I was holding this back. I don't know if I should say this, but the new record – not Americana – whatever they're calling this new record … I think that David will be proud of it. It's really more along the lines of something we would have done with David.

Once David was gone, I felt like we kind of lost our compass a little bit. We had the sound and we had the big machine, and we could play anything and play pretty good, but we weren't putting any great records together. I mean, Broken Arrow was okay. It wasn't like Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere or Rust Never Sleeps or Ragged Glory

Do you think that was because Neil and David were so close, and David wasn't afraid to challenge Neil and really push him?
Definitely. I can remember nights where we'd be playing and thinking, "We're playing our asses off," and then David would come in and go, "Gee, that's pretty good if you want to have people hear you noodling." [Laughs] Or he'd say to Neil, "I guess you're tired tonight. Maybe you should try to sing the vocals some other time."

Are there people in Neil's life now that can do that?
When I'm playing and everything, I don't really have it together to make comments like that because I'm so lost in what we're doing. It's hard being a producer. All of us tried to take on a little bit of David's job. But we sucked at it. We're musicians. We're not producers. We can't hear the overall picture like he could. He had a deep-seated rock & roll heart, and he never let us get away with anything.

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