Neil Young and Crazy Horse are returning after a four-year absence for a pair of shows at the Warnors Theater in Fresno, California on May 1st and May 2nd, but they’ll be playing without guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro for the first time since he joined the band in 1975. E Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren, who played on Crazy Horse’s debut LP in 1971, will take his place. Lofgren toured with Young in 1973 as part of the Santa Monica Flyers, which also included the Crazy Horse rhythm section of drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot. Young recently released the live LP Roxy: Tonight’s the Night Live recorded on that tour.
“Life is an unfolding saga,” Young wrote on his Neil Young archives newspaper The NYA Times-Contrarian. “A few months back we started talking about playing some remote clubs and getting our feet wet again. Poncho is unable to join us right now but we all hope he will be back … I think it will be the beginning of another beautiful chapter in our long, enriching and life changing Crazy Horse story.”
Lofgren – who is kicking off a UK tour in May 14th – briefly Tweeted about his surprise return to Crazy Horse after a near five-decade absence earlier this week. “Beyond honored,” he wrote. “Nothing like playing with old friends. A friend just reminded me, at this age you can’t coast.”
No reason was given for Poncho’s absence from the Fresno shows. In 2013, the group had to call a world tour short when a road manager accidentally slammed a tour bus door on Sampedro’s left hand. “When I looked at my fingers – from the tip of the fingernail to the cuticle – they were pointed straight up in the air,” he told Rolling Stone in 2014. “They were just smashed to death.” They returned to the road the following summer, though Talbot suffered a minor stroke and had to sit out the tour weeks before they were scheduled to begin. He was replaced by Rick Rosas, who died just months after it ended.
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In that same 2014 interview, Sampedro said he hoped that Crazy Horse would tour at least one more time. “I want to do a tour where we know it’s the last one and we can really say goodbye to all the people that have always been there for us,” he said. “I want to share a special moment with them. I realize that might just be me being wanting everything to work out the way it does in a Frank Capra movie.”
Plans for Neil Young and Crazy Horse beyond this pair of shows in Fresno is unclear, though Young has three festival dates booked later this year with Promise of the Real.