Flashback: Neil Young & Crazy Horse Rock Japan In 1976
Crazy Horse guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro will never forget the group’s March 1976 tour of Japan. He’d only joined the band a few months earlier during the recording sessions for Zuma, and prior to boarding the plane to Japan his only live experience with Young came during a handful of California bar shows in December of 1975. He suddenly found himself playing to enormous, screaming crowds all over Japan. For someone who was merely a fan of Neil Young the previous year, the entire experience was beyond surreal.
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The sixth stop of the tour was at Tokyo’s Budokan Hall, and Young hired a film crew to tape the two-night stand. Nobody bothered to tell Poncho, and he dropped a bunch of acid before going onstage one of the nights. “I couldn’t even look up,” he told author Jimmy McDonough. “I was so high. I’d hit the strings of my guitar — they were like eight different colors — and they bounced off the floors and hit the ceiling.”
Here’s an incredible recording of “Cowgirl In The Sand” from one of the two Budokan shows. It’s unclear whether or not this is the LSD gig, but Poncho certainly sounds like he’s on his game. Most of this footage remains in the vault, though some of it surfaced in the 1997 Jim Jarmusch documentary Year of the Horse.
The 1976 Neil Young and Crazy Horse tour was supposed to hit America in the summer, but Young began playing with Stephen Stills when he returned home and decided the abandon The Horse in order to form the Stills-Young Band. They recorded an LP very quickly and hit the road, though after just eighteen dates Young decided he had enough. He couldn’t even face Stills to tell him the news. Instead, he wrote this now famous letter: “Dear Stephen, funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach, Neil.”
He wrapped up the year by touring America with a very relieved Crazy Horse. It ended November 24th in Atlanta, Georgia. They played two marathon shows that night, and when it wrapped Young flew cross country so he could play with the Band at The Last Waltz in San Francisco. It’s no wonder he needed a little pick-me-up to get through the show, though Martin Scorsese was nice enough to remove the evidence from his nose during the editing process.
After the incredibly tumultuous year where he was virtually never home, Young took it very easy in 1977, only playing bar gigs around Santa Cruz with his short-lived band the Ducks.