Flashback: Neil Young Emerges as the 'Godfather of Grunge' in 1991 - Rolling Stone
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Flashback: Neil Young Emerges as the ‘Godfather of Grunge’ in 1991

Watch an hour of footage from his “Smell the Horse” tour with Crazy Horse

In October of 1990, Neil Young spoke to Rolling Stone about his upcoming North American arena tour with Crazy Horse. “I’m tired of the sponsored sheds,” he said. “I want to do a straight-ahead thing and play the arenas with the echoing, thundering sound of the Horse.… I try to savor those times that I play with Crazy Horse, and I space them out so that we don’t wear ourselves out.”

He then proceeded to book a grueling 53-date tour that nearly caused the band to break up. As recounted in Jimmy McDonough’s indispensable Young biography, Shakey, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina were nearly driven insane by the fact that guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro got to travel on Young’s bus and cook for him every night, while the frontman focused obsessively on his investment in Lionel Trains.

“This is gettin’ to be like CSN fuckin’ Y with the separate buses,” Molina screamed at Young one night. “If fuckin’ Frank stops thinkin’ about pork chops and if you stop thinkin’ about trains, we could start playin’ some fuckin’ music!”

The fans, of course, had no idea any of this was going on. What they saw was an absolutely stunning show, featuring the enormous stage props from the Rust Never Sleeps tour and a set list that focused on tunes from that era along with selections from Ragged Glory and Freedom, albums that presaged the grunge movement with their raging feedback and sociopolitical outrage. Sonic Youth opened up many dates on the tour, and during the course of the long odyssey a new group from Seattle decided to change their name from Mookie Blaylock to Pearl Jam and Nirvana debuted a new song called “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Soon enough, the press began calling Young the “Godfather of Grunge.”

The “Smell the Horse” tour was captured on the live album Weld, which was also briefly available on VHS and even Laser Disc. Those have been out of print for a good two decades, but some kind soul has uploaded the concert to YouTube. Here’s the first hour of the show, featuring “Cinnamon Girl,” “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),” “Crime in the City,” “Fuckin’ Up” and other classics. It would make for an incredible DVD, but considering we’re still waiting on that second box set, don’t count on seeing it anytime soon. Certain things move very, very slowly in Neil Young land.


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