As it is, it’s one of your least selling solo albums. Did you realize what you were sacrificing at the time?
I probably did. I imagine I could have come up with the perfect follow-up album. A real winner. But it would have been something that everybody was expecting. And when it got there they would have thought that they understood what I was all about and that would have been it for me. I would have painted myself in the corner. The fact is I’m not that lone, laid-back figure with a guitar. I’m just not that way anymore. I don’t want to feel like people expect me to be a certain way. Nobody expected Time Fades Away and I’m not sorry I put it out. I didn’t need the money, I didn’t need the fame. You gotta keep changing. Shirts, old ladies, whatever. I’d rather keep changing and lose a lot of people along the way. If that’s the price, I’ll pay it. I don’t give a shit if my audience is a hundred or a hundred million. It doesn’t make any difference to me. I’m convinced that what sells and what I do are two completely different things. If they meet, it’s coincidence. I just appreciate the freedom to put out an album like Tonight’s the Night if I want to.
You sound pretty drunk on that album.
I would have to say that’s the most liquid album I’ve ever made. [laughs] You almost need a life preserver to get through that one. We were all leaning on the ol’ cactus . . . and, again, I think that it’s something people should hear. They should hear what the artist sounds like under all circumstances if they want to get a complete portrait. Everybody gets fucked up, man. Everybody gets fucked up sooner or later. You’re just pretending if you don’t let your music get just as liquid as you are when you’re really high.
Is that the point of the album?
No. No. That’s the means to an end. Tonight’s the Night is like an OD letter. The whole thing is about life, dope and death. When we [Nils Lofgren, guitars and piano, Talbot, Molina and Young] played that music we were all thinking of Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry, two close members of our unit lost to junk overdoses. The Tonight’s the Night sessions were the first time what was left of Crazy Horse had gotten together since Danny died. It was up to us to get the strength together among us to fill the hole he left. The other OD, Bruce Berry, was CSNY’s roadie for a long time. His brother Ken runs Studio Instrument Rentals, where we recorded the album. So we had a lot of vibes going for us. There was a lot of spirit in the music we made. It’s funny, I remember the whole experience in black and white. We’d go down to S.I.R. about 5:00 in the afternoon and start getting high, drinking tequila and playing pool. About midnight, we’d start playing. And we played Bruce and Danny on their way all through the night. I’m not a junkie and I won’t even try it out to check out what it’s like . . . but we all got high enough, right out there on the edge where we felt wide-open to the whole mood. It was spooky. I probably feel this album more than anything else I’ve ever done.
Why did you wait until now to release Tonight’s the Night? Isn’t it almost two years old?
I never finished it. I only had nine songs, so I set the whole thing aside and did On the Beach instead. It took Elliot [manager Elliot Roberts] to finish Tonight’s the Night. You see, awhile back there were some people who were gonna make a Broadway show out of the story of Bruce Berry and everything. They even had a script written. We were putting together a tape for them and in the process of listening back on the old tracks, Elliot found three even older songs that related to the trip, “Lookout Joe,” “Borrowed Tune” and “Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown,” a live track from when I played the Fillmore East with Crazy Horse. Danny even sings lead on that one. Elliot added those songs to the original nine and sequenced them all into a cohesive story. But I still had no plans whatsoever to release it. I already had another new album called Homegrown in the can. The cover was finished and everything. [laughs] Ah, but they’ll never hear that one.
I’ll tell you the whole story. I had a playback party for Homegrown for me and about ten friends. We were out of our minds. We all listened to the album and Tonight’s the Night happened to be on the same reel. So we listened to that too, just for laughs. No comparison.