EXCLUSIVE: Crazy Horse Drummer Ralph Molina Interview
Crazy Horse on Australia 2013 Tour
Neil, Poncho, Billy & Ralph
Photo by Robert (Stringman) Sampimon
(Click photo to enlarge)
In an exclusive for Thrasher's Wheat, here is a recent interview with Crazy Horse's drummer Ralph Molina.
The Q&A session with Ralph came about after this past Spring's Neil Young and Crazy Horse Australia/New Zealand Tour. Aussie rusties Tony Maplestone, Robert (Stringman) Sampimon & Karen (Kaz) Webb had quite a bit of interaction with Ralph during the tour through Facebook and also on stage. Kaz managed to get 4 drumsticks from Ralph!! :) Also some of the guys went backstage after the Sydney shows and gave Neil and the Horse some Aussie made t-shirts.
A few days after the tour Tony Maplestone was chatting to Ralph to thank him for the great tour. This was just after Poncho's interview with Rolling Stone where he mentioned that this might have been the last tour. Evidently Ralph didn't agree, so Tony and Robert had the idea of compiling 20 odd questions from the Aussie Rusties and getting Ralph to answer them. Ralph preferred doing the interview via fax so we didn't get a chance to do follow up questions. Hence it is quite short but interesting to compare and contrast.
Q: "What's it like recording at Broken Arrow? Do you stay there? Do Neil and Pegi cook and feed you all and is it a real homely atmosphere or does Neil keep his private life away from the recording studio"?
Ralph Molina: Recording at "Broken Arrow" is awesome! We prefer recording in "garages, living rooms, Barns". I don't like studios! The Ranch and places I mentioned are not "sterile". Neil has the producer/engineer at all times keep the "tape" rolling!
The Ranch is so much more "cozy homey".
We have a "cook" at the Ranch whenever we are there - Linda is her name. We've had others but she's the cook now - awesome.
Our "private lives" are an open book, known each other a looong time.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Adelaide, AUS, 3/5/13
(Click photo to enlarge)
Q: On the ALCHEMY tour of Australia there was general admission standing at every venue. There was a lot of interaction between those standing & the band during each show. Did this format affect the way the band performed at each venue, as it seemed you were all enjoying yourselves immensely?
Ralph: The only way it affects us, or any other band, is that it is awesome having the audience/fans standing, dancing, rockin' with us. It helps to interact with each other which we love. It makes us even "looser"; the fans "looser". We're all part of each other; the band, the fans.
We were totally enjoying ourselves, totally.
Q: In the concerts we've been seeing down in Oz with at least four of the songs being over 10 mins long, extending out to nearly 23 mins, does playing songs for that length of time cause any injuries and if so, what do you guys do to lesson the chances of serious long term problems?
Ralph: Lordy, we've been playing songs like that forever. We love to jam, extend the songs.
I love when Neil has the chance to play his long, soulful solos, that's what makes us get off!
We just stay in shape, we exercise, eat good, stopped the messing around (if you know what I mean).
I've been asked by younger bands, "How are we still playing? Where do we get our energy?".
I tell them, "If you want the longevity, lose your egos and realise what you have to do, to last as long, you have to make changes".
I don't believe we will have any long term problems. We "think good, live good, take care of ourselves and love each other".
Q: On the "Road" what "Riders" do you request these days..have the requests gotten more elaborate over the years or have you all gone back to basics?
Ralph: No we don't have any elaborate requests on our "riders". Just no junk, plenty of water, fruit, salads, it's pretty basic. Like us.
Q: I always wanted to know what they all do when they are not playing with Neil...is that a good enough question..i.e. do they do session work or what...I know Billy has one album, but does he do other stuff and apart from Ralph growing veggies what does he do....I heard Barbara bakes cookies for the school kids...but what do they do musically!!
Ralph: When we are not playing, we do what you do, live normal lives. I play with my friends, Sometimes we play at my house; George Whitsell, Sonny More, Phil Lee and others, we just jam.
I've done some playing with Billy, on any projects he may have. We stay in touch with each other.
Play; Think Music mentally; it's what we do!
I've written some songs which I hope to record.
We just stay ready for what may come.
Perth Arena, Perth, Australia - 3-2-2013
Photo via Perth Arena on Twitter
Q: Has there been anything planned for putting down another album other than a live version of this tour?? Has Neil been writing during touring (ie. Hole In The Sky)?
Ralph: Well yes, "Hole In The Sky". I'm sure he (Neil) is writing and if he wants to record with us any other new songs, that's what will happen.
Right now we are concentrating on the NOW!
Q: Have they ever considered issuing USB concerts after the show like others are now doing ?
Ralph: Everything is considered! USB concerts? Time will tell.
Q: I know Neil often suggests to the guys to play like this or try that however do they in turn tell Neil to try this or that or do they not interfere with Neil’s creative?
Ralph: Neil doesn't do much "telling" of what to play, nor do we. Any suggestions by him or us will never interfere with "creativity". We'll ask each other, we suggest but don't "tell" each other.
Telling interferes, suggesting doesn't, it's co-existing. We don't mind suggestions, neither doe Neil. (That's) why we're together.
Q: I want to know about the Danny Whitten era Fillmore footage !! and what outtakes of alternative versions are there from everybody knows this is nowhere and after the goldrush
Ralph: Danny Whitten era? All I know are happy times, for the most part, the majority of it.
Only footage I know of are the "Scopitone Songs", the Fillmore East footage. Before the Horse we didn't do much, if any, filming.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Albuquerque, NM, Aug 3, 2012
Photo by Steve Snowden/Getty Images North America
Q: After each show do you guys like to dissect it and think about what you could have done differently. On listening to the songs of PP on the Australian leg of the tour, each night I noticed there were lots of differing little changes occurring, from all you guys. Was that a conscious effort to bring more life to the songs, or have the songs just naturally evolved, and will they keep evolving or are you all happy with how they sound now?
Ralph: To me recording and playing live are different! Right, there are times you do some dissecting while in the dressing room after shows. I call it locker room talk.
Recording , you don't have any fans, live obviously you do.
It's like an actor, they love to film and act but it's when they get on a live stage, they love more.
I don't believe we make any conscious effort to bring more life into the songs. It's natural, it's like there's the adrenaline (of) the fans, you play for them.
Yes, of course songs are always evolving, songs like "Cinnamon Girl" don't really evolve but the anthems do "Danger Bird" etc. They will keep evolving, each show you are different, the music will too.
Q: What I want to know is the band dynamics. On one hand they are effectively session players. Neil writes the songs, they play as instructed. On the other hand he obviously writes certain songs with them in mind, he has referred to them in YOTH as a true band (check the intro section), they look like a band on stage. Do they have any input into the shape of the song? does he tell them what he wants it to sound like or do they play and see how it goes?
Ralph: Band dynamics? Session players? Are you talking about us? lol
We're "feel" players, all of us! The arts of all arts is feeling. I'd rather look ugly playing with feel then pretty reading a chart. It doesn't matter who writes the songs, again suggestions may be made, that's it.
He doesn't tell us what he wants the song to sound like. Geez what a question.
If you want the "magic feel" you don't instruct someone. You (as Neil does) let them play. Put their own feel into the song. If you instruct you restrict and you are not going to get that.
We play, let it go.
Q: If it was up to to you Ralph, what setlist would you choose?
Ralph: I like our setlists. I love the way Neil has new songs to do, he doesn't live (rest) on his laurels, he continues to evolve.
I would at times throw in "Dangerbird", "Cortez" which we do occasionally. It depends on the night, the way the show is going. Sometimes you have your setlist but you may not want to do the next song on the list.
I have to say, Neil is the most soulful guitar player on this or any other planet.
Q: On this tour, which song did you enjoy playing the most and why??
Ralph: Honestly I love them all but "Ramada Inn", "Giant", "Love and Only Love"," Mr Soul", Fuckin' Up", I love!
And of course when we would do "Dangerbird", "Cortez", I love the "anthems", where you can play them different each night.
Q: Are you ever going to play She's always Dancing?
Ralph: Working on it.
Q: We know a lot of music that influenced Neil growing up, what was the spark that drove the passion within you to pursue a career in music?
Ralph: I believe it was pre-destined for me. As a teen growing up in NYC Lower East side I used to read movie mags. I would sing in the hallways of my project building with friends. When we moved to LA at 16 years old, I ran into guys who sang and I sang with them. Bit I don't believe I ever pursued a career in music.
I grew up listening to the "Doo Wop" songs mostly, it's what I loved.
Q: You just had a long tour of Australia with a lot of days off in between shows...what did you guys get up to in your spare time? Write new songs like ‘Hole in the Sky’? practice obscure old songs (danger bird)? Hang out on the beach? Explore the cities?
Ralph: We spent some time on the beautiful beaches; some sightseeing yes; went to the shops; rested; yes we talked about putting songs like "Dangerbird", "Surfer Joe", etc. into the setlist or as encores
Neil Young & Crazy Horse
1987 Japan Tour Program
Q: Which Crazy Horse tour would you like to see released from the archives? Are there any truly memorable shows that you will never forget?
Ralph: Oh Lordy! The "Rust", the "Garage", the "Tonight's The Night" tours stand out from the past.
Honestly I will never forget any of the tours; the music; the friendship; all the "behind the scenes" goings on, never!
Like I will never forget my childhood!
Any tour from the Archives I would relish.
Q: Is there any truth to the Melbourne show at The Plenary being released as a DVD/Movie in the near future as reported in the press?
Ralph: I'm sure the Melbourne (Plenary) show will, in the near future be released!
Q: You have been playing and touring with Neil for almost 45 years, what has been the highlights for you in terms of touring, both musically and atmosphereHighlights?
Ralph: All of it.
Each tour, Each recording, Each moment is a highlight for me, us.
The things we did, got into, while on tour when we were younger. The initials tours to Australia, Japan, Europe as mischievous little lads. Way too many highlights to mention.
Some I'd be in trouble if I mentioned them.
Q: Can you describe how your drumming has evolved over the past 45 years?
Ralph: My drumming, I believe, has evolved from my earlier years. I watch, I listen. I don't copy but I try something, to make me feel less constricted.
Most important to me and the guys is passion and feel.
If I've instilled those 2 things I'm happy.
Q: After a 3-2 hour show how do you recover?
Ralph: I just wait until I come down. No aches, no pain, I feel we could play for 5 hours as long as you're having fun, the music flowing, it makes it easy.
Me? I've been blessed in not having to (as you ask) recover.
Q: Neil in his book talked about compiling a boxset of Crazy Horse music. Can you give us an update on the likely release and what it might contain?
Ralph: Neil has the answer to that!
No release date yet. But sure it will contain unreleased tunes and his years of music with all his friends.