1996 Interview w/ Crazy Horse's Billy Talbot
Billy Talbot & Neil Young
Melbourne, AUS Concert Reviews of Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Mar 13, 2013
via Michael S.J. | Photos of Rusties
As Neil Young's 2017 sabbatical continues, we've been plowing deep into the Thrasher's Wheat Archives Vaults.
Here is a 1996 interview with Crazy Horse's Billy Talbot by MIKE GEE (source unknown).
The Billy Talbot Interview
By MIKE GEE
"I'm still living in the dream we had, for me it's not over"
- Big Time, Neil Young from Broken Arrow
ABOUT the closest you get to Neil Young by phone is sitting in San
Francisco watching Michael Jordan take a free throw for the Chicago
Bulls in the sixth and as it turns out deciding final of the NBA
Championship series against the Seattle Sonics. Jordan drops the
shot and Billy Talbot drawls "20-16 to the Bulls" with some
Outside the late afternoon sun is attempting to cancel out "foggy as
hell" so it's kind of eerie on the streets of ...
Inside Talbot is watching history in the making oblivious to his own
claim to a dime's worth of memory lane stuff. The wrong side of 50,
Billy Talbot first picked up a bass in 1962 when he joined forces
with guitarist/vocalist Danny Whitten and drummer Ralph Molina in
Danny & The Memories. They recorded one single for the Valiant label
then became The Rockets whose self-titled debut on White Whale in
March 1968 beached itself soon after release. Things weren't looking
so good for the rough-hewn LA band until they got re-acquainted with
a tall, slightly angry looking, mop-topped Canadian with thick chin-
length chopper sideburns and deep, compelling eyes they'd once met
during the early days of the seminal Buffalo Springfield - strident,
underground electric rockers that rang the freedom and protest bell
loud for a brief peal.
And so the legend was born. In a matter of weeks they would record
with Neil Young Down By The River and then transformed into Neil
Young and Crazy Horse cut a batch of tracks that blew a visceral
immediacy and heralded the beginning of one of the most
extraordinary and fulfilling partnerships in the history of rock.
Among those tracks were Cinnamon Girl and Cowgirl In The Sand and
they along with Down By The River formed the core of the timeless
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, released in July 1969.
"Neil was pretty much the same back then," Talbot says. "Nah, he was
more fragile actually, but he still had the same kind of energy; it
was incredible, you know." Billy doesn't waste his words. Affable
with a piercing sense of humour that splits the interview time and
time again, Talbot doesn't make much of analysis. He knows he's part
of something beyond words and that is good enough.
"I didn't even know what long meant then," he burst out
laughing. "No, I never thought it would last this long. When you're
that young you just have no idea what time is like. You learn about
time later. I look at young people in their early 20s now and I
wonder if now it's anything like it was for me then. I'm sure it
Young was 23 then, he's 50 now - and the soon-to-be-released Broken
Arrow is the 14th (including two live sets and Lucky Thirteen) Neil
Young and Crazy Horse set, and the follow-up to the acclaimed and
ground-breaking Sleeps With Angels which linked the spirit of the
halcyon days of "peace, love and understanding" with the grim
realities of the '90s; an album that spanned three decades without
losing the essence of either now or then and simultaneously cut a
sound for the future particularly on its deathly/heavenly tribute-to-
Cobain title-track and the extraordinary Blue Eden; some critics
daubed it "21st Century grunge".
Only Whitten isn't here to celebrate (or perhaps he is), having
departed this life in August 1972, an infamous (and sad) overdose
casualty. Since March 1975, Frank "Poncho" Sampedro has ridden the
licks and fills as the current line-up of Crazy Horse now celebrate
21 years together.
On Broken Arrow - an album of two halves, the first three long
(seven to nine minute), spellbinding stratospheric electric rock
workouts that invoke a deep heartland and native spirituality; the
second, four down home reflections capped off by a live "bootleg"
quality blues lope (Jimmy Reed's classic Baby What You Want Me To
Do) - Young and Crazy Horse turn their back on the electronic
ambience that threaded the dynamics of Sleeps With Angels and step
back to an organic earthiness that recalls a host of early, mid and
latter references. At its heart Broken Arrow is poignant, backward
looking, reflective (loneliness and death key strongly in its
lyricism) and heartfelt, an ode to urban life and existence and the
land - Mother Nature, and an incalculable celebration of rock'n'roll
at its most spiritual and celebratory, as a life force. The journey
is a long way from over.
In Talbot's mind as well. Towards the end of the conversation he
gets quietly reflective in the only way he knows, a kind of brush
fire of words. He's not the wordsmith, Young is. Talbot just knows
what he feels. How the music unwinds something else. "The music's
pretty interesting and spiritual at the same time. What you would
think of as Native American Indian and Native Australian," he
says. "That kind of thing where the music is of the earth and at the
same time very spiritual.
"You know, man, there's never been a time when I thought we'd call
it quits. We still have so much to do. It seems like if we were all
done that would be evident but we aren't because the music we play
together helps us in our life so much, and hopefully other people,
and we've got more to do. We're just getting really good."
"People ask me what's kept us together and I don't know. I think
it's just because we haven't finished what we set out to do yet.
We've gotta get it all done - the potential that was always there.
When you have a vision of something and you start to do it you've
gotta finish it."
The past and the present collide like the smack of a fist on some
universal drum time and again on Broken Arrow. While it is the name
of the ranch that has long been Young's home it is, more
importantly, the last track on the definitive second Buffalo
Springfield album Buffalo Springfield Again, an album that contained
such early masters as Mr Soul, Expecting To Fly and Bluebird.
Following precisely a year after the classic anthem and
revolutionary shot, For What It's Worth, Buffalo Springfield Again
was the spirit of its times: a red flag to the dream, the glorious
hippie daze and a thumb in the eye of the establishment. Protest,
peaceniks and fuzzy underground rock rolled into one.
On Big Time, the curling, reverberating, lithe, electric strut
opener to Broken Arrow, Young incants in the chorus "I'm still
living in the dream we had/ For me it's not over ... " - and it
isn't. On Broken Arrow, the dream is revisited, the hope and vision
restated for the '90s; and really there is little difference. Time
has moved on three decades but the problems are still much the same,
only more complicated. Today, Big Brother and the establishment
stand in the way of the dream as much as they did then - more so in
many ways, and with a great stranglehold on freedom; only, perhaps,
now the realism and the spirit to act is - once again - close enough
to the surface to be drawn.
Broken Arrow is ultimately a rallying point, a musical bugle call to
see the essential nature of freedom and life that is out there and
take it while you can. And it's about roots. Spiritual, home,
emotional, soul roots, about recognising those roots, about getting
in touch; freedom is within as well as without. If there is a new
awareness, the semblance of a new age, Broken Arrow is its
"I like it a lot," Talbot says, "really a lot. I don't know what
happened really, but it sounded so warm and big and at the same time
energetic and beautiful. Yeah, it is optimistic. Well you know
that's the only way to be anyway. We are always optimistic, even if
we're into the darkness we are still optimistic.
"We've never been not optimistic. There's songs that are dealing in
the negative but in an optimistic way and there's songs that come
from the darkness but there's still something optimistic, always."
The dream is never over is it. "Right, right," he fires, "I think
that's the way a lot of people can relate to that line."
Unplanned, Broken Arrow spun off sessions for the new Crazy Horse
album - 23 songs by Talbot, Molina and Sampedro, featuring Young
("It's the four of us only we don't have any Neil Young songs on
it ... The only band that we know of is the four of us. Neil
produced it. He's the boss. We had to have somebody who's the boss
for us ...") are already recorded. As is their usual want the
quartet got to the point where they decided to go and play a few
live gigs and lobbed unannounced at Old Princeton Landing, a small
club outside San Francisco. Local word-of-mouth ensured it was
"We chose a bunch of old songs; everybody picked a song or three
from the past we wanted to play and we just played them," Talbot
says, matter-of-factly. "26-20, man. Still Chicago leading. Hey, Luc
Longley's got the ball - he's done alright, yeah alright. So,
anyway, we did that for four nights. Then Neil said let's go back in
and record some more and let's do some of my songs. So we went back
and spent about 10 days and did the album. Eventually, we added a
song or two from the live shows."
The process by which it was created was even simpler. "Big Time, the
first song on the album was the first song we recorded. Neil
finished writing it the morning we went in and polished off the
lyrics and we played it and that was it. The rest of the day we
spent overdubbing a little and mixing it and by the end of the night
it was totally finished.
"The next day we came in we did Loose Change and Neil worked on that
one over the weekend - this was Tuesday - and then he just polished
it up a bit more and then we played it and went into this jam at the
end and played it all the way through. Then the tape run out; they
got another reel of tape while we were still playing and we finished
it and we came in and mixed it and we overdubbed something, maybe a
little vocal and then we left it that way.
"The next day we came in and did Slip Away and, again, Neil finished
off the lyrics and we played it - it was wild and we tried to get
straighter on it and played it again but we knew right away we
already had it, so I overdubbed some tambourine and we fixed a
little bit and by the end of the night we were finished with that
"And the next day we came in and did Scattered (Let's Think). We
finished them all as we recorded them and then we were done. It was
simple as that."
As for Young's singing which seems - particularly on Slip Away (one
of the 10 great songs Young has ever written, an incandescent
ethereal drift through firestorms of emotion that scud across an
eternal spiritland) and Scattered - more sublime and angelic, closer
to some impossible heaven, the older he gets, Talbot admits he has
no idea about the way Young is singing but theorises that maybe it
had something to do with the fact the quartet had been recording the
Crazy Horse songs: "I think we had got into a musical mode, perhaps,
some kind of thing that rubbed off. It's just really nice he's
singing like that and the songs have that nice warmth to them."
On what Talbot says it easy to understand why Broken Arrow captures
Young and the Horse raw, loose and uncontained. The creative urge
unchained is closest to its point of true creation. The more you
craft the less the edges cut and the more the natural space becomes
Willie Nelson has a theory that every time you add another musician
the danger of losing the feel of a session increases. Similarly, the
more overdubs added in afterthought, the more likely the original
spirit of a song is to be diminished.
Talbot agrees and is more than happy with the contrast between
Broken Arrow and Sleeps With Angels. Being predictable isn't in
Billy's songbook but to his mind it's just a case of "us doing what
we feel at the time". It does lead, however, to a wry appreciation
of the "biz".
"Hey, maybe we'll get nominated from a Grammy again. That'd be
interesting. I'm sure we wouldn't win anything though.
Nominations ... it's fun, kind of interesting. They're just so full
of baloney anyway.
"You know, we've had just one nomination - for Sleeps With Angels. I
really don't remember any others, which is fine with me. It just
shows you where it's all at. If we actually won one that would mean
we're really old or something." The chuckle is hearty. "I don't
know, what the fuckin' deal is with them."
Nor does Talbot know where he'd place Broken Arrow in the great Neil
Young and Crazy Horse discography in the sky. "I think it's just
great, man. We just did it. I can't even think about that stuff
until it's been out for a couple of years or something then it sort
of takes its place in there, somewhere. Heaven knows where that
place is. Man, people always try and fit things in when maybe they
should just be what they are for when they are.
"That's what we really love about playing - for other people to
experience it with us."
Whispers from Reprise Records are that "Rusties" may have a literal
warehouse of material to experience over the next year. Young has
been working on remastering and remixing more than a dozen of his
albums - solo and with various incarnations - for the past year and
although the release dates keep getting put back they're currently
scheduled for late in '96. Although nobody is betting that's when
they will be delivered.
Then there's a massive box set in the works, although Reprise
president Howie Klein, the kind of fan who makes the best possible
boss (artists not unit sales come first in Klein's way of thinking -
the way it once was and should be), isn't sure how it's going to be
structured or when it's liable to see light of day. A few months
ago, Klein, excitedly, was talking about anything from seven discs
upwards including a swag of unreleased and live material.
He also admitted to being totally overawed when he stood in Young's
legendary tape warehouse at Broken Arrow where virtually everything
the big man has ever recorded and every show of every tour sits
neatly - rows and rows and rows of tape. Klein said Young spoke that
day of making a lot more of it available to fans. The only question
was how? Tapes was a possibility.
Talbot mugs quietly, "I don't know how much is in there. I do know
nobody would have enough time to listen to them all. Everything -
all the shows - is there. We don't have everything taped but most of
it is in a lot of ways. Neil is pretty thorough when it comes to
"We're just doing it, you know. We're here on the planet and that's
it. We're just trying to get it all done - as much as we can.
Wouldn't you? Don't you? Everything you do - it's all important.
"Everything's got its place - and then there's love. But we won't
get into that. Let's just say it's a beautiful thing. I'm in love
with life, that's for sure.
"Talking about that, I've got my bags packed. I'm off to Europe on
tour tomorrow. That's gonna be interesting."
Why is because, Young and Crazy Horse have made a decision to fly
live by the seat of their dusty, rusty pants. The flow on from those
San Francisco shows is a continued loose-limbed approach.
"It's gonna be just sort of make it up as we go," Talbot
says. "We've just been playing these clubs and doing three hours of
music with three sets. We've just been calling out the songs and
we've kind of got a good feeling for doing that now. So that's what
we're going to be doing for a while now rather than having set
lists. We've got a few songs that go together and then we go from
there. We'll see what happens - it might be kind of cool."
Jordan drops a three-pointer and Talbot drawls admiration. "Man,
it's looking good." It is, Billy, it is.
"Hey, hey, my, my, rock'n'roll can never die, there's more to the
picture than meets the eye, hey, hey, my, my." The bass man who's
wrangled so many rhythms to Young's monstrous electricity or his
subtle picking bursts out laughing. "We don't look at it in that way
of we're too old to rock'n'roll. We're more classical. If Horowitz
can do it at 74 we can."
Also, see Interview: Crazy Horse Bassist Billy Talbot | Rolling Stone and Crazy Horse's Billy Talbot Suffers Mild Stroke, Expects Full Recovery .