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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

INTERVIEW: Frank “Poncho” Sampedro - Neil Young, Crazy Horse Guitarist | The Aquarium Drunkard

Köln, Germany - July 12, 2013
Photo by Roel van Dijk's
(Click photo to enlarge)

A major 4:20 special interview with Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, Neil Young, Crazy Horse Guitarist | The Aquarium Drunkard. (Thanks Harold!)

In the interview, Poncho says: 

“I still play, man, I still play. 

Four times a week with a couple of guys here. Acoustic. I have a little fantasy that maybe one day I could go on an acoustic tour with Neil. But that’s a fantasy at this point.” 

‘Way Down in the Rust Bucket’  - Neil Young w/ Crazy Horse
"Let me go on record as saying that I think this 'Way Down in the Rust Bucket" is the best Crazy Horse record we ever recorded.
 I love it! "
~ Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, Rolling Stone -  March 2, 2021

In March, Poncho did his 1st major interview in many, many years with Rolling Stone and Andy Greene.

Here is an excerpt from  The Aquarium Drunkard interview with Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, Neil Young, Crazy Horse Guitarist. (Thanks AD & Tyler!)

Aquarium Drunkard: One of the things that we just heard for the first time on this Archives, Volume II set is “Changing Highways”, which I believe is your first recording experience with Neil. What do you remember about that session?

Frank “Poncho” Sampedro: Chess Records! Yeah. I had never met Neil. Billy and Ralph told him all about me. We were jamming in Echo Park at Billy’s house, and we flew to Chicago to meet up. We went to the hotel and Ben Keith was already there. We went to Neil’s room and Neil started playing all these songs. I had my guitar, so I started trying to play along. I was just naive [laughs]. I gave Ben the guitar and I said, “Hey man, why don’t you play a couple”? He said, “No man, I think you better play!” And I said, “Well, who’s going to roll a joint? It’s me that’s gotta roll the joint!” But anyway, the bottom line was, I had no clue. No clue at all that those were the songs we were going to be recording the next day and I was supposed to be learning. Taking shorthand and paying attention. I was just going, “I don’t know if I like that one. That’s hard.” We went to Chess and it was very cool place. And you know, I was a huge Chuck Berry fan. Just to be there was like, wow, you know? [But] we didn’t do so good. 

AD:  It didn’t come together right away? 

Frank “Poncho” Sampedro: No. [Harvest producer] Elliot Mazer was recording us and he was, you know… David Briggs was definitely our leader and he knew how to get to us and get things out of us. Elliot was more like a teacher. [He] was technically oriented and none of us had those kinds of chops. Even Neil. Neil knows his songs because he wrote them.

AD: Have you gone and listened back to that “Changing Highways” that just came out?

Frank “Poncho” Sampedro: No, but here’s the story. When it finally got recorded and put on a record [in 1996], we were sitting in a studio one day after David passed. I just played “Changing Highways.” Neil said, “Wow, that was pretty cool, Ponch.” I said, “Well, you know, ever since that session, I really wanted to record it with you again and I practiced it all these years. Just in case you ever pulled it out, I’d be ready.” He said, “Well, it sounded so good. We should do it.” 

The other one we did at Chess was “Vacancy.” When I heard Ben and those Nashville cats do it [on the recording that appeared on Homegrown], it kind of tickled me because they did a good job and I like it. I love the song. But our version was so much more out of control and just bashing and crazy. All those little turnarounds at the end of the verses just kind of got lost in ours because it was just distortion and craziness going on.


AD: You recorded “Cortez The Killer” during those sessions—one of the ultimate Crazy Horse epics. 

Frank “Poncho” Sampedro: Both of my parents are from Spain. I grew up wanting to be a bull fighter. My home wasn’t a typical American home. I lived in Mexico for over three years. When we recorded “Cortez,” I had just smoked some angel dust when Neil walked out into Briggs’ backyard and said, “Come on, Poncho, I got this song. It’s easy to play—just three chords. Let’s record it now.” At the time, I was a junkie and high on smack and blow, plus the angel dust. We went in, put on our guitars and just played the whole thing and that was the take. The power even went off in the control room but not in the room where we were playing. Briggs got the power back on. We listened to where it dropped out and then punched back in right in the right place. We did lose the third verse. Something about “a rocky grave.” Neil never sang it again. 

In my stoned dream, I imagined the song started on the D chord. It starts on the Em. So, Neil emphasizes the Em and I emphasize the D. But what I’m getting at is—“Cortez” lives in my hands! I’ve listened to many different versions of that song and Neil has played it with a few different configurations. None of them get it! I can play with someone who only knows a couple of chords and it sounds just like the recording from that day. I can play it over the phone to you and you will ask if that was the record! It’s just a part of me! “Cortez” lives in my hands. I’m not trying to put anyone down! It is just something I can’t understand why others don’t get it.

AD: What was David Briggs like? Even though he wasn’t a musician, I get the sense he was almost a member of Crazy Horse. 

Frank “Poncho” Sampedro: He was the compass, man. He gave us all our direction. He’s not just our compass. He’s a compass of rock and roll. He believed in it with all his heart. He can get us to do things just by…It wasn’t nice. He wasn’t nice and he played guitar a little bit, but he wasn’t a musician, and he wasn’t an engineer. He engineered some. He was just a guy and a motivator. Just a music motivator and he wasn’t afraid to tell any single one of us, including Neil, that we weren’t giving 100 percent. Or he’d come in and say, “Look, you guys are really playing over the top right now. Do you think you can go further? Let’s rock it hard! We’re rolling in there! Don’t stand around!”

You know, I think it really helped me. He’d come in and we could tell he was on a bummer and he’d get nose to nose with you when you’re just noodling around. “I don’t know what that last solo was, but it sounds like you’re not projecting. Not singing. You want to just record tomorrow? I don’t know what’s up. Are you into this or not?” And we would all see that going on and say, “No, no, no, no. We’ll do another one. I’ve got more than that.” And then as soon as he’d walk out of the room, we were like, “OK, goddammit. We’re going to blow your ears off.” It would pump us up in a kind of like reverse psychology way to get us to do better. It’s rock and roll, man. We’ve got to make people dance.


AD: Let’s jump ahead a little to the Rust Bucket era in late 1990. Have you had a chance to check that new record out yet? 

Frank “Poncho” Sampedro: In the first interviews I did, I said, “I believe in my heart this is the best Crazy Horse record we ever did.” Right now, after listening to it more and more and listening to stuff we did after it, I really think it’s the best we played. Not technically but relaxed and into the groove. We rocked as hard as all of us could together as a unit. It was something that was happening. We knew all the material. There were no thoughts in our head about not executing the shows. We got to another level and Neil’s playing…wow. I just go, “Wow, man. Neil’s out there.” He wasn’t missing any notes and he wasn’t missing any place to go. He wasn’t noodling. He was driving home the point of every song. It’s amazing and it really makes me smile to listen to. It really does.

We did five sets that night. I don’t know why, but it might have had something to do with drugs. Or maybe we just didn’t know what song to play next. We had to think about it for a second. Some of the breaks are very short. But nobody cared. No one was like, “We’re stopping playing.” We were laughing and going right back out and going at it again. Everything was fine. The more I think about it, it was really just a pinnacle. We all knew each other. Everything finally came together, and we just laid it down. 

AD: You guys break out some deep cuts—“Surfer Joe and Moe The Sleaze.” I’ve always thought of that as a perfect Santa Cruz song. You have a co-write on that one, right? 

Frank “Poncho” Sampedro: I heard one writer refer to that song as Neil’s slap back at Warner Brothers, Mo Ostin and all this other crap. In all my memory, every time we met with Mo and Lenny [Waronker] and all the guys from Warner Brothers, it was very sweet and loving. We liked each other. There was no animosity. No one ever put Mo or Lenny down. Never. Ever. It was always beautiful. Those guys are really into what they’re doing, and they really supported us and helped us out a lot. So just to clear that up: that song has nothing to do with talking shit about them. I’m sure Neil was sorry that he ever left Warner Brothers.

[On “Surfer Joe”], I added all of the background vocals that go [Ahhhing ensues]. I started singing those and nobody could stop me. I’m not a singer really, but I can sing on stage any time without a microphone and people can hear me. I sing really loud. And then even when we’re soloing sometimes and you see Neil coming over to me, a lot of times I’ll just be humming or chanting the line that I hear in the song.  I’m like [Ohhhhing ensues] and just going along and he looks at me and his eyes go back like, “Oh shit. Ponch is in another world.” But it’s inspiration. The music inspires me. 

Full interview with Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, Neil Young, Crazy Horse Guitarist | The Aquarium Drunkard.
"Fuckin' Up"
Crazy Horse's Frank "Poncho" Sampedro

Cleveland, OH, Oct. 8
Photo by thrasher
Neil Young with Crazy Horse

Also, see:


Deluxe Box Set Edition (DVD, 4 LPs, 2 CDs)
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Neil Young w/ Crazy Horse:
"3rd Best Garage Band in the World"
~~Bill Graham
In tribute to Crazy Horse, the "3rd Best Garage Band in the World", here's a look back at some highlights:

Induct Neil Young w/  Crazy Horse
Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame


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At 4/20/2021 03:06:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

I was just going to send you the link to this..... what a great read. Poncho is really open and a fabulous storyteller. One of the best interviews I’ve ever read. This is a must read for every single Neil fan. Thanks for beating me to the punch on this Thrashers, some amazing stories to be sure.

Peace 🙏

At 4/20/2021 04:21:00 PM, Blogger Dionys said...

On a different note: NYA's anchorman apparently is on a holiday or a spring break, or maybe recording?

At 4/20/2021 04:21:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Thanks Dan . A perfect 420 special from Poncho!

At 4/20/2021 04:30:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

ahh man, just missed by a minute on 4:20. dang

well, #'s add up to nothin'

Did you catch where Poncho says that Surfer Joe and Moe The Sleaze isn't about WB's Mo Ostin?

That theory has been out there since the 80's and we know we've always assumed that to be the case. Esp given how NY jumped to Geffen subsequently, it sure seemed plausible.

Altho we sort of wonder after running the American Masters full interview w/ Mo.

This is the 1st time we've seen the theory officially discounted by someone in the know.

If this wasn't really true, wonder why no one ever put something out saying something to contrary?

@ Dionys - if a holiday, well deserved after the release barrage. If recording, we can only dream.

well, like someone once sang ....

" You're in heaven with nothing to do
The ultimate vacation with no back pain
And all we do is work, work, work

You're in heaven
We're working
You're on vacation

I'm working"

At 4/20/2021 09:30:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

I could never believe that Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze had anything to do with Mo Ostin. Have any of you ever read a bad word about the guy? He seems to have had nothing but good will and respect for Neil. So, I was really glad to hear what Poncho said. The other bit about "angel dust" was a bit shocking (and actually funny as Poncho seems pretty relaxed about it, a good attitude in my view). In short, Poncho seems a sterling guy, well worth knowing, and the Horse need to be in the Hall.

At 4/21/2021 06:11:00 PM, Blogger Richie Cruz said...

Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze is about Santa Cruz, plain and simple. Anyone who has been here for any length of time knows that.

I've lived in Santa Cruz for over 20 years, I've met many Surfer Joe's and many many Moe the Sleaze's, believe me.

The song is a loving tribute to a town that Neil once called home.

At 4/22/2021 04:56:00 AM, Blogger Mystic said...

So... Poncho had a plan.

What of Billy and Ralph? Well, on one Neil Hiatus they teamed up with Ian McNabb to create 'Head Like A Rock'' and the Live CD 'North West Coast' on which they play Danny Whittens:
"I Don't Want to Talk About It" even Billy sings.

For any Neil fan the expanded 'Head' will be a pure delight. Better than 'Mirrorball'???....such heresy discuss!

A. full critique of Horse side projects anyone?

At 4/22/2021 02:05:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Abner - we hear you here. like we mention above, that seemed to be the common knowledge theory which no one ever disputed.

having said that 3 times at least today, we'll make an effort to dispel the false mythology.

having said that, we know it can take forever to straighten out the record especially for an urban legend so long running.

Poncho does seem really down to earth. really loved his interview in YotH where he's putting down director Jarmusch. Now when have you ever seen someone in a documentary dissing on the director? that usually goes straight to the cutting floor.

@ Richie - thanks man. funny how the song goes from a slam on record label execs to a tribute when heard in proper context.

@ Mystic - great suggestion. the TW platform is always open for a review of Horse catalog. And open for anything else folks might be interested in researching.

drop us a note @ thrasher ATSIGN

At 4/22/2021 11:04:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

it seems like a long fucking way from a tribute.


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