A long interview with Neil Young guitarist Poncho Sampedro

"Most people turn a corner, Neil ricochets," says the Crazy Horse guitarist

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Introducing the Deluxe Ultimate Music Guide to Neil Young

Updated with a deep dive into Archives II and more

For our end of year issue, I wrote a cover story about Neil Young’s 2014. Among the many people I interviewed was Crazy Horse guitarist, Poncho Sampedro, who’s been playing with Neil for 40 years. I thought it might be nice to share the full transcript – it’s over 6,000 words long, and covers a lot of ground. We started off talking about the current state of Billy Talbot’s health, the Crazy Horse bassist who’d suffered a minor stroke earlier in the year. For the record, our interview took place on November 3, 2014; a few days before the death of bassist Rick Rosas, who’d deputised for Talbot during the band’s 2014 tour dates.

How’s Billy doing?
I talked to him last week. He seemed to be fine. He went to The Bridge concert and I also talked to some people who saw him there and they said he looked fine. He looked just the same as ever, just maybe moving a little slower. He’s just finished another record, he’s working on his own music. I talked to him he said he played piano on a lot of songs and he’s playing guitar and bass. Al his faculties are back. He’s got to gather his strength, they put you on a lot of medications when you have a stroke. So it’ll be a matter of time before they take him off some of those.

You’d been rehearsing with Billy before he had a stroke?
We rehearsed for three days for that tour at the Fox Theater in Oakland, California. Rehearsals were going really well. We had a set made up, at least a lot of possibilities for a set. Neil was going to work on that. We were going to have a few more days to rehearse in Iceland before we started. Then I came home from that. I got a phone call the next day; on the drive home, Billy was driving from Oakland to South Dakota and that’s where he suffered the stroke. I got a phone call from Elliot Roberts telling me that Billy had a stroke. We were pretty worried at that time. His wife was driving. He actually told me, it was kind of odd, he said he didn’t even know that he had a stroke. They stopped, I guess at Salt Lake City, Utah, he said then when he went to step out of the car, his foot wouldn’t work. He said, ‘If I hadn’t got out of the car I wouldn’t even know that I’d had a stroke.’ So I guess it was a mild stroke, my mother had a few mild strokes and she said she just felt like she took a nap. So unless it’s something that really disables part of your system, you don’t notice it too much.

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Was it ever likely the tour might not happen?
My first inkling when Elliot called me was the tour is cancelled. Then the next day, I got a call from Neil and he said he talked to Rick Rosas and said, “We got a bass player, we can do this.” He said, “Why don’t you just sing most of Billy’s parts?” You know I don’t sing that often in the band. I’m not the world’s best harmony singer, in fact I pretty much suck at it. If I know a part, once I get it, I can sing it over and over again forever. But getting it is the hard thing! I was enthusiastic that morning. I told Neil, “Yeah, I’ll fill in for Billy, I’ll take over, I’ll do what I can.” I worked on it all that day. I went through all the songs we had, I started singing background parts to figure out Billy’s parts. I remember I called Neil back the next morning, my voice was hoarse. I said, “Neil, I can’t do it. I’m going to be the cause of really screwing up some shows if I have to sing on all of those. It’s not going to be fun.” He said, “Don’t worry, we’ll get some background singers.”

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