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.
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.”