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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It was recorded in the studio?
No, no, no, no. It was recorded in rehearsals. They have good gear there, but granted we are Crazy Horse and we didn’t play it perfect. Bu when you listen to that one – and I have a copy of it somewhere – when you listen to that one, Billy’s beat is relentless from beginning to end. That’s what I miss. We missed that intensity and what he brings. People always say, Billy makes this mistake, Billy makes that mistake. It’s not because he’s not a good player or doesn’t have knowledge of music, it’s because he gets so into it, into each minute part of it, he blows it up so big in his head he kind of forgets what the next part it. He gets lost in the music. That’s what really happens. That’s part of the excitement of our music. We could crash any second! We know when we’re up there playing, if someone makes a mistake it runs through the whole band like cancer. It’s like bang – boom, boom, boom – and the next thing, we’re struggling. Oh, man. It’s intense. And that adds to the intensity.

How did Neil introduce a new song to you?
Neil starts playing it. He stares at you. You start playing along with him. You plug through it a couple of times. Then he’ll stop. I remember he stopped and I said, “Neil, what is that riff that you played at the beginning?” He said, “Which one?” I started playing something like I thought was the riff and he goes, “That’s about it.” It’d be nice if we played it together. “No, no. That’s fine.” Billy had some questions about the descending line, and then we played it a few more times. Honestly? On the whole tour, he did tell us – let me see – there was one that we did somewhere and he said, “Listen to that one.” He said, “That’s the way it really goes, that’s the order, that’s the form.” I listened to it, and I understood what he was saying. When to come in and when to lay out and all that. But I don’t think Rick ever took it seriously. We definitely really got it. I think the last night we played it pretty good. But Neil never took the time at a soundcheck to say, “Okay, this is it, we’re going to play this four times, then three times, then this happens, then that happens.” He never really laid it out and said, “This is it.” He never did that on that song. So it was always a little unsettled.

What about the inclusion of “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”?
I shit my pants. Neil says, “Play it on piano,” like the night before we did it. I said, “I haven’t played piano in 15 years!” He goes, “Aww, you can do it.” I was scrambling to find a keyboard to get to my room to try and practise. Oh, man. Then there you are, less than 24 hours later, standing in front of thousands of people. I love that song. I play it on the guitar with my girl. We’ve learned how to play it really well. All those things were interesting and I love a challenge, I really do. But it’s not like a big party. It’s super intense, and it’s a lot of pressure and a lot of stress goes into it. On that tour, I think I rehearsed almost every night in my room, hours and hours, because there were so many different changes, so many different songs. I was exhausted when I got home. But he knows what he’s doing, he doesn’t have to rehearse it that much.


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