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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What’s Neil like when he’s on tour?
He has his own bus. His bus is set up for him to live in it on a daily basis without checking into a hotel. The buses we ride on, we don’t have showers and a full working toilet. We don’t have a kitchen with a stove, we can’t cook, all those kind of things. He has all that on his bus. He actually just rides for a few hours out of town like until two or three in the morning and goes to sleep and sleeps for a regular time at the same time every night wherever he is. He has that tactical advantage. We’re just bouncing along, all of us together, there’s a movie going on and people are online, a lot of different things going on, and then we get to a hotel at five or six in the morning and check in and wish that we somehow could fall asleep. Everybody else in the hotel is waking up, there’s kids running around the halls and maids knocking on the doors and vacuum cleaners going. It’s funny. Maybe I just notice all that now I’m older. When I was 25, I don’t think I noticed it that much.

It’s 40 years next year. It’s a long time.
Yes it is, yes it is.

How far in advance was the set list worked out? Are they planned…
No. The set list basically stays the same. But nobody has one. I turn to my roadie, Moby, and he holds up the set list and goes, “One of these three – I think!”


Apparently, there were three set lists in Iceland.
Oh, yeah. Not only that, Neil would do things like, we always do these vocal warm ups before each show, about 20 minutes we’ll be singing through scales. And then he’ll stop right in the middle of that and go like, “You know the part to ‘Down By The River’ is this low part, Poncho,” he’ll sing it like twice then go back to the vocal warm ups and then we’ll do it that night. Or he’ll turn to somebody else and say, “Do you know ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’?” That’s the only mention of it, and then he does it. In fact, I remember one night, all the buses were parked by this river and I said to myself, “Oh man, I hope we don’t do ‘Down By The River’ tonight.” We walked on stage and he started it and we played it for 25 minutes! I love that song, but I always feel self-conscious about that song because Danny played such great parts on it and I never really got his parts. I always feel like I’m struggling when I do that song.

The shadow of Danny and Briggs?
Do I miss Briggs or what! I just wish Briggs was still around. He would tell us to rock. He was such a big influence with this band and Neil. I don’t know what he was like when he was with Neil and other people, but with us we had to rock and you had to deliver. You had to be great or be gone. You had to really put it out there, your intensity has to be there all the time. You can’t play around. He would go up to Neil, get right in Neil’s face and say, “It seems to me like you’re just noodling around. Don’t you have anything to say when you solo? If you don’t have anything to say, you shouldn’t play just noodle. People don’t come to listen to you just to hear you noodle around.” Nobody talks to Neil like that any more. That really kept our edge. He was afraid of David.

Should people take more of a line with Neil?
I don’t know how he would listen to these days. That was like, part of our selves and our culture and our being and the way we all grew together. That’s gone. I don’t know who could step in and do that. People can tell him what to do, but he doesn’t listen to anybody.


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