Frank "Poncho" Sampedro will be feeling a bit nostalgic when Neil Young & Crazy Horse open their North American tour this week in Windsor.
Growing up in Detroit and playing in bands as a teenager, going across the river "used to be a big gig for us," Sampedro, 63, remembers. "We went there and played once, I think, in Windsor and once in London (Ontario), and that was huge, 'cause we were used to the Walled Lake Casino and the Ypsilanti Roller Rink and the Queen of Angels sock hop and stuff like that."
Crazy Horse will be coming with lots of new material this time. The group, which formed as the Rockets during the mid-60s and started working with Young in 1968, has been inactive since touring to support his 2003 album "Greendale." But this year it's back with two albums -- the surprising covers set "Americana," which came out in June, and "Psychedelic Pill," a two-disc set of originals that's due Oct. 30.
Clearly Young -- who just published an autobiography, "Waging Heavy Peace" -- and company are making up for lost time.
"Neil had been talking about playing with us again for awhile," says Sampedro, who now lives in Hawaii after also spending 18 years working for NBC's "Tonight" show and as former bandleader Kevin Eubanks' assistant between Crazy Horse stints. "Then he went on the road with Buffalo Springfield, and he told me, 'After this, Poncho, I want to get back together with The Horse.
"I guess that fell apart, and the next thing I know he gave me a call and said we were doing to start recording in San Francisco at his ranch, so I flew over there."
Sampedro acknowledges that he was surprised and initially "a little disappointed" when Young pulled out folk songs such as "Tom Dula," "Clementine" and "Oh Susannah" for the "Americana" sessions, as well as the Silhouettes' "Get a Job," which he felt "was a stretch" for the Crazy Horse.
"At first it didn't really go down that well," Sampedro says of the "Americana" songs. "I wasn't bummed or anything. I just thought, 'Here we are playing. He'll pull out some of his songs or some other songs,' and the next time we came it was more folk songs and then the next time it was more folk songs...for about five or six months in a row."
Ultimately, however, Sampedro feels that Young and the group turned the selections into Crazy Horse material. "I was jumping up and down and screaming and singing parts that I probably shouldn't be singing and just having a good time -- which is what we do," he recalls. "In my mind there's a little part of me that knows it's not Neil and it's not us. It's something else.
"But at the same time, when I listen to it, I like it."
"Psychedelic Pill," he promises, "is more like a real Crazy Horse album," complete with heavily improvised songs, two of which clock in at more than 16 minutes and on of which passes the 27-minute mark. "It's Neil's songs." he notes. "That's the major thing lacking on 'Americana,' right? I like to call them our songs, but really they're Neil's songs."
Crazy Horse has 28 shows booked through early December, including performances a the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Texas, the Voodoo Experience in New Orleans and Young's two-night Bridge School Benefit near San Francisco. "I'm really happy. It feels like Crazy Horse, and we have a purpose," Sampedro says. But beyond that there are no plans, and after more than four decades of on-and-off status, Sampedro adds that Crazy Horse has learned to enjoy the time it's working together and not try to plan too far into the future.
"In the early years it was really difficult waiting around," he recalls. "It was always, 'Oh, now Neil's playing with these guys. Now he's coming back. I hear he's gonna play with The Horse. No he's not...' All that stuff used to drive me crazy and was very frustrating.
"Then, as time went by I learned to understand that Neil is...gonna do his thing, and there's nothing you can do to change that. Enjoy it when it's your time, and when it's not your time, get busy and don't wait. Find other things to do. Don't sit there and wait for Neil, or you'll drive yourself crazy."
Neil Young & Crazy Horse and Los Lobos perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3, at the WFCU Centre, 8787 McHugh St., Windsor. Tickets are $57-$165. Call 519-974-7979 or visit www.wfcu-centre.com.
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