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Crazy Horse
The band in 1972.
The band in 1972.
Background information
Also known asDanny & the Memories, The Rockets, The Psyrcle, Neil Young & Crazy Horse
OriginLos Angeles, California
GenresGarage rock, folk rock, country rock, hard rock
Years active1969–present
LabelsReprise, Epic, Rhino
Associated actsNeil Young
MembersBilly Talbot
Ralph Molina
Frank "Poncho" Sampedro
Past membersDanny Whitten
Jack Nitzsche
Nils Lofgren
George Whitsell
Greg LeRoy
John Blanton
Rick Curtis
Michael Curtis
Sonny Mone
Matt Piucci

Crazy Horse is an American rock band best known for their association with Neil Young. Beginning in 1969 and continuing to the present day, they have been co-credited on a number of Young's albums, with 11 studio albums and numerous live albums being billed as by "Neil Young and Crazy Horse". They have also released six studio albums of their own, issued between 1971 and 2009.

Billy Talbot (bass) and Ralph Molina (drums) have been the only consistent members of the band. On four of Crazy Horse's studio albums, Talbot and Molina serve as the rhythm section to an entirely different group of musicians.


Early years[]

The band's origins date to 1963 and the Los Angeles-based a cappella doo-wop group Danny & The Memories, which consisted of main singer Danny Whitten and supporting vocalists Lou Bisbal (soon to be replaced by Bengiamino Rocco, the husband of actress Lorna Maitland), Billy Talbot, and Ralph Molina. The latter two would become the only members of Crazy Horse present in every incarnation of the band.

In San Francisco as the Psyrcle, Sly Stone produced their 45 on Lorna (Autumn Records), which did not sell very well either regionally or nationally.

Back in Los Angeles, the group evolved over the course of several years into The Rockets, a psychedelic folk hybrid comprising Whitten on guitar, Talbot on bass, Molina on drums, Bobby Notkoff on violin, and brothers Leon and George Whitsell also on guitars. This lineup recorded the Rockets' only album, a self-titled set released in 1968.

With Neil Young, 1968–1970[]

With their album complete, the Rockets reconnected with Neil Young, whom they had met two years earlier during the early days of Buffalo Springfield. In August 1968, three months after Buffalo Springfield dissolved, Young jammed with the Rockets on stage during their show at the Whisky a Go Go and soon after enlisted Whitten, Talbot, and Molina to back him on his second solo album.

Credited to Neil Young with Crazy Horse, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere includes the Top 100 pop hit "Cinnamon Girl" and the extended guitar workouts "Down by the River" and "Cowgirl in the Sand". Crazy Horse toured with Young during the first half of 1969 and, with the addition of Jack Nitzsche on electric piano, in early 1970. The 1970 tour was showcased on the 2006 album Live at the Fillmore East. Young would later opine that "[on] some of the stuff, Nitzsche was in the way tonally... Crazy Horse was so good with the two guitars, bass and drums it didn't need anything else."[1] Although Nitzsche disdained the rhythm section of Talbot and Molina, he retrospectively lauded Whitten as "the only black man in the band."[2]

Shortly after beginning work on his third solo album with Crazy Horse in 1969 (including an unreleased take of Whitten's "Look at All the Things" and a performance of Young's "Helpless" that failed to make it to tape due to an engineering error), Young joined Crosby, Stills & Nash as a full fourth member, recording an album and touring with the ensemble in 1969 and 1970.[3] When Young returned to his solo album in 1970, Crazy Horse found its participation more limited. The group as a whole appears on just three of the eleven tracks on After the Gold Rush: "When You Dance I Can Really Love" (recorded toward the end of the album's recording sessions, the majority of which included Ralph Molina in a semi-acoustic quartet with erstwhile CSNY bassist Greg Reeves and multi-instrumentalist Nils Lofgren) plus a cover of Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me" and "I Believe In You" from the 1969 sessions.[4] Young "fired" the group in the aftermath of the 1970 tour due to Whitten's escalating heroin abuse, as exemplified by the rhythm guitarist's incapacitated performance at one of the Fillmore East engagements; according to Molina, Whitten felt that Young was "holdin' him back" as a guitarist and songwriter.[5]

With and without Young, 1970–1989[]

Crazy Horse capitalized on its newfound exposure and recorded its eponymous debut album for Reprise Records that year. The band retained Nitzsche as producer and keyboardist and added Lofgren as a second guitarist; singer-songwriter and guitarist Ry Cooder sat in on three tracks at the behest of Nitzsche. Although the album only peaked at #84 on the Billboard 200 chart in 1971, Whitten's "I Don't Want to Talk About It" would later be covered by a wide range of artists, including Geoff Muldaur, The Indigo Girls, Pegi Young and Rod Stewart. Stewart would record the song three times and score a hit with it on the same number of occasions—including a UK No. 1 in 1977 as a double A-side with "The First Cut Is the Deepest". In 1988 the song would become a top-ten hit in the UK again, this time a No. 3 for Everything but the Girl. Two songs from the album were covered by Scottish hard rock band Nazareth: "Beggar's Day" appears on Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog" (1975), and "Gone Dead Train" is heard on "Expect No Mercy" (1977).

Following the commercial failure of Crazy Horse, Lofgren and Nitzsche left the group to pursue solo careers; meanwhile, Whitten's drug problems pushed Talbot and Molina to dismiss him and turn to outside musicians. The band released two albums with different lineups in 1972, Loose and At Crooked Lake. While the former saw Rockets guitarist George Whitsell briefly return to the fold as co-frontman in conjunction with guitarist Greg Leroy and keyboardist John Blanton, the latter was dominated by the roots rock stylings of Rick and Mike Curtis (formerly of These Vizitors and best known for their later work as The Curtis Brothers). Concurrently, Young placed Whitten on retainer in the fall of 1972 with a view toward including the guitarist in his new touring band, the Stray Gators; following his poor performance in rehearsals, the band pressured Young to dismiss him. Although Young let Whitten live on his ranch in Woodside, California and worked with him one-on-one during off-hours in an unsuccessful effort to keep him in the group, Whitten died several hours after returning to Los Angeles, his death attributed to a fatal overdose of alcohol and Valium.[6]

After Whitten's death and the tepid reception accorded to both albums, Talbot and Molina were the only full-fledged members of the band. They let the Crazy Horse name go unused without retiring it altogether. In mid-1973, Young brought together a band comprising Talbot, Molina, Lofgren, and pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith to record Tonight's the Night, the majority of which eventually saw release (in bowdlerized form with some other material added to the album) in 1975. In the autumn of 1973, this ensemble toured Canada, Great Britain, and the United States as the Santa Monica Flyers; Molina and Whitsell would subsequently contribute percussion and guitar (respectively) to Young's On the Beach in 1974.

Shortly after cancelled sessions at Chess Studios in late 1974, Young, Talbot, and Molina spontaneously convened at Talbot's Echo Park home in 1975 with rhythm guitarist Frank "Poncho" Sampedro, who proved to be just the right person to help resurrect Crazy Horse. "It was great", Talbot would say of the coming together and the chemistry it evoked. "We were all soaring. Neil loved it. We all loved it. It was the first time we heard the Horse since Danny Whitten died."[7] After a five-year hiatus Neil Young and Crazy Horse was born again, and Young marked the occasion by finishing off the lyrics to "Powderfinger", soon to become one of the new lineup's signature songs.

With Sampedro and producer David Briggs in tow, Young and Crazy Horse quickly recorded Zuma later that year in the basement of Briggs' rented house in Malibu, initiating their most prolific period of collaboration. Sampedro's lack of technical proficiency ("Neil kept writin' simpler songs so I could play them") and desire to see Young "rockin' and having fun and seeing chicks' asses swaying in the audience" would greatly inform the tenor of the record, which largely assays conventional hard rock styles and ribald misogyny with few of the country and folk flourishes that had dominated Young's music since 1970.

Following a warmup tour of unannounced engagements at various San Francisco Bay Area bars (ironically christened the Rolling Zuma Revue in reference to Bob Dylan's contemporaneous Rolling Thunder Revue) in December 1975, Young and the band toured Japan and Europe in March-April 1976. However, they were shut out of a proposed summer stadium tour when Young rekindled his collaboration with Stephen Stills. They toured America that autumn when Young was forced to make up a series of canceled concert dates after walking out midway through the tour with Stills. From late 1975 to 1977, Young recorded feverishly in various solo and group configurations; Crazy Horse appears on all but two songs of 1977's country-inflected American Stars 'n Bars (with many tracks featuring an augmented lineup that included Ben Keith, Carole Mayedo, Linda Ronstadt, and Nicolette Larson), while Comes a Time features two performances with Crazy Horse: "Look Out for My Love" and the Fleetwood Mac-inspired "Lotta Love".

In 1978, Crazy Horse released their fourth album (Crazy Moon, which features some lead guitar by Young), and also joined Young on the tour that led to the successful Rust Never Sleeps and Live Rust, both credited to Neil Young and Crazy Horse.

As Young spent much of the eighties working in genres mostly outside the band's idiom, Crazy Horse recorded with him more sporadically, appearing only on Re·ac·tor, an unspecified portion of Trans, and Life. Sessions for a planned 1984 album with the band ended after they were "spooked" by the addition of a professional horn section, although a bootleg of a performance at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz containing many of the intended songs remains an enduring fan favorite. Several years later, Young included all three members of Crazy Horse in another horn-driven ensemble, the Bluenotes. But when Talbot and Molina proved ill-suited to a blues-oriented approach, Young reluctantly replaced the Crazy Horse bassist and drummer while retaining Sampedro, who would remain with Young in various band permutations over the next two years. Immediately thereafter, Talbot and Molina replaced Sampedro with former Rain Parade guitarist Matt Piucci, recruited Sonny Mone to provide vocals and recorded the pointedly-titled Left for Dead (1989).

With Young, 1990–2014[]

The split with Sampedro and Young proved relatively short-lived as Young and Crazy Horse reunited in 1990 for the acclaimed album Ragged Glory and for a tour in 1991 that generated the live album Weld. Over the next 12 years Crazy Horse would steadily collaborate with Young once more, joining the singer for Sleeps with Angels, Broken Arrow, the live Year of the Horse, "Goin' Home" on Are You Passionate?, and Greendale. Sampedro agreed to sit out the recording of Greendale, as Young felt the material called for only one guitar; he joined the band on guitar and organ for the ensuing tours of 2003-04.

According to Young's biography Shakey, Crazy Horse had begun a sixth album of its own in the mid-1990s, but left the project unfinished when Young called upon the group to join him for some secret club dates in California (for which the quartet billed themselves as the Echoes) and for the recording of Broken Arrow.[8] Young and Crazy Horse attempted to record for three months in San Francisco in 2000; few takes were finished to the band's satisfaction, and Young re-recorded most of the material with Booker T. & the M.G.'s for Are You Passionate?. Recordings from the San Francisco sessions, entitled Toast, were announced for release in 2008 as part of Young's Archives series; as of 2016, the album remains unreleased.

Crazy Horse remained on hiatus for eight years following the Greendale tour; although Sampedro was employed as an assistant to Kevin Eubanks on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno from 1992 to 2010, the band continued to rehearse several times a year and more intermittently with Young during this period.[9] Trick Horse—a collection of hitherto unreleased non-Young recordings possibly derived from older Sampedro-funded sessions where session musicians were hired to play the instrumental parts, enabling the band to focus on their vocal performances—was released on iTunes in 2009.[10] According to Young in a 2011 interview with American Songwriter, "They have to be together before I can be together with them. They haven’t been doing anything together, so they need to be able to do it. I don’t have the time to support things. I have to go with things that are going to support me. But I think they can do it."

Shortly thereafter, Neil Young and Crazy Horse convened to release two albums in 2012. Americana was composed entirely of covers of traditional folk songs and singer-songwriter standards, while Psychedelic Pill featured original Neil Young songs. Neil Young and Crazy Horse toured throughout 2012, 2013 and 2014, traveling to the United States, Australia and Europe. Because Billy Talbot had a stroke in 2014, Rick Rosas replaced him on bass for shows during that year.

Reissued recordings[]

The self-titled debut album was reissued on CD in 1994.[11] In 2005 Rhino Records' Handmade division released the two-disc set, Scratchy: The Complete Reprise Recordings, in a limited edition of 2,500 copies. It included a remastered versions of the debut album and their second, Loose in their entirety on the first disc, with the second disc containing nine rarities and outtakes (including both sides of a 1962 single by Danny and the Memories). The original set is currently out of print, but was reissued on Rhino in England and Wounded Bird in the U.S. Loose was also reissued as a stand-alone CD by Wounded Bird in 2006.[12] The Australian reissue label Raven Records reissued Crazy Moon in 1999 with seven rare bonus tracks, and in 2005 put out a 20-track retrospective, Gone Dead Train: The Best of Crazy Horse 1971–1989, featuring material from each of the group's five albums with the exception of its second one, Loose. Left for Dead was released in 1995 on the Sisapa/Curb label, and Crazy Moon was reissued on CD again as a BMG import in 2005. At Crooked Lake was reissued in 2013 on the Floating World label.[13]



  • Billy Talbot, bass, vocals (1968–present)
  • Ralph Molina, drums, vocals (1968–present)
  • Frank "Poncho" Sampedro, guitar, keyboards, mandolin, vocals (1975–1988; 1990–present)

Past members who performed with Neil Young and Crazy Horse[]

  • Danny Whitten – guitar, vocals (1968–1971)
  • Jack Nitzschekeyboards, vocals (1970–1971)
  • Rick Rosas – touring bassist (2014)

Other past members[]

  • Nils Lofgren, guitar, keyboards, vocals (1970–1971)
  • George Whitsell, guitar, vocals (1971–1972)
  • Greg Leroy, guitar, vocals (1971–1972; 1978 [guest])
  • John Blanton, keyboards, harmonica, cello, vocals (1971–1972)
  • Rick Curtis, guitar, banjo, vocals (1972)
  • Michael Curtis, keyboards, guitar, mandolin, vocals (1972; 1978 [guest])
  • Sonny Mone, guitar, vocals (1989)
  • Matt Piucci, guitar, vocals (1989)


The Rockets[]

  • The Rockets, White Whale Records 1968

Crazy Horse[]

  • Crazy Horse, Reprise 1971
  • Loose, Reprise 1972
  • At Crooked Lake, Epic 1972
  • Crazy Moon, Capitol 1978
  • Left for Dead, Capitol 1989
  • Gone Dead Train: The Best of Crazy Horse 1971–1989, Raven 2005
  • Scratchy: The Complete Reprise Recordings, Rhino Handmade 2005
  • Trick Horse, Poncho Villa (2009) [1]

Neil Young and Crazy Horse[]

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Neil Young and Crazy Horse on film and video[]

  • Rust Never Sleeps (1979)
  • Weld (1991)
  • Sleeps With Angels (c. 1995, promo only)
  • The Complex Sessions (1995)
  • Year of the Horse (1997)
  • Greendale (2004)
    • video release includes "Be the Rain" live at the Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario, 9/4/03
  • Be the Rain (2004, promo only)
  • Farm Aid 2003: A Soundstage Special Event (c. 2004)
    • includes "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" live at the Germain Amptheater, Columbus, Ohio, 9/7/03
  • A MusiCares Tribute to Bruce Springsteen (2014)

Billy Talbot solo[]

  • Alive in the Spirit World (2004)
  • On the Road to Spearfish (2013)

Other collaborations[]

  • She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Vanguard, 1971
  • Head like a Rock, Ian McNabb, 1994 (on four songs only, without Frank Sampedro)


  • McDonough, Jimmy. Shakey: Neil Young's Biography (first Anchor Books edition, 2003)
  1. McDonough, p. 337
  2. McDonough, p. 328
  3. McDonough, p. 322-23
  4. McDonough, p. 333-37
  5. McDonough, p. 387-88
  6. McDonough, p. 388
  7. McDonough, pp. 481–482
  8. McDonough, p. 723


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