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Neil Young & Crazy Horse take another trip to Tulsa

Neil Young's longtime rhythm guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro spurred Crazy Horse to go the extra studio mile.
BY GENE TRIPLETT Published: October 12, 2012

The first time Frank “Poncho” Sampedro played “The Last Trip to Tulsa” with Neil Young & Crazy Horse, it was a bad trip indeed.

The downbeat song had originally been recorded as a slow-tempo, 9 ½-minute folk-rock jam on Young's 1968 self-titled solo debut, months before Young even started recording his first album with Crazy Horse, 1969's “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere.”

And Sampedro had only been a member of Young's favorite backing band a scant two years when they toured behind the 1975 album “Zuma.”

“I was pretty wet behind the ears,” the guitarist said of his first tour with the Canadian singer-songwriter. “We had to go do an encore. I can't remember where it was, maybe it was L.A., I'm not sure. But we're walkin' up the stage steps and Neil says, ‘Let's do “Last Trip to Tulsa.” I go, ‘Neil, I've heard the song. I don't know any of the chords.' He says, ‘It's DAG. D-A-G. Just play D-A-G.' So we got up there and it wasn't DAG. Neil knew the chords and, oh, it was awful.

“But, you know, I always wanted to play that song, and after I did it I was really embarrassed. But since you're from Oklahoma, people might enjoy that.”

The Crazy Horse guitarist was talking to The Oklahoman because Young and the band will be making a real trip to Tulsa on Sunday — not their first trip to T-town and probably not their last — for a show at the Tulsa Convention Center Arena.

They're currently touring in support of “Psychedelic Pill,” releasing Oct. 30 — less than five months after the release of their last album, “Americana,” which was comprised mainly of heavily modified and electrified versions of traditional folk songs such as “Oh Susanna,” “Clementine” and Woody Guthrie's “This Land Is Your Land.”

“Pill,” however, is more in keeping with the lengthy, rough-hewn rock 'n' roll jams Young and Crazy Horse were known for in their early days.

So how did these unprecedented back-to-back studio albums — the first Young/Crazy Horse studio work since 2003's “Greendale” — come to pass?

“You know, at the end of ‘Americana,' we were kinda done and Neil said, ‘Well I think that's about it for that,' and I said, ‘Well wait a minute, Neil, you know, the thing we're most famous for is jamming and we don't jam on this one.' And he looked at us and said, ‘Maybe there should be a jam song but I just don't really have one. I don't know what to play.' And I said, ‘Well, pick any two chords and let's go.'

“And that didn't happen, but the next time we got together, there we were, and he had a song that he started playing and I guess he didn't really have the words formulated that well, so he was singin' it on the mike at a low level and we couldn't hear 'im. and that's the song ‘Driftin' Back.' We played it 26 minutes, and that was the first time we jammed in nine years.”

Sampedro has been with Crazy Horse nearly 40 years, introduced to Young and drummer Ralph Molina by bassist Billy Talbot after the drug overdose death of original Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten in November 1972. He officially became Whitten's replacement in 1975, first performing on the album “Zuma” and then 19 other studio and live Young projects since, including Crazy Horse collaborations and solo albums.

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