Neil Young: Gold Rush
GW Did the two of you ever discuss what you were going to play, or work out your parts together?
YOUNG We never had to. We just started playing, and that’s what it sounded like. Danny was a great player. Phenomenal. And that part of Crazy Horse is now lost forever [Whitten died in 1972 from a heroin overdose]. The Crazy Horse that came along with Poncho [guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, who joined Crazy Horse three years after Whitten’s death] is a different band, and a completely different approach. You don’t hear that same interplay. You only get that on the things Danny was on.
GW On “Down By the River” you can hear how Danny continually alters his rhythm part behind your solos.
YOUNG It’s unbelievable. His work on that song is a masterpiece. The rhythm guitar position is a very powerful slot. You have to understand you’re part of an orchestra. You’re the backbone. You’re putting horn parts in. Opposition. Changing the groove. Every time you change the groove it changes what the lead guitar does. And with Danny and me it just happened. We never talked about any of it.
GW There’s great video on Archives of CSNY performing “Down By the River” on ABC-TV’s Music Scene, in 1969, and you and Stephen Stills are trading solos on a pair of big Gretsches. In terms of dynamic, how was playing with Danny different from playing with Stephen?
YOUNG Well, Stephen is a lead guitar player, but he can also be supportive. And Danny was a guitar player, and he was always supportive. He was totally confident in his role. Stephen and I are a little more competitive, in a brotherly kind of way. Then there’s the jacked-up part of CSN, which is the drums and bass aren’t as open. It’s more of a big deal. But the original is Crazy Horse. Everything else is just a version of that.
GW How would you evaluate Nils Lofgren, who joined you for After the Gold Rush?
YOUNG Nils I had known for a long time as a musician. I met him at the Cellar Door when he was 17. Then he came out to California and played on After the Gold Rush. He had a lot of energy—he practically walked from the airport to Topanga Canyon! And I just loved his guitar playing. When we’re matching up and playing dual guitars on “Tell Me Why” it’s fantastic. But he played too well to play with me. So for most of that album I put him on piano. He doesn’t play piano, but he was more challenged that way. It controlled all the extra playing, put everyone on the same level. Because I like to keep things simple.
GW With songs like “Down By the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand,” which feature extended instrumental breaks, how many takes were cut in the studio?
YOUNG Maybe three or four overall, and the final version was usually an edited take. So, you know, maybe what you hear on the record would be take one, but with a couple pieces of something else in there. I could look it up. We have all the track sheets. All that information could be made available through Archives updates. We could make it so you could go in and figure out exactly what take you’re listening to of a specific song.
GW Archives features tons of great photos of you onstage with the Danny Whitten–led version of Crazy Horse, particularly on the Live at the Fillmore East 1970 disc. But one thing I noticed is that there’s no video footage of the band.
YOUNG That’s because we can’t find any, anywhere. But if people want it in the Archives it can be there. They just have to come up with the stuff. And also realize that once they get it to me it’s probably gonna be given away for free, but that doesn’t mean they lose it. It just means that I get the chance to duplicate it, create the best possible copy of it for mass distribution, and place it where it belongs in a timeline, with stories and information about what it is. That’s what I can do that would be hard for anybody else to do.
GW One thing you can’t be accused of is cherry picking the archival documents. There are some less than complimentary reviews scattered throughout the set, including one about a show at the Cellar Door that you read out loud in a video clip. The reviewer describes your onstage demeanor as being “as stimulating as watching your nails grow.”
YOUNG [laughs] I think it’s good to have that stuff there. When you see it in perspective it’s just as interesting as anything else. It’s a valid reaction. I mean, people wrote negative reviews about my Massey Hall concerts, because they were upset that I was playing songs that nobody knew. [For these shows Young debuted much of the material that would eventually make up the 1972 album Harvest.] What the fuck are you gonna do with that?
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