This year is the year of Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
Young, the prolific Canadian-born singer-songwriter-guitarist, has worked variously as a solo artist, with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Buffalo Springfield and the Stray Gators. He always comes back to Crazy Horse, the group he recorded Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After the Gold Rush, Rust Never Sleeps and more classic albums with.
Young and Crazy Horse released Americana, their first album in nearly nine years in June. It’s unlike anything the group has done before, a collection of folk songs and standards rendered Young and Crazy Horse style.
But after Americana was completed, Crazy Horse guitarist Poncho Sampedro had a question.
“Neil, was walking around saying ‘Well, that’s it. I don’t have any more songs. I think we got a good record here,’ ” Sampedro quoted Young last month from Windsor, Ontario.
“And I said, ‘Wait a minute Neil. We’re famous for being a jam band. We haven’t jammed yet. What’s up?’ And Neil said, ‘Well, Poncho, maybe you’re right, we should have a jam song on it, but I don’t have anything that we can do.’ ”
Young and Crazy Horse re-entered the studio a few months later. They only record during the full moon, Sampedro explained.
“On the next full moon, we got together and, lo and behold, Neil starts playing these two chords, singing really softly at the mic. And then we played for 26 minutes, a giant jam.”
The jam became “Driftin’ Back,” opening song on the group’s second album of 2012, Psychedelic Pill, to be released next week.
Sampedro counts “Driftin’ Back” as a landmark in the band’s discography. For the first time, one of the group’s spontaneous studio jams was captured for posterity.
“I’m so excited, because we’ve done that every time we get together again after we’ve been apart but it never got recorded,” he said. “Because the mics weren’t in the right place, the machines weren’t rolling, whatever. But this time, they caught it. We get to hear it over and over again and so do you.”
While the epic “Driftin’ Back” is not perfect, imperfection is part of its beauty.
“Of course, there are spots in there where I’m flubbing and spots where Neil’s flubbing,” Sampedro said. “I said, ‘Neil, We can cut those out.’ He was like, ‘But Poncho, how would people know how we got from here to there? We flubbed our way to the next place.’ ”
Whatever flubs may be in Psychedelic Pill, Sampedro believes that the record represents Young and Crazy Horse at their best, especially among the albums the band’s recorded since the 1995 death of its longtime producer, David Briggs.
“We made good records since David died. Of course, Americana’s a really good record, but now, with Psychedelic Pill, these are songs that no one ever heard. Neil never played these songs with anybody. We were in there creating this, putting out hearts and souls into it. I’m really proud of it. And I feel like we made a record that would make David Briggs proud.”
Sampedro is especially thrilled about Young’s songwriting for Psychedelic Pill.
“Certain people just have it,” he said. “Neil’s father was a writer, his grandfather was a writer, but Neil writes songs instead of books. He puts things into words but he leaves it open so that all people can have it be part of their lives.
“I don’t know how he does it. These Psychedelic Pill songs are just as good as any songs he’s ever written.”
Sampedro joined Crazy Horse in 1973. Now 63, he’s still the new guy. Speaking a few days before the band’s fall tour began in Windsor, he expressed his excitement about riding the Crazy Horse train again.
“We’re supposed to play an hour-and-a-half, but Neil’s like a little kid. If someone from the venue says, ‘They’re cutting the power off in 10 minutes. You guys have gone into overtime,’ Neil is like, ‘Oh, yeah?’ In a lot of ways, all of us are bad little boys out there. You can’t tell us how long to play. We love this.”