Way Down in the Rust Bucket is a Must for Neil Young Fans

Live album with Crazy Horse is the latest in Young’s prolific releases from his archives series

Since prompted by Music Enthusiast recently and my March 4 post about Mansion on the Hill, I’ve been thinking to do more on Way Down in the Rust Bucket, the latest release from Neil Young’s archives that appeared on February 26. I guess it was only a matter of time before I would revisit what Young and former Crazy Horse guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro have called a “definitive chapter” in the band’s history. In fact, when interviewed by Rolling Stone a few days ago, Sampedro went as far as characterizing the new live album as “the best Crazy Horse record we ever recorded.” While I cannot claim to know all of the band’s album, I know one thing for sure: Way Down in the Rust Bucket truly rocks, and Neil Young fans are going to love it!

The album captures a gig of Young with his long-time backing band Crazy Horse, which happened on November 13, 1990. About two months earlier, they had released Ragged Glory. The concert at The Catalyst, a nightclub in Santa Cruz, Calif., took place before the band embarked on an intense 53-date tour to support the album in January 1991. The tour was documented in the albums Weld and Arc, which both came out in October 1991. Located close to Young’s Broken Arrow ranch, The Catalyst holds about 800 people – sounds like a great venue to experience live music!

But don’t tell Poncho it was a warm-up gig. “I hate when people say, “These were warm-up shows for the tour”, he emphasized to Rolling Stone. “We did two shows. Do they really think they were warming us up for a giant tour? That’s more for us. It’s giving back to the community. We played in Santa Cruz. It’s really close to Neil’s place. That’s so most people could come to see us.”

Apart from songs off Ragged Glory like Country Home, Fuckin’ Up, Farmer John and Mansion on the Hill, Way Down in the Rust Bucket also features goodies from various other Neil Young albums, such as Cinnamon Girl (Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – 1969), Sedan Delivery (Rust Never Sleeps – 1979), Like a Hurricane (American Stars ‘n Bars – 1975) and Cortez the Killer (Zuma – 1975). The live album is available in triple vinyl, CD, DVD and streaming formats. In addition to all tracks on the vinyl, CD and streaming versions, the DVD includes one extra tune, Cowgirl in the Sand, another track from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with opener Country Home, which is also the first track on Ragged Glory. Unless noted otherwise, all tunes were written by Young.

Here’s Farmer John. Originally an R&B song, the tune was co-written by Don “Sugarcane” Harris and Dewey Terry who also first recorded and released it as Don & Dewey in 1959. Sampedro told Rolling Stone the band recorded their cover in just one take for Ragged Glory. Their performance at The Catalyst only was the second time they played it. “It wasn’t quite as good, but we never played it before” [live], he noted.

Let’s do another track from Ragged Glory: Fuckin’ Up, a Young-Sampedro co-write. Asked during the above Rolling Stone interview, Sampedro confirmed Fuckin’ Up was first recorded during rehearsals for Young’s appearance on Saturday Night Life in 1989, where he was backed by Sampedro, Charley Drayton (bass) and Steve Jordan (drums). However, they switched it up during rehearsals. “Steve was playing my guitar and I love to play drums,” Sampedro said…I started playing the drums and we were getting into it.” Young has said he wants to put out the SNL rehearsals as an album – looks like another archives release to me! Meanwhile, here’s the live version from Way Down in the Rust Bucket.

Time to take a look at some of the goodies from other Young albums. Here’s Homegrown, the title track of the album Young initially had planned to release in 1975 but then decided to abandon at the last minute and put out Tonight’s the Night instead – a classic Neil move! Though, of course, Homegrown eventually appeared in June 2020.

Yes, it’s been played over and over, including in my blog. And while I don’t see myself being in a crowded hazy bar anytime soon, Like a Hurricane from American Stars ‘n Bars remains one of my all-time favorite Neil Young tunes that still blows me away. As such, I simply couldn’t skip it. Plus, this version is killer! 🙂

Not that I want to glorify violence, but speaking of killer, I’d like to wrap things up with what in my book is another absolute Young classic: Cortez the Killer, from Zuma, a 1975 album Neil recorded with Crazy Horse.

“I love this record,” Sampedro raved about Way Down in the Rust Bucket. “Neil plays great, unbelievably great. He’s just electrified. “Country Home” sounds like a country tune I never heard in my life. He just takes it to all kinds of different levels. He nails “Cortez.” He nails “Danger Bird” and “Over and Over.” He’s just playing so good and the band played really good.”

The last word shall belong to Young. We were in the pocket as soon as the lights went down that night at the Catalyst, he wrote on his website. I really love this memory and sharing it with all of you! We are so lucky to have this one. If you were there, our love goes out to you [man, I wish – you should have invited me, Neil!] Now this record and film brings that night to everybody! While it’s safe to assume no album can replace the experience of actually having been there that night at The Catalyst, I still take it!

BTW, Neil Young has been prolific with releases from his archives. Only last year, he put out three: Homegrown, Return to Greendale and Neil Young Archives Volume II: 1972-1976. The next one is already scheduled for March 26: Young Shakespeare, an all-acoustic solo gig recorded at Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Conn., on January 22, 1971, just three days after Young’s legendary Massey Hall show.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Neil Young website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Mansion on the Hill

Here’s a great goodie for all Neil Young fans, but before getting to it, I must give credit where credit is due: Earlier this week, Music Enthusiast pointed me to this Rolling Stone interview with Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, ex-guitarist of Neil’s longtime backing band Crazy Horse, who sadly was forced to retire several years ago due to severe arthritis in his hands and feet – yikes!

The interview was conducted in the wake of Neil’s latest release from his archives: Way Down in the Rust Bucket from last Friday, February 26, which I had completely missed! It captures the band live on November 13, 1990 at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, Calif. The nightclub holds about 800 people and is located close to Neil’s Broken Arrow ranch.

Mansion on the Hill, written by Neil Young, is from the Ragged Glory album he released with Crazy Horse in September of the same year. The above gig was scheduled as a “warm-up” to the band’s tour in support of the album.

Here’s an excerpt from Neil’s Archives site: Poncho and the boys are all excited to bring you what we feel is the definitive chapter in our story!…We were in the pocket as soon as the lights went down that night at the Catalyst…Now this record and film brings that night to everybody!

Said Poncho to Rolling Stone: “Let me go on record as saying that I think this Way Down in the Rust Bucket is the best Crazy Horse record we ever recorded. I love it! I love this record. Neil plays great, unbelievably great. He’s just electrified…He’s just playing so good and the band played really good.”

Indeed. And based on what I’ve heard thus far, it sounds awesome!

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Neil Young Archives website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World

A few minutes ago, I coincidentally saw that Neil Young turned 75 today. Young is one of my favorite artists, and perhaps somewhat selfishly, the first thing that came to mind was ‘Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World, Neil, so I can hopefully catch you again sometime!’

The above clip was captured during Young’s 1991 tour with Crazy Horse to support the Ragged Glory album. When I saw the footage, I simply couldn’t resist posting it, even though I covered the tune before, which is one of my favorite Neil Young rockers. Evidently, the audience loved it as well. I mean, how can you not!

Young first recorded Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World for his 17th studio album Freedom released in October 1989. In fact, the track bookends the album with an acoustic opener and an electric closer. The tune was inspired by political events at the time and a conversation between Young and his guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro while they were touring in the northwestern U.S.

Here’s an explanatory excerpt from Songfacts: “There was supposed to have been a cultural exchange between Russia and United States,” Sampedro recalled to Mojo in a 2018 interview. “Russia was getting Neil Young and Crazy Horse and we were getting the Russian ballet! All of a sudden, whoever was promoting the deal, a guy in Russia, took the money and split. We were all bummed, and I looked at him and said, ‘Man I guess we’re just gonna have to keep on rockin in the free world. He said, ‘Well, Poncho, that’s a good line. I’m gonna use that, if you don’t mind.'”

“So we checked into the hotel in Portland,” the guitarist continued. “And we needed a song. We needed a rocker. We’d written some songs and they were good but we didn’t have a real rocker. I said, ‘Look man, tonight, get in your room, think about all this stuff that’s going down – the Ayatollah, all the stuff in Afghanistan, all these wars breaking out, all the problems in America… “Keep On rockin in the free world,” you got that: put something together man, let’s have a song!’ And the next morning, we got on the bus to leave and he says, ‘OK, I did it!'”

Indeed, and here’s to many more years!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Neil Young Releases New Album With Crazy Horse

Young’s first new studio album with Crazy Horse since 2012 marks continuation of 50-year collaboration

I almost would have missed the new album by Neil Young & Crazy Horse, even though I previously wrote about Milky Way, the lead single that came out in late August. Colorado was released on October 25 while I was in Germany for a short trip. Young’s first new album with Crazy Horse since Psychedelic Pill from October 2012 in many ways sounds like a typical Neil album with the band: rugged and spontaneous. While it appeals to me and I suspect others digging Neil Young, I’m not sure it will gain him new fans. There is no obvious hit. But with Young being strong-willed and fiercely independent, I also suspect he doesn’t care.

One significant difference compared to previous Crazy Horse albums is the absence of Frank “Poncho” Sampedro. The band’s guitarist since 1975, who gave Crazy Horse a rawer, more edgy sound and became a frequent collaborator of Young, confirmed his retirement to Uncut earlier this year, as reported by Rolling Stone. Sampedro has been replaced by Nils Lofgren. Lofgren isn’t exactly a stranger. He played together with Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina, Crazy Horse’ bassist and drummer, respectively, on Young’s 1975 studio album Tonight’s The Night. He was also part of Crazy Horse’s eponymous debut album from February 1971, which the band recorded without Young.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse
From left: Billy Talbot, Neil Young, Nils Lofgren & Ralph Molina

Lofgren doesn’t appear to take things for granted. “It’s been a beautiful opportunity to play with dear friends that are still alive and well,” he told Rolling Stone. “Look, I hope there’s more, but I’ll take it a gig at a time right now.” Of course, Lofgren is also a member of the E Street Band, and Bruce Springsteen has confirmed plans for a new album with the band and a 2020 tour, as reported by NME. Let’s get to some music from Colorado, which by the way was recorded over an 11-day span this April at a studio in the Rocky Mountains at close to 9,000 feet – I suspect another difference to previous Crazy Horse albums!

Here’s the opener Think Of Me, which to me sounds more like a Neil Young solo tune. Like all tracks on the record, the song was written by him. The tune also sets up the album’s overall theme: Climate change and man-made environmental degradation. In addition to Young on guitar, harmonica and lead vocals, Talbot on bass and Molina on drums, the track features Lofgren on piano. Perhaps you thought Lofgren “only” is a guitarist. Nope, he’s a multi-instrumentalist who apart from guitar and piano/keyboards also plays accordion, pedal steel guitar and banjo. Not to imply anything negative here, but he certainly is no Sampedro!

So where’s some of that rugged sound I mentioned above? Ask and you shall receive. Here’s Olden Days. During an interview with Rolling Stone, Lofgren noted the initial plan had been for him to play acoustic guitar and accordion on the tune, but right before the band was supposed to record the track, Young suggested a heavier electric sound. “Right away, the song took on a more muscular, Crazy Horse vibe and it wasn’t forced,” Lofgren said. “That set the tempo for the rest of what we did.”

Green Is Blue is another gentle sounding tune, though Young’s message is everything but gentle: …We heard the warning calls, ignored them/We saw the weather change, we saw the fires and floods/We saw the people rise, divided/We fought each other while we lost our coveted prize…The song also features Lofgren on yet another instrument: vibraphone.

On Shut It Down, the band resumes a more muscular electric sound and Young is back with more dire warnings about environmental deterioration driven by human ignorance: …Have to shut the whole system down/All around the planet/There’s a blindness that just can’t see/Have to shut the whole system down/They’re all wearing climate change/As cool as they can be

The last tune I’d like to call out, I Do, is on the quieter side again. And there are more lyrics about environmental change. But two aspects regarding the instrumentation are new and intriguing: Lofgren on pump organ and Young on glass harmonica.

Asked by NPR about his philosophy that recording music isn’t about reaching perfection, Young pointed out, “We’re thinking about making it sound real, like you can feel that this means something to the people playing it. We’re not trying to impress anybody.” He also distinguished between rawness and imperfection and what he called a sound quality that’s as pure as possible. “They’re two totally different things. The raw thing that we create is the soul of music and the stories and the feelings of being human. The technical thing that happens is trying to capture that. If you try to capture that and you use tools that are less precise, then you get less of it. You know the feeling that you have when you hear something that’s really great and it touches your soul? The chances of it really touching your soul are much better if you hear all of it.”

Young has been pretty busy in recent years. Colorado is his fourth album since Peace Trail from December 2017. Apart from archiving all of his recordings on his website neilyoungarchives.com, he recently released Mountaintop, a film about the making of Colorado. It played in select theatres across the country on October 22. Here’s the trailer. Young is also working on 13 other films – gee! Moreover, on September 10, he published To Feel The Music, a book about his quest to bring high quality audio back to music lovers via his Pono music player.

Had it not been for the unexpected death of Elliot Roberts, who had been Young’s manager since 1967(!) and passed away on June 21 this year, Young probably would have announced a tour to support the new album. But as Lofgren told Rolling Stone, Young needs to adjust to a world without Elliot, so he has no present plans to hit the road with Crazy Horse. Colorado, which was produced by John Hanlon and Young, is dedicated to Roberts.

Sources: Wikipedia; Genius; Rolling Stone; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Neil Young with Crazy Horse/Milky Way

Today, Neil Young released Milky Way, the lead single from his upcoming album Colorado, the first with his long-time backing band Crazy Horse in seven years. The shaky voice, the ragged guitar sound and the overall style very much sound like classic Neil to me!

Based on Apple Music/iTunes, the album is slated for October 25 via Reprise Records and includes 10 tracks. In late April, a post on the Neil Young Archives website noted, “We believe we have a great Crazy Horse album, one to stand alongside ‘Everybody Know’s this is nowhere’, ‘Rust Never Sleeps’, Sleeps With Angels’, ‘Psychedelic Pill’ and all the others” (quote includes typos! 🙂 )

The current line-up of Crazy Horse features Neil Young (guitars, vocals, piano, vibes, harmonica), Nils Lofgren (guitars, vocals, pump organ), Ralph Molina (drums, vocals) and Billy Talbot (bass, vocals). Talbot and Molina are original members of the band. Lofgren replaced Frank “Poncho” Sampedro who joined Crazy Horse in 1975 and retired last year.

Sources: Neil Young Archives, Apple Music, Pitchfork, YouTube