Crazy Horse

 

Crazy Horse photo 1

Crazy Horse (1971) left to right:
Danny Whitten, Jack Nitzsche, Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina

 

 

Contributor: Dave Stephens

SPOILER ALERT!

Crazy Horse made five official studio albums (plus an oddity which I cover after the ‘real’ ones). The first of them was an absolute cracker and I’d recommend its purchase to anyone interested in late sixties/early seventies rock or good music in general. The rest can be safely ignored. Surprising? It’s less surprising when you take into account the fact that apart from the common denominator of a rhythm section consisting of Billy Talbot (bass) and Ralph Molina (drums), those albums were recorded by five different bands.

So, all the really good stuff came at the beginning. I hope that doesn’t disappoint too much and do appreciate that a recent getting-it-all-together-properly effort from the Horse would have made a much better ending. Oh well. At least Billy & Ralph were with Neil for 2019’s Colorado after something of an outage, and it was a decent effort. But then the Neil Young albums “with Crazy Horse” did tend to be the better ones.

Before diving into the history of the Horse, a track might not be a bad idea so the reader can get some idea what I’m talking about, and what could be better than track #1 off that album I’m already praising to the hilt, 1971’s Crazy Horse. Any film buff out there specialising in the period might be aware of the song, Gone Dead Train written by Jack Nitzsche and Russ Titelman, since it featured in the 1970 film Performance starring James Fox and Mick Jagger. As sung by Randy Newman at his rockingest, the track was a fierce up tempo white blues about erectile dysfunction. Yup, I do mean that. Blues artists were in the habit of using vehicles as metaphors, note Lightnin’ Slim’s My Starter Won’t Work and Nitzsche & Titelman not only tapped into that stream, “then the fire in my boiler up and quit before I came / Ain’t no empty cellar like a gone dead train”, but positively revelled in the opportunity to extend the imagery every which way.

The Crazy Horse version cuts back on the speed such that it’s more suited to one of those steam-powered trains (as Ray Davies called them) and introduces an intriguing guitar-driven riff to emulate those clackety clack wheels. This train ain’t busting a gut but it’s gonna get there if this band can do anything about it. For a comparison I’d point the reader at Creedence; it has that glorious merger of R&B, soul, country and guitars everywhere that John Fogerty seemed to make his own during a very similar timeframe, though I don’t believe any conscious copying has taken place. A splendid opener and one that sets the bar high for the tracks to follow.

Before leaving the track and, temporarily, the LP, it’s worth stating at this juncture that the “extra” members of Crazy Horse for this first album without Neil Young i.e. in addition to Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina, were Danny Whitten, then lead vocalist for the Horse who takes all bar three lead vocals on the set (including Gone Dead Train), Jack Nitzsche himself, who not only produced the LP but also played piano and sang (and had been present on Young’s first solo set in a not dissimilar role) and Nils Lofgren who would go on to appear on several “Neil Young with CH” albums. There were also walk-on roles for Ry Cooder whose slide guitar stars on three tracks (but ironically not Gone Dead Train though he did feature strongly on the Newman original, and was also on the first Neil Young LP) and Gib Guilbeau who’s the man with the cajun style fiddle on Dance, Dance, Dance.

Danny Ray Whitten was born on 8th May 1943 in Columbus, Ohio but the family moved to Canton, Ohio in 1952. His two loves in school days were dancing and rock and roll. He formed a singing group to play school dances and Friday nights called the El Cadens. According to sister Brenda (whose words appear in “Downtown: The Danny Whitten Story”) they sang “a lot of doo-wop stuff especially (the Five Satins) “In The Still Of The Night””. At the age of 17 Danny joined the US Navy but was out within six months when he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and told he would be in a wheel chair by the age of 40. The following year he hitched a ride to Los Angeles but had to phone his mother to wire him the money so he could catch a bus home. What he saw impressed him though and he was back there again with friend Larry Lear before too long. He started frequenting a popular Hollywood dance spot, the Peppermint West, and hooked up with a gorgeous – her words – black dancer called Marie Janisse to compete in dance competitions (and the words this time come from “Shakey: Neil Young’s biography” written by Jimmy McDonough). It was also in that location that he met another doo wop fan, Billy Talbot (born 23rd October 1943 in New York City).

The two guys decided to form a doo wop group, as you do, and found a couple of others to join them, Lou Bispol and Pat Vegas. The last named didn’t stay but Bispol pointed them in the direction of his cousin Ralph, or in full, Ralph Molina (born 22nd June 1943 in Puerto Rica but brought up in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and, at the time, singing with a group in Florida). And in that manner Danny and the Memories was born.

Chapter 23 in Neil Young’s autobiography “Waging Heavy Peace Deluxe: A Hippie Dream” starts:

“Danny and the Memories was the band at the root of Crazy Horse. They were a vocal group with Danny Whitten, Ralphie, Billy and a guy named Ben Rocco. When I recently saw a video of “Land Of A Thousand Dances” on YouTube I realized that is truly the shit. You know, I looked at it maybe twenty times in a row. Even though Danny was amazing and he held the Horse together in the early days, I did not know how great Danny was until I saw this! The moves! What an amazing dancer he was. His presence on that performance is elevating!

(And Neil’s correct in his naming, Lou Bispol had also left the group and was replaced by Ben Rocco).

This is that clip:

The sound on it is on the murky side. Better by far is the reproduction, and the quality of Danny & the Memories sole single, Can’t Help Loving That Girl Of Mine, a slow doo wopper which was a much better showcase for the Whitten voice, falsetto included.

With no disrespect to the boys – and I happen to love that single – their record was hardly flavour of the moment. It was released in summer ’64 by which time the Brit Invasion had hit the US with a bang; in April that year the Beatles held the top five positions in the Hot 100. In other words, guitar dominated groups were in, and black, white or in-between doo wop groups were out (though Phil Spector continued to fight a rearguard action). The Memories single did zilch saleswise and the eyes (and ears) of Danny and the boys were opened when they caught a live set from the Byrds that same year. To quote David Downing in his book “Neil Young: The Man And His Music”:

“It was time, they decided, that they learned to play some electric instruments. Whitten already played a little guitar, Ralph took up drums and Billy opted for the bass. Lou had disappeared by this time, and Ben Rocco, the designated lead guitarist, decided he would rather get married.”

Over the coming months and years the band which picked up the name, the Rockets after some dalliance with the alternative of the Psyrcle, gained further members: the brothers George and Leon Whitsell from San Francisco as replacements for Rocco on guitar) and Bobby Notkoff, an electric violin player.

The Rockets managed to get regular bookings and, in 1968, a record deal. Their sole release, a self-titled LP was issued on the White Whale label (which was more famous for hosting the Turtles and Nino Tempo & April Stevens). Production was by Barry Goldberg. For the outfit that would trim down and become Crazy Horse, the debut wasn’t overly auspicious but did have its good points. The Leon Whitsell written I Won’t Always Be Around was one, but its Impressions-istic styling while totally at odds with the rest of the set was a thing of beauty with the Whitten falsetto again to the fore. The lead-off track, Hole In My Pocket was possibly as close as the sextet got to the Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere sound but that would still have been a hefty sonic leap. Let Me Go shared some wording with Down By The River but otherwise resemblance was minimal. The best Whitten composed song was Won’t You Say You’ll Stay but so-so production prevented it from being a really great track.

In the thrasherswheat blog (and one of its indents covering the Horse biography) Billy Talbot is quoted as saying that the Rockets LP sold “about 5,000 copies”. The biography goes on to say:

“”We first met Neil and jammed with him a little in Laurel Canyon when he was in the Buffalo Springfield and The Rockets were just coming together,” says Talbot. “Later, Neil heard our album, really liked it, and he sat in with us at The Whisky. Then he wanted to record this song, ‘Cinnamon Girl,’ with Danny, Ralph and me. So we went up to Neil’s studio in Topanga Canyon to work on that one song.”

“The March 1969 session went so well that Young invited the musicians back to record “Cowgirl In the Sand,” “Down By the River” and the rest of the songs that would fill Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere on the first album by Neil Young and Crazy Horse (the new name Young had bestowed upon Molina, Talbot and Whitten).”

The coming together of Neil Young and Crazy Horse on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere warrants a pause in the telling of this story. Much of the sound that can be heard on that album was the sound we would hear on a considerable number of later Young albums (but nowhere near all I should add).

Those albums usually featured Crazy Horse (minus Danny Whitten but usually with Frank “Poncho” Sampredo on guitar) but again, not all. So the sound that these gentlemen conjured up was to be an enduring feature of the Young musical persona. In his biography of the man, David Downing put this well:

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere was like a starter kit for Young’s career. He would hone its parts in future years but he would never improve on its raw spirit.”

Following the release of Everybody Knows, Neil went on tour with his new band plus Jack Nitzsche leaving the other members of the Rockets effectively stranded (though some would work with Neil in the future). It seemed like a new partnership had been forged. But nothing was ever that simple with Young. By the time he got round to recording tracks for what would become After The Goldrush, two significant things had happened: he had become the “Y” in CSN&Y, and Danny Whitten had become addicted to heroin. With roughly half the album done, in May 1970 Neil fired the Horse trio in an attempt to apply shock treatment to Danny. It didn’t work but before too long Neil took back Ralph Molina to fill the drummer slot. For the guitar position (and piano work) he brought on board a young man who’d auditioned for him while on the NY/CH tour, Nils Lofgren. Subsequently Neil went back on his earlier decision and brought Danny and Billy back, ostensibly to help on backing vocals, for which he’d already borrowed Stephen Stills, but they also supplied some instrumental support.

After The Goldrush received a slightly mixed initial reaction from the critics but it solidified Neil’s perception with the US public, climbing to #8 in the Billboard Albums Chart. Over the years the reputation of the album has grown to the extent that it’s now regarded as being one of his very best.

Reprise signed the Horse to a contract and they worked on their eponymous album in late 1970. With Danny Whitten strongly featured, it was released in February 1971 and peaked at #84 in the Billboard Album Chart. Later that same year, Talbot and Molina sacked Whitten from the band due to his worsening drug habit and its impact on his ability to contribute. In 1972 they recruited varying groupings of other musicians and cut two albums, Loose and At Crooked Lake (which title might have suggested a live set but didn’t).

Having heard (incorrectly) that Danny Whitten had kicked his habit, in autumn 1972, Young invited him to his Broken Arrow ranch outside San Francisco for rehearsals for a forthcoming tour – he had, at this time, been off the stage due to back problems for 18 months. Strictly speaking, Whitten was off heroin but was attempting to kill the addiction by use of other drugs and large amounts of alcohol. The rehearsals didn’t go at all well and, on 18th November, Danny got fired again, this time from a promise of a lucrative tour. A regretful Neil gave Danny $50, a plane ticket to L.A. and had him driven to the airport. In L.A. he ended up in Jack Nitzsche’s place, went into the bathroom and never came out. The autopsy stated that he had died of “acute diazepam and ethanol intoxication” (source: the Neil Young “Shakey” biography).

During August and September of 1973, Neil with Ralph & Billy, Jack & Nils plus others, worked on an album which would eventually see release as Tonight’s The Night in summer ’75. The album was devoted to the memory of Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry. The latter was a young CSN&Y roadie and personal friend of Neil. He had reportedly (Shakey plus elsewhere) been turned on to heroin by Danny and had overdosed, in June 1973. The title track of the album was explicitly about Bruce but it was his death which brought back painful recall of Danny to Neil. And Danny features personally on the album via a live version of Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown from March 1970 with Danny & Neil sharing the lead vocal; this was the song that would appear on Crazy Horse as Downtown.

Billy Talbot became friendly with Frank “Pedro” Sampedro (born 25th February 1949 in Welch, Virginia) in 1974. They went on holiday to Mexico, bought cheap guitars and enjoyed playing together so, on his return, Billy put forward his new mate to Ralph Molina as candidate for the vacant guitar slot. Ralph wasn’t initially entirely convinced but Neil was and that’s what mattered. And it’s those three guys sometimes working as Talbot & Molina only, sometimes Sampedro only, who have worked with Neil, on and off, ever since.

 

That was quite a long story but I felt things would be clearer if I set it down first and then switched to the music. I’ll be starting with album #2, work through till the final set (1989’s Left For Dead) and finish with my thoughts on album #1. That’s the one which will always mean Crazy Horse to me as in “Crazy Horse, the band? You mean Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and that album of course”.

For the second album, Loose, Ralph and Billy brought back George Whitsell and took on board Greg Leroy (guitar) and John Blanton (keyboards and cello) and added some harmonica from Joel Tepp. The newcomers and Whitsell took over lead vocal responsibility and composing though it has to be said that, at this juncture Ralph & Billy were hardly prolific on the latter front. The content varied between not overly convincing attempts to emulate the NY & CH sound mainly authored by Whitsell, Try was probably the best of these, and soft country rock; the solitary single from the set coupled two such efforts: All Alone Now and One Thing I Love. If I had a favourite from the set it would probably be Move, another Whitsell composition. It’s the only one that comes anywhere near catching the spirit of Crazy Horse though it’s let down by the corny theme of the lyrics.

AllMusic gave the album two and a half stars and compared the band sound on it to Poco, which for me is doing a disservice to the latter band.

 

At Crooked Lake (on Epic) was marginally better than Loose. The “added ingredients” this time were the brothers Michael and Rick Curtis. Blanton had gone but Leroy stayed. There were several studio extras including “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow (on pedal steel of course) and our old friend and violin hero, Bobby Notkoff. The result was still soft country rock but with a little more edge. Track #1, Rock And Roll Band echoed some of the sound of a NY & CH performance and its chord sequence was definitely from the Young mould, but it was atypical for the set.

In my book the best pair of numbers in the set were the bittersweet Love Is Gone with rhythmic changes denoting the particularly sombre bits, and Outside Lookin’ In, which with its twin vocal attack and some tasty licks from Michael Curtis’ mandolin bears at least a passing resemblance to the kind of noise made by Dillard & Clark on two splendid albums.

 

By the time we reach 1978’s Crazy Moon, Frank Sampedro has been in place as Crazy Horse guitarist for several years, and what’s more, the reinforced group have cut not one but three albums with Neil (though without always receiving billing on the front of the record sleeve). That Neil is fully comfortable with the “new” set-up is confirmed by the facts that both he, on guitar, is present on five of the numbers and that members of his production team are also on hand. Guesting also for some of the numbers are various “old boys” like Greg Leroy and Michael Curtis from albums 2 & 3 respectively plus Bobby Notkoff from the Rockets and Barry Goldberg, producer of The Rockets, on keyboards. Perhaps inevitably this time around, the Young presence, whether physically present or not, is felt more strongly than hitherto, and even on non-Neil tracks like Billy Talbot’s That Day there’s a feeling that we’re listening to a discarded Young + CH track with someone standing in on vocal. In terms of composing, Messrs Talbot and Molina come out of their respective shells to an extent on this set though it’s Sampedro’s name that appears most frequently in the credits. While he’s not one of the more original or literate writers, he does have the ability to put together the sort of song structures on which Neil often layers his guitar work, witness Thunder And Lightning which for me is the best of the “Crazy Horse with Neil Young” tracks:

That one was under consideration for the ten for a spell but what swayed me against it eventually was the fact that there are literally scores of tracks in the Neil Young canon which are better. I’m not sure that I’d go as far as to call it a pastiche but that term must be applicable to much of the content on the final Crazy Horse album, 1989’s Left For Dead.

Sampedro was absent for this one; he was working with Neil while Billy and Ralph were out in the cold – hence the album title. In Frank’s place they brought in Sonny Pone (lead vocal and composer – his name is on all tracks either as single or co-composer) and Matt Piucci (lead guitar). Effectively these two split the Young role between them, with Pone aping the man vocally and Piucci attempting the same on guitar. Take a listen to World Of Love, and yes, it does broadly sound like a Young song …

… but do we need “broadly Young sounding song(s)” from anyone other than Neil? This isn’t an isolated track (I’d warn that the album’s not on Spotify and not too many individual tracks are on YT though the full album has been uploaded).

That leaves just one album to mention though it’s one that never saw release on vinyl, CD or tape. Trick Horse was apparently posted by one Poncho Villa (presumed to be Frank Sampredo) in 2009. According to a German Neil Young fanzine (Rusted Moon), Frank had a set of instrumental tracks cut from an unknown set of musicians in 1986 and then overdubbed the voices of Ralph, Billy and himself. This was done at his own expense. The results were then very belatedly posted on iTunes as the album Trick Horse in 2009. Only one track has been uploaded to YT – Looking For Somebody – but I’ve sampled the lot on iTunes and they’re nothing more than anonymous semi-heavy rock.

 

And now for something completely different.

Well maybe not completely but if you’re thinking chalk and cheese, I’d say that’s applicable. If you recall that first track I featured from Crazy Horse you’ll recall the tempo being medium, with a degree of urgency and guitars dominating. All of this but nothing too explicitly reminding you of the guy from North Ontario (apart from one which I’ll come to). And so it continued.

I’m going to jump straight to the final track; I have to reject one for Toppermost since there are eleven in total, and lopping off the last means I don’t have to think too much about the decision. Crow Jane Lady from Jack Nitzsche with sole composing credit this time (and he’s on vocal, too). Another bluesy outing but with Ry Cooder slithering up and down those strings. Slightly reminiscent of Mungo Jerry’s sole real claim to fame, In The Summertime, (and not just in the line: “Like a window wants the sunshine / Like the summer’s always needin’ some rain”).

Carolay, Jack’s final composition, but this time paired with Russ Titelman again, is the most poppy of his three but with acid in there, “but you ain’t coming back”. Opening with Jack’s own piano but a strutting guitar figure takes over and propels the number through to the final acceptance: “Carolay, hey, I’ll see you in the Cypress Grove someday”, interrupted only by a brief few moments of slow pondering. Like well over half the songs in the set, it’s sung by Danny, a reminder that he’s the front man when Neil’s not around. And again like over half the songs in the set, it’s over in three minutes or so but you’re wanting it back.

The shortest track on the album, Dance, Dance, Dance, coming in at 2:10, is donated by Neil himself and it’s worth listening to his version which was cut with the Horse but didn’t see the light of day until the release of his first Archives set in 2009. The tune would later get reused by Young for Like A Rose which was slipped into his Decade Box Set in 1977. In the hands of the Horse the number is transformed into the most outright hedonistic outing in the entire set with a tad more pressure on the accelerator than elsewhere and that title word emphasised by some crazy cajun knees-up stuff from Gib Guilbeau’s fiddle. Slightly reminiscent of Neil, yes, but differing considerably from his version.

Unrelieved sunlight doesn’t feature on either of Nils Lofgren’s two compositions, Nobody and Beggar’s Day though one would guess that the man himself must have been happy to have songs of his on vinyl for the first time, a fact that not too many critics have commented on. In another first, Nils gets to sing one of the pair, Beggars Day. For first published & recorded songs, both are surprisingly good with performances that do them justice. Both start with the kind of mid-tempo choogling that is the first impression on a superficial listen to almost any of these tracks but subtleties emerge rapidly both via their lyrics and changes in melody and rhythm. Nobody, a song which is relationship-based utilises chord changes that you feel shouldn’t work but they do, a trick that John & Paul pulled off on some of those early Beatles records. The lack of light in Beggars Day is less specific; in an interview with Greg Prato on 17th December 2015, Nils said, when asked about the lyrical inspiration behind the song:

“There was just a darkness as a kid – and we still do it to our kids today – like, “Hey, you’re 15 now, start thinking about what college you’re going to, and SAT scores, and what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.” It’s just an enormous pressure and a very irresponsible thing to put on young people, because every four months they’re a stranger to themselves due to hormones. And we’re still doing it – it’s kind of a crazy thing,”

If this is heaven, then I’m in hell

There’s a coda to the story of Beggars Day. After Danny’s death in November 1972, Nils recut the song with his band Grin and included the number in the album Gone Crazy in 1973 under the extended title, Beggar’s Day (Eulogy To Danny Whitten).

Mr Whitten himself was responsible for five songs on Crazy Horse and they’re the songs for which he’ll be remembered. His writing had improved beyond measure from the Rockets’ days and the songs (and arrangements) ran the gamut from garage to tender ballad. Whether someone’s tongue was in his cheek or not for the “garage” effort we know not but Crazy Horse have often been labelled as garage, rather lazily in my view because their records only rarely sound like all those garage discs which were around in the US in the mid to late sixties. However, the song in question Dirty, Dirty is a delightful ditty which contains 8 different words and 8 different chords. I think this is what’s known in the biz as finding a groove and hitting it.

A pause at this juncture to put in a plug for Jack Nitzsche on the piano. He’s present on most of the tracks, sometimes prominent, sometimes less so, but the album wouldn’t be the album it is without him (and not too many garage bands boasted a pianist in their ranks).

There’s a broad aura of intelligent L.A. pop around Danny’s I’ll Get By. It could even have come from the Byrds circa The Notorious Byrd Brothers though McGuinn’s lot probably wouldn’t have had that whacking great guitar riff in the intro and continuing to show up throughout. Quite why it didn’t occur to anyone to release this as a single I don’t know; it does seem such an obvious candidate. I was tempted to say something similar about Look At All The Things but as the song progresses, darker elements intrude like the multiple echoing repeats of the extended title line suggesting stress or some form of mental disorder, all this prior to an apocalyptic guitar break which takes place in another key.

I’ll get by, won’t you?
As sure as the sky is blue
A million nights go by and I find I’m missing you
But I’ll get by ’cause I have you

Look at all the things that I’ve got, that I’ve got
Look at all the things that I’ve got, that I’ve got

Two tracks to go and they just happen to be the best.

(Come on Baby Let’s Go) Downtown kicks off almost like a football chant with the whole band joining in vocally for the chorus, fully in line with songs like Little Richard’s Rip It Up, revelling in the anticipation of a great night out. Things turn decidedly different when Danny takes over for the solo verses:

Sure enough, they’ll be sellin’ you stuff
For when the moon begins to rise
Pretty bad when you’re dealin’ with the man
And the light shines in your eyes

What we have is a song in the vein of the Lou Reed/Velvet Underground classic, I’m Waiting For The Man and it fully deserves to be talked about in the same sentence. There was no artifice here. Danny Whitten lived this life.

In his final song, I Don’t Want To Talk About It, Danny approached tragedy directly. Moving on to more mundane things, the reader is unlikely not to be aware that the kilted ex-mod made a version of this song and I have nothing against Sir Roderick (I do own his first and second solo LPs and much enjoyed his performances with Long John Baldry’s outfits) but the Danny/Crazy Horse original is just one of those all-time great performances. I still remember way, way back when I bought the LP, took it to the flat, played it once, then again, and on the second run through this was the track that knocked me sideways. It’s been in my brain ever since.

“Billy and Ralph will get into a groove and everything will be goin’ along and all of a sudden Danny’ll start doin’ somethin’ else. He just led those guys from one groove to another – all within the same groove. So when I played those long guitar solos, it seemed like they weren’t all that long, that I was making all these changes, when in reality what was changing was not one thing but the whole band, Danny was the key.” (Source: Neil Young in the archived DannyWhitten.com)

“Danny Whitten was the focal point of Crazy Horse, but he was also the fault line that ran through it.” (Source: Neil Young in the neilyoungnews blog on 20th November 2010 “Remembering Danny Whitten”)

 

Crazy Horse photo 3

Danny Whitten (1943-1972)

 

FOOTNOTES

1. Jack Nitzsche was born in Chicago in 1937 but was brought up on a farm in Newago, Michigan. He moved to L.A. in 1955, got work as a session musician and worked his way up to become part of the Wrecking Crew. He was hired by Phil Spector as arranger and conductor and orchestrated the famous wall of sound on many sessions including the one for Ike & Tina Turner’s River Deep, Mountain High. He provided piano and other keyboard support for the Stones on albums including Aftermath and Between The Buttons. He worked with Neil Young in the Buffalo Springfield days, was co-producer on the first solo album and contributed to a number of later albums. He also worked with a wide range of other artists. In the 1970s he moved more into film music.

2. I am pleased to say that Nils Lofgren hasn’t been ignored by the Toppermost community and there’s a fine Topper in place on the man from Ian Ashleigh. For a taster here’s I Came To Dance, Ian’s first selection.

3. Floyd August “Gib” Guilbeau is a somewhat shadowy figure who was part of the emerging country rock scene in L.A. and beyond in the mid to late sixties and early seventies. He was a member of Nashville West, Swampwater and the Flying Burrito Brothers (for the Flying Again album). Although mainly known for his cajun style fiddle work – he was born in Sunset, Louisiana – he would also sometimes contribute vocals. I would place him amongst slightly better-known figures like Gene Parsons, Clarence White and “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow.

4. The song on the A-side of the solitary single from Danny and the Memories, Can’t Help Loving That Girl of Mine, was actually an oldie from the musical Showboat, composed by Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern. It was first recorded by Helen Morgan in 1928 as Can’t Help Loving Dat Man but the version that Danny and the boys would undoubtedly have picked up on was the one from doo wop outfit the Hide-A-Ways in 1954 (and reportedly, copies of the original single are very difficult to find).

5. Barry Goldberg is a blues and rock keyboards player, composer and record producer. The initial paragraph on the man in Wiki suggests that he had a shedload of potential:

“As a teenager in Chicago, Goldberg sat in with Muddy Waters, Otis Rush and Howlin’ Wolf. He played keyboards with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band backing Bob Dylan during his 1965 newly ‘electrified’ appearance at the Newport Folk Festival. He formed The Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield in 1967, and later formed the ‘Barry Goldberg Reunion’ in 1968.”

Following all that sterling activity Goldberg appears to have had a steady but unsensational career in the music industry.

6. I refer to the “other” members of the Rockets, the Whitsell brothers and Bobby Notkoff as being effectively stranded after (and indeed, during) the recording of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere). I shouldn’t ignore the fact that Notkoff was present on one track on that album, the one with the perhaps rather too knowing title, Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets), a cut that never seems to get much attention in the Young canon, and the Notkoff contribution was superb.

7. While the Loose album isn’t present on Spotify in its own right, the tracks from it are contained in Scratchy, a compilation of all the band’s Reprise recordings (with bonus tracks) which was released in 2005 and is on Spotify. Among those extras are both sides of the Danny and the Memories single.

8. In terms of other “Downtown” type songs another comparison to the Danny Whitten number is the Flatlanders/Jimmie Dale Gilmore number, Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown from the Flatlanders’ debut album which was cut in 1972 but didn’t see official release until 1980. According to Songfacts, Jimmie and his co-writer John Reed started writing the song in 1969 i.e. before the Danny Whitten number was first released.

9. Whilst putting this article together I started rereading my copy of David Downing’s “A Dreamer Of Pictures: Neil Young: The Man And His Music”. On page 49, he is covering that period between albums number one and two, with a history of troubles within Buffalo Springfield and more recent doubts from Neil about the approach to and the quality of the first album. He makes this statement:

“Young decided once and for all that he didn’t want to be the Beatles. If he was going to play in a band – and he seems never to have seriously considered spending the rest of his career alone with an acoustic guitar – then that band would play and record like a live band, make mistakes, sound raw, sound human, They would be, in Young’s mind at least, much more akin to the Rolling Stones than to the Beatles, with one crucial difference: in his band there would only be one writer, one leader.”

And we know what happened next.

I thought it would be fitting to close with a clip of Neil and the Horse live playing one of the numbers from LP #2, so here’s the opening track, Cinnamon Girl, live in 1991.

 

Crazy Horse (Reprise, 1971) … Side One: Gone Dead Train; Dance, Dance, Dance; Look At All The Things; Beggars Day; I Don’t Want To Talk About It … Side Two: Downtown; Carolay; Dirty, Dirty; Nobody; I’ll Get By; Crow Jane Lady

spotify-logo-primary-horizontal-dark-background-rgb-sm
Crazy Horse playlist

 

Crazy Horse photo 2

Crazy Horse (1972) left to right:
Greg Leroy, Rick & Michael Curtis, Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina

 

Billy Talbot official website

Danny Whitten website (archived)

Thrasher’s Wheat: Neil Young and Crazy Horse

Nils Lofgren official website

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Jack Nitzsche fansite

Neil Young official website

Crazy Horse (Discogs)

Crazy Horse biography (AllMusic)

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

TopperPost #902

4 Comments

  1. Marc Fagel
    Sep 11, 2020

    Damn, this is one astoundingly in-depth overview. Learning a lot here. I’ve never spent much time with their non-Neil discography beyond the first album, but will give it another spin. (I’m wrapping up a Neil Young Toppermost at this very moment, and this write-up provides a lot more detail than my cursory references to the band.) I didn’t realize Matt Piucci played on that last album; he’s fabulous (Rain Parade being one of my favorite bands ever).

  2. Andrew Shields
    Sep 12, 2020

    Thanks for this brilliantly comprehensive piece. And ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ is such a stunning song – first heard it through Rod. As you say, however, Danny’s original is better even than his fine rendition. Thanks again.

    • Dave Stephens
      Sep 12, 2020

      Many thanks for your comments gentlemen. And Marc, I’m not sure whether I envy you or not taking on Neil Young, a man who seems to have had the knack of grabbing my attention every decade or so just when I’d almost forgotten him. And so many songs to choose from that the old cliché of no reader being satisfied seems almost inevitable. I can vouch for that by finding myself in disagreement (on more than one occasion) on a song’s merits with the author of the biography I quote in my essay.

  3. David Lewis
    Sep 15, 2020

    One of my favourite Rod songs is ‘I don’t wanna talk about it’… and it’s great. But my goodness Danny Whitten….

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