Fired by Neil Young, rhythm section regrouped to make ‘Left for Dead’
For five decades, Crazy Horse has been associated with Neil Young, one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most talented and versatile yet reclusive and enigmatic performers and personalities.
For many of Young’s solo albums (away from Buffalo Springfield, the Stills/Young Band and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), Crazy Horse has shared double-billing with the mercurial godfather of grunge. The group featured Young on lead guitar, Billy Talbot on bass and Ralph Molina on drums.
Danny Whitten played rhythm guitar with the outfit until his death from a heroin overdose in the early 1970’s. He eventually would be replaced by Frank “Poncho” Sampredo.
Young occasionally would change musical direction, throw temper tantrums and collaborate with others. When Young was out doing his own thing, Molina, Whitten and Talbot would record under the name and collaborate with artists like longtime Young and Bruce Springsteen sidekick Nils Lofgren, who also has a critically-acclaimed solo career.
Crazy Horse’s best album without Young undoubtedly was its self-titled 1971 LP. But they’ve recorded four other albums with minimal or no contribution from Young.
In 1986, Young and the band released “Life,” one of their finer works together. After the subsequent tour, Young, Molina and Talbot had a falling out. The two sidemen were not invited to join the Blue Notes, a blues and jazz group in which the earthy sound of screeching guitars was replaced by horns and a more smooth, polished sound.
Sampredo accepted an invite to play keyboards for the Blue Notes, but Talbot and Molina were fired, and Young vowed to never play with Crazy Horse’s longtime rhythm section ever again.
Thankfully, he reneged on that promise, and the quartet would reunite and record “Ragged Glory,” its best work since “Rust Never Sleeps.”
But in 1989, Molina and Talbot teamed with lead axe man Matt Piucci and Sonny Mone, a songwriter, lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist. Both players were relative unknowns, but together with the two Crazy Horse mainstays, they created “Left for Dead.”
The LP was a nine-song compilation of straight-ahead hard rock, and the sound was similar to Young-fronted efforts.
The title track opens the record, and it seems to be taking shots at Young for kicking Molina and Talbot (both excellent songwriters who each wrote or co-wrote several of the album’s tunes) to the curb.
“Child of War” and “You and I” are slower songs. They are the only real standouts, but the record is better than its individual parts.
“Left for Dead” may be relatively obscure and may have gone largely unnoticed, but it has its charm. It also serves as proof that Crazy Horse doesn’t need Young in the fold in order to produce and perform great music. It also shows that Mone and Piucci are capable musicians. Molina and Talbot play their roles beautifully, as well. And hey, they can write songs too.