#50GreatestConcerts: Neil Young and Crazy Horse, 1970
While other early jam bands played with virtuosic professionalism, Young’s Crazy Horse produced raw chaos
In early 1970, Neil Young had finally become a star thanks to the huge success of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. During a quick break from that band and from recording his third solo LP, After the Gold Rush, Young decided to introduce his new fans to his other band, Crazy Horse – whose garage-rock thrash sounded the complete opposite of CSNY – on a run of clubs, theaters and the occasional junior-college auditorium. “When Neil plays with Crazy Horse, he goes into this other place and plays deep from inside,” says drummer Ralph Molina. “He becomes Neil Young, the real Neil Young.”
It was a sound no one had heard before. While other early jam bands like the Allman Brothers played with virtuosic professionalism, Crazy Horse produced raw chaos. Each night began with a brief solo acoustic set before Crazy Horse came onstage. Songs like “Down by the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” sometimes stretched to nearly 20 minutes, Young trading unhinged solos with guitarist Danny Whitten. “Danny had a strong musical presence, probably just as strong as Neil,” says bassist Billy Talbot. “We started doing songs longer, which Neil had never done before.”
In March, Bill Graham booked them at the Fillmore East for four shows in two nights, where they shared a bill with Miles Davis and the Steve Miller Band. Each night, Whitten sang “Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown,” a song about scoring heroin, which he’d started using heavily around this time. One night backstage, Young wrote down the phrase “I’ve seen the needle and the damage done” on a sheet of paper. Within two years, Whitten was dead, and Young’s song about him, “The Needle and the Damage Done,” would appear on Harvest, the best-selling album of 1972. “It was such a loss,” said Young. “[It taught me] you can’t count on things. You just can’t take things for granted. Anything could go at any time.”
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Watch Neil Young perform with Crazy Horse in the 1976 below: