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Published: 2013/08/08
by Brian Robbins

On The Road To Spearfish with Crazy Horse’s Billy Talbot

The title track can’t help but invite Crazy Horse comparisons, but what folks really need to listen to is how everyone is layered in on the jams; there’s a squall of guitar which somehow morphs into a sax break … but about the time you’re getting your head around that, the harmonica picks up what the sax is saying and takes it from there. Who was playing traffic cop for the jam?

We discussed it a little bit beforehand. I said, “We’re going to play the solo: Matt, you take it on the guitar; and then Erik, you come in on the sax; and Ryan, you put down the trombone and come in on the harmonica …” And that’s what happened. That was the first take that you hear.

We did another take later on where Erik went out and played the piano while we were playing. We stole the piano off the second take and put it on the first. It’s just … painting a picture, you know? Just doing something with what we had. We didn’t do much manipulating on the record, but that piano was something we did do. The basic song is live, though; first take.

My note from my initial listen while on the road was “Big, big pictures.”

For me, I always picture these five or six Native Americans on top of this butte having a conversation – and then they ride off across the prairie. When they come to another butte, they stop up on top of it and have another conversation … and then they ride off across the prairie again.

That’s how I picture that song. I’m just sharing that with you – test it out when you listen to it and see what you think. (laughs)

No, I hear you. Where I come from, the verses are like islands … and the jams are when you’re sailing across the ocean in-between the islands.

Yeah – there you go. (laughter)

Lovely vocals on “Big Rain.”

That’s Ryan and me with Tommy joining in, as well.

The drums do a great job of providing a backbone, but at the same time, they allow the song to drift. That’s a difficult thing to do … and a lot of people couldn’t. They would have fenced the song in too much.

That’s what I was talking about: rock ‘n’ roll in a more intimate setting; the looseness of rock ‘n’ roll. I love the harmonica and saxophone on that song – it’s a really cool sound. And it’s another first take. I really wanted to capture the guys playing the song when they’re really feeling it for the first time, not after they’ve played it 17 times or something … there was none of that.

Sometimes it takes a few passes to catch the groove, but I think you can go too far –

Yeah, and the spirit gets taken out of it. If the music doesn’t have spirit, it doesn’t have anything. I think the only song we did a fourth take on was “Runnin’ Around” and what you said is exactly right – we needed to find that groove … but once we did, we got it.

I mentioned that street corner feel on “Runnin’ Around” – that doo-wop feel is back on “The Herd”.

Well, thank you. I just love that one – the harmonies; the “trombonium”; the sax … it has a real jazz flavor to it. We were lucky on that one, because it has a lot of chord changes and goes to different places – but Tommy got way into it on this baritone bass that he played. It really helped the song.

Now if I’ve got the story right on “Miller Drive,” we’re hearing the song being birthed, right then and there, correct?

It happened exactly in that moment; the tape was rolling and Eric captured it. I didn’t even know it was there for a couple of months – I barely even remembered doing it. We were getting ready to play “God And Me” and were tuning up … and just started doing it.

Everyone hung in there, improvising as we went – nobody chickened out or stopped playing and asked “What are we doing?” It just happened: I made up the words as we were doing it. Not that they’re that great, but it’s about a brothel in a town that’s keeping the town alive. It’s kind of ironic that we were getting ready to do the song “God And Me”. (laughter)

Well, sometimes you gotta get that stuff out of you.

Yeah – sometimes you do. It just so happened that one was captured, from beginning to end.

Absolutely – great dynamics with everyone listening and reacting to each other. So, I guess it’s fair to say that “Miller Drive” is one of the newer tunes, seeing’s how it didn’t exist until you guys were in the middle of the sessions; is “God And Me” one of the older songs?

I wrote it a while ago; “Empty Stadium” has been around for a while, too. I wrote that with my friend Russ Tamblyn – his daughter Amber was in a television show called Joan Of Arcadia where she was always being visited by God. They had a song they were going to use, but weren’t sure about the licensing of it, so we wrote that one just in case they needed it. Good subject matter; I actually recorded it once with Amber singing it.

Great vocals by all of you on this version.

Yeah – I wanted everybody to sing on it because of the subject matter. Whatever anybody thinks about God in their own life is what the song is about.

“Ring The Bell” is a great way to end the album – it’s just sheer joy.

I feel like the Pied Piper, talking about freedom. Freedom isn’t an easy thing; it really isn’t. It’s a big responsibility and I think that we should be celebrating as much as possible the fact that we can be free.

That song just came out; my wife and I were walking every morning and there was this part of our walk that we called the “Gates Of Desire” – a park that had a gate on it that was almost falling down. We thought that the land beyond it was beautiful, so we named that gate the “Gates Of Desire”, which is mentioned in the song: (sings) “Ring the bell, light the fire/Open up the gates of desire/Freedom rings, follow the melody …”

It’s a perfect way to wrap it up, Billy – it really is. Well, you’ve got to come in off the road with the Horse sooner or later … come home; get rested up; and then get out there and play these tunes with your band, man. Folks need to hear this music.

Well, thank you very much, Brian – I’m glad you appreciate it. I tried to create something that I’d be proud to share.


If Brian Robbins had a trombonium, he’d keep it over at

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