On The Road To Spearfish with Crazy Horse’s Billy Talbot
When you spend a lot of time standing between Neil and Pancho, somebody has to take care of the bass – and you’re damn good at it in Crazy Horse. But you play a lot of guitar on Spearfish – you have your own thing going on; some really cool stuff.
Well, thank you – I appreciate it.
Did you have one main guitar and amp combo for the sessions?
I used a 1964 Stratocaster – it’s beautiful; a great guitar – on most of the tracks except where I’m playing acoustic guitar or piano. I played it through my old 1960s Fender Tremolux amp. On “On The Road To Spearfish” I used my 1968 Les Paul with that same amp.
How about if we run down through some specific songs?
“Empty Stadium” is beautiful, but chock full of ache.
(sings) “Sometimes I feel like I’m all alone/In an empty stadium …” It’s that contrast between a stadium that’s full of people celebrating and having a great time and when it’s just big and empty. That’s life sometimes: everything is happening and you’re feeling so … so jolly, so to speak … and then the next hour you’re all alone again. That’s what I’m talking about – feeling those blues in a big, empty space when everything is gone. That’s what I was trying to say with that imagery.
The songs really speak for themselves; it’s hard for me to talk about their meanings … that’s why I wrote them. The feelings are best said in the songs – and for you as a listener, you can conjure up your own imagery.
That’s true: I think some of the best songs are open to interpretation and folks apply them to their world as they need to. Like the blues – a band-aid for whatever hurts that day in your life.
Yeah – you’re right. And I just hope that whenever people listen to this record, it’ll make them feel better about everything.
“Empty Stadium” is a great example of weaving instruments that you don’t often hear together: you have lap steel and a mandolin, waltzing with a trombone and a harmonium …
Which we call “trombonium” … (laughter) They blend together so well; it’s really great. That’s Matt and Ryan; Ryan’s the rookie in the band. When I found out that he played the trombone in middle school, we found one and bought it for him to play on the record. It had been years since he played, but he just did it, you know? He was a little shaky, but it was great.
On “Cold Wind”, it’s like Miles Davis was playing the trombone. (laughs)
Yes! That whisper into the note.
“Runnin’ Around” – when I first heard that, I told my wife, “Billy’s got that old street corner cool going on.”
And that groove; that snap-your-fingers groove, too.
Well, good. (laughter)
Great guitar sound on that one with you and Matt going at it.
Yeah – he played a Grestch with a wang bar through some really old amps and got some great sounds. I think it’s a Gretsch Tennessean.
Cool. On the next song, “Cold Wind” … that piano you’re playing sounds like you had to brush a layer of cigarette ashes off it before you played it: a funky old acoustic piano.
It is; it definitely is. In fact, it was a player piano once. It’s really cool – a great old piano. Ryan’s playing trombone and Erik is playing saxophone; he’s incredible on that.
I wanted to ask you about the arrangement on “Cold Wind”: at times it’s just wisps of sound – there’s a little bit of sax that blows through; some mando here; a bit of harmonium here …
I never practiced these songs a lot with the band, because I wanted to get the juice on the recordings. I was showing them that song and they were all trying different things. I said, “Let’s just try it with Matt on the harmonium … Mark, you play the mandolin … and let’s try it with the sax and trombone along with those guys …” Plus, the bass and drums – and I was on the piano. We wanted to see what would happen.
I stopped them about halfway through the song and said, “That’s it – everyone remember what you were doing, because that’s the way we’re going to play it.” It was just the way everybody responded to the instrumentation, playing together live. It just happened and we captured it.
Absolutely. A great performance and beautifully recorded, too – dry and immediate … if someone had scuffed his shoe on the floor you would’ve felt it.
I’m glad that you like it, Brian. That’s the kind of thing that inspires me to do more stuff.
One more thing I wanted to mention about “Cold Wind” is Tommy’s bass sound.
He’s playing my bass, as a matter of fact – my ‘66 Precision with a ‘68 Telecaster neck and my old Showman amp. It sounds great.
Oh, man … you could’ve told me it was a big ol’ upright mic’ed really well and I would’ve believed it.
Yeah, It’s a nice sound. A lot of it is just the way he’s playing it, you know?