Hot Platters: Crazy Horse (1971, Reprise Records)

Today's Platter, the self-titled debut record by Crazy Horse, is one of those great pieces of vinyl that fell through the cracks of public consciousness when it was first released in 1971. 

Track List:  

  1. Gone Dead Train  

  2. Dance Dance Dance  

  3. Loot At All The Things  

  4. Beggar's Day  

  5. I Don't Want To Talk About It  

  6. Downtown  

  7. Carolay  

  8. Dirty Dirty  

  9. Nobody  

  10. I'll Get By  

  11. Crowjane Lady

 

 

Neil Young, Crazy Hose and Producer Jack Nitzsche

Crazy Horse, originally known as The Rockets, consisted of Danny Whitten, Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina.  "The Rockets issued a lone, underappreciated self-titled debut in 1968, which came and went with little fanfare. But the band did make a fan out of Buffalo Springfield member Neil Young, who had jammed with the group on-stage while they were performing an extended residency at the famed Whisky A Go-Go on the Sunset Strip. After Young had split from Springfield and issued a solo debut, he wanted to assemble a raw and rocking band for a set of new tunes he'd penned for his second solo album so he invited the trio of Whitten, Talbot, and Molina to play on it. They accepted, which brought the end of the Rockets and the birth of Neil Young & Crazy Horse. The resulting album, 1969's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, not only remains one of Young's best albums, but one of rock's all-time classics, spawning such radio staples as Cinnamon Girl and the jamfests Down by the River and Cowgirl in the Sand -- the latter two tracks showing that Young had found a perfect guitar foil in Whitten..as Crazy Horse contributed to Young's next album, 1970's classic After the Goldrush (which included another Whitten/Young guitar duel in I). Crazy Horse signed a record deal with Reprise Records around this time, issuing a self-titled debut in 1971 (adding extra members Nils Lofgren on guitar and Jack Nitzsche on piano). Although the album failed to match the commercial success of their work with Young, it received favorable reviews -- especially the Whitten-penned and sung ballad I Don't Want to Talk About It." (All Music)                          

 

Guitarist Danny Whitten was the band's most accomplished songwriter and this record stands a solid evidence of his musical talent. His singular vocal style and song lyrics would give the band their own identity aside from being Neil Young's back-up group.

"With his fourth solo record, Harvest, Neil Young hit upon the kind of success that every artist dreams of achieving. The multi-platinum best seller—with a No. 1 hit, “Heart Of Gold”—almost perfectly synthesized the popular singer-songwriter movement underway in Southern California...By the time the full scope of that album’s success became apparent, Young wanted to have nothing to do with it...It wasn’t just the newfound fame and the crushing hero worship that sent Young reeling, although that might have been enough for some. His personal life was coming off the rails as well...The kicker of it all, however, was the sudden death of his Crazy Horse guitar player and friend, Danny Whitten.  Whitten looms rather large in Young’s personal history, both for his contributions on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and After The Gold Rushand for being the figure most directly responsible for pushing Young off the rails after 1972. To coincide with the release of Harvest, Young and his managers had booked an ambitious 62-date tour of North America. Young was hoping to bring Whitten along with him."  (AV/Music, Corbin Reiff: Neil Young's Success Collided With Chaos)

"Young was already well aware of Whitten’s heroin addiction and had penned the song The Needle And The Damage Done which appeared on Harvest, with his friend in mind. But by the time the rehearsals started for the new tour, the guitarist was struggling. 'I had to tell [Whitten] to go back to L.A. ‘It’s not happening, man. You’re not together enough,’ Young recalled to Cameron Crowe in 1975. 'He just said, ‘I’ve got nowhere else to go, man. How am I gonna tell my friends?’ And he split. That night the coroner called me from L.A. and told me he’d ODed. That blew my mind. Fucking blew my mind. I loved Danny. I felt responsible. And from there, I had to go right out on this huge tour of huge arenas.'” (AV/Music)

Whitten's developing heroin addiction would later cause him to be fired from Crazy Horse and he subsequently overdosed in 1972. While researching this blog post I came across this comment that appears from the person who posted the 3rd video below: "A lot of misinformation has been spread over the years about Danny. How he lived & how he died & most of this was third hand knowledge & hearsay.  The most widespread untruth was that after Danny was fired by Neil Young, who gave him a plane ticket home & $50, Danny bought heroin with it & died that same night from an overdose. Not true. The coroners report stated that he died as a result of "acute diazepam and ethanol intoxication" an overdose of alcohol (vodka) and valium. There was no trace of heroin in his system."

Ironically, Whitten's untimely death would provide Neil Young with the inspiration for the dark themes on his Tonight's The Night album. 

Whitten's legacy is served well by this album which captures a wide variety of sounds; the gorgeous ballad "I Don't Want To Talk About It", the hard edged rock of "Beggar's Day" and "Downtown”. 

One can get a good idea of how Crazy Horse sounded live during the era that this studio album was made by checking out the recently released Neil Young & Crazy Horse Live At The Fillmore East album and Young's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. It's interesting to note that in recent years, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere was praised for providing the musical template for the grunge movement later on.

 

"Danny Whitten was a man out of time; his artful, uncluttered songs seem steeped more in the verities of early rock & roll than in the convolutions of the late Sixties. Check out the unabashed balladic sentimentality of 'I Don't Want to Talk About It' and the grinding R&R basics of 'Dirty, Dirty' and 'Downtown.' The last of these, if you pay close attention, is a shocker -- an upbeat ode to cruising for drugs that sounds like a West Coast complement to the Velvet Underground's 'I'm Waiting for the Man.'  The Eagles get all the credit for exposing the dark side of the California dream, but you can peek at the lobby of the Hotel California on Crazy Horse, too. The opening track, Nitzsche's chugging, bluesy 'Gone Dead Train,' reveals itself as an elaborate metaphor for impotence; the troubled Whitten lays his cards on the tempestuous, self-revelatory 'Look at All the Things'; and Lofgren's stormy 'Beggars Day' can been interpreted as his fatalistic view of Whitten's drug problems ('All your mercy can't save me'). Danny Whitten died at twenty-nine of a heroin overdose on November 18th, 1972. It's all documented on Tonight's the Night, Neil Young's elegy for Whitten and fellow drug casualty, roadie Bruce Berry, but it was foreshadowed on Crazy Horse." (Album Review, Rolling Stone Magazine)

 

Excerpts from an Interview with Nils Lofgren (Broken Arrow Magazine 1996):

Q: `Tonight's The Night' was recorded shortly after the deaths of Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry. Was that a traumatic time? 

LOFGREN: There were a lot of tough emotional feelings... Danny was the one who asked me to join Crazy Horse to make their first album which I think is just a great record. Jack Nitzsche and I both joined to make the first Crazy Horse record and Danny came back east - he was gonna try to join my band Grin. But by that point he was so sick that he just couldn't hold up. So, the `Tonight's The Night' record - at the same time there was a dark cloud over all of this we made a point of enjoying ourselves too. We had a good time. We'd do it like a show - we'd get up and really go after something and perform it and then stop, go take a break, go shoot some pool, come back, do it again, on and off until the early morning and then we'd, you know, head off and meet up again later. So, at the same time it was really sad to lose Danny and Bruce... I also remember feeling very grateful that I had these friends, that I was alive and that I was being included in such a special project. And there was a real sense of family in that sense despite the obvious sadness due to the loss of Danny and Bruce."

 

"Danny Whitten was the focal point of Crazy Horse, but he was also the fault line that ran through it.  Like many a troubled genius, the greatness of his art was partly a product of his own tragic life. He left us with a slice of magic in this album but also with the thought that he could have given us so much more had he given himself a chance to." (Neil Young) 

 



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