The Budokan in Japan has seen some incredible shows during its long and illustrious history of holding events. While The Beatles may have been a groundbreaking moment, the arrival of Neil Young & Crazy Horse shook the venue to its very foundations.
It was a monumental moment for Young, among a host of incredible shows in Japan, which implored the artist to hire a film crew for the event. It captured a number of brilliant songs but none more powerful than Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s track ‘Cowgirl in the Sand’.
The sixth stop on the tour saw Young arrive on stage with a powerhouse band at his back. Crazy Horse had quickly established itself as one of the major players in the game, a consummate collection of musicians of wildly talented professionals. When they hooked up with Neil Young magic happened.
The band had been playing with Young for some time when he asked them to go on his tour of Japan in 1976. The band warmed up with some local shows in San Francisco—hilariously named the Rolling Zuma Revue in honour of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue—it was here that Frank ‘Poncho’ Sampedro first joined the band for some meaningful shows.
The guitarist had only been a fan of Young’s just a few months before the tour and now he was gracing the stage with the singer, facing audiences made up of thousands of devoted fans. The band’s two-night stand is arguably the highlight of his career but not one he remembers so clearly.
On one of the two nights at Budokan, Poncho dropped a dose of acid before going on stage, seemingly unaware of the rolling cameras. “I couldn’t even look up,” he told author Jimmy McDonough. “I was so high. I’d hit the strings of my guitar — they were like eight different colours — and they bounced off the floors and hit the ceiling.”
It’s unclear whether the footage below is of said LSD night but Poncho sure sounds like he’s capable of some otherworldly behaviour with his performance a swirling masterpiece. It adds an extra dimension to what is already a stellar track and acted as a valuable tool in bringing the house down in Japan.
Crazy Horse were meant to accompany Young on the extended run of American dates for the same tour but Young once again became friendly with Stephen Stills and was whisked away on new adventures. Young did return to tour with the band some years later but nothing will ever quite match this show-stopping rendition of ‘Cowgirl in the Sand’.
Watch Neil Young & Crazy Horse give Japan a show they’ll never forget in 1976.