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Neil Young to Perform Lost ‘Cortez The Killer’ Verses on Summer Tour With Crazy Horse

When Neil Young hits the road this summer with Crazy Horse, he’s planning on performing “Cortez The Killer” with verses that have been missing from the song for 50 years. “Just a couple of days ago, I found the other verses,” Young told fans Monday afternoon during a Zoom with paid subscribers to the Neil Young Archives. “Just the lyrics…We may have those lost lyrics in the show, which will be fun for me.”

When the band cut the song originally in a California house near Zuma Beach, the power to the recording console died in the middle of the take, though the band was completely oblivious. They felt it was a prefect performance. “Don’t shoot yourselves,” producer David Briggs told them when they came out of the studio. “But the power went off, and we missed one verse.” Briggs told them which verse they had lost. “I never liked that one anyway,” Young replied.

“It was a good take,” Young told fans on Zoom. “So what we did was take the master tape and find ways to cut it together so that it would work, but we lost a couple of verses. They were gone. Now that I’ve found the lyrics, I’m trying to find exactly where they come in the song. I need to look at the tape and see where the cut is, where we lost some. I’ll insert them there.”

In a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone, Crazy Horse guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro recalled cutting “Cortez The Killer” shortly after he joined the band. “It was a sunny day at Zuma Beach, and this guy came by, and I smoked angel dust with him,” he said. “And then Neil came up and said, ‘Let’s try this song,’ We never played it, and I was like, ‘Oh, shit.’ If you listen to the first recording, I thought the second chord was the first chord. Neil was emphasizing the first one, I was emphasizing the second one. [Laughs]. But you know, it goes around in a circle, so it doesn’t really matter too much.”

Young has played the song in concert over 540 times, but this will be the first time anyone has heard the lost lyrics. At a May 29, 2003, show in Hamburg, Germany, Young did add this additional verse: “The ship is breaking up on the rocks/With a sandy beach so close/The ship is breaking up on the rocks/With a sandy beach so close/Dancing across the water/Dancing across the water/Breaking up on the rocks/Sandy beach so close.” It’s unclear if those were spur-of-the-moment ad-libs or memories of the lost words from 1975.

After Covid hit in 2019, Young took a break from the road for three years. When he emerged last summer for a solo tour, he played only outdoor venues. He’s playing 24 shows with Crazy Horse over the next few months, and they’re all outdoors as well. “We gotta be careful,” Young said on the fan Zoom. “I don’t know the stats on it, but I imagine if you look at a regular group of 15,000 or 20,000 people, just randomly from around the world, and then look at 15,000 or 20,000 people that all went to a show, and how many of them got Covid, I think you’d found people that went to a show inside have a lot more of a chance of getting sick. I don’t really need to do that. Willie Nelson told me he’s only playing outside now. I felt that was a good idea, so that’s what I’m doing.”

Hearing that Graham Nash recently came down with Covid for a fourth time just reinforced his views on this matter. “I just sent him the acetate for the new CSNY Fillmore East in 1969 double vinyl, all mixed analog,” Young said. “He was going to listen to it yesterday, but he came down with Covid, and he’s out for a while.”

This live album is a holy grail for CSNY fans since it was recorded during their peak as a live band and was captured in pristine sound quality. “I’ve been hanging out with [Stephen Stills],” Young said on the Zoom. “We just finished the CSNY Fillmore East 1969 live album. We did it together with John Hanlon engineering and mixing. Rhino had almost completed a digital thing made of digital copies of all the original tapes. It was so depressing that I couldn’t even listen to it. You could hear that we were playing great, but I just didn’t want to hear that anymore, where you know you have a lot more sound than what you’re hearing. We found the original analog tapes, and we mixed them. It sounds like God. It’s amazing. There’s an 18-minute ‘Down The By The River’ on there that’s maybe the best ‘Down By The River’ ever. Stills is just smokin’ it. I think I might have already smoked when we started off, so it was a lot of fun.”

Young largely dodged questions about what songs he plans on playing this summer with Crazy Horse, though he noted that he enjoyed playing Tonight’s The Night, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and Ragged Glory at intimate club gigs late last year. “The songs that the Horse plays are so simple you can go almost anywhere with them,” he said. “A lot of them only have two or three chords in them, and they just repeat. There’s another song that has four chords in it. We’re going to try that. The Horse has [rarely] played ‘I’m The Ocean’ before. I think we’re going do that one. But we should be able to jam for a long time on all that stuff. I’m looking forward to that.”

He’s also looking forward to playing with Micah Nelson, who will be taking over from Nils Lofgren for the summer. (The guitarist has prior commitments with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band.) “Micah is fantastic,” Young said. “He’s really the right guy for the job. He plays great guitar. He sings really well. The music is in his blood. And it keeps things simple. The Horse is a simple four-piece rock and roll band, and still is. The fourth member has changed a few times because of various lifetime events, but I think we’re in great shape.”

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Young also gave an update on the upcoming Archives III box set. “It’s different from the other two,” he said. “It has a different approach. There’s more audio vérité in it. We have real-time things happening that people haven’t heard. There’s one scene is myself and Nicolette [Larson], Linda [Ronstadt], and [David] Briggs. We’re sitting around a table, and I’m singing all the songs that are on the next record to them for the first time. And then they start singing along. It’s just a live thing of people sitting around a table. I think it’s very interesting to hear them…There’s really a really cool film in there called Across The Water that is a great Crazy Horse film. It’s really big. It’s bigger than the other volumes.”

According to current plans, Volume III will cover a 30-year time span. Volume IV will do the same. “Rather than keep putting out volumes that are smaller,” he said. “We’re going to put out IV and that’ll be it. We’re starting on the last one. It’s a monumental task.”

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