A conversation with Ralph Molina


    We spoke with Ralph Molina about California wildlife, why recording with Neil Young is always a mindblowing experience, telling his drum tech to never stare at him while he plays and the Horse having one more album left in it.

    We recorded Psychedelic Pill, left for home, came back and the big guy dubbed in that roaring guitar towards the end and blew us all away.


    Morgan Enos

    One could spend a lifetime dissecting the history and evolution of Crazy Horse, but Psychedelic Pill may have the most personal significance to me. When I need a dose of the Horse, it works in a pinch because it’s so powerful and undiluted, committed to extreme repetition and hypnosis. Just thinking about that record gives me chills – not a day goes by I’m not glad it exists! Can you describe your experience of working on Pill with Neil, Billy and Poncho?

    Ralph Molina

    We got into Psychedelic Pill after we did Americana. That one, like the others we recorded, was special. It was during a time that the big guy was in a writer’s block. We recorded Psychedelic Pill, left for home, came back and the big guy dubbed in that roaring guitar towards the end and blew us all away. It’s always a special time recording with our band.


    Really quickly, I understand you made a home on the Central Coast of California, where I grew up. I moved out to New York from there, but I really cherish that I got to have a foundation in such a beautiful area. What drew you to that region of California?

    I live high up in the hills of Atascadero. I never thought I’d be living in the Central Coast. I had family here, so I moved here. The air is clean. The town is a small town, so no traffic compared to L.A. We get the breeze over the hill from Morro Bay and there’s plenty of wildlife – wild turkeys, deer, foxes and plenty of birds. It’s a gorgeous view from here up high.


    I’ve heard a little bit about a new Crazy Horse project, where some overdubs were done by Phil Lee at Northwall Studio in Atascadero, if I’m remembering correctly. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

    It’s not a Crazy Horse album. It’s a Ralph Molina album, my first. Phil Lee, who moved to Cayucos from Nashville, played some guitar on it, along with Barry Goldberg. It’s more of an album of love and inspirational songs, not like a Crazy Horse thing. I recorded it by building it, starting with a rough vocal and acoustic guitar and then co-arranging it with a couple of arrangers. Kelly Clarkson sang a harmony part on one of the songs on the CD called “Love and Inspiration.” Billy and I helped Phil record his new album in Cambria, so we help each other.

    When we get together, it’s because it’s a special thing, a spiritual feeling when we play. It’s the only way we know how to play – heart, feel and most of all, passion.


    Another very unique aspect of Crazy Horse, to me, is that it always seemed like a state of mind or a musical pocket to be in as much as a rock band. I hope I’m not mischaracterizing it, but I just love how Neil has referred to it, as almost an outside being – “The Horse will head for the barn if it is spooked… The Horse is very suspicious of tricks,” he wrote in his memoir. Would you agree? What’s the nature of the Horse to you, as a spiritual thing as much as a group?

    What he says is correct. We, the four of us, are feel players, not “posers” or “supposers” as I refer to them. When we get together, it’s because it’s a special thing, a spiritual feeling when we play. It’s the only way we know how to play – heart, feel and most of all, passion. There are many times onstage during what we call “anthems” when we each play by ourselves. Neil’s on one planet, me on another, Billy and Poncho on theirs, and we all meet in the middle. We’re just lost, but together in the moment. It’s like we’re playing for ourselves and we forget there’s an audience. There’s no thinking. As I said, we’re just lost in the moment. It’s truly special.


    Can you describe your favored drum setup? Do you have a favored way of tuning or adjusting your kit to achieve your very simple, yet very heartfelt sound?

    I used to tune them by ear. I like a lower, non-pingy sound on the toms. I always used Ludwigs until the last tour, when I played drums that Neil’s drummer in the Ducks built for him. Neil asked me to try them, so I recorded Americana and Psychedelic Pill with them. Now I have a drum tech, and I tell him two things: how I like my drums tuned, which is perfect every show, and to never stare at me while I’m playing. I try and play what I feel, period.


    Back to the Central Coast region of California for a bit. I think it’s a very precious gift to be able to live around plants and animals, even if pests and constant maintenance come with the territory! Can you describe some of the wildlife around where you live? What have you observed outdoors as fall has set in?

    The same thing I observed in my previous answer, except it’s chillier, though we do have a warmer summer-type weather in October. The air is much fresher, leaves turning, as they are everywhere. It gets pretty breezy up here with so much fresh air. Just beautiful.

    The Horse doesn’t like to get spooked. That’s why, as I said to my drum techs, don’t ever stare at me while I’m playing.


    Flashing back from the Psychedelic Pill era, I’m curious as to your experiences during the Rust Never Sleeps era. It seems like Neil kind of had a penchant for the very cinematic and over-the-top – I’ve heard some of the stories about the Rust-O-Vision glasses, the giant amps, the “road-eyes.” What do you remember about that stage show and that period of time for the Horse?

    I remember how much I loved that time, as with the Live In a Rusted Out Garage tour, in which the crew and everyone else was involved with the shows. That was the period where we amped up and got a much louder garage band sound. I got a bigger Ludwig set, a couple more cymbals and Neil had his amp rig set up. When I first saw the big amps, I was in awe, I loved it. I remember saying to myself, “Awesome.” During the rehearsals for the Rust tour, Neil said we would go on stage wearing the “road-eye” costumes, then when we would get to our instruments, we’d take them off. I said “No way am I going to put that on!” and we didn’t. The audience did get Rust-O-Vision glasses. Just a thing. That period started us into what I stated, music and the visual thing, which I loved.


    Finally, what’s your takeaway from your wealth of anecdotes, memories and experiences in rock & roll? How does it all boil down in your mind in 2017, if it’s even possible to explain it in such terms? Would you have done anything differently, or do you see it as a “no regrets” sort of thing?

    Anecdotes, experiences? Morgan, as you say, there are way too many. Maybe when I write my book! Regrets? Heck no. I’ve been so freaking blessed to be doing what I do. I’d never do anything differently. To drum and sing, which of course I didn’t know how to do at a young age, with the legend, one of the most prolific writers, the man that only plays from his heart, with the most passion? I’d say I’ve been blessed. We just fit so well in our playing together. I’d previously never seen and experienced what I’ve experienced. Never. Playing in front of the greatest fans? Nothing like it. It was like a fated thing, from Danny & the Memories to the Rockets to Crazy Horse.


    No, we don’t like to get spooked. That’s why, as I said to my drum techs, don’t ever stare at me while I’m playing. We don’t want anything to make us think. if you think, you’re not playing, just going through the motions. It’s been quite a ride for us all. We still have one more in us. We shall see.

    Thank you.


    Conversation: 69
    Curated by: Morgan Enos
    Conducted by: Phone
    Published: November 15, 2017
    Total questions: 8
    Word count: 1370
    Reading time: Five minutes
    Hyperlinks: 8


    “Big guy”: Neil
    Central Coast: Wildlife
    Easily spooked: Horse
    Drum tech rule: No staring
    Anti-goal: Thinking
    Amplifiers: Awe
    Blessing: Music
    Playing: Feeling


    About the subject

    Ralph Molina is a singer, songwriter and musician who is a founding member of Crazy Horse.

    About the curator

    Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.

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