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Crosby, Stills and Nash
“The combination of talents creates a great sound…” – Rolling Stone
1969 began as the Year Of The Guitar in the rock & roll world. Led by Jimi Hendrix's blistering attack, decibels were crashing through the rock ceiling. Eric Clapton had just debuted Blind Faith with a free concert for 120,000 in London's Hyde Park. The Who were just unleashing Tommy. And, even as the Beatles were breaking up, rock was beginning to discover and test its emerging political and economic power.
In the midst of all this Sturm and Drang, a quiet revolution was waiting in the wings. The third week of June, 1969, the album Crosby, Stills & Nash was released. Three-part harmony with an attitude (and a conscience) was let loose upon the world. (Out in the real world that week, the No.1 single was Henry Mancini's "Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet" and the best-selling album was the original cast album of Hair).
The album had an immediate and lasting impact on both the audience and the musical community in general. Even Rolling Stone, an on-again-off-again friend to Messrs. Crosby, Stills and Nash, took note of the record (although the lead review that issue was a long paean to the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band).
"The combination of talents creates a great sound,” opined Rolling Stone, "'and it is a new sound, not merely music derived from the styles of previous groups. The vocals are warm and full, with a kind of built-in-kineticism produced by three good voices emerging asynchronously on the same phrase, with rich, complementary harmonies reminiscent of Moby Grape's '8:05.''
Kind of takes your breath away, doesn't it, that these three guys were deemed worthy to actually be mentioned in the same breath as Moby Grape?
The point being that the rock establishment was so unprepared to deal with what CSN were doing that the "rock Bible" itself was unsure and floundering in its efforts to understand the group and its music.
At any rate, by mid-July of 1969, CSN were the reigning force in rock. Their acoustic music and soaring harmonies quickly effected a permanent shift in American music, if not in all rock and roll. Before you could say, "America," "Eagles," "Bread," "Poco,” etc., there were a hundred clone bands flourishing.
The fact that CSN flew totally in the face of convention and went against the grain of traditional, hip rock and roll only served to endear them to their fans. They also, their fans quickly learned to their eternal appreciation and delight, were determined to be a fiercely democratic band, as opposed to the aristocratic bands that rock was breeding. It was people's music they were writing and performing and, by God, they would act as a people's band, never acting above their peers and – above all – living out their professional and personal lives in public, in sheer view of everyone.
Within the space of six short months, the pattern had pretty much been set for their lives and careers. They immediately added a fourth member – Neil Young – although his permanence was up to debate. They were the stellar attraction at the stellar festival, at Woodstock and they played the other big festivals at Altamont and Big Sur. They played an unprecedented seven-night, sold-out engagement at Los Angeles's Greek Theatre as a hometown debut. They blew them away at the Fillmore East and in the process began an internecine warfare that continued in the group for years. They proved that CS&N (&Y) was a group of equals with no leader or even leaders. They almost broke up and then went off to begin a second album. And they were devastated by personal tragedy. And they continued to make beautiful music that struck a personal chord deep in the hearts of a huge number of listeners.
They brought with them to CS&N a considerable body of work, an impressive list of songs, and a simmering anger at the nature of groups in rock and roll, at group experiences that had soured them. The spirit of independence that drove each of them was strong enough to nullify a group effort – if it were not for the fact they knew straightaway that they needed each other to create a music that was so much more than the sum of its parts. For my part, I will never forget taking a friend to one of those early CSN& concerts. I was eager to show off my find to her.
She really had little idea of who they were but was simply rendered ecstatic by what she heard and saw – for the band was extremely visual then, Crosby resembling a swaggering Buffalo Bill, Stills was a virtual Beach Boy, Nash came straight out of Dickens, Young was a stark apparition. But that's not what makes me remember that night: my friend excited told me exactly why they were so good. The represented the elements, she told me: Crosby was water, Stills was fire and Nash was the earth . All together, she said, they could not fail.
Be that as it may, the three of them came together as a matter of course, unlikely as they seemed as allies. David Crosby had been fired from the Byrds. mainly because of musical and attitudinal clashes with the group. Crosby was born on August 14, 1941 in Los Angeles and grew up as a headstrong kid in a showbiz family (his father Floyd was an Academy Award-winning cinematographer). David gravitated to folkiedom, drifted around the country and ended up with Jim McGuinn and Gene Clark in the Byrds. With the Byrds, things built to a head over the rejection of his song "Triad" (later recorded by the Jefferson Airplane and by CSN&Y live, its three-way romance theme was unusual, even for the genre). There had been a great deal of Byrd resentment at Crosby after he filled in for the absent Neil Young when the Buffalo Springfield played the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. He was, as they say, ready to fly.
Stephen Stills had carried the Buffalo Springfield along by sheer force of will, long after that brilliant but doomed band should have faltered. Stills was born in Dallas, Texas on January 3,1945. His family moved frequently and he went to a military academy before finishing high school in Costa Rica. He played in Greenwich Village, met Neil Young in Canada, and followed the folk tour before moving to Los Angeles, where he unsuccessfully auditioned to be the Monkees' songwriter. He formed the Buffalo Springfield with Young and quickly turned it into a pivotal American band. He had already pioneered country-rock long before it became fashionable. After the Sunset Strip riots of 1967, Stills wrote an enduring political song: "For What It's Worth." He also clashed frequently with fellow Springfielder Neil Young. It was a classic example of a band with too much fame and no money.
Graham Nash had become miserable in the Hollies in England. Nash was born on February 2, 1942 in Blackpool and grew up in Manchester. Hearing the Everly Brothers' beautiful harmonies convinced him to go into music and he eventually formed the Hollies with Allan Clarke. He finally left over many musical differences, the chief one being that he didn't want to record a Vegas-style album of Dylan songs. His camel's-back straw, though, was his "Sleep Song," spurned by the group because it mentioned disrobing and lying down together. Sex, in other words, which really was not treated realistically by rock songwriters.
No one can agree on the exact time and place when and where CSN discovered their own peculiar brand of three part harmony. "Nobody can really remember," argues Crosby. "It was either at Joni's [Mitchell] or Cass's [Elliot]. Both of them were very central to our lives at that time. Cass was the one who introduced me to Graham. Joni had been romantically involved with me and then fell in love with Graham. It could've happened either place."
Stills insists that "the first song was sung in Cass's dining room, looking out at the pool John Sebastian was swimming in. We went to Joni's from there."
Nash: "Well, a sign of the times is that we really can't agree on where that was. To this day I believe that it was in Joni's living room. Cass is the very reason why all of this took place in the first place.
It was Cass who befriended me when I came to Hollywood, it was Cass who introduced me to Crosby, and Crosby and Cass introduced me to Stephen. Me being a harmony freak and being the high harmony in the Hollies, when David and Stephen were singing 'You Don't Have To Cry,' they were singing the two parts and they started to show off because they wanted to show me that they had worked on it very diligently. It sounded great and I asked them to sing it a second time. They looked at each other and sang it a second time. Then I asked them to sing it again and I had by then a rough idea of what my part would be. It turned out to be nothing short of musical magic. When we heard ourselves for the first time, it was truly astounding to us as musicians that these three people from such diverse backgrounds can meld and come together with that sound. Now, you can't lay claim to any particular note – anyone can sing the same notes – but I don't think anybody sounds like we do."
Crosby: "We just knew that it was good. We had been in bands where we had done two-part harmony and some three-part but there was nothing like the mix that happened when the three of us sang. We had never heard anything like that. It delighted us."
Once they heard that sound, it was just a matter of time until they got the recording contract, got David Geffen and Elliott Roberts to manage them ("We needed somebody sharky," Crosby says), put the songs together, did the album and then set out on the road. Things could not have gone better for the group during its first idyllic months. Imagine this: their second gig was Woodstock, where they forged an image that will burn in their fans' hearts for a long, long time. They were Woodstock and shall remain so.
Then, in October they gathered at Crosby's new home in Novato, north of San Francisco, to rehearse for a four-night gig at Winterland. One afternoon, Crosby's lady, Christine Gale Hinton, took their cats to the vet in Crosby's VW bus. She was killed in a head-on collision and Crosby was never again the same. That same day, the first album went gold.
They carried on, finishing the Deja Vu album. It was full of brilliant songs – witness Nash's "Teach Your Children," Crosby's "Almost Cut My Hair," Young's "Helpless," Stills's "Carry On," Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" – but it was the first (and hardly the last) CSN project (CSN&Y in this case) to be perceived as a collection of solo efforts, rather than a unified group work. There was bickering in the studio, endless retakes, hours of mixing. Stills was then in his studio mode and put in hundreds of hours. "I would just wait everyone out," he says. "We had eight people in the studio and every sentence would begin, 'Well, I think .... ' And that would drive me to distraction. Rather than murder someone, I would simply wait for them to go home. Or I would just leave and then come back later so I could work.
It turned out okay for the most part but sometimes I had to make horrible noises for awhile before it had a chance. It worked, though."
Then they rolled out on the road for the "Carry On" tour, through the U.S. and Europe. These were truly the glory days of rock and the group was again leading the way. They pioneered the use of self contained, massive sound and light equipment down to such a fine point as the use of twenty-one stage microphones when three had been the norm before. One of the dates on that tour was Altamont, the disastrous free Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway. To this day, says Nash, people refuse to believe that CSN&Y were at Altamont, the reason being that the Stones wrote the history of that. We were received very well but we got the hell out of there because we played at UCLA that same night. Consequently, when you don't stick around and do the press afterward, people don't have any idea that you were there. So, we were quite happy to give that one to the Stones." Then, the group broke up in Chicago after acrimonious backstage bickering.
Deja Vu shipped two million copies in March, 1970 and the group was once again on top. Not that unity reigned: the breakup was still on and Stills was in England making his first solo album and jamming with Hendrix. They had all agreed at the start group was something they shared but it that they were or would be. Says Nash, "We wanted to let people know that we weren't a band in the traditional sense, that we were individuals would come together in a group dynamic whenever and with whomever we felt like.'
In May, 1970, the group showed again just how unconventional they were. “Teach Your Children” which was fast becoming the hippie anthem, was everywhere. Then, National Guardsmen shot and killed four students at Kent State University. What the group decided, Nash says, was done for their audience. "I think the listeners felt less alone and less crazy and less isolated because I think in speaking for ourselves they recognized that we were speaking for them too. Now, what other band would have a song like 'Teach Your Children' racing up the charts and then immediately kill it stone dead when four students were killed? Neil wrote 'Ohio' and we recorded it and put it out within ten days. People in the business thought we were absolutely crazy."
That will remain a major part of CSN&Y's continuing legacy of what Nash from the beginning called making "beautiful and meaningful music." The meaningful, or activist or politically aware side of the group now amounts to a considerable list of songs (as well as movements to which they were allied): "Long Time Gone," "Ohio," "Southern Man," "Chicago," "49 Bye-Byes," "Military Madness," "Barrel Of Pain" "Soldiers Of Peace" ''After The Last Dolphin," "Find The Cost Of Freedom," "To The Last Whale."
"We've just tried to be true to ourselves," Nash says. "I think one reason why people love this band is that they see three people up there who are going through the same things and same changes the audience are going through and doing it publicly and it takes a certain amount of courage to do that. We could have dodged it, could have hidden behind smoke bombs and naked girls running around on stage and slow motion and all that shit. But we never wanted it. Because that's not important. What's important is the emotional connection between us and our audience."
That connection was especially important to Stills the day he got to announce on stage-just before the band sang "Ohio" – that Nixon had resigned. This troubador tradition, Stills says, is inevitable for a songwriter who reflects what's going on around him. "When we realized that the TV news was lying to us when we were children, we decided that we had to go tell everybody what was really going on. What we've tried to do is what Thomas Paine did, just issuing broadsides. And say to the public, 'no, you're not crazy. This is really going on.' The most recent example of that was when we heard about the Berlin Wall we ran right over there and blew twenty grand just to stand on the wall. But we wanted to do as much as we could to give these people some support."
Says Nash, "We wanted to go purely to be there when that wall came down. That wall meant insanity, miscommunication, non-communication, psychological control of a population. To me, to us, it was a symbol of what was wrong with humanity." Nash, who drew CSN to the MUSE concerts among other activist efforts, says that something Jacques Cousteau said helps fuel his fervor.
"Crosby and I were having dinner with Cousteau and I asked him what the biggest problem was facing mankind. I expected an answer about the ocean or environment. Instead he said that the biggest problem was loss of personal freedom from nuclear police."
Not to put too fine a point on it, the history of CSN and CSN&Y continued to follow its pattern through the Seventies. Fly apart, come together, do solo projects (tracing the family tree is an all-day job). They made musical history again in 1974 with the first rock and roll stadium tour, the first big, professionally planned tour on such a massive scale (although the Stones would do the same thing in 1975 and claim the credit). "It's been very volatile," Nash says. "It's like Crosby once said, 'It's like juggling four bottles of nitroglycerin. If you drop one, they all go up."' The group's recording career became haphazard: 1971's live Four Way Street was brilliant if erratic. The first studio attempt since Deja Vu ended in rubble in 1974. CSN in 1977 had a happier end, followed by a CSN tour. But those were the last happy days for a long time. Then the wheels started to come off, with tensions everywhere.
Things would doubtless have continued in that tense manner except for an incident in 1979 when Crosby and Nash were recording. Crosby's drug use had escalated. Nash recalls, "It was an unbearable situation. David was fucking with the gods. He wasn't just fucking with himself or with me, he was fucking with the muse of music. That's what I couldn't stand. David stopped a great jam going on with brilliant musicians and brought the whole thing to a crashing halt because his free base pipe had slowly vibrated off his amplifier and shattered. I looked at this situation and said, this is hopeless. I have to do something. Nothing I tried worked. Nothing made any difference. It just had to run its course."
Crosby recalls. "It was one of those crux moments, I guess. To him, it read: 'well, the dope is finally more important than the music.' And he was right. The poor guy had been putting up with an ungodly scene for just way too long and he had been nice and had been nice and finally he just blew his stack. If you keep doing the wrong thing, it's gonna have a result. And I was doing the wrong thing."
It took several more years for the thing to run its course, but the police car that Crosby had been seeing in his rear-view mirror for so long finally caught up with him.
"At the time I went to prison," Crosby says, "I didn't think I would come back. I had gotten to the point where I just thought I was gonna die from the dope and that was that. In prison, just being in prison is such an overwhelming experience that I didn't much think about anything else. After I had been there six months, I started to wake up and remember who the hell I was. Then I started to think, hey, you might live through this, you might get another chance. I started to dream about going on tour again. Then I wrote 'Compass' in prison. I was so amazed that I could write again that I was in ecstasy.
Nash says, "I trusted my instincts with David. I felt that he could bounce back, because I still believe that his problems are of self-image rather than anything else. So he came back and I was there to love him and support him. Because I think he's worth it." Crosby came back, CSN&Y recorded American Dream and the band discovered a whole new generation of young fans. It's something they're still finding out on the road these days.
What of CSN at this point?
Stills: "You know, we were tempered in steel, tempered in the crucible of universal acclaim, a lot of it undeserved and premature but we've managed to survive it and stay on the other side of it. Yeah, we're a group. I must say it's been a really different experience during the past few months. I've been having a wonderful time and we've been putting on wonderful shows every single time. It's almost hard to remember how it was before."
Crosby: "I have always felt that the main review is: 'did anybody feel good?' If there's an epitaph to be cut for this band, I don't think it's to be cut yet. This band is still able to surprise me on a good night, we can do some stuff that's over our heads. So it's not time to write the final ticket on us yet. Up to now, we've done very well. We've been very fortunate. Nobody's died. We've managed to stay together in spite of some pretty strong problems, but we've managed to go out and deliver good music and oftentimes startling music in a world where the biggest performers just go out and lip-sync to a tape."
Nash: "I hope our musical and social legacies go hand in hand, because we very often did things that musicians were not supposed to do. We only cared about being true to ourselves ... I think we were willing to put our musical lives on the line and our physical lives on the line for things that we felt very strongly about ... I think we may have moved the world a millimeter or two. It takes an enormous amount of energy to move anything in a culture. So I take it one step at a time. I think with our music and our performances and our attempt at being as honest as possible, I think that we make people feel better. I think that we may have moved the world a small amount."
Stills: "Like boisterous siblings, we have tested this relationship pretty intensely over the years. Our various passions have sometimes helped and sometimes hurt the work, but at the end of the day this has been and continues to be an incredibly gratifying and rewarding association, having resulted in a body of work of which I am very proud. It is an honor to have taken part in its creation, and having brothers is the best part of all."
CSN Box Set Credits:
Tape archivist: Miguel Pous
1991 remixes by Stephen Barncard at Sunset Sound
Analog-to-digital transfers by Joe Gastwirt at Ocean View Digital, West Los Angeles and by John Knowland at Redwood Digital, San Francisco, June/July1991.
Digitally remastered by Joe Gastwirt assisted by John Modell at Ocean View Digital, July/August 1991.
Tape restoration: Joe Gastwirt, John Knowland, and Joel Bernstein
Photo credits: Joel Bernstein; Henry Diltz; Graham Nash/Harris Harris; Neal Preston Cover photo: Joel Bernstein
Memorabilia courtesy of the Scott Oxman Archives
Quotes researched and compiled by Raymond Foye, Joel Bernstein, Ron Scarlett, and Francesco Lucarelli.
Art Direction: Bob Defrin
Design: Lynn Kowalewski
CSN Logo Design: John Stevens, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash
Compiled by Crosby, Stills & Nash, Gerry Tolman, and Yves Beauvais; additional research by Joel Bernstein
Produced by Graham Nash & Gerry Tolman
Thank yous: Stephen Barncard, Rich Bauer, Joel Bernstein, Bob Borbonus, John Branca, Dave Collins, Dean Correa, Henry Diltz, Tunc Erim, Ahmet Ertegun, Raymond Foye, Arline Gidion, Jimmy Haskell, R. Mac Holbert, Pete Howard, Rise Kantor, Mike Kloster, John Knowland, Mel Lewinter, Mike Lewis, Chris Littell, Peter Lopez, John Modell, Doug Morris, Tim Mulligan, Scott Oxman, John Paterno, Mike Piesante, Neal Preston, Chris Rankin, Joseph Rascoff, Mike Resnick, Elliot Roberts, Mark Schulman, Sid Sharp, Bill Siddons, Gary Siffelman, Rich Toenes, Wayne Watkins, Tom Werman, Nicole Wilde, Neil Young
Special thanks to Neil
This set is dedicated to the loving memory of Cass Elliot, without whom most of this music may never have been made.
Management: Crosby & Nash: Bill Siddons
Stills: Gerry Tolman
“Carry Me,” “Cowboy of Dreams,” “Bittersweet,” and “Critical Mass/Wind On The Water” courtesy of MCA Special Markets and Products.
"Turn Back The Pages" and "Thoroughfare Gap" reproduced under license from Sony Music Special Products, A Division of Sony Music Entertainment, Inc.
"Tracks In The Dust" courtesy of Polygram Special Products, a division of Polygram Group Distribution, Inc.
"Barrel of Pain (Half Life)" courtesy of CEMA Special Products, a division of Capitol Records. Inc.
© 1991 Atlantic Recording Corporation for the United States and WEA International Inc., for the world outside of the United States. All Rights Reserved. Printed in U.S.A.
Printed on recycled paper.
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