PUBLICATIONS > Articles > 1970s > Crosby & Nash: ‘More Kick-Ass than Anyone Expects’

Crosby & Nash: ‘More Kick-Ass than Anyone Expects’
Author: Cameron Crowe
Journal: Rolling Stone
Date: October 23rd 1975

 

LOS ANGELES – Thanks to a band featuring such polished musicians as Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar (guitar), David Lindley (fiddle and Hawaiian steel guitar), Craig Doerge (key-boards ), Lee Sklar ( bass ) and Russ Kunkel (drums), Wind on the Water is easily the most sophisticated album David Crosby and Graham Nash have ever done. “For once,” explains Crosby, “Graham and I wanted to make a record – a pushy record – that came right out and collared you.

In the two months spent recording in L.A., Crosby and Nash continually put the tracks cut for their album to that test. Nearly every visitor to their shared bungalow here at the Chateau Marmont was treated to a spirited listening session. Crosby, always the showman, would bounce about the room, pointing to the speakers during a flashy guitar solo, clutching and shimmering in the ecstasy of a rippling piano figure. Nash, on the other hand, played along quietly on an unplugged electric piano.

This schoolboy giddiness is typical of Graham Nash and David Crosby’s disposition these days. “We’re truly and honestly excited about the step we’ve taken,” says Nash. “This album is a good deal stronger and a good deal more kick-ass than anyone is expecting.” Over the Sunset Boulevard cacophony outside, he adds, as an afterthought, “But then, maybe we’re not exactly who every body thinks we are …”

Crosby breaks in. “I don’t think that anybody will mind at all. There’s no denying that these are some of the best songs we’ve ever written. Listen, we don’t feel chained to the past in the least. The only way you can go back is to paint something that looks like something you did before. And that’s bullshit.”

Wind on the Water is their first release on ABC Records. While the magic of their harmonies runs through every track, the stark tendencies of their previous collaborations have been modified in favor of lusher arrangements. With such urgent new songs as “Homeward through the Haze” and “To the Last Whale,” it seems that Crosby and Nash have never been closer to establishing a unique and collective musical personality.

It’s been four years since their debut as a duo Graham Nash/ David Crosby. The delay, they say, was due mostly to the on-again, off-again re-formations of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. “Almost that entire time, man, we were waiting to make an album that various people said they were going to make,” Nash recalls. “A couple of times we actually rehearsed all the songs and worked out the whole album. We even had an incredible cover shot of all of us standing on the beach in Hawaii. You see, when we [CSNY] first got together, the idea was that each of us would leave our best stuff for the group and that would be our highest means of expression. So we didn’t want to blow our best songs on solo records.”

Crosby bemoans the CSNY album, to have been titled after Neil Young’s “Human Highway,” as “that great, fourth record that will never be made.” Even so, it’s not hard to reassemble most of what would have been on it. Of the 14 songs once scheduled, all but four (Crosby’s “Time after Time” and Young’s “Hawaiian Sunrise,” “Sailboat Song” and “Human Highway”) have since been released on the various solo projects anyway. “New Mama” and “Mellow My Mind” can be found on Tonight’s the Night; “My Angel” and “As I Come of Age” turned up on Stills; “Another Sleep Song,” “Prison Song,” “And So It Goes” and “You’ll Never Be the Same” became part of Nash’s Wild Tales. Now “Carry Me” and “Wind on the Water” are included on Wind on the Water. We still might make another album one day,” Nash guesses. “But now is not the time.”

Graham was the first, with Wild Tales, to release an album of potential CSNY contributions. “I was frustrated. Those songs were just cramming up my head. And all I saw in store for the group was more procrastinating. I had to get that album out of my system.”

Released with little record company fanfare, the album sold disappointingly. Today, Nash still wonders if the reason wasn’t other than lack of promotion. “It was a dark-feeling record, I admit it. I was feeling a lot of bitterness and resentment at the time. That was where I was at. I mean, I look at the black and white album cover now – me looking like a ghost – and I get the chills. I learned a valuable lesson from that album. One has to balance out the emotion of his art. Like Joan [Joni Mitchell]. She’ll take you to the depths of her soul but always bring you back up again … Still, I don’t think I’m sorry I made that album.”

“You’d be a fool if you were,” Crosby blurts out from across the room. “Your frustration turned out, in the long run, to be the right assessment of the situation. It wasn’t ever gonna happen and you were the first one to see it. The last time we tried, there wasn’t anything on tape. That’s the bottom line.”

Graham: “But that’s all behind us. And there are no doors closed anywhere, to anyone. The frustration of hanging on is all behind us.”

So now it’s back to, as Graham jokes, “just us two retread folkies.” Says David, “I’d rather play as Crosby/Nash than any other combination.” Including going solo? “I’ve done it for a great deal of time and I find it very satisfying. And frankly, you can make more money by yourself than you can any other way, as two people I know will tell you.” Crosby laughs good-naturedly. “The real joy for me is the two of us. It’s been that way from the front. It’s always been the most special.

“We’re not looking for another combination. I’ll tell you, man, it’s not that we have an aversion to it, but it’s close to that. There’s been no real alteration in how we feel about anyone behind us, clear back to cats in bands from a long time ago. We actually still like everybody. What happened was we took a look ahead and found a bunch of people totally receptive to our new songs. We formed a band that expresses our music the best that I’ve ever been able to do with anybody. They treat our music with respect and we treat them with equal respect. And even though they’re the most sought-after session musicians in the world, man, they’ll be touring with us every year. That blows us out.”

While waiting for their band members to free themselves from various commitments, David and Graham have been touring – playing only acoustic instruments. “They’ve been really special shows,” Nash said. “It’s great when you have that personal relationship with the audience. They sense the spontaneity. It’s fun and it sets us up perfectly for going electric.” That should happen on a national tour scheduled for mid-October.

Crosby and Nash feel that working with James Taylor was a turning point. “We went to work with James,” smiles Graham, “walked into the studio and did the vocals for ‘Mexico’ and ‘Lighthouse’ [from Gorilla] in one evening. And it was fun. We could barely stop laughing long enough to sing.”

Crosby: “That’s not like spending three bitter weeks in a studio and coming up with nothing on the tapes. The contrast is stark, to say the least. You talk about your black and white, man, it was glaring there. We went to work with Carole King – another perfect example – and made three of the nicest vocal records that we’ve ever made – in three hours.

“We’re not looking to grab anybody or make any more supergroups. If you wanna know the truth, I don’t like being big. I don’t think it’s fun. If big is baseball stadiums, I’ll take a pass. If that’s the only way CSNY can play, CSNY will never play again.”

Still, both are hoping for a successful single from Wind on the Water. “It’s important,” Graham admits. “We talk about how we’ve made a break with our past, but no one will know about it unless something attracts their attention. We’re not going to sit down and pick apart the last Carpenters single for the latest tricks, you know, but we’re willing to tour and work at getting our music out there.”

Ever since their split with manager Elliott Roberts last year, Crosby and Nash have guided their own careers with help from former Roberts associate Leslie Morris. In negotiating their new record deal, the artists even visited offices with an audition tape of their own album. “Our main problem was getting away from Atlantic,” Crosby says, “which we did very carefully. We wanted to go to ABC. I think they have every intention of making themselves a bigger company. It’s almost too good to be true. We wanted to be someplace where they saw us as what we think we are, one of the best duos there is. Atlantic still tended to look at Graham and me as the left-over pieces of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

“As far as managing ourselves, what’s so complex? We’ve got a good relationship with our record company and we’ll go on tour every now and then. That’s all that really matters. Why give somebody 15% to make phone calls? What else do we have to do? Watch Lucy reruns?”

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