PUBLICATIONS > Articles > 1970s > Nash and Stills – A love/hate relationship

Nash and Stills – A love/hate relationship
Author: Ted Joseph
Journal: Sounds
Date: September 18th 1976


Seven weeks ago Graham Nash said:

‘I won’t work with ‘em again. I WILL NOT work with them again … They’re not in it for the right reasons. They’re in it for bucks … I’m in it for the music’

But a few weeks later Stephen turned up at a Crosby/Nash gig and Nash said:

‘Stephen walks in the door and sits down and says ‘listen, I’ve got a song to play you,’ and then he breaks my heart with the song. I feel like a fool and my emotions just go out of the window’

IT HAD happened again. The second attempt to scrutinise ‘Whistling Down The Wire’, the new Crosby/Nash album, and I’d been stopped at the same point, mid side two, half way through David Crosby’s ‘Foolish Man’. Time one by an appointment, this time by Nash himself bouncing into ABC records Los Angeles offices barefoot, with an exuberance that was the flip-side of the Nash I’d encountered in November.

This, obviously, was a happy individual. Not the spoiled no-talent he’s so often cracked up to be, nor the snappy anti-conversationalist. Fairly skipping into a local conference room, and before sitting down Nash was already boldly and proudly speaking in run-on sentences of their new LP … their new band … their new venture and their new life: the Crosby Nash electric band.

“It’s crazy, and I don’t even understand it myself, but I’m not going to question it. I’ve been in this business for almost 20 years, I’ve been in a lot of bands, and this is the first unspoken band I’ve ever been in. It’s scary,” Nash shook his head and smiled. Words of golden praise for perhaps the high point of Nash’s career, musicianwise at least, and coming from under the sun bleached white gold moustache the words seemed even richer. Truly satisfying music. Then why the spring trip to Miami for sessions with former partners Neil Young and Stephen Stills?

With detonation set to the answer of “music”, the bomb went off. A verbal description of a musical Hiroshima. World War III waged in the entertainment world. Call it what you like, suddenly Nash’s true feelings and emotions were discharged with a force uncharacteristic of Nash’s mild reputation.

Where to start? With a flash flood of pent up anger and Nashian truth finally bursting forth, the other side of the coin appeared: counter to the one Stills first exposed in the wake of the spring Miami sessions. That album of CSN&Y which should have been on the racks by now was aborted not because of any negativism on David or Graham’s part, but because of Stephen’s impatience and selfishness as Graham tells it.

“We’d just finished cutting ‘Whistling Down The Wire and Neil called from Japan, and he said listen – Stephen and I have been making this album in Miami, and we’ve got great tracks and great lead vocals, but we don’t have that special sound. I said yeah, that’s right. That’s me and David you don’t have, and he agreed. He said he had these great things, and David and I are not fools. Those four people, and I’m taking myself out of them, have got fired music when they can get together.

“Neil said that he had a cassette of the five or six things that Stephen and he had been doing, and would we be interested in hearing it. Of course I’d be interested in hearing it,” Nash shrieked in disbelief that it could have been otherwise. “It may knock my dick in the dirt, and I may hate it, but at least I’m interested. At least I have that much respect for them as musicians. So he brought the cassette to my house in San Francisco, and,” Nash continued with a saddening deep breath, “great songs. Great lead vocals. We left for Miami at 8:30 the next morning.”

What transpired in the next month is a veritable nightmare to both Crosby and Nash, and a story that no muckraking rock and roll journalist could have imagined in his wildest dreams. After two weeks in the studio they’d done voice overdubs on the Stills/Young tunes and recorded a pair of Nash’s compositions to kick the album well into progress.

With the foundation poured for completion, Crosby and Nash returned to Los Angeles to complete work on ‘Whistling’ which they had waylaid for the Miami sojourn. With ‘Whistling’ under their belt, into the pressing and packaging phase, they could then return to Miami to finish the long awaited project. The best laid plans of mice and men, etc.

“We could’ve made a great fuckin’ album, but we only had like seven songs, and that’s not quite enough. You’ve got to have another couple of songs in there. As much as anything else, we needed another couple of songs from David. David had only one song to give the album (and the rest of us had several), so what we wanted to do was to finish all the stuff (in Miami) that we’d written, finish mixing up our album (‘Whistling’), hope that David would write another couple of songs, go back to Maimi, cut those songs, and finish the album,” Nash logically explained.

With the adrenaline pumping now, Nash pointed to the press deductions coming in the wake of the Miami sessions: The L.A Times implication that the sessions weren’t fruitful, and Stills’ own allusions in SOUNDS that David and Graham weren’t hungry enough for the music.

“It just goes to show you that it’s more bullshit. How can anybody say we weren’t hungry enough,” Nash’s gaunt face grimaced with incomprehensibility? “We flew 4,000 fuckin’ miles at 8.30 the very next day, spent two weeks working harder than fuck, came back here to mix our album, and they wiped our voices. You know why? Because they’ve got a tour going now, and we couldn’t have finished that album in time for their tour!”

“That’s crazy man,” Nash shrieked again in anger. “I read that the sessions weren’t fruitful, and that’s BULLSHIT. Total Bullshit. I have nearly a fuckin’ album of CSNY that would kill ya man. I ain’t kiddin’, because I have no reason to kid ya. For them to say the magic wasn’t there or that we weren’t hungry enough, I say bullshit. Me and David came back (to LA) to mix our album for two weeks with the intention of going back to Miami, and we called them up when we knew we could go, and they said don’t bother. We wiped it. I’m pissed,” Nash blurted in pain, more from his musical soul than any interpersonal rivalries.

AS FOR Stills’ comment in these pages that he didn’t want to put his foot in the meat grinder in order to hold the Miami sessions together – well, that inflamed Nash more than anything else.

“I think it’s his cock he keeps putting in the meat grinder. Stephen’s totally stupid, man. You have no idea. When Crosby and I made up our minds to work on us (before ‘Wind On The Water’), things changed. I don’t give a fuck about them. I don’t care about Neil and I don’t care about Stephen … I care about their music, and if I can help make better music with them, I’ll do it. I think I know who they are and I think I can put up with all the bullshit IF the music’s there.

“I have great admiration for Neil,” Nash continued, slightly toned down, “because he put this whole thing together – not out of any personal want, but because he was doing a solid for Stephen, because he knew there was no way Stephen could ever get it together. Neil was great, and I thought he was only interested in the music. I thought they (both) were serious and wanted to make great music, so I was up at 8:30, then Stephen telling people we weren’t hungry enough.” a quick pause as Nash’s anger peaked. “I’ll thump that fucker right in the nose when I see him again.”

More furious mumblings and rehashings, seething rage at great music finally made, and then tossed aside for the sake of Stills’ and Young’s careers. Straight manipulation, as Nash sees it. Manipulation for all the wrong reasons. Money in the bank for Stills (when David and Graham are clearing gold on their LPs), and a timely kicker for Stills’ national tour which Nash insists wasn’t selling well. Nothing to do with music.

“Stephen’s fucking around with great music, and that’s what they’ve both been doing for three years. I’m a fool.” Nash quietly admitted, “and I’ll put my personal things aside and go. But how many times can you keep going up and saying okay, I’ll stand here while you hit me again – just don’t hit me as hard as you did last time. I’ll go for any break, but man, it was dirty.” The sighs of disbelief were turning to a bubbling cauldron of anger once more – then the final eruption.

“I won’t work with ‘em again,” Nash concluded. “I will not work with them again. Fuck ‘em. They’re not in it for the right reasons. They’re in it for the bucks, the manipulation and career moves, and I’m in it for great music. It sounds corny, but that’s the way I feel. CSNY is, to me, an incredibly special thing that we should not fuck around with. We have no right as individuals.

“I want you to hear the tape so you can see the way it was. Stephen can’t say it wasn’t fruitful, because he’s lyin’. He can’t say it wasn’t magic, because he’s lyin’. If I’m gonna make another CSNY album, it’s gonna kill people,” the not so meek Nash stressed the ‘Kill’. “But they’re panicking, man. I say if you’re scared shitless, and you think your careers turning downhill, then to get it back you should make a great CSNY album. Right? Then what happened? You tell me, because David and I have got no axes to grind. I see Stephen’s career going downhill and I see Neil’s career going downhill and I don’t give a shit. They’re desperate, and I was saying don’t be desperate. We can have it all. Me and David can have albums, and you and Stephen can have albums, and CSNY can have albums.”

So onward to a friend of Graham’s house high above the beginning of LA’s famous Sunset Blvd. To anyone who says the magic in that music wasn’t there, that the sessions weren’t fruitful, I can only echo Nash. Bullshit. For the space of less than 20 minutes music filled the house that had Nash stubbornly pacing the halls with anxiety tossing the occasional ball for the bet dog, and me with my mouth hanging so wide open in amazement that the ball could well have bounced right into it.

A second generation tape from the only remaining two tracks of the session – and only existent because David and Graham had taken it with them to listen for refinement. Refinement? In its raw state the music was devastating – not to mention how far past the killer point it might have wound up if all had gone well. In five tunes I suddenly realised what had been missing from the music scene the last five years … Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

The perfect balance in harmonies between that tough Stills/Young sound and that crystalline Crosby/Nash resonance. A couple of Neil Young tunes, one from Stills and a pair from Nash. An absolute killer from Stills titled ‘Black Coral’, is at least as good as anything they’ve collectively put on vinyl – something about deep sea diving and seeing Jesus, all with the haunting sound Stills so often tries for and falls just short of. With David and Graham singing in back, though, those dimensions were left in the dust.

Awesome music.

IN RECIPROCATION, ‘Mutiny’ and ‘Taken At All’, two tunes that appear on ‘Whistling Down The Wire’, have more bite in the CSN&Y format. That sweet edge people complain about in David and Graham’s music is ruffed up a bit by the Stills/Young musical presence. The tunes simply have more bite than on Crosby and Nash’s LP. Beautiful music never to be heard, and in his pacing anxiety Nash seemed to be saying that the desire for the music was there, but that the situation wouldn’t allow the freedom they needed as individuals, and thus the music could never materialise at this point in their lives … until someone changes.

“I’m 34 and I have no time for bullshit,” Nash concluded after a pause. “I don’t want good music to be pulled out of me by the teeth, where I have to deal with someone’s ego before I can go up to the same microphone with him. I like it all to happen naturally, and that’s the way it used to happen (with CSNY). That’s what our band does now. I don’t even have to waste time telling ‘em what key I’m playin’ in.”

The band Nash refers to is their current roster of musicians who are now into their second road trip and through a pair of albums. With David Lindley on slide guitar and fiddle (primarily), Tim Drummond on bass, Russell Kunkel on drums, Danny Kootch on lead guitar and Craig Degree on keyboards the band is delicate on album and nothing short of devastating live. Perhaps for the first time in their lives Crosby and Nash have found a band that pushes them, allows them the freedom to create while still feeding energy into the situation – rather than draining it off.

It’s the same band that was recorded for posterity in Anaheim, California last fall – the one Graham was afraid would never stay together due to each members’ individual commitments … and it almost didn’t come together again. With Lindley working on Terry Reid, Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt projects and planned tours, and Degree, Kunkel and Kootch having projects with their own band (the Section) and the James Taylor album and tour, it took a lot of personal time shuffling on all parts to make it happen.

“We’ve juggled ourselves around this band, and I will continue to for this music,” Nash admitted with a smile. “I will make sure that every member of this band is as comfortable as he needs to be to play like he should. They’re the highest paid musicians in this country – there’s no question about that – and David and I lost 40,000 dollars on our last electric tour and we don’t give a shit. Everybody else in the band made 20,000 dollars or 30,000 dollars, and we lost, but I’m still going out with them because I need music like that.”

Not only are they inspiring to play with on the road, but exceptional studio musicians who can feel where the music should be going without having to be told – and wind up in the right place as well. Recalling the sessions for ‘Whistling’, Nash still shook his head in disbelief that there was even one song finished in two takes or less – let alone the three that actually were: ‘Marguerita’, ‘J.B.’s Blues’ and ‘Foolish Man’.

Even where those tunes may have the supposedly soporific qualities and saccharine sounds some people accuse Crosby/Nash of patenting, it would be hard for anyone to argue with the emotional power of the Degree/Crosby/Nash tune (‘Out Of The Darkness’) or Crosby’s powerful non lyricised ‘Dancer’. The vocals are there on ‘Dancer’ all right, but as instruments with power that hasn’t been dabbled with since Crosby’s lone solo effort – and with considerably more ethereal power than that one stretched for.

“‘Dancer’s’ a piece of music that Crosby’s had for six or seven years and that we’ve tried to get in the mood of cuttin’ several times,” Nash detailed, “But it never happened. We tried, but CSNY weren’t good enough musicians to cut ‘Dancer’. I’m serious. They couldn’t bother to take the time to learn the chords to it, and this is the first band I’ve ever worked with that could. That’s really where it’s at.”

And that, it seems, is really where David and Graham are at – out to make the best music possible with the most freedom. Not just their openness to go to Miami, not just this band but the efforts they’ve extended time and again to working on other peoples’ projects to add as much beauty as possible. Most recently sessions with James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, in and out of the studio on Jackson Browne’s new LP, and up to Elton John’s LA home to work out parts for some new tracks Elton is preparing.

“We make time for everything musical that turns us on,” Nash said by way of explanation as to how they can handle so many ventures at once. “I didn’t sleep the night before last, and then Crosby comes to my house at 9 a.m., we take a plane to LA for a full day of business, and I still made time to do Jackson’s sessions later in the day and get in some work on Elton’s LP. We’ll go out of our way to make great music, because that’s the best thing we do, man.”

FOR THE first time in many years, Crosby and Nash are beginning to take their music to their audience – not just their audience in America, but to the rest of the world which hasn’t seen them in better than three years. Last fall their American tour with the electric band extended for a stint to Japan, and the reception there was so enormous that it pushed David and Graham’s consciences into planning a European tour for the coming fall. The West coast is now almost too comfortable for them.

“We’ve been here for a long time, and because of the positive feelings here, I’ve felt that we could drop our stone in the pond and the ripples would go out all over the world. But now I’m beginning to realise that we’ve actually got to go out there, so we’re going to Europe September 16. We’re playing shows in London, one or two in Manchester, then Copenhagen, Stockholm, Paris, Munich, Berlin and Frankfurt,” Nash paused for reflection, “like the 12 centres of Western European culture.”

Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned commitments by band members, it will only be a partial band travelling abroad with them: Lindley and Degree. Kunkel and Kootch are planning to travel with Taylor at that point.

Even so, it’s been three years, they’re anxious to see what the lapse has done to their audiences, and to take their new development to the rest of the world.

“I’m very disappointed because I wanted to take this kick ass band to Europe,” Nash said, then admitted that any combination of the band is still a challenge for them. “I don’t like yes men, and you can’t get a yes out of anyone in this band. What I’m saying is that they’re incredibly strong individuals who have morals and great consideration for other people, and that’s all I ask. If Stephen would give us that, things would be a lot easier. He still thinks he’s king of the fuckin’ mountain.”

In this last there’s a sigh, perhaps two. One for how satisfying this band is, and one for the frustrations of the last three years of trying to put CSNY back together unsuccessfully – even notes of ifs and woulds in regard to Stills. Outwardly Nash refused to even consider playing with Stills, but the questions hiding within lead to one last ponderance: if this band finally falls apart and the screaming for great music eats away at Nash long enough, will he still be able to say the same in a couple of years?

SEVEN PLUS weeks later Crosby and Nash sat back-stage in the afterglow, of what even they conceded was one of their finest performances ever. Exhausted and exuberant, the adrenaline was still spilling over from the stage, a strange combination of physical and mental states that brings out the naked truth in men. After a night of unsurpassed crooning on Crosby’s part, a performance indicative of a more stabilised effort, the talk was back again to the pure ecstasy of music.

“I’m trying to learn to pace myself,’” Crosby admitted with a room warming grin. “What happens is that I get too excited, and I don’t have as strong a voice as say Stills does, or Nash does, so I get too excited and push too hard, and I get too hoarse. But I’m learning to pace myself, Slowly.”

Things would have gone on to more discussion of the show, but there was a tip off somewhere in that statement that everything was not wrong with Stills. The mere mention of his name – with no vocal grimace, and even with a fair amount of affection – seemed to confirm a not so nasty rumour that Stills had, in fact, joined Crosby and Nash for a recent gig.

Nash first examined the tile floor carefully, then looked up almost glassy eyed with the admission that Stills had dropped in for their final LA date a few days prior, that all was forgiven. He seemed almost embarrassed not at being caught in lie (intentional or not), but because emotions are such frail things – ones not easy to expose.

“We finished our first half, went backstage, and Stephen was sitting there, and it felt real good to see him. He was logical. and calm, and I really wanted to help him, (so he came out and played the second half with us). The crowd loved him, he was very together, he sang totally in tune, remembered the words, and played great guitar.

“I’m sitting here telling you this,” Nash shrugged a bit uneasily, “because I know the last time we talked we were on the other side of the coin about Stephen and it was a pleasure to be with him, and that’s the way it is with the four of us. People just don’t understand. They think if we break up that’s it. There’s no finality with CSNY, not that I can see, and I’m sure David agrees with that.”

Crosby nodded, solemnly reaching for the words that today would explain away the harshness his friend and partner had let rip weeks before. There was no explaining it away, only the possibility that it could be explained and understood.

“What would you do? You want to stand there with a wall in front of you,” Crosby queried, clucking his tongue with simulated knocks of fate, “discard all he wrote, be nice and aloof and watch the guy break? The four of us have faced a lot of people, and played an enormous amount of music together, and even times when we’re very angry at each other, if somebody went to jump (Stephen) I’d take their head off.

“If he came to me in the middle of the night and said he needed help, ‘let me in’, my door is always open to him. You don’t really love somebody … ever … and then shut it off like a faucet, whether you can stand to be with them for an hour or not. You just don’t. When you see them, that’s called up in you, and you can’t help but want to open to them if there’s been that much, and there has been that much. None of us have tried to lie.”

A pregnant pause – time to digest what’s been said both in terms of what it holds musically and personally, to the artists and clearly a message, however inadvertent, that the four of them (as a whole) would just like to be left alone. It’s that constant pressure from the press and industry that puts a permanent edge on the situation. To those directly involved it’s another lesson: one of the compassion and understanding that underlies the whole situation – even in anger.

“As time goes on I grow up a lot,” Nash broke the silence, “and now I realise I’ll never say that again. I get so angry that I say ‘I’ll never play with them again. It’s too much. It’s too painful,’ and then the fucker walks in the door and sits down and says ‘listen, I’ve got a song to play you,’ and then he breaks my heart with the song. I feel like a fool and my emotions just go out the window.”

In one window and out the other – and then back in again, all part of a merry-go-round cycle that stretches on seemingly forever without solidifying. It hadn’t taken the break-up of the Crosby/Nash electric band, or even a couple of years of restful grace for a truce, just a friend on the doorstep with his heart on his sleeve. They simply can’t say no to compassion, and after all, what besides that is the best music made of?

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