PUBLICATIONS > Articles > 1970s > On the road to paradise

On the road to paradise
Ted Joseph
December 27, 1975


The famous and the frightened gathered around David Crosby and Graham Nash’s dressing rooms, groping for a touch, a word, a smile from any of the exhausted band members. Kisses from Carole King, a hug here from Jackson Browne, handshakes from Peter Asher, and congratulatory voyeurs without backstage passes.

Crosby wove a path from dressing room to reception room, obviously uneasy about something, and in the moments when the dressing room door remained ajar long enough for a glimpse, Nash could be seen nervously pacing the empty dressing room. Barking at those in command, Crosby was making sure no-one disturbed Nash’s solitude until his fellow balladeer had gathered some semblance of tranquility.

It was another night of high level tension on a tour that had seemingly become endless. Being on the road was beginning to take its toll on the two worthy superstars, but because of a nearly flawless show this scene would soon become another dark moment to file away behind joyous stage moments. But not just yet.

“Touring helps,” Crosby hesitatingly speculated, “but it’s 20 or 21 hours (a day) of absolute bullshit, and then three or four hours of paradise, and how long can your nervous system take it? How many Holiday Inns on the road can you take? There are times when if I look at a cheeseburger I wind up in a killing rage. I want to tear down a room if I see another cheeseburger.

That’s an exaggeration, but do you want to know the truth? I got so fried on the road this time, that one of those Hare Krishna guys, I nearly beefed him, right in the Chicago airport the other day…on the issue of privacy, and I’m telling you, I can normally just go right around those dudes.”

Nash nodded silently in agreement with his longstanding partner, letting him speak their mutual peace, getting it off their chests.

“It’s never going to be nice to be on the road. It’s nice to play music, and that’s worth going on the road for. That’s the best thing in the world. It gets me off more than sex.” An ice-breaking round of laughter, and Crosby had cornered himself into a partial retraction. “Well,” he smiled, “let me think about that one again.”

The contrast between the distracted backstage and carefree and happy on stage stars was diminishing as the reality and necessity of the road was slowly bringing them back to a more centred perspective.

“You’ve gotta do both, man, in essence,” Crosby sighed, defending the duality of the road and he studio, “otherwise you lose touch completely. You have to actually try out songs to people live, otherwise you’re being very self indulgent with your material.

People who don’t go out and play live all the time wind up having very abstracted positions about their material.

“I think it’s very groovy to look at ourselves as creators and writers and stuff, but we’re also communicators, and if we don’t think about them (the audience) hearing it and don’t actually go but and try it, one to one, we’re doing everyone a disservice.

That’s one reason we like doing acoustic tours, because you’ve got to go out. There’s no net, no mirrors, no wires. You’ve got to lay out a song, and either you caught ‘em with the tale, or you didn’t, chump. If you’ve got a bad song, man, you drop it like hot rock and write another one … quick.”

With their easy going communication, masterful electric band and warm presence, the Crosby/Nash electric band has stormed across America languishing in the presence of sell-out crowds and standing ovations. There’s no set arrangement, no repertoire which repeats itself nightly, only a tightness which brings the audiences from their seats like puppets on strings and puts smiles on the band members’ faces. At the mention of the band’s tightness, they quickly glanced at each other and beamed with delight.

“When somebody says tight, I have a tendency to smile,” Crosby confessed, because it’s not tight in the usual sense of the word. It’s just that our interlock is really high, but we’ve never played any song the same twice, ever, and we’ve never played the same set twice, ever”

“Everyone is of a calibre where they assimilate their contribution to the songs so well,” Nash interjected. “When you’re that tight, the band members can take more liberties, and that’s where their individual expression comes in, and that’s where this hand is. In fact, we’re virtually speaking with one voice.”

One voice: a tightness that one would expect from a musically oriented family, and more than a band, that’s what this septet is. No quarrelling over money, billing, dressing rooms or solo time on stage; only mutual shoulders to lean on and compassion to give. They’re relationships that have been formed and nurtured over the years, ones which have remained intact long enough to put and keep this band on the road.

Keyboardist Craig Deorge, guitarist Danny Kootch and drummer Russell Kunkel crossed paths with Crosby during their days prior to and in the Section, their instrumental band which metamorphosed from session work with James Taylor and Carole King. Crosby introduced them to Nash. Reciprocating, Nash introduced Crosby to slide guitarist and fiddle player David Lindley (known largely for his stunning leads on Jackson Browne’s LPs) and bassist Tim Drummond, who Nash met through Neil Young.

“It’s a natural thing,” Crosby said. “They’re the people who we’d most naturally want to play with. If we sat down and said ,‘gee, who’d we most want to play with on stage or do a record with?’, we’d come up with these cats. It’s a nice band.”

It’s such a nice band, in fact, that portable recording units found their way to the LA show and its predecessors in Berkeley. The music is so sweet, so lordly, that the backstage recording technicians nearly went into hysterics When the tape ran out in the middle of a song. There’s no firm promise of an album to be culled from the tapes, just the knowledge that a very special and exciting sound has been recorded for posterity.

“I really believe some live performances can surpass records,” Nash confirmed. “I wanted to have some record, though not necessarily a record, of this group of people playing together. I think it’s a very special chemistry. I think everyone has everybody else’s ultimate respect, the music is really exciting, and I just wanted to get it down on tape. It’s too good not to record. It’d be foolish if we lost it, because whatever we do in the future, this will never be again.”

Never again is a rather conclusive term, and it’s hard to believe this Crosby/Nash family will never again play together on stage, so the obvious reference is to this band coupled with the additional harmonies of Carole King, who blended in her voice on parts of both recorded dates, as well as earlier in the tour for some shows in Florida.

“Carole King, being a solo performer, is much more afraid to go out on the road than we are together,” Nash explained, “in which we’ve got each other to support each other as members of a band. She’s been overcoming her fear of audiences, she’s been having a good time, she knows now that people aren’t down on her, and she feels much easier about her forthcoming tour now. So as well as writing good songs and turning David and me on with good singing, she’s been overcoming some of her fears.”

What more harmonious situation could possibly present itself? On the one hand the exquisite sounds Crosby and Nash’s friends can lend to their sound, and on the other hand the inspiration comfort and support they can lend to their friends. You don’t have to look too hard to see that feeling extends beyond the live arena, just skim over some of their friends’ albums for Crosby/Nash vocal credits: James Taylor’s ‘Gorilla’, the upcoming Carole King album, and others.

“Recording with other people is more than just a vantage point to look at our own stuff, which at any point gives us perspective, – but the truth of it is, what happens is just like cross-pollinating strains. You go and you listen to somebody else’s music, and (Joni) Mitchell does things that I wouldn’t do,” Crosby said, building an emphatic crescendo with the “I wouldn’t do” portion.

“Neil (Young) does things that I wouldn’t do. Jackson (Browne) does things that I wouldn’t do,” Crosby continued. “You always come out of it slightly stretched and being a slightly different musician. The more combinations you work with, the more people you work with, the more you fuckin’ learn.

“Gorilla’, for instance,” Crosby said, referring to their support vocals on James Taylor’s last LP. “Good God, man, I mean that stuff’s pretty! If he sang you ‘Lighthouse’, wouldn’t you want to sing on it?”

Warbling along studiously in the background seems to inspire Crosby and Nash as much as their own act, and the already described growth has not only moulded their music into new forms, but has inspired Crosby and Nash onto a more inspired and optimistic recording career than the threatening days after their Atlantic LPs, when their future was unclear.

“When we get back (from the Pacific leg of the tour), I think I’m going to hibernate for a couple of months, and then start work on the second album,” Nash slipped, then covered his tracks for forgetting the Atlantic album. “Interesting that David and I think of this (‘Wind On The Water’) as our first album. I think that’s basically because of the change in record companies.

“We weren’t getting along with our last record company for reasons of attitude. I feel that their attitude was one of David and I being the lesser half of a foursome that may or may never be, and I have to feel that David and I are real good at what we do: We have a lot to offer, and Jerry Rubenstein at ABC saw the potential, and he’s helping us to it rather than fighting us. It’s a hell of a difference.”

Now in a situation where the freedom exists to succeed in their own right, Crosby and Nash are poking holes in the theories that they are the lesser pair of a seemingly defunct quartet. Basking in a limelight of their own, the seeds of success that they’ve sown have sprouted into a confidence that lets them reflectively examine the future and the past of CSN&Y without fear and apprehension.

“I just think we need as much musical expression as we can get,” Nash mused. “We need each other’s material and support, and everything else inbetween. We did solo concerts in the beginning, lots of them. It’s just that I really enjoy bouncing off David, and he feels the same. It’s just better that way. It’s a bigger motivating force.

“The four of us have always been a bigger moving force than the three of us and the three of us have always been a bigger moving force chat the two of us, and the two of us have always been a bigger moving force than any one of us. I’ve always thought about it that way.

“Like David says, anything’s possible. At times it appears the four of us are really far apart from each other, but we’re not so far apart, really. A couple of good songs played in a calm room could change a lot of things. You know what I mean?” Cutting in like a character in a well tailored script, Crosby expanded on the thought.

“Music, when it gets up past a certain level, is an undeniable force if you love it enough. And if you love it enough to want to do it that bad, and we love it enough to want to do it real bad, then if somebody sings a song to us that just knocks your mind right out of your ‘nose’ onto the floor, you’re not going to ignore it. I’m not able to deny it, arguing with somebody or not.”

“Just the way we feel about each other, sometimes, the way people behave, just definite human bullshit,” Nash picked up, finishing the thought. “But it never got made, and the beginning of the year David and I said we would work on just David and I, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Then, standing, Nash stepped across the room for another goodbye. Crosby stood, looked at his, newly arrived airline tickets for the morning, and sighed. “Shit. 10.30 flights. There’s no way, man. It’s two now.”

But there was a way, and Crosby would be on that plane in the morning, with Nash by his side, and. Nash would be by his side the next Week in Japan, the next week: in Hawaii and next year on stages across the world. It was back in, motion for a pair of musicians on the run, scurrying through time and studio sessions on their way back to paradise and bullshit: the road.

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