Crosby, Stills & Nash (CSN) are a folk rock supergroup made up of David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, also known as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY) when joined by occasional fourth member Neil Young. They are noted for their intricate vocal harmonies, often tumultuous interpersonal relationships, political activism, and lasting influence on music and culture. All four members of CSNY have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, though Young’s multiple inductions were for work not involving the group.
Initially formed by the trio of David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, the genesis of the group lies in two 1960s rock bands, The Byrds and The Hollies, and the demise of a third, Buffalo Springfield. Friction existed between David Crosby and his bandmates in the Byrds, and he was dismissed from the Byrds in the autumn of 1967.
By early 1968, Buffalo Springfield had also disintegrated over personal issues, and after aiding in putting together the band’s final album, Stephen Stills found himself unemployed by the summer. He and Crosby began meeting informally and jamming, the results of one encounter in Florida on Crosby’s schooner being the song “Wooden Ships,” composed in collaboration with another guest, Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane.
Graham Nash had been introduced to Crosby when the Byrds had toured the UK in 1966, and when the Hollies ventured to California in 1968, Nash resumed his acquaintance with Crosby. At a party in July 1968 at Cass Elliot‘s house, Nash asked Stills and Crosby to repeat their performance of a new song by Stills, “You Don’t Have To Cry,” with Nash improvising a second harmony part. The vocals gelled, and the three realized that they had a unique vocal chemistry.
Creatively frustrated with the Hollies, Nash decided to quit and throw his lot in with Crosby and Stills. After failing an audition with the Beatles‘ Apple Records, they were signed to Atlantic Records by Ahmet Ertegün, who had been a fan of Buffalo Springfield and was disappointed by that band’s demise. From the outset, given their respective band histories, the trio decided not to be locked into a group structure, using their surnames as identification to ensure independence and a guarantee against the band simply continuing without one of them, as had both the Byrds and the Hollies after the departures of Crosby and Nash. Their record contract with Atlantic reflected this, positioning CSN with a unique flexibility unheard of for an untested group. The trio also picked up a unique management team in Elliot Roberts and David Geffen, who had engineered their situation with Atlantic and would help to consolidate clout for the group in the industry. Roberts kept the band focused and dealt with egos, while Geffen handled the business deals, since, in Crosby’s words, they needed a shark and Geffen was it. Roberts and Geffen would play key roles in securing the band’s success during the early years.
When it was announced that the band was forming, they ran into a slight contractual problem. Nash was already signed to Epic Records, the North American distributor of records by the Hollies, while Crosby and Stills were signed to Atlantic. In order to resolve this problem, Geffen engineered a deal whereby Nash was essentially traded to Atlantic for the rights to Richie Furay‘s band Poco; Furay was signed to Atlantic as a result of his membership in Buffalo Springfield. The trio’s first album, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, was released in May 1969 and was an immediate hit, spawning two Top 40 hit singles and receiving key airplay on the new FM radio format. With the exception of drummer Dallas Taylor, Stills had handled the lion’s share of the instrumental parts himself, which left the band in need of additional personnel to be able to tour, now a necessity given the debut album’s commercial impact.
“Our House” 1974 Live Concert
Retaining Taylor, the band decided initially to hire a keyboard player. Stills at one point approached Steve Winwood who was already occupied with newly formed group Blind Faith. Atlantic label head Ahmet Ertegün suggested Canadian singer/songwriter Neil Young, also managed by Elliot Roberts, as a fairly obvious choice. Initial reservations were held by Stills and Nash, Stills owing to his history with Young in Buffalo Springfield, and Nash, due to his personal unfamiliarity with Young. But after several meetings, the trio expanded to a quartet with Young a full partner. The terms of the contract allowed Young full freedom to maintain a parallel career with his new back-up band, Crazy Horse.
“Just A Song Before I Go”
With Young on board, the restructured group went on tour in the late summer of 1969 through the following January. Their first gigs were on Aug. 17, 1969 at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago with Joni Mitchell as their opening act. They mentioned they were going to some place called Woodstock the next day, but they had no idea where that was. They began their second set that night with the same line they uttered at Woodstock, “This is only the second time we’ve performed in front of people. We’re scared shitless.” They opened with “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” before launching into a harmony drenched version of the Beatles‘ “Blackbird“.
Their second gig was a baptism by fire at the Woodstock Festival. CSNY’s recording of the Joni Mitchell song memorializing Woodstock would later become a hit and the recording most associated with the festival. By contrast, little mention is made of the group’s subsequent appearance at Altamont, CSNY having escaped mostly unscathed from the fallout of that debacle.
“Teach Your Children Well”
Great anticipation had built for the newly-expanded supergroup, and their first album with Young, Déjà Vu, arrived in stores in March 1970 to zealous enthusiasm, topping the charts and generating three hit singles. Déjà Vu was also the first release on the Atlantic Records SD-7200 “superstar” line, created by the label for its highest-profile artists; the subsequent solo albums by Crosby, Stills, and Nash would also be the next releases in this series.
Young and Crosby were staying at a house near San Francisco when reports of the Kent State shootings arrived, inspiring Young to write his protest classic “Ohio“, recorded and rush-released weeks later and providing another Top 20 hit for the group.
However, the deliberately tenuous nature of the partnership was strained by its success, and the group imploded after their tour in the summer of 1970. Concert recordings from that tour would end up on another chart-topper, the 1971 double album Four Way Street, but the group would never completely recapture momentum as years would pass between subsequent trio and quartet recordings.
Between September 1970 and May 1971, each of the quartet released high-profile solo albums (Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name, Stills’ Stephen Stills, Nash’s Songs for Beginners, and Young’s After the Gold Rush). All four solo LPs placed in the top 15 on the album charts, with Stills’ entry peaking the highest at #3. Stills released an additional record in 1971, Stephen Stills 2, which also went top ten. Crosby and Nash embarked on a successful acoustic tour accompanied only by their own guitars and piano, captured for the 1998 documentary Another Stoney Evening. For a while, it seemed as if the group could simply not fail, either singly or in any permutation.
Though there were no official CSN or CSNY projects during the year, 1972 proved fruitful for all the band members in their solo efforts. Young achieved solo superstardom with the chart-topping Harvest and its attendant #1 single, “Heart of Gold”. Stills joined with ex-Byrd Chris Hillman to form the country-tinged band Manassas, releasing a self-titled double album; counting the three CSN records, Manassas became Stills’ sixth top ten album in a row. Nash also joined Young to record Young’s single “War Song“. On tour, Nash and Crosby rediscovered the joy they had originally felt with CSN, minus the egotistic in-fighting that had made the last CSNY shows so difficult. That enthusiasm led to their first album as a duo, Graham Nash David Crosby, which peaked at #4 on the pop album chart.
The group members fared less well in the following year. Young embarked on a solo tour noted for its dark tone and Young’s erratic behavior (these recordings would later be issued on the LP Time Fades Away) and began work on a rough documentary film Journey Through the Past. Crosby spearheaded a reunion album of the original Byrds quintet which proved a critical debacle and sold only marginally well. Nash delivered his bleak second solo album and Stills released a second Manassas record; neither disc sold to expectations.
“Judy Blue Eyes”
In June and July of that year, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young met at Young’s ranch and recording studio in Hawaii for a working vacation, ostensibly to record a new album, tentatively titled Human Highway. However, the bickering that had sunk the band in 1970 quickly resumed, scattering the group again.
Roberts finally prevailed upon the group to realize their commercial potential, the quartet reassembling once again in the summer of 1974 with sidemen Tim Drummond on bass, Russ Kunkel on drums, and Joe Lala on percussion to embark on the first-ever outdoor stadium tour, arranged by San Francisco impresario Bill Graham, fresh off the large-scale indoor arena tour he had developed for Dylan’s return to the spotlight earlier in the year. The band typically played three and a half hours of old favorites and new songs, many of which never appeared in a definitive CSN or CSNY studio format. Graham Nash’s unreleased film of the Wembley Stadium show highlights the scope and quality of these performances; the four principals would often switch instruments within the context of the same song.
This is a montage of sorts of clips from the summer and fall of 1969 i believe. The fist set is from their home studio in Laurel Canyon California. The songs that they jam on here, in order, are Crosby’s “Song With No Words”, Stills’ “Black Queen”, “Find The Cost of Freedom”, and Crosby’s “Laughing”.
There are some interesting, and candid moments of humor and conflict. Stills’ flipping out on a most likely high Crosby is especially funny, as he quotes Crosby’s own lyrics about not giving in an inch to fear…
The second part is from the Dick Cavett show the morning after Woodstock. Join Mitchell is in the green dress and she is surrounded by the Jefferson Airplane: Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, Jack Casady, Jourma Kaukonen, Marty Balin, and Spencer Dryden.
Then Stephen and David come in and talk a bit about woodstock, and it ends with Stephen playing 4+20.
While they would have the press believe that their characteristic arguments were a thing of the past, excesses typical to the era took their toll. Stills began supplementing his trademark wardrobe of football jerseys with military fatigues, insinuating that he was a deep-cover CIA agent. Crosby’s entourage included two quarreling girlfriends, furthering the tension. Throughout the tour, Young isolated himself from the group, traveling in an RV with his son and entourage and was reportedly resentful that his songs made up the bulk of the group’s new material. An attempt at the new CSNY LP in the fall was scrapped, the label having compiled So Far to have something to promote during the tour. Nash viewed the re-shuffling of items from only two albums and one single as absurd; it topped the charts anyway. Songs performed on the 1974 tour later appeared on various releases including Stills, Zuma, American Stars ‘n Bars, Long May You Run, Comes a Time, Hawks & Doves, Wind on the Water, and Whistling Down the Wire.
Reaching an impasse with the parent band, Crosby and Nash decided to re-activate their partnership, inaugurating the duo act Crosby & Nash, touring regularly, signing to ABC Records and producing two additional studio albums, Wind On The Water in 1975 and Whistling Down The Wire in 1976. They continued to use the sidemen known as “The Section” from their first LP, this crack session group contributing to records by many others of similar idiom in the seventies, such as Carole King, James Taylor, and Jackson Browne, in addition to the CN concert album released in 1977, Crosby-Nash Live. Crosby and Nash also became a cottage industry themselves, their vocal prowess adding to the appeal of various songs, including hits like Taylor’s “Mexico” and Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man In Paris.”
Stills and Young returned to their own careers, with Young gaining in critical accolades during the remainder of the century and beyond. The non-aligned pair also united for a one-off tour and album credited to The Stills-Young Band Long May You Run. At one point in the spring of 1976 in Miami the album promised to be the third attempt at a CSNY reunion, but when Crosby and Nash were bound to return to LA to finish Whistling Down the Wire, Stills and Young wiped the vocal contributions of the other pair off the master tape. The old tensions between the pair, dating back to the Buffalo Springfield days, resurfaced, exacerbated by Stills’ choice of professional studio musicians to back them rather than Young’s preferred Crazy Horse. After their July 18, 1976 show, Young’s tour bus took a different direction. Waiting at their July 20 show, Stills received a laconic telegram: Dear Stephen, funny how things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach. Neil. Young’s management claimed that he was under doctor’s orders to rest and recover from an apparent throat infection. Stills was contractually bound to finish the tour, though Young would make up dates with Crazy Horse later in the year.
Stills’ copious drug use and collapsed marriage sent him into freefall. Crosby & Nash also faced diminishing returns, although their Wind On The Water album was the only disc by any member of the quartet to fare well in the marketplace during the period from 1973 to 1976. Stills approached the pair at one of their concerts in Los Angeles, setting the stage for the return of the trio.
Ironically, the sweet-sounding hippie symbols of the Woodstock Nation chose the zero year of punk, 1977, to reappear with CSN. It was propelled by solid songs from all three principals, trademark vocals, contemporary production, and as usual a hit single from Nash in “Just a Song Before I Go”. The album soared up the pop albums chart, just missing being their fourth number one in a row, held off the top slot by one of the best-selling LPs of all time, Fleetwood Mac‘s Rumours. The meticulously-crafted CSN fit right in with the ruling commercial sounds of the day, just as Young was imagining his reaction to punk with the Rust tour and albums, illustrating how far the two camps had diverged. Regrouping as a regular touring unit, after a five-year lay-off between releases which saw a solo album apiece by Stills and Nash, they hit the top ten one more time with Daylight Again in 1982. Complications were brewing due to Crosby’s increasing dependence on freebase cocaine, making his participation problematic. The Nash record of 1980, Earth & Sky, was to be another Crosby-Nash project, but Crosby’s participation discontinued due to excessive drug use. Daylight Again was initially undertaken by Stills and Nash alone owing to Crosby’s subsequent decline in productivity; however, Atlantic Record executives refused to release the latter LP until Crosby was reinstated. Crosby joined his partners for the track “Delta,” and the album contained two hits, Nash’s “Wasted on the Way” and Stills’ “Southern Cross,” the latter accompanied by a popular video on the nascent MTV network. But the group now relied on outside composers and singers to augment their material and had thus all but ceased to be the force they had been ten years past. The trio continued to tour, but the bottom fell out for Crosby, arrested and jailed on drug and weapons charges in Texas in May 1982. Having recorded a potential title song for the film WarGames that was never used, the band released it as a single and hastily assembled concert recordings around two studio tracks for the album Allies, their lowest charting record to date. Crosby was sentenced to two terms, but the conviction was overturned; arrested several more times, he finally turned himself in to the authorities in December 1985. He would spend eight months in prison, and Nash and Stills released another round of solo albums in the mid-1980s.
Based on a promise he made to Crosby should he clean himself up, Young agreed to rejoin the trio in the studio upon Crosby’s release from prison for American Dream in 1988. Stills and Crosby were barely functioning for the making of the album, and the late eighties production completely swamped the band. It did make it to #16 on the album chart, but the record received poor critical notices, and Young refused to support it with a CSNY tour. The band did produce a video for Young’s title-song single, wherein each member played a character loosely based on certain aspects of their personalities and public image.
“Turn Turn Turn”
CSN recorded two more studio albums in the 1990s, Live It Up and After the Storm, both low sellers by previous standards and mostly ignored by all except for their remaining core fans. A well-conceived box set arrived in 1991, four discs of expected group highlights amidst unexpected better tracks from various solo projects. Owing to certain difficulties, manager Roberts, no longer with the trio but still representing Young, pulled most of Neil’s material earmarked for the box; only seven CSNY songs in total remained to be included.
After the Storm barely made the top 100 on the album chart, and by the late nineties CSN found themselves without a record contract, Atlantic having released a musical team that had once been one of its cash-flow titans. They began financing recordings themselves, and in 1999 Stills invited Young to guest on a few tracks. Impressed by their gumption, Young increased his level of input, turning the album into a CSNY project, Looking Forward, released on Young’s label Reprise Records. With writing credits mostly limited to band members, the disc was better received than the previous three albums, and the ensuing CSNY2K tour in 2000 and the CSNY Tour of America of 2002 were major money-makers.
CSN was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997; CSNY is the only band to have all its members inducted into the Hall twice. Crosby has also been inducted as a member of the Byrds, and Stills as a member of Buffalo Springfield. In 2010, Nash will be inducted as a member of the Hollies. Young has been inducted for his solo work and for Buffalo Springfield, but has not been inducted with CSN.
The CSN logo that Crosby, Stills and Nash used in the mid-1970s through the 1980s, was designed by comedian Phil Hartman.
In 2006, long-time manager Gerry Tolman died in a car accident.
Various compilations of the band’s configurations have arrived over the years, the box set being the most comprehensive, and So Far being the most commercially successful. Individual retrospective sets have been slated for release from Stephen Stills and Graham Nash. In 2007, Crosby’s well received box – Voyage – chronicled his work with various bands and as a solo artist.
In 2006, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young set off on their “Freedom of Speech” tour in support of Young’s album Living with War. The long setlists included the bulk of the new protest album as well as material from Stills’ long delayed solo album Man Alive! and newer material from Crosby and Nash.
In February 2007, CSN were forced to postpone a tour of Australia and New Zealand due to David Crosby’s illness.
The popular song, “Teach Your Children” was performed by Crosby, Stills, and Nash on The Colbert Report on July 30, 2008 with host Stephen Colbert filling in the fourth harmony (Neil Young’s portion) and wearing a Young-mocking outfit (and being referred to by Nash as “Neil”).
In 2009, Crosby, Stills & Nash released Demos, an album made up of demos recordings of popular group and solo songs. In June 2009 Crosby, Stills and Nash performed at the Glastonbury Festival , England. Stephen Stills was praised for his exceptional guitar playing. Neil Young did not appear onstage with them but did perform as a solo artist. In July 2009, they headlined the 14th annual Gathering of the Vibes festival. Halfway through their set, they enthusiastically announced to the crowd that they would be back next year.
Sources: YouTube, Wikipedia.
Leave a comment
No comments yet.