Featured Album – Crosby. Stills & Nash

These guys have been much on my mind lately, perhaps due to having recently watched the David Crosby documentary, Remember My Name which I wrote about previously. A little history is, I think, in order (thanks Wikipedia):

David Crosby was born in Los Angeles, California. His father was Floyd Crosby, an Academy Award-winning cinematographer. (One of his notable movies was High Noon.) Crosby was a working musician and met Jim (later Roger) McGuinn* in early 1964 while touring. They teamed up with singer/songwriter Gene Clark.

These guys were pretty much folkies but soon – like so many others – fell in love with The Beatles. (So much so that they emulated their instruments with McGuinn fatefully taking up a Rickenbacker 12-string guitar a la George.) As much as any other band, the Byrds were responsible for the amalgam that came to known as folk-rock.

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Stephen Stills was born in Dallas. He was raised in a military family and moved around as a child. (One of the towns he wound up in was what became a hotbed of rock which was Gainesville, Fl. See my series on Tom Petty for a little more on this.) Stills, another folkie, played in a variety of bands around the country. (And even famously once auditioned to be in the Monkees.)

Neil Young and Stills met in 1965 in  Thunder Bay, Ontario. Young was there with the Squires, a Winnipeg group he had been leading since February 1963, and Stills was on tour with The Company. Stills – a good guitar player – worked for a while as a session musician but really wanted to be in a band.

Here’s a story I’d heard before, found amusing and figured it bore repeating: Young and bassist Bruce Palmer arrived in L.A. hoping to meet Stephen Stills, whom Young had previously learned was living in the city. However, after almost a week of searching clubs and coffeehouses, the pair had been unable to find him.

Consequently, on April 6, 1966, Young and Palmer decided to leave Los Angeles and drive north to San Francisco. While the two were stuck in traffic on Sunset Boulevard, they were spotted by Stills and Richie Furay, who were heading the other direction down Sunset. Stills and Furay managed to switch lanes and maneuver behind Young’s hearse, at which point the musicians pulled off the road and reunited. This led to the formation of Buffalo Springfield, another (sort of) folk-rock, psychedelic-rock unit.

The last piece of the CSN puzzle is provided by the British band The Hollies. They originated as a duo formed by Allan Clarke and Graham Nash, who began performing together during the skiffle craze of the late 1950s. They wound up becoming a duo like the Everly Brothers who were, of course, known for their harmony singing.

They later become the Hollies (in tribute to Buddy Holly) and were a key piece of the British Invasion with tunes like “Carrie Anne” and “Bus Stop.” You can hear Nash’s voice all over these tunes.

According to David Crosby’s documentary, in late 1967 he was visited by Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn who fired him, largely because he was a fucking pain in the ass. (To his credit he doesn’t deny he was one.) In early 1968, after the usual rock star drug bust bullshit, Buffalo Springfield split up.

Stills and Crosby – part of the infamous Laurel Canyon crowd -met at a July 1968 party at Mama Cass Elliott’s house and started jamming together. (Cass sings on “Pre-Road Downs.”) Graham Nash had met the two guys before on Hollies tours. He’d pretty much had it with that band and was looking for a new gig. Stories differ on whose house they first sang together in, but apparently everyone there was blown away by their impromptu rendition of Stills’ “You Don’t Have to Cry.” (General consensus is that it was Joni Mitchell’s house.)

Ultimate Classic Rock: “On that third time [the other guys sang], I’d learned the words, the melody — I knew what I was gonna do,” Nash recalled. “Whatever sound Crosby, Stills & Nash has was born in 30 seconds. That’s how long it took us to harmonize that way, so much so that we burst out laughing in the middle of the song. Because the Springfield and the Byrds and the Hollies were good harmony bands. We knew what we were doing. We’d been making records in harmony for years. But this was different.” “It was scary,” Crosby said in Zimmer’s book.

Stills was already signed to Atlantic Records and negotiations were done to free up Nash. (Crosby was unsigned because record company executives loved him as much as his fellow musicians did.)

And so in May 1969, their eponymous debut album was released. (Three months before their fateful “scared shitless” debut at Woodstock.) I can say that I was not the target demographic for this album. I didn’t really give a fuck about the Byrds, liked some of Springfield, found some of the Hollies stuff catchy.

So I was really blown away when a friend turned me onto this album. Loved it. Fresh sound, not “psychedelic,” no long jams. The Band gets a lot of credit for bringing a rootsier sound back to rock but you can’t overlook what these guys brought from the folk side of things.

The album kicks off with a song I never get tired of – “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” a tune about Stills’ ex-girlfriend Judy Collins. (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – never get in a relationship with a songwriter.) I love Steven Stills’ guitar all throughout this album.

Judy Collins: “Stephen came to where I was singing one night on the West Coast and brought his guitar to the hotel and he sang me “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” the whole song. And of course, it has lines in it that referred to my therapy. And so he wove that all together in this magnificent creation. So the legacy of our relationship is certainly in that song.”

Spotify link

The album was a hit and you heard it everywhere. (“Marrakesh Express” with Jim Gordon on drums was a hit.) It had a timeless feel and fit well into the hippie-dippie attitude of the time.

One of my favorite songs from this album is the tune “Wooden Ships,” about the aftermath of a nuclear war. The song was co-written by Crosby, Stills and Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner.** (Both bands recorded the song, the lyrics differ slightly and both played it at Woodstock.). Both Stills and Crosby were sailing aficionados which influenced their song choices. A beautiful tune:

If you smile at me I will understand
‘Cause that is something everybody
Everywhere does in the same language
I can see by your coat my friend you’re from the other side
There’s just one thing I’ve got to
Know, can you tell me please, who won

Spotify link

Let’s finish up with the song where the guys found their magic, “You Don’t Have To Cry.” This is another Stills song about Judy Collins. (Interestingly the two of them toured together last year where – when asked about Stills -she repeatedly referred to him as a “genius.”)

AllMusic says this album is a sparkling set immortalizing the group’s amazingly close, high harmonies and is a “definitive document of the era.” In 2003 and 2012, Rolling Stone ranked Crosby, Stills & Nash number 262 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It was voted number 83 in Colin Larkin’s All-Time Top 1000 Albums 3rd Edition.

In March 1970 the guys brought Neil Young on board and recorded Deja Vu. David Crosby says that the two bands are “completely different” and both should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

*Today’s odd-but-true fact – McGuinn had also spent time as a professional songwriter at the Brill Building in New York City, under the tutelage of Bobby Darin. And BTW, what’s wrong with the name Jim, a perfectly good, solid name near as I can tell.

**Kantner wasn’t initially credited because of some record company bullshit.

35 thoughts on “Featured Album – Crosby. Stills & Nash

  1. I know it was a joke, but McGuinn was involved in the Subud mystic cult for a while and changed his name there.

    There are some other very good songs on this – I enjoy Wooden Ships, Guinevere, and Helplessly Hoping in particular – but having Suite: Judy Blue Eyes at the front overshadows everything else. Stuff like Lady of the Island is a little sleepy, and I think Deja Vu is stronger overall.

    I think Stephen Stills is pretty much the most overlooked figure in classic rock – great gritty voice, great guitarist, spearheaded great records like this, Deja Vu, Manassas, his solo debut. Doesn’t get a whole lot of respect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting about McGuinn. I figured it was just a lark. Both good albums for sure. The addition of Young didn’t hurt. ‘Helpless’ is such a great tune.

      I agree with what you say about Stills’ talents. Not so sure that he’s ‘overlooked’ so much as maybe his impact is fading over time. He doesn’t get as much love as, say, Neil Young but those who know, know.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I have this vinyl record. Over the years it has remained my favorite from that time. It had hippie-dippy mantras all over it, but for pure musical talent and precision, it was the best of the time. Stills is probably the most under-recognized guitar player that ever picked up the instrument.

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    1. Yes, it’s a great album. And Aphoristical said that Stills was underappreciated. But he is actually on Rolling Stone’s list of greatest guitarists. I know a lot of people don’t care much for RS’s lists. But it’s not nothing.

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  3. I saw CSN in concert in Dallas back in 2001. As a trio, they still had their vocal range, and the guitar playing from Stills was mesmerizing. Crosby, good rhythm player and back up vocals, Nash, great singer. Not sure what they are like today, but I would love to see them.

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    1. I have never seen them. And you may be behind the curve on this one. As David Crosby makes painfully clear in this documentary, the other guys (literally) hate his guts. He had a bad temper, did and said stupid things, insulted Daryl Hannah who is now Neil Young’s wife. That ship has sailed.

      Crosby plays with whatever band he current has and that’s pretty much it. This is a brief blurb from an interview with Nash just about a year ago:

      Q: David said in January that he would love to get the four of you back together.

      I’m sure he would.

      Q: Is there any discussion?

      No, there’s none at all, and there won’t be. And the truth is, none of us are speaking to David. Not me, not Stephen, not Neil. And that’s the way it is. We have to like and love each other to be able to make great music.

      And I understand the financial implications. I understand the need for CSNY to raise their voices, particularly in this political climate today, but we have to like each other. And we don’t want to do it if we don’t like each other.

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  4. While I like “Deja Vu” even more, man, do I dig this album!

    Harmony singing really doesn’t get much better. And the music’s great as well. Truly a timeless classic.

    In fact, I’m listening to the album as I’m writing this clever comment!😀

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    1. I listened to it while I was writing the post. Over and above the songs we remember most frequently, it had been a long time since I thought of “Lady of the Island,” or even “Guinnevere.” (Do you know that Miles Davis covered that song? He played it for Crosby who didn’t get the interpretation. So he threw Crosby out.) So much good stuff on this album. I can’t say that I like “Deja Vu” more or less. It’s just a different beast.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I just watched this TV interview Dan Rather conducted with Crosby, Stills and Nash: Good stuff, which is why I decided to share it – hope you don’t mind!

    While apparently AXS TV only uploaded it to YouTube last month, the interview must have taken place about seven years ago. At one point, Nash says he is 71 years old and his current age is 78.

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    1. Stills is a talented dude. Excellent guitar player, singer, songwriter. I know you’re not fond of this album but his playing is tasty all the way through. He’s got an interesting muted sound I like. He’s not really a blues player per se so he doesn’t get that kind of adulation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m hearing his work on what I’ve been listening to. The CSN is just not my style. But I am digging Stills. I think I’ll go on an extended run and see what happens. I dont do that unless somethings grabbed me. So he more than has my attention. But I’m not going to cut my hair.

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        1. That’s the one I’m familiar with. More because of Bloomfield and Kooper. My buddy was into that one big time.
          That’s it with me too. I want to hear more. The Manassas also. Hillman i really like.
          That song you mentioned is a reason why I shied away. I thought that was more of CSN.
          When I was younger I was pretty ruthless but I’m a softer , gentler CB now.
          I just finished a take on Neil. It took me a while to warm up to him. Can you guess which album did it?

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        2. Neil Young? Hmm. He’s got so many. That could go either way. If it’s the kinder, gentler CB then either “After the Gold Rush” or “Harvest.” If it’s the other CB, could be “Rust Never Sleeps.” Hey, how could it take you so long to warm up to Neil? He’s a fucking Canuck you know.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Doc I love CSN especially ‘I Almost Cut My Hair’.
    (I think Falda fixed my computer. I’ve been using the other one)

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    1. This sounds really good but so derivative in sound of CSN that I thought it was “Deja Vu.” But who are these guys? What is a Rocketown Writers Series? Are they a band? Or if it’s a series, a series of what? The name has me puzzled and I don’t recognize any of the names.

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      1. Rocketown is a venue in Nashville. The four guys on this particular recording are prolific songwriters that don’t usually record their own music. I think the “series” was originally meant to be an ongoing release of projects recorded by writers of their own songs, but this one CD may have been the only one that saw the light of day. All four of them have some claims to fame. For example, Wayne Kirkpatrick and Gordon Kennedy wrote “Change the World,” for which Eric Clapton won a Grammy. Also, Wayne Kirkpatrick was part of the writing team for the Broadway musical “Something Rotten.” Besides Clapton, his songs have been recorded by the likes of Joe Cocker, Babyface, Garth Brooks, Peter Frampton, and Bonnie Raitt, among many others. Anyway, yeah. Talented dudes.

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