Graham Nash Talks Classic Songs, Supergroups, Muscle Shoals, New Tour

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It’s been about 10 years since Graham Nash dropped by 815 Palm Avenue, the West Hollywood address of a ramshackle house where Crosby, Stills & Nash took the cover photo for their 1969 self-titled debut album.

“He’s still gone,” Nash says in his crisp British accent, followed by a laugh. The CSN house was demolished shortly after this cover photo was taken. Fortunately, Nash is still standing. So is his music, which is about as immortal as anything in classic rock. Rubies written by Nash include ‘Our House’, ‘Teach Your Children’, ‘Just a Song Before I Go’ and ‘Marrakesh Express’ – recorded by his folk-rock supergroups Crosby, Stills & Nash (also featuring Byrds and Buffalo Springfield expatriates David Crosby and Stephen Stills) and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (after Stills’ Buffalo Springfield homey Neil Young supersized CSN).

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Nash’s exquisite and expressive voice is essential to these compositions. With her previous band The Hollies, Nash co-wrote/sung “Carrie Anne,” the summertime ode to ’60s “it girl” Marianne Faithfull. His 1971 solo album “Songs For Beginners”, with assists from Jerry Garcia and Neil Young, is a must-listen for singer/songwriter enthusiasts.

Nash also led a checkered life away from his music. He is an accomplished photographer. He had a famous relationship with another top songwriter, Joni Mitchell. And for god’s sake, Nash was in a band with David Crosby for decades and lived to tell the tale, as detailed in the 2013 memoir “Wild Tales.” Recently, I caught up with Nash for a quick phone interview. He was in New Jersey, about to head to the first gig of his latest tour, the self-descriptive “An Intimate Evening of Songs and Stories with Graham Nash.” The edited experts from our conversation are below.

Graham, the “Intimate Evening of Songs & Stories” tour was originally scheduled for 2020, before the pandemic hit. In the two years since, how have your plans for the shows changed and how have they stayed the same?

Well, you know, there are basic songs that I realized my fans want to hear. They want to hear “Our House” and they want to hear “Teach Your Children”, etc. But I think there are about 24 songs in the show. And there’s new stuff in there, stuff you’ve never heard before, and I can’t wait to play.

It’s exciting, there are also new things overall, as well as the classics. You’re a relentlessly creative guy, and there’s no shortage of inspiration in the world for songwriters these days. What kind of stuff do you write songs and lyrics about these days, Graham?

Everything from falling in love to hating stuff. I’m in love with my new wife and I hate Trump. [Laughs] And all the rest.

You’ve also made loud material in your career, but you’re known for your acoustic and folk-tinged songs. So to reverse that, what’s the loudest, loudest band you’re in, whether it’s Jimi Hendrix or Led Zeppelin or whoever?

I was very often standing in the middle of Stephen Stills and Neil Young playing guitar together, against each other and for each other, you know. And it gets pretty loud.

There have been a few archive releases of your various projects over the past few years – the “Over The Years” compilation (solo), the “Déjà Vu” box set (CSNY). Are there more soon?

There are two things. One of them, me and Crosby sang with some really great people, you know, like Carole King and James Taylor and Jackson Browne and Joni and everything. Paul Simon. And there’s a great record of me and David singing the backgrounds to all those great songs. And also, our friend Joel Bernstein, who is our archivist and Neil’s archivist and Joni’s archivist, has been working on CSNY since 1969. Stuff that was never published.

Not long ago I was in a record store and someone younger in their twenties was talking about loving Crosby’s debut album, Stills and Nash. Why do you think this album has no age? Young people seem to keep finding it.

I think mainly because the music is good. The Hollies and The Birds and Buffalo Springfield were great harmony groups, but CSN and CSNY are totally different. And we are four strong writers and four strong singers and I think that continues.

I love your song “Pre-Road Downs” on that first CSN record. A great “road song”, if you will.

There’s only one other person singing with us on this whole album, and it happens to be on this track.

And who is it?

Cass Elliott (of The Mamas & the Papas).

You’ve been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. Once with CSN and later with The Hollies. What mattered most to you?

With the hollies. I kind of knew that CSN would eventually come in – we were incredibly popular, with some really great albums. But it had been 25 years and the Hollies had still not been inducted. And then when we were, I was really happy about it, especially for my friend (and Hollies bandmate) Alan Clarke, who I’m doing a record with right now.

Do you have a guitar or a piano that you held the longest, from which you extracted the most songs?

My original Epiphone, I sprayed it black and wrote “Teach Your Children” and “Marrakesh Express” and “Simple Man” and stuff on it. Unfortunately, I can’t find it – it’s missing somewhere. It’s really quite upsetting, but it’s the oldest guitar I have.

Your next show here in Huntsville, Alabama is only about an hour away from Muscle Shoals. In the 60s, how much were you listening to and aware of the R&B and soul that came out of Muscle Shoals?

Of course, yes, we learned to play all that. That was one of the things that was amazing for us. The Hollies were getting records that were brought back by merchants at sea – somebody’s cousin or uncle is in the navy and goes to America and brings back records. And we were playing and singing these songs from the 60s, really great stuff and we loved it. And what we couldn’t figure out was how we could sing it and sell it back to you. It was amazing.

I was looking at pictures from your photography book, “A Life In Focus.” These really intimate and moving images of these musically powerful people, like Crosby and like Joni. Do you always travel with a camera when you are on tour?

Absoutely.

What kind of photos do you take when you’re on the road?

I can tell you what I don’t shoot. I do not photograph sunsets. I do not photograph landscapes. I don’t take pictures that match my couch, and I don’t take pictures of kittens with balls of yarn. I watch completely surreal moments that have happened in front of me that I must have the courage to pull the trigger.

Last question: Crosby, Stills and Nash and CSNY have gone back and forth several times, but these two bands have a long history together. Whereas a lot of other big supergroups, like Blind Faith in the 60s or even some groups more recently, had pretty short runs. Why were your supergroups able to run longer races together?

I think we really care about the music. It must be important to us. We have to say something important to say and share. And that’s what we do. It’s quite simple, really.

“An Intimate Evening of Songs and Stories with Graham Nash” arrives at Mars Music Hall in Huntsville, address 700 Monroe St. at the Von Braun Center, at 8 p.m. March 19. Tickets cost between $52 and $72 (plus fees) via ticketmaster.com. More info on grahamnash.com.


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