Posted September 2017
When you hear the name, Graham Nash, what comes to mind? His work with The Hollies or, of course, his great body of work in the various incarnations of bands with David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Neil Young. Of course, Nash is also known for his activism, art, photography, and, in recent years, writing books.
For me, I think the earliest song I remember associating with Mr. Nash is when I heard him and the rest of CSNY sing, “Love The One You’re With” and to this day, whenever I hear that song, I remember laying in my room, hearing it crackle out over an old AM radio when I was a pre-teen in Phoenix.
Obviously, when I was given the opportunity to chat with Graham by phone regarding his latest album, current tour, and his photo exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I was naturally ecstatic. The experience was one of the highlights of my writing career.
As part of this piece, I reached out to our friends at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to give us some comments regarding Graham Nash. I chatted with Karen Herman (Vice President, Collections and Curatorial Affairs for the Rock Hall) about the Hall’s collaboration with Nash for an exhibit of portions of his extensive memorabilia collection and photography work.
“He was actually really wonderful to work with. We did an exhibit with him in fall of 2015. It was fabulous! It was called
‘Graham Nash: Touching The Flame’. Not only was it about his life and career, but, also, it was about what he’s collected over the years from those that inspired him. And, on top of that, one of the things when we were first working on the exhibit was he really wanted to be seen as a full artist, not just as a musical artist but also as a visual artist, a thinker. So, there’s a lot – very multi-dimensional is how I would put it.”
Regarding the feedback on the exhibit, she said:
“That’s a great question. The feedback was really, really amazing! I think Graham actually had the best comment that was actually the headline for the Billboard story that ran on it. I can’t even say it in polite company what the headlines were. Ha! Ha!
“Everything he does, he does with gusto and joy of life and really looking at everything from every angle. He’s a photographer. He’s a musician. He’s a two-time Rock Hall inductee. There’s just so much to him and he has such a great grasp of history of rock and roll that came before him. He’s got a collection of the Everly Brothers’ guitars; things like that. Things that Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley – he really salutes those who came before him and helped him become the musician that he became.”
As my chat with Graham Nash began, we cut right to the chase by chatting about the tour.
“ . . . people are paying to come see me is a great compliment. My job is to do two things. One: Is to try to tell the truth as much as I can and, two, to reflect the times in which we live. That’s what me and David and Stephen and Neil and Joni and everybody else has been doing for years. We have to reflect the times in which we live!”
Baby Boomers were considered an idealistic generation – some being far more idealistic than others but all hoping for a bright future of love and peace. I asked Graham to think back fifty-plus years ago and if he imagined that the world would be what it is today.
“I’ve always known that the world is a chaotic place. I’ve always known that there’s a great deal of love and a great deal of beauty. And I’ve also known that there’s a great deal of ugliness violence in it. My job is to breathe, to be alive, and to feel because before I write about anything, I have to feel deeply about it. I find music is a very precious thing to me and I have great respect for the muse of music. And, so, the fact that I’m still here after fifty-odd years of doing this is completely amazing to me!
“Somebody wrote to me a few weeks ago and saying last year was the fiftieth year of Bus Stop. Are you kidding?! Fifty years ago?! Ha! Ha! That’s amazing! I’m still here. I’m still writing. I’m still creating. I’m still feeling. This is fantastic!
“Was it Jagger that said, ‘Don’t trust anybody over thirty?’ Yes, maybe we shouldn’t trust anybody under thirty! Ha! Ha!”
Later in our chat, Graham also said:
“We were very idealistic and with very good reason. It was the Summer of Love. It was sunshine. It was freedom. We were coming out of the Eisenhower administration and Kennedy had gotten killed and the Beatles came and revitalized the entire world. To have been a part of that? I mean, you have got to understand: You and I are very lucky. We are living in the same world as Bob Dylan and the Beatles and Joni and all these incredible writers and this incredible music that was made. I’ve been right in the middle of it forever, it seems. And, yet, I still have the same passion for music. I still have the ability to think of something and feel that it’s not right and write about it or fall in love. I still have this passion and it just won’t let me go and I’m very pleased.”
As with past solo tours, Nash is touring with his long-time guitarist, Shne Fontayne. I asked how long have they had known each other and worked together.
“Here’s what happened: Do you know who Mark Cohen is? Well, Crosby and I sang on a couple of tracks on a couple of albums of Mark’s and one day at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles, he was playing and he wanted me and Crosby to come and sing a couple of songs. So, we did. His lead guitar player was this man called Shane Fontayne.
“Now, with a name like Shane Fontayne, I thought he was from Alabama or something but he’s actually English. At that time, Crosby and I were two weeks away from going to Europe on tour and our lead guitar player, Dean Parks - who was a very important session man – didn’t want to lose his place in the queue for the first call for musicians, you know? And, so, he couldn’t go. We asked Shane and Shane learned thirty-two songs in three days and became our lead guitar player with Crosby, Nash and then he was the guitar player in Crosby, Stills and Nash with the other lead guitar player being, of course, Stephen Stills. No pressure there, of course. Then, for the last couple of years, it’s been me and Shane stripping the songs down to their very essence as to how they were created – a simple way, with a guitar or a piano. People are responding brilliantly to it.”
Graham’s latest album is entitled, This Path Tonight. It’s a magnificent body of work with any one song on it making it worth the price of the entire album. I asked what the response to it has been – both as an album and the songs performed at shows?
“When me and David or when me and David and Stephen or when me and David and Stephen and Neil do great work and people respond – let’s say to Teach Your Children – there’s a song written forty-five years ago. It’s been in their hearts and souls for years. They love the song, right? But when you can get them to their feet, applauding, with a song they’ve only heard once, that’s impressive to me! With a song like Myself At Last – let me tell you privately: When you’re recording – we booked the studio starting on Monday. Sunday afternoon, the lads bring all the gear in and they take the drums out of the cases, la la la la la la. Sunday evening, the band come in and set up so the drummer can see the bass player and I can see everybody – you know, that kind of stuff.
“Then, you have to sing and play something to make sure that it’s all plugged in right. Myself At Last is the first attempt at the first song we tried. One take. That’s when I knew that this album was going to be very pleasing to me.”
Does there seem to be a crowd favorite from the album?
“Actually, that one. Yeah. And, actually, Encore. People really love that song for some reason.”
As for a follow-up to the CD, Graham said:
“The reality is that Shane and I wrote twenty songs in a month and recorded those twenty songs in eight days. There was only ten on the album. Thirteen if you buy the deluxe version from iTunes. So, we had seven left that we still love and we’re still writing. So, when I go on this tour that we started in the middle of July, we’ll be on the bus writing.
“It’s very difficult. When you sing in front of a couple of thousand people and you’re adored and appreciated and applauded and, then, you go onto your bus, then what? I make myself a cup of tea and no one’s applauding. So, me and Shane get our guitars out and still play until hours in the morning – particularly on a long journey.”
With over fifty years of performances under his belt, does Nash see a difference in the crowds between then and now?
“We’ve always had great crowds. But what I’ve been noticing lately is this beautiful thing where parents and brothers and sisters – older brothers and sisters are passing on the music to the younger generation. So, I see seventy year old people at our concerts and I see fifteen year old people at our concerts. The truth is, we’re not Brad Pitt, you know what I’m saying? It must be the music and that’s what’s thrilling to me as a musician.”
Most people would agree that Graham Nash has had his hand in writing some of the most memorable songs that stand the test of time. When I asked what is driving the empty lyrics of todays songs compared to the heartfelt lyrics he wrote, he answered without the slightest hesitation.
“I’ll tell you exactly what’s driving it: Smoke. Mirrors. Flashing lights. Dancing girls. Millions of people on stage, all lip-syncing. That’s what’s going on now to a large degree. Of course, within that, there are many people that can still write about topical issues. But, you know, here I am, this kid from the north of England that escaped having to do what his dad did and what his grandfather did: go down the mine or into the mill. My mother and father, thank God, recognized my passion for music since I was thirteen years old and just encouraged me to do that. I had friends whose family was slapping them up the side of the head: ‘Get a real job. This music s**** is not going to last.’ And this was in the late fifties. So, here I am, incredibly proud to be an American citizen. I’m incredibly passionate about what I do and, as I said, my responsibility as a musician is to make sure that everybody’s smiling as they’re leaving.”
Many feel that the state of the music industry is one of disarray and brokenness. Nash feels to the contrary.
“It’s not broken. It’s just completely changing as it always did and it always will. But there are certain things that are inevitable. I don’t think, personally, there’ll ever be a band as great as The Beatles ever again. I keep my ears open. I don’t see it anywhere. I see certain individuals creating great music but I don’t see The Beatles.
“I just did an event at the Paley Center in New York City about the ‘All You Need Is Love’ television special that I attended. How people are fascinated with The Beatles and fascinated with the Summer of Love. It would be very interesting to see what historians think of this in a hundred years. Maybe it will be seen like Vienna at the turn of the century when architects and furniture builders and artists and philosophers all gathered over massive amounts of coffee to talk about what they were doing? Maybe Paris in the 1930’s with Gertrude Stein and Picasso and all those people. I think the Summer of Love and The Beatles are going to be seen in that kind of frame.”
As for the biggest changes he’s seeing in the music business, Graham wryly stated:
“I see people really trying to speak truth to power and I see people lip-synching their way into Hell.”
Artists such as Mr. Nash whose career has spanned generations often lament the digitization of recording music today. I asked if he missed how music used to be recorded.
“I don’t miss much because it’s still the same for me. I try and write decent songs and get them in the first take. I’m trying to be as real as possible. But I can only deal with my life. There’s only me in here. I have to satisfy myself every day. I have to create something every day or else I get upset with myself. My time is running out. I’m seventy-five right now. How much longer can this go on, seriously? But I have to do the best I can and that’s all I’m trying to do.”
Three years ago, Graham released his autobiography, Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life. It’s a fascinating read and should be in your library if it isn’t already. I asked him if another book was in the works.
“Who knows? It was interesting writing it. I got to tell you, when I got the first double-spaced, single-paged version of the book in its very earliest thing, I got to the end of it – I read every word, of course, because I’d written it - and I got to the end of it and I was on my own and I said to myself, ‘Holy s****! I wish I was him!’ Because my life has been insane and it doesn’t show any sign of stopping! How lucky!”
Artists usually have a bucket list of things they still want to do, creatively, that they haven’t yet done. I asked Nash what was on his list.
“Sing ‘Yesterday,’ two-part harmony in front of millions of people with Paul. I could kill ‘Yesterday’ for sure. He’s always treated me with great respect, Paul, ever since the day I first met him, which was in 1959.”
At the time of our chat, Graham’s photography work was on exhibit at Walter Wickiser Gallery in New York City so I asked how that was going for him.
“It’s very interesting, you know, because, in a way, I’m kind of on top of my own kind of world here in the music business and I’ve been criticized and praised, et cetera, for many, many decades. But it’s interesting to allow yourself to be criticized in a brand new art form. But it’s very interesting. People have been responding to the paintings and to the prints and the photographs very, very well.”
Wrapping up our chat, I asked Graham Nash how he hoped to be remembered and what his legacy will be.
“I want to be remembered as a human being that cared and tried to do his best. That’s all. I think the music stands for itself and I think it speaks volumes.”
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