Crosby, Stills & Nash

2016 Crosby, Stills & Nash

Never have three musical superstars had such a long, tangential relationship as have David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, with the sometime inclusion of Neil Young. Tracing their career means examining their significant pre-CSN work, their loose association, and their post-CSN output. Now, in typical Crosby, Stills & Nash fashion, they are sharing the stage again, to the delight of their legion of fans. Tickets are flying, as are the memories.

By the time Cass Elliot and Joni Mitchell made the fateful introductions, all three men had significant careers under their belts. David Crosby, born in 1941 in Los Angeles, helped found the Byrds, then left after frequent affronts to his artistic integrity. Stephen Stills, born in 1945 in Dallas, had sung for the Buffalo Springfield, logging a Top Ten single in 1967 with 'For What It's Worth (Stop, Hey, What's That Sound).' Englishman Graham Nash, born in 1942 in Blackpool, was a founding member of the Hollies. Altogether, the trio racked up 15 Top 40 hits, including two #1 classics for the Byrds, 'Mr. Tambourine Man' and 'Turn! Turn! Turn!'.

Since all three had left stressful band experiences, it was not surprising that they maintained a loose association, or that the strife among them actually magnified itself as time went on. What did surprise all three was how exquisite their harmonies sounded from the first time they sang together at Cass Elliot's house (or at Joni Mitchell's, depending on whose memory you trust).

Choosing to go the folk-music route, the trio recorded an album, Crosby, Stills & Nash, which included two 1969 hits, 'Marrakesh Express' and 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,' written for Judy Collins. The trio's instant popularity led to their winning the 1969 Best New Artist Grammy Award.

Though none of their 1969-70 singles cracked the Top Ten, their haunting harmonies and politically significant lyrics endeared them to the entire Vietnam generation. One single, 1970's 'Teach Your Children,' was surely bound for the Top Ten when the band decided to release Neil Young's composition 'Ohio' as a response to the killing of four students at Kent State University in May of 1970. Clearly, right overcame greed in this situation. Though singles sales were only adequate, airplay was strong, and the albums that spawned the singles sold in the millions.

Crosby, Stills & Nash developed a reputation as a fantastic live act, and in fact, many who attended Woodstock say that Crosby, Stills & Nash were Woodstock. They appeared at festivals at Altamont (a disaster for the Rolling Stones) and at Big Sur as well. Enormously popular as a live act, with or without Neil Young on stage, no one was selling more tickets in those days.

Apart from a groundbreaking 1974 stadium tour, Crosby, Stills & Nash could not stay together long enough from 1971 to 1976 to do any decent recording. Solo work fared better, as Stephen Stills charted 'Love the One You're With' at the end of 1970. Who sang backup? David Crosby and Graham Nash, of course, along with Rita Coolidge and John Sebastian. Graham Nash and David Crosby charted in 1972 with 'Immigration Man.' This continual dancing around each other coalesced into another major album, CSN, released in 1977. Finally, they made the Top Ten, with 'Just a Song Before I Go' in 1977.

Before the decade ended, David Crosby had let drugs catch up with him. Freebase cocaine abuse led to a prison sentence, and it is perhaps miraculous that he is still alive. His recovery allowed the trio to chart another Top Ten single, 'Wasted on the Way,' in 1982. The drugs weren't done with Crosby, though, as he had to have a liver transplant.

At this point, Crosby, Stills & Nash continue to excel on stage, where their original huge core of fans shares the space with the next generation of fans. Happier and healthier than ever before, they still amaze audiences with how the whole of their union exceeds the sum of their parts.

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