Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Feb 5th 2009 4:00PM by Dan Reilly
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer just released 'Reflections,' a box set spanning his 40-plus-year career in music, featuring 64 songs of classic and unreleased material, and he promises there will be more to come. Spinner recently caught up with Nash to discuss the highs and lows of being in a supergroup, his favorite collaborations and what further musical offerings he has in store for his fans.
You've already done a box set with CSNY. How was it working on this one?
This one was much more personal, you know? I'd already put out David Crosby's box set and had a wonderful time doing that and thought it was a great product, and then Rhino wanted me to do mine. It took me a year and a half and I went through 44 versions of these three CDs to make sure it was exactly what I wanted. There's a 150-page book in there with many great photographs ... just images that I thought were appropriate for each song. It's chronological starting with my time with the Hollies and going all the way back to a song I wrote last year.
How tough is it to boil down your career to just three discs?
Well, with all the concerts we've done and all the live stuff that we recorded, it was a little difficult, but there will be other box sets. We haven't stopped here. As I say, this is a milestone, not a millstone. Even though I looked backwards on my career to put out this box set, this isn't stopping me from moving forward. I'm looking forward to the next 40 years.
The Hollies were a very successful band when you left in 1968. How difficult was that decision?
My decision to leave the Hollies was unbelievably easy for one reason: I had heard me and David and Stephen [Stills] sing together. I wanted that golden sound. I craved it. It was beautiful. And the instant that I heard that sound, I knew that I was no longer a Hollie.
That first song was 'You Don't Have to Cry,' right?
That was the very first song we ever sang together, a beautiful song written by Stephen Stills. We were in Joni Mitchell's living room and David said, "Hey, Stephen, play Graham that song." They played it, I loved it, and I asked them to sing it again. They shrugged and did it again and I said to them, "Just one more time." I put my harmony in, and my life has never been the same since.
What were your first impressions of them?
Well, I loved David and Stephen and love them to this day. They were rambunctious and young and energetic and passionate and great songwriters and great musicians. I was in heaven. I was one of five kids from the north of England who formed the Hollies, and all of a sudden our first record became a hit and we hadn't looked back since. We come to 1968, I've heard myself sing with David and Stephen, and that's what I wanted. I left my first wife, I left my family, I left my businesses, I left the band, and I moved to America to follow that sound.
What was the creative process like between the three of you? Was it collaborative or one person bringing a song idea in?
We had this thing called the "Reality Rule" and it goes like this: if I write a song and I sing it for David and Stephen and they don't react, they'll never hear that song again. If I play them a song and David goes, "oh, I know what we can do in the chorus" and Stephen goes, "yeah, I've got a great solo for this," then we're off and running. That's what we want to set the bar for us to attain the best possible versions of these songs.
Did you know this supergroup would find the success it did with the first album?
No doubt about it. When we walked out of the studio with that two-track [tape] under our arm and gave it to Ahmet Ertegun, who was president of Atlantic Records and our supporter and mentor for many years, we knew. We knew it was going to be a hit record, and so did Ahmet.
For the second album, 'Déjà Vu,' the band added Neil Young. How did that happen?
It came about because we realized that with this great record, people would want to see us and therefore we had to go out on the road. David and I are decent rhythm guitar players, but we couldn't provide Stephen with what he was getting from Neil Young when they played in Buffalo Springfield. They were two stags on the sides of the stage dueling it out with their guitars and entering into a musical conversation with each other. After a few names were bandied around, Neil's came up and I quite frankly said, "I know Neil's a great, great songwriter, but I don't know who he is. I would like to spend some time with him before we let him into the band." So I went to breakfast with him in Greenwich Village, and after that I would have made Neil Young president. He was very funny, very confident. He was just a very solid individual and it was very obvious from the first day I met him.
And then you guys played your second gig, at Woodstock. Talk about a trial by fire ...
Yes, indeed. We weren't particularly upset by the amount of people because we'd all played to many crowds, even though this was the largest crowd that we'd ever been in front of. What we were terrified about was all our peers, all the groups that we loved: the Band. Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and so on, all these people on the side of the stage trying to figure out whether we could come anywhere close to reproducing the record. I think us looking back at their faces and us realizing that they realized we could do it, that was thrilling for us.
Later, the band played Altamont. Were you there for any of the craziness?
We went on at Altamont in the early afternoon. It was so weird and so strange and so tentative that we got out of there soon because we had also committed to a show in Southern California on the same day.
Good choice. After that, you guys went into the '70s splitting up and reforming constantly. Why did that happen?
All the arguments that we had with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were basically silly arguments. There was too many drugs, too much fame, too much money, too much of everything. I was amazed we came up with an album like 'Déjà Vu' that was so good, because after the first record, David's girlfriend was killed and mine and Stephen's relationships ended, so we were a lot lonelier and a lot more stressful. I think the album shows it.
And then later you had to deal with Crosby's drug problems.
That was the most difficult part of the '80s for me, David's spiraling down into madness. I'm amazed he's still alive. There were many times when we thought we'd lost him but he's a very strong cat. He's a Leo, but I think he's used up most of his nine lives.
Absolutely. One interesting thing I read was that the late 'Saturday Night Live' comedian Phil Hartman designed the CSN logo. How did that happen?
Well, Phil was the brother of John Hartman, who was our manager. Phil was a comedian, a radio personality and a graphic designer, and he did two things that people probably know: the cover of the first Poco album, with the beautiful line drawing of the horse, and the interlocking letters of CSN. He was a very, very funny man. He could do a half hour special on everything he looked at. He would look at a situation and just suck the comedy right out of it and spit it out. He was an incredible comedian and he was a brilliant mind.
Do you keep up with any current bands?
Obviously, I'm surrounded by music all day and therefore other people's music comes drifting through my head. I don't make it a habit of listening to a lot of new bands. I'm 67 years old and I don't want to waste my time. I have a tremendous passion for music, I have a tremendous amount of music going through my head, and I know David and Stephen and Neil do and we just concentrate on ourselves.
How often do you speak with the rest of the band these days? What's next for you?
I keep in contact with the boys weekly. We're about to start a brand new record with Rick Rubin in the middle of February. I've heard glimpses of brilliance.