|Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young|
Left to right: Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, Neil Young, and David Crosby, August 2006.
|Also known as||Crosby, Stills, & Nash|
|Genre(s)||Rock, folk rock|
|Years active||1968 – present|
|Associated acts||CPR, Crosby & Nash, Manassas, The Stills-Young Band|
The trio of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash are a folk rock/rock supergroup known as Crosby, Stills, & Nash (CSN). The group's name is augmented to Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young (CSNY) when it includes its occasional fourth member, Neil Young. They are noted for their intricate vocal harmonies, instrumental excellence, often tumultuous interpersonal relationships, political activism, and lasting influence on music and culture. CSNY played the Woodstock Festival in 1969, and their recording of "Woodstock" became the hit song memorializing the festival. The popular group's collective talents covered popular music prevalent at the time, from country-rock to confessional balladry, from acoustic guitars and voice to electric guitar and boogie.
Released in 1969, CSN's first album, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, was an instant hit. When Neil Young joined the supergroup, their first album Déjà Vu topped the charts in 1970. They produced a string of mellow, well-harmonized, message-laden hits in the 1970s and early 1980s, including: "Marrakesh Express," "Teach Your Children," "Our House," and "Southern Cross."
In 1982, they regrouped as a regular touring unit, producing one more top-ten album, Daylight Again in 1982.
CSN was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Crosby was also inducted as a member of the Byrds, and Stills as a member of Buffalo Springfield. Young was inducted for his solo work and for Buffalo Springfield, but has not been inducted with CSN.
Initially formed by the trio of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash, the genesis of the group lies in three earlier 1960s rock bands, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and the The Hollies. Friction existed between David Crosby and his bandmates in the Byrds, and he was dismissed from the band in the fall of 1967. By early 1968, Buffalo Springfield had entirely disintegrated, and after aiding in putting together the band’s final album, Stephen Stills found himself unemployed by the summer. He and Crosby began meeting informally and jamming. Graham Nash had been introduced to Crosby when the Byrds had toured the UK in 1966, and when his group, the Hollies, ventured to California in 1968, Nash resumed his acquaintance with Crosby. At a party, Nash asked Stills and Crosby to repeat their performance of a new song by Stills, “You Don't Have To Cry,” with Nash improvising a second harmony part. The vocals gelled, and the three realized that they had a unique vocal chemistry.
Creatively frustrated with the Hollies, Nash decided to quit the band and throw his lot in with Crosby and Stills. After failing an audition with the Beatles' Apple Records, they were signed to Atlantic Records by Ahmet Ertegün. From the outset, the trio decided not to be locked into a group structure. They thus used their surnames as identification to ensure independence and as a guarantee against the band simply continuing without one of them, as both the Byrds and the Hollies had after the departures of Crosby and Nash. Their contract with Atlantic positioned "CSN" with a unique flexibility unheard of for an untested group.
The trio's first album, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, was released in May 1969 and was an immediate hit, spawning two Top 40 hit singles ("Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" and "Marrakesh Express") and receiving key airplay on the new FM radio format. With the exception of drummer Dallas Taylor, Stills handled the lion's share of the instrumental parts himself. The album was a testament to his talent, but left the band in need of additional personnel to be able to tour, now a necessity given the debut album’s commercial impact.
Retaining Taylor, the band decided initially to hire a keyboard player. Stills at one point approached Steve Winwood, who declined. Atlantic label head Ahmet Ertegün suggested Canadian singer/songwriter Neil Young. Initial reservations were held by Stills and Nash, owing to Stills' history with Young in Buffalo Springfield and Nash's personal unfamiliarity with Young. After several meetings, however, the trio expanded to a quartet with Young a full partner, and the band's name was duly changed accordingly. The terms of the contract allowed Young full freedom to maintain a parallel career with his new back-up band, Crazy Horse.
With Young on board, the restructured group went on tour in the late summer of 1969 through the following January. Their second "gig" was a baptism-by-fire at the Woodstock Festival. CSNY's recording of the Joni Mitchell song memorializing Woodstock would later become a hit and the recording most associated with the festival. By contrast, little mention is made of the group's subsequent appearance at Altamont, CSNY having escaped mostly unscathed from the fallout of that debacle, with which the Rolling Stones were primarily associated.
After Woodstock, great anticipation developed for the newly expanded supergroup, and their first album with Young, Déjà Vu, arrived in stores in March 1970 to zealous enthusiasm, topping the charts and generating three hit singles: "Teach Your Children," accompanied by Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar, "Woodstock," and "Our House." Déjà Vu was also the first release on the Atlantic Records SD-7200 "superstar" line, created by the label for its highest-profile artists; the subsequent solo albums by Crosby, Stills, and Nash would also be the next releases in this series.
Young and Crosby were staying at a house near San Francisco when reports of the Kent State shootings arrived, inspiring Young to write his protest classic "Ohio," recorded and rush-released weeks later, providing another top-20 hit for the group.
However, the deliberately tenuous nature of the partnership was strained by its success, and the group imploded after its tour in the summer of 1970. Nevertheless, concert recordings from that tour would end up on another chart-topper, the 1971 double album Four Way Street. However, the group would never completely recapture momentum as years would pass between subsequent trio and quartet recordings.
Between September 1970 and May 1971, each of the quartet released high-profile solo albums (Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name, Stills' Stephen Stills, Nash's Songs for Beginners, and Young's After the Gold Rush). All four solo LPs placed in the Top 15 on the album charts, with Stills' entry peaking the highest at number three. Stills released an additional record in 1971, Stephen Stills 2, which also went Top 10. Crosby and Nash embarked on a successful acoustic tour accompanied only by their own guitars and piano, captured for the 1998 documentary Another Stoney Evening. For a while, it seemed as if the group could simply not fail, either singly or in any permutation.
Though there were no official CSN or CSNY projects during the year, 1972 proved fruitful for all the band members in their solo efforts. Young achieved solo superstardom with the chart-topping Harvest and its attendant number-one single, “Heart of Gold.” Stills joined with ex-Byrd Chris Hillman to form the country-tinged band Manassas, releasing a self-titled double album; counting the three CSN records, Manassas became Stills' sixth Top-10 album in a row. Nash also joined Young to record Young's single "War Song." On tour, Nash and Crosby rediscovered the joy they had originally felt with CSN, minus the egotistic in-fighting that had made the last CSNY shows so difficult. That enthusiasm led to their first album as a duo, Graham Nash David Crosby, which peaked at number four on the pop album chart.
The group members fared less well in the following year. Young embarked on a solo tour noted for its dark tone and Young's erratic behavior and began work on a rough documentary film Journey Through the Past. Crosby spearheaded a reunion album of the original Byrds quintet which proved a critical debacle and sold only marginally well. Nash delivered his bleak second solo album and Stills released a second Manassas record; neither disc sold to expectations.
In June and July of that year, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young met at Young's ranch and recording studio in Hawaii for a working vacation, ostensibly to record a new album, tentatively titled Human Highway. However, the bickering that had sunk the band in 1970 quickly resumed, scattering the group again.
Manager Elliot Roberts finally prevailed upon the group to realize its commercial potential. The quartet reassembled once again in the summer of 1974 with sidemen Tim Drummond on bass, Russ Kunkel on drums, and Joe Lala on percussion to embark on the first-ever outdoor stadium tour, arranged by San Francisco impresario Bill Graham. The band typically played three and a half hours of old favorites and new songs: Nash's “Grave Concern,” Crosby's elegiac “Carry Me,” Stills' Latin-infused “First Things First,” and Young's majestic hard-rock epic “Pushed It Over The End.”
Reaching an impasse with the larger band, Crosby and Nash then decided to re-activate their partnership, inaugurating the duo act Crosby & Nash, touring regularly, signing a contract with ABC Records, and producing two additional studio albums, Wind On The Water in 1975 and Whistling Down The Wire in 1976. They continued to use the sidemen known as “The Section” from CSN's first LP, who also played with similar 1970’s artists such as Carole King, James Taylor, and Jackson Browne, in addition to the CN concert album released in 1977, Crosby-Nash Live.
Stills and Young, meanwhile, returned to their own careers, with Young gaining critical accolades during the remainder of the century and beyond. The non-aligned pair also united as as the Stills-Young Band for one tour and an album titled Long May You Run. The old tensions between Stills and Young, dating back to the Buffalo Springfield days, soon resurfaced, exacerbated by Stills’ choice of professional studio musicians to back them rather than Young’s preferred Crazy Horse band. After their July 18, 1976 show, Young's tour bus took a different direction. Waiting at their July 20 show, Stills received a laconic telegram: "Dear Stephen, funny how things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach. Neil." Stills was contractually bound to finish the tour, and Young would make up missed dates with Crazy Horse later in the year.
Crosby & Nash also faced diminishing returns, although their Wind On The Water album fared well in the marketplace during the period from 1973 to 1976. Stills then approached the pair at one of their concerts in Los Angeles, setting the stage for the return of the trio.
Ironically, the sweet-sounding hippie symbols of the Woodstock Nation chose the zero year of punk, 1977, to reappear with CSN. It was propelled by solid songs from all three principals, trademark vocals, contemporary production, and a hit single from Nash in “Just a Song Before I Go.” The album soared up the pop-albums chart, just missing being the group's fourth number one album in a row, held off the top slot by one of the best-selling LPs of all time, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours.
Complications were brewing, however, due to Crosby's increasing dependence on freebase cocaine, making his participation problematic. The Nash record of 1980, Earth & Sky, was to be another Crosby-Nash project, but Crosby’s participation discontinued due to excessive drug use. Daylight Again (1982) was initially undertaken by Stills and Nash alone owing to Crosby’s decline in productivity; however, Atlantic Record executives refused to release the group's LP until Crosby was reinstated. Crosby joined his partners for the track “Delta,” and the album contained two hits, Nash’s “Wasted on the Way” and Stills’ “Southern Cross,” the latter accompanied by a popular video on the nascent MTV network.
The trio continued to tour, but the bottom fell out for Crosby, arrested and jailed on drug and weapons charges in Texas in May 1982. Having cut a potential title song for the film War Games that was not used, the band released it as a single and hastily assembled concert recordings around two studio tracks for the album Allies, their lowest charting record to date. Crosby was sentenced to two terms, but the conviction was overturned; arrested several more times, he finally turned himself in to the authorities in December 1985. He would spend eight months in prison, and Nash and Stills released another round of solo albums in the mid-1980s.
Young agreed to rejoin the trio in the studio upon Crosby’s release from prison for American Dream in 1988. Stills and Crosby were barely functioning for the making of the album, which made it to number 16 on the album chart. However, the record received poor critical reviews, and Young refused to support it with a CSNY tour.
CSN recorded two more studio albums in the 1990s, Live It Up and After The Storm, both low sellers by previous standards and mostly ignored by all except for their remaining core fans. A well-conceived box set arrived in 1991, four discs of expected group highlights amid unexpected better tracks from various solo projects. Owing to certain difficulties, manager Roberts, no longer with the trio but still representing Young, pulled most of Neil’s material earmarked for the box; only seven CSNY songs in total remained to be included.
After the Storm barely made the top 100 on the album chart, and by the late nineties CSN found themselves without a record contract, Atlantic having let go of a band once one of its cash-flow titans. They began financing recordings themselves, and in 1999 Stills invited Young to guest on a few tracks. Young increased his level of input, turning the album into a CSNY project, Looking Forward, released on Young's label Reprise Records. With writing credits mostly limited to band members, the disc was better received than the previous three albums, and the ensuing CSNY2K tour in 2000 and the CSNY Tour of America of 2002 were major money-makers.
In 2006, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young set off on their "Freedom of Speech" tour in support of Young's album Living with War. The long setlists included the bulk of the new protest album as well as material from Stills' long delayed solo album Man Alive! and newer material from Crosby and Nash.
Various compilations of the band’s configurations have arrived over the years, the 1991 box set being the most comprehensive, and So Far being the most commercially successful. Individual retrospective sets have been slated for release from Stephen Stills and Graham Nash. In 2007 Crosby's well received box, Voyage, chronicled his work with various bands and as a solo artist.
The collective talents of CNSY allowed the band to straddle all the flavors of popular music eminent at the time, from country-rock to confessional balladry, from acoustic guitars and voice to electric guitar and boogie. Indeed, with the Beatles break-up made public by April 1970, and with Bob Dylan in reclusive low-key activity since mid-1966, CSNY became the adopted standard-bearers for the Woodstock Nation, vouchsafing an importance in society as counterculture figureheads equaled at the time in rock and roll only by The Rolling Stones. CSNY was originally commissioned to create the soundtrack for Easy Rider, but declined.
An entire sub-industry of singer-songwriters in California either had their careers boosted or came to prominence in the wake of CSNY, among them Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and The Eagles. The band would continue to be associated with political causes throughout its existence, but its most lasting legacy was musical: a testimony to excellence in instrumental musicianship and creative vocal harmonies.
CSN was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997; Crosby has also been inducted as a member of the Byrds, and Stills as a member of Buffalo Springfield. Young has been inducted for his solo work and with Buffalo Springfield. CSN was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998.
(* with Neil Young)
All links retrieved November 25, 2017.
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