My goodness, where to begin. Well, for starters, did you know that "Suite: Judy Blue-Eyes" was written as a tribute/love song to Judy Collins whom Mr. Stills was somewhat enamored with?
Initially formed by the trio of David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, the genesis of the group lies in two 1960s rock bands, The Byrds and The Hollies ) ("Bus Stop"), and the demise of a third, Buffalo Springfield. Friction existed between Crosby and his fellows in the Byrds, which came to a head specifically in 1967 over two issues: his substitution, at the invitation of Stills, for an absent Neil Young during Buffalo Springfield’s set at the famous Monterey Pop Festival in June; and the Byrds’ rejection of Crosby’s controversial “Triad” composition as either a single or an album track in August. As a result, Crosby was dismissed from the Byrds in the fall of 1967. By early 1968, Buffalo Springfield disintegrated over personal issues, and after aiding in putting together the band’s final album, Stills found himself unemployed by the summer. He and Crosby began meeting informally and jamming, the results of one encounter in Florida on Crosby’s schooner being the song “Wooden Ships,” ( did you know this? ) composed in collaboration with another guest, Paul Kantner. Nash had been introduced to Crosby when the Byrds had toured the UK in 1966, and when the Hollies ventured to California in 1968, Nash resumed his acquaintance with Crosby. At a party at the home of either Cass Elliot of the Mamas and Papas, Joni Mitchell, or John Sebastian, depending on differing accounts, Nash asked Stills and Crosby to repeat their performance of a new song by Stills, “You Don't Have To Cry,” blending a second harmony on the spot into their singing.The vocals gelled, and the three realized that they had lucked into something quite special. Thus, musical history has begun its first page in the saga of CS&N.
The Hollies, who had enjoyed pop hits in the mid-sixties, had been struggling with the changing music scene in England due to the advent of psychedelia, and were planning to do an album of all Dylan covers. Seeing this as a step in the wrong direction, and creatively frustrated with the Hollies, Nash decided to quit 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, ( sounds like a familiar name )who had been a fan of the Springfield and disappointed by that band's demise. From the outset, given their respective band histories, the trio decided not to be locked into a group structure, using their surnames as identification to ensure independence and a guarantee against the band simply continuing without one of them, as had both the Byrds and the Hollies after the departures of Crosby and Nash. Their record contract with Atlantic reflected this, positioning CSN with a unique flexibility unheard of for an untested group. The trio also picked up a unique management team in Elliot Roberts and David Geffen, who had engineered their situation with Atlantic and would help to consolidate clout for the group in the industry. Roberts kept the band focused and dealt with egos, while Geffen handled the business deals, since, in Crosby’s words, they needed a shark and Geffen was it. (Ah, so now we know who the shark is inhabiting the waters of the music industry ) Roberts and Geffen would play key roles in securing the band’s success during the early years.
Their first album, Crosby, Stills & Nash of 1969 was an immediate hit, spawning two Top 40 hit singles and receiving key airplay on the new FM radio format, in its early days populated by unfettered disc jockeys prone to playing entire albums at once. Other than the presence of drummer Dallas Taylor, Stills had handled the lion's share of the instrumental parts himself, a testament to his talent but leaving the band in need of additional personnel to be able to tour, now a necessity given the debut album’s commercial impact. Many of us knew of Still's varied array of instrumental skills, but did you know this? Anyone recall Stephen Stills and Manassas, "Isn't it About Time"....what a rocker. ( Just a side note )
Retaining Taylor, the band decided initially to hire a keyboard player, Stills at one point approaching Steve Winwood, ( how about that for some musical trivia? ) who declined. Over dinner with Ertegün, the Atlantic label head suggested Canadian singer/songwriter Neil Young, also managed by Roberts, as a fairly obvious choice. Initial reservations were held by Stills and Nash, Stills owing to his history with Young in Buffalo Springfield, Nash due to his not knowing Young at all outside of his work. But after several meetings, the trio expanded to a quartet with Young a full partner, the name duly changed law firm-style, the terms allowing Young full freedom to maintain a parallel career with his new back-up band, Crazy Horse. With Young on board, the group went on tour in the late summer of 1969 through the following January, their second gig being a baptism-by-fire at the Woodstock Festival in front of their peers, CSN&Y with their hit record of the event later being seen as its embodiment. By contrast, little mention is made of the group's subsequent appearance at Altamont, CSN&Y having escaped mostly unscathed from the fallout of that debacle. Great anticipation had built for the group, and their first album with Young, Déjà Vu, arrived in stores in March of 1970 to zealous enthusiasm, topping the charts and generating three hit singles. Reflecting unerringly the tastes and viewpoints of the counterculture as the sixties changed into the seventies, with protest against both the establishment and the Vietnam War gearing up, the group made no secret of their political leanings, Crosby in particular. While staying at a house down the peninsula from San Francisco, the ubiquitous reports of the Kent State shootings reached Young and Crosby, which inspired Neil Young to write his protest classic "Ohio," recorded and rush-released weeks later and another Top 20 hit for the group. That song till receives radio time more often that one can imagine.
Between “Ohio,” their appearance in both the festival and movie of Woodstock, and the runaway success of their two albums, the group found themselves in the position of enjoying a level of adulation far greater than experienced with their previous bands. The collective talents 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 of 1970, and with Bob Dylan in reclusive low-key activity since mid-1966, CSNY found itself as 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. 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. All were managed, incidentally, by Roberts, and all but Nyro signed to Geffen’s Asylum label, which would be the home for what came to be known as the Mellow Mafia for the remainder of the decade.
However, the tenuous nature of the partnership, built into the group philosophy from the onset and strained by their success, weighed on the individual personalities, and the group imploded after their tour in the summer of 1970. Concert recordings from that tour would end up on another chart-topper, the 1971 double album FOUR WAY STREET, but the group would never completely recapture momentum as years would pass between trio and quartet recordings. It seemed the end was near.
1972 proved a very fruitful year for all concerned: Young achieved solo superstardom with the chart-topping Harvest, to which CSN in separate pairs contributed backing vocals, and its attendant #1 single, “Heart of Gold.” Nash also joined Young to record Young's "War Song;" released as a single in the summer and credited to both, it has yet to see reissue in any medium. Stills assembled with another ex-Byrd Chris Hillman the country-tinged and very versatile Manassas band, releasing a tour-de-force double album of the same name; counting the three CSN records, his sixth top ten album in a row. On tour, Nash and Crosby rediscovered the joy they had felt with CSN at first, minus the egotistic in-fighting that had made the last CSNY shows so difficult. That enthusiasm led to the studio for their first album as a duo, a mix of abstract introspection from Crosby and concise pop tunes from Nash prosaically entitled Graham Nash David Crosby, which peaked at #4 on the pop album chart. With such differently styled and brilliant albums, all achieving commercial success, the quartet had little impetus to reconvene at this juncture.
However, a slide from grace occurred in 1973. Young followed up his breakthrough year with an anti-commercial film and an equally anti-commercial tour, calling in Crosby and Nash to help him out near the end of it. A disappointing reunion of the original Byrds quintet, with Crosby in the forefront, got demolished by the critics and sold marginally well but not at the level Crosby had grown accustomed. Nash delivered his bleak second solo album in the aftermath of the murder of his girlfriend, which spent 14 weeks on the charts, but failed to sell well, and Stills’ second Manassas record fared little better than Crosby’s Byrds package. In June and July of that year, the four men united in Hawaii for a working vacation, ostensibly to record a new CSN&Y album, tentatively titled Human Highway. Recording at Young’s ranch, the bickering that had sunk the band in 1970 resumed, scattering the group and leaving Young to recall Crazy Horse for his brooding Tonight's The Night tour which wound up being much more than marginally successful.
While they would have the press believe that their characteristic arguments were a thing of the past, excesses typical to the era took their toll. In a bout of cocaine-induced delirium, Stills began supplementing his trademark wardrobe of football jerseys with military fatigues, insinuating that he was a deep-cover CIA agent. In an ironic twist from the author of the menage a trois ode "Triad", Crosby's entourage included two quarreling girlfriends, furthering the tension. Throughout the tour, Young isolated himself from the group, traveling in an RV with his son and entourage and was reportedly resentful that his songs made up the bulk of the group's new material. An attempt at the new CSNY LP in the fall was scrapped, the label having compiled So Far to have something to promote during the tour. Nash viewed the re-shuffling of items from only two albums and one single as absurd; it topped the charts anyway. Songs from both the studio and stage from this period later appeared on various releases including Stills, Comes A Time, and Wind on the Water. If I may interject, Both COMES A TIME by Neil Young and WIND on the WATER by Crosby & Nash remain remarkable efforts. Subdued, folksy ballads for the most part, they are a testament to the gentle yet serene musical efforts these guys were capable of.
Stills and Young returned to their own careers, with Young gaining in critical accolades during the remainder of the century and beyond, as he weathered and embraced changes in taste and style to be, along with Bob Dylan, one of the few rock artists from the sixties still considered vital by the critical community into the early years of the new century. The non-aligned pair also united for a one-off tour and album credited to The Stills-Young Band, LONG MAY YOU RUN. Initially, the album started life in the spring of 1976 in Miami as the third attempt at a CSN&Y reunion, but when C&N were bound to return to LA to finish Whistling Down the Wire, S&Y wiped the vocal contributions by the other pair off the master tape. The old tensions between Stephen and Neil, dating back the the Buffalo Springfield days, resurfaced, exacerbated by Stills’ choice of professional studio musicians to back them rather than Young’s preferred Crazy Horse. After their July 18, 1976 show, Young's tour bus took a different direction. Waiting at their July 20th show, Stills received a laconic telegram: Dear Stephen, funny how things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach. Neil. Young's management claimed that he was under doctor's orders to rest and recover from an apparent throat infection. Stills was contractually bound to finish the tour, though Young would make up dates with Crazy Horse later in the year.
Ironically, the sweet-sounding hippie symbols of the Woodstock Nation chose the zero year of punk, 1977, to reappear with CS&N. It was propelled by solid songs from all three principals, trademark vocals, contemporary production, and as usual a hit single from Nash in “Just a Song Before I Go.” The album soared up the pop albums chart, just missing being their fourth number one in a row, held off the top slot by one of the best-selling LPs of all time, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. The meticulously-crafted CS&N fit right in with the ruling commercial sounds of the day, just as Young was imagining his reaction to punk with the Rust tour and albums, illustrating how far the two camps had diverged. Regrouping as a regular touring unit, after a five-year lay-off between releases which saw a solo album apiece by Stills and Nash, they hit the top ten one more time with Daylight Again in 1982. Complications were brewing 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, Crosby’s participation discontinued due to excessive drug use. DAYLIGHT AGAIN was initially undertaken by Stills and Nash alone owing to Crosby’s subsequent decline in productivity; however, Atlantic Record executives refused to release the latter 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. But the group now relied on outside composers and singers to augment their material, hardly the force they had been ten years past. The trio continued to tour, but the bottom fell out for Crosby, arrested and jailed on drug and weapons charges in Texas in May of 1982. Having cut a potential title song for the film War Games that wasn't 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 of 1985. He would spend eight months in prison, and Nash and Stills released another round of solo albums in the mid-1980s.
On a promise to Crosby should he clean himself up, 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, and the late eighties production completely swamped the band. It did make it to #16 on the album chart, but the record received poor critical notices, and Young refused to support it with a CSN&Y tour. The band did produce a video for Young’s title-song single, wherein each member played a character loosely based on certain aspects of their personalities and public image.
CSN recorded two more studio albums in the 1990s, LIVE IT UP and AFTER THE STORM, both low sellers by previous standard 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 amidst 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 CS&N 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. Impressed by their gumption, Young increased his level of input, turning the album into a CSNY project, Looking Forward ( a FANTASTIC EFFORT!!! ), 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 CSN&Y Tour of America of 2002 were major money-makers.
CS&N 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 for Buffalo Springfield, but has not been inducted with CSN.
Various compilations of the band’s configurations have arrived over the years, the 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.
2006 "Freedom of Speech" Tour
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.
In February, 2007 CSN were forced to postpone a tour of Australia and New Zealand due to David Crosby's illness.
By now, all know of Crosby's liver transplant which has apparently been more successful that David had ever dreamed possible. What lies ahead in the future for this rather loose configuration of mega-talents remains to be seen.
Regardless, one cannot deny their integral piece in the pie of rock 'n roll for they surely set a standard both as a group and as solo artists.
"Master of images-Songs cast a light on you"