NEW YORK (Reuters) - It took just 40 seconds, singing harmony with Stephen Stills and David Crosby, to convince Graham Nash to take the musical step that led ultimately to the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.
Within a year, he would leave the chart-topping English pop group The Hollies and be playing at the 1969 Woodstock festival with one of rock’s first supergroups and penning some of the most enduring songs of the late 60’s and early 70’s.
“Whatever sound Crosby, Stills & Nash had vocally, happened probably in about 40 seconds,” Nash recalled. “I was visiting Joni Mitchell and David and Stephen were there.”
Crosby had left the group The Byrds in 1967 and Stills’ group Buffalo Springfield had broken up in 1968. The two were looking to perform together, he said.
“They sang ‘You Don’t Have to Cry,’ and I asked them to sing it one more time, and the third time I put my harmony in and it was so good,” said Nash.
“Understand, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and the Hollies were good harmony bands, but this was something different!”
Thus was born Crosby, Stills & Nash, and this year they mark their 40th anniversary with a tour and a first new studio album in ten years.
Rhino Records, meanwhile, just released “Reflections,” a three-disc set of Nash’s songs. And on the day this month that he turned 67 (Feb 2), Nash played a gig in Clear Lake, Iowa to honor rock legend Buddy Holly, who died 50 years ago.
“Buddy Holly died on my 17th birthday and I remember me and Allan Clarke were bawling our heads off,” recalled Nash, who formed The Hollies with Clarke in Manchester, England.
It was Holly — killed in a plane crash after playing the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake in 1959 - who inspired Nash to become a musician, Nash told Reuters.
Holly’s death was immortalized as “The Day the Music Died” in Don McLean’s 1972 hit, “American Pie,” but for Nash, the music has never stopped, ever since he discovered American rock ‘n roll as a teenager in post-war England.
“That music wasn’t available, it was only available when you heard it on Radio Luxembourg,” he said, referring to the commercial broadcasts beamed into Britain at a time when the British Broadcasting Corporation did not play rock ‘n roll.
“I remember Sunday evenings at 9 o’clock the American Top 40 came on, that’s when I got to hear all that early rock ‘n roll,” said Nash, his hair now cropped and snowy.
“It actually, physically excited me. When I first heard ‘Bye Bye Love,’ by the Everly Brothers, something inside me happened, and I wanted to make music that would make my listeners feel what I felt then.”
Nash said he knew then his future was in music. “I was practicing my autograph at 13. Instead of doing my school work I was drawing guitars and drum sets and little amplifiers.
“I knew I was going to make it. I knew what I wanted to do — make rock ‘n roll music. The rest is just good fortune.”
That good fortune led Nash to America and his fateful meeting with Stills and Crosby, whose first, eponymous album in 1969 produced two Top 40 hits — Nash’s “Marrakesh Express” and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” Other classic songs on the album were “Wooden Ships,” “Hopelessly Hoping” and “Long Time Gone” about the assassination of Robert Kennedy and an example of CSN’s political edge during the social upheaval of the Vietnam War.
Joined by Neil Young, the 1970 album “Deja Vu,” containing Nash’s “Teach Your Children” and “Our House,” as well as Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” was a No. 1 hit and Rolling Stone magazine ranked it 147 in the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Now Nash is working with his old friends on a new album of cover tunes from other musicians. “But this will be the Crosby, Stills & Nash vocal sound on songs we wished we’d written. Songs that we loved,” he said.
He won’t say which, but “the greatest writers in the world will be represented, from the Beatles and Bob Dylan.”
Nash said he was also putting together a Stills box-set after completing his own and Crosby’s for Rhino.
“I made it for the person in the future who looks back and says: ‘Who is this guy Crosby musically?’ I wanted to produce a disc of David Crosby, where people would say ‘Oh, I get it!’ And it’s the same with mine.”
And what will be the Nash legacy? “I just take it day to day, I don’t look back. I was forced to look back because of this project, and I came out of it with the opinion I am a decent songwriter.”
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte