Graham Nash Has 'Wild Tales' To Spare
This interview was originally broadcast on Oct. 15, 2013.
Graham Nash first came to the U.S. as part of the British Invasion with his band The Hollies, which got its start at the same time as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and shared bills with both groups in England. But Nash later helped to define a kind of West Coast sound, singing harmonies as part of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Nash wrote some of the most famous songs by the powerhouse group (who would add Neil Young to its roster in 1969), including "Our House," "Teach Your Children" and "Marrakesh Express."
In a memoir called Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life, Nash touches on those memories and many others. He recently spoke with Fresh Air's Terry Gross, just a few hours before Crosby, Stills & Nash performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
On the influence of The Everly Brothers' harmonies
"I was about 15 years old; Allan [Clarke, founding member of The Hollies] and I were attending a Catholic schoolgirls' dance on a Saturday evening. I remember going down the stairs and giving the young lady our tickets. 'You Send Me' by Sam Cooke had just stopped playing, and of course that was a slow dance where every boy and girl were feeling each other up and getting close and the teachers were trying to separate them. So the song finished and the ballroom floor cleared, and Allan and I saw a friend across the way that we both wanted. And we got halfway across the floor and 'Bye Bye Love' by The Everly Brothers came on — and it stopped us in our tracks. We sang together, so we knew what two-part harmony was, but this sounded so unbelievably beautiful. They're brothers, of course, and they're from Kentucky and have these beautiful accents. They could harmonize unbelievably, very much like The Louvin Brothers, who they probably learned from. And ever since that day, I decided that whatever music I was going to make in the future, I wanted it to affect people the same way The Everly Brothers' music affected me on that Saturday night."
On Buddy Holly's ordinary charm
"Buddy Holly was one of us. He was an ordinary-looking kid, wore big thick glasses. He wasn't shakin' his hips and being sexy — he was actually one of us. We could be Buddy Holly. It was very hard to be Elvis; only Elvis was Elvis. But with Buddy Holly, he was one of us and he touched our hearts in a very simple way. What a lot of people don't realize is that the kid only recorded for less than two years before he was tragically killed with the Big Bopper and Richie Valens. ... He was very dear to us. His music was very simple: Everybody could play it if you knew three chords. It had great energy, great simplicity. I often wonder what Buddy Holly would be doing with today's technology."
On his early infatuation with America
"Coming to America was amazing to me. The phone rang exactly as it did in John Wayne movies. You could get a real hamburger — because in England at the time, there were only these things called 'wimpy burgers,' and they were like shoe leather. You could get food brought in! Unheard of in England. I loved America from the moment I set foot on it, I really did. When we actually got a chance to go and fly to Los Angeles, I climbed the nearest palm tree and I told Allan Clarke that there was no way I was going back."
On how marijuana use changed his songwriting style
"I think alcohol is a depressive drug, whereas marijuana is not. I never got depressed when I smoked dope at all; it was a joyful experience. I'm not condoning my drug use. ... I go into great detail in the book about Crosby's spiraling down into cocaine madness, but at that time, smoking dope wasn't that big of a deal. Quite frankly, I loved it. It expanded my mind, it made me think about more profound issues. The Hollies were great at creating a two-and-a-half-minute pop song, to be played right before the news. ... In hanging out with David [Crosby] and Stephen [Stills] and Neil [Young] and Joni [Mitchell], I began to realize that you could write catchy melodies that would attract people, but you could talk about real things. I began to change the way I wrote songs. I was trained to write good pop songs, and I took that sensibility and talked about what I considered to be deeper, more profound subjects."
On how adding Neil Young changed Crosby, Stills & Nash
"It's more difficult to sing four-part [harmonies]; you've got to start shifting parts around and stuff. Neil brings a darker edge to our music, and I don't mean that in a negative way. ... It's more intense. That first album of Crosby, Stills & Nash is kind of summery: lots of palm trees in it feeling, a cool-breeze-through-the-canyons kind of music. Actually, Jimi Hendrix, when asked what he thought of Crosby, Stills & Nash, looked at the interviewer and said, 'That's Western sky music.' And I thought, 'Wow. That's brilliant.' The point is that Neil brings a different kind of musical intensity to the band, and the music of Crosby, Stills & Nash and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young is very, very different."
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Merry Christmas. Today we begin a holiday week series of some of our more entertaining and popular interviews of the year. To get us started we have our interview with Graham Nash.
He first came to the United States as part of the British invasion with his band The Hollies. But he later helped define a kind of West Coast sound, singing harmonies as part of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Both groups have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Hollies got started at the same time as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and had shared the bill with each of those bands in England.
In 1966, The Hollies scored Top 40 hits in the U.S., with "Look Through Any Window," "Bus Stop," and "Stop, Stop, Stop." The following year they had three more hits, "On a Carousel," "Pay You Back with Interest," and "Carrie Anne." In 1968, Nash left The Hollies to sing with Stephen Stills and David Crosby. They were joined by Neil Young in 1969.
Some of their most famous songs were written by Nash, including "Our House," "Teach Your Children" and "Marrakesh Express." Graham Nash published a memoir this year called "Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life." I recorded this interview with him in October, just a few hours before Crosby, Stills and Nash performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London. We started with The Hollies song "Bus Stop."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUS STOP")
THE HOLLIES: Bus stop, wet day, she's there, I say please share my umbrella. Bus stop, bus goes, she stays, love grows under my umbrella. All that summer we enjoyed it, wind and rain and shine. That umbrella, we employed it, by August, she was mine. Every morning I would see her waiting at the stop. Sometimes she'd shopped and she would show me what she bought. Other people stared as if we were both quite insane. Someday my name and hers are going to be the same.
GROSS: Graham Nash, welcome back to FRESH AIR. I think this was maybe the first Hollies big hit in the United States, and there's actually a fun story behind how you recorded the song. Would you tell it?
GRAHAM NASH: Yes. We had a manager called Michael Cohen, and he owned a tailor shop in Stockport in the north of England that I actually worked at at one point. And he came to us one day and he said, you know, this neighborhood, this woman keeps driving me crazy. She says she has this son who writes songs. Would you do me a favor? Go and, you know, pat him on the head and encourage him and get her off my back, basically.
So we go down to this house, and there's a 14-, 15-year-old kid there, and he's got a guitar, and we were The Hollies. We'd had a couple of hits, and we were, you know, full of ourselves. And we said, OK, kid, what have you got? He picks up his guitar, and he goes: (singing) Bus stop, wet day, she's there, I say...
We knew immediately that we could make a great record of that. So we said, OK, wow, yeah, great, we'll take that song. And we get up to leave. And then one of us said: Have you got anything else? He said, yeah, I have this song, and it goes like this: (singing) Look through any window, yeah. So that was two that we wanted.
And we said, OK, one last time, anything else? He said, I wrote this song this morning for my friend Peter Noone who's singing with this new band Herman's Hermits, and it goes: (singing) No milk today, my love has gone away. This young kid had written three fantastic pop songs. That was a very interesting moment in our lives.
GROSS: Yeah, so you got your hands on "Bus Stop." Do you want to say anything about the harmonies on this?
NASH: Basically based on me and Allan singing strong two-part like The Everly Brothers, Tony adding his third part. We cut "Bus Stop," I think it was an hour and 50 minutes. It was an incredibly fast experience. And I think, I think that's my favorite Hollies song, is "Bus Stop," because it's so - yeah.
GROSS: Yeah, I think it's mine too. I think one of the things that really is so great about it is the minor key.
NASH: Yes. Yeah, he - Graham Gouldman, who of course wrote "Bus Stop" and "Look Through Any Window" and "No Milk Today" and "For Your Love," et cetera, and formed a great band, 10cc, a few years later, and as a matter of fact I was in contact with Graham just this week. His name has been entered for consideration for the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
And I happen to know the president, and I'm going to encourage him to induct...
GROSS: You're pulling some strings.
NASH: Why not?
GROSS: Why not?
NASH: Because he wrote great songs. Why not?
GROSS: You met The Hollies' co-founder, Allan Clarke, when you were kids. What were you, six years old or something?
NASH: Six years old, yes. I remember it to this day, that moment. It was a very interesting point in my life.
GROSS: What happened?
NASH: He was brought into the classroom by his grandmother, and he had moved from a different area of Manchester, and Mr. Burke, who was our teacher, said OK, well, Harold Clarke is here, and he's moving from Broughton, so where's he going to sit? And the only vacant seat at that time was next to me. How fortuitous.
GROSS: So one of the things you did was to sing The Lord's Prayer together in harmony when you were in grade school?
NASH: Yeah, and we did that completely naturally, and I have no idea why. And I can't ever remember talking to Allan about which part to take. It was just a completely natural thing that we did. And then we did minstrel shows, and we did - we sang at parties. And we always had this musical connection. And I'm at a loss to explain what that was, but it was just very real in our lives, and we loved to sing ever since then.
And The Hollies sound was basically based on me and Allan singing good two-part, and then later Tony Hicks, who was the lead guitar player, came in to sing the third harmony. But it was basically based on me and Allan.
GROSS: When you say you did minstrel shows, what do you mean by minstrel shows?
NASH: Well, actually, you know, and it's terribly un-PC, Terry, but we would put on blackface.
GROSS: No, really?
NASH: I'm not kidding. Terrible to think of, but you know, in the late '40s, early '50s, it wasn't so unusual.
GROSS: Wow, so what did you sing when you put on blackface? I mean you didn't do Al Jolson songs, probably.
GROSS: You did?
NASH: Absolutely, yes, absolutely.
NASH: Al Jolson was kind of a hero of mine. I mean I know that when you look at it, you know, in retrospect it was a little weird, but he was a great performer and a great singer.
GROSS: So what songs were these?
GROSS: "Swanee River"? I mean...
NASH: Yeah, all - "Mammy," you know, all those...
GROSS: Oh, gosh.
NASH: Yes. It's a terrible thing to admit, but that's the truth.
GROSS: That is so weird because, you know, at the same time, I'm sure like you're really admiring all the rhythm blues - and rhythm and blues that's coming out of the United States, and you're singing "Mammy" in blackface. That's so odd.
NASH: Yes, so - life is so strange, isn't it, Terry?
GROSS: Well, let's move ahead. Among the music, among the performers who really influenced you were The Everly Brothers.
GROSS: I mean their harmonies were so great. So how did you first hear them, and did you and Allan Clarke like consciously try to do Everly Brothers harmonies?
NASH: Absolutely. I was about 15 years old. Allan and I were attending a Catholic schoolgirls' dance on a Saturday evening. I remember going down the stairs and giving the young lady our tickets. "You Send Me" by Sam Cooke had just stopped playing. And of course that was the slow dance where every boy and girl were feeling each other up and getting close, and the teachers were trying to separate them and stuff.
NASH: Anyway, so the song finished, and the ballroom floor cleared. Allan and I saw a friend across the way that we both wanted, and her name was - well, anyway...
NASH: And then we got across - halfway across the floor, and "Bye Bye Love" by The Everly Brothers came on. And it stopped us in our tracks. We had - we sang together, so we knew what two-part harmony was, but this sounded so unbelievably beautiful.
I mean those - they're brothers, of course, The Everly Brothers, and they're from Kentucky, and they have this beautiful accent, and they could harmonize unbelievably, very much like the Louvin Brothers, who they probably learned from.
And ever since that day, I decided that whatever music I was going to make in the future, I wanted it to affect people the same way that The Everly Brothers' music affected me on that Saturday night.
GROSS: You know, it's interesting that both The Hollies' and The Beatles' names were inspired by Buddy Holly. I didn't realize that about The Hollies till reading your book, but you know, The Hollies is inspired by Buddy Holly. The Beatles, at least one of the stories about the Beatles is that they were inspired by Buddy Holly's backup singers.
NASH: The Crickets.
GROSS: The Crickets, yeah. So why Buddy Holly? Like why weren't you The Elvises or The Bo Diddleys or The Everly - well, no the Everlys were already the Everlys. You couldn't, couldn't do that.
NASH: It's quite simple really. Buddy Holly was one of us. You know, he was an ordinary-looking kid, you know, wore big thick glasses. He wasn't, you know, shaking his hips and being sexy. He was actually one of us. We could be Buddy Holly. You know, it was very hard to be Elvis. You know, only Elvis was Elvis, but with Buddy Holly, he was one of us, and he touched our hearts in a very simple way.
And what a lot of people don't realize is that the kid only recorded for less than two years before he was tragically killed, you know, with The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. But no, Buddy Holly was a hero of ours.
GROSS: So when you first came to the United States on tour with The Hollies, how did it compare to performing in England?
NASH: It was very, very different. What happens is this: When you're a local band like we were from Manchester, the first thing you want to do is conquer Manchester, right, and then the second thing you need to do is go down to London and conquer London. Having done that, the very next thing you want to do is go to America.
We went to America in 1965 in Easter. We played at the Paramount Theater in Times Square in New York City. And we thought we were going to do our, you know, 45 minutes of dynamite, you know. But actually we only got to do two songs because there were like 11 other acts on the bill, and there were five shows a day.
But coming to America was amazing for me. The phone rang exactly as it did in John Wayne movies.
NASH: You know, you could get - you could get a real hamburger because in England at the time there was only these - called Wimpy Burgers, and they were like shoe leather, you know. You could get food brought in, unheard of in England. I loved America from the moment I set foot on it, I really did. When we actually got a chance to go and fly to Los Angeles, I climbed up the nearest palm tree, and I told Allan Clarke I was never going back.
GROSS: Well, one of the comparisons you make between England and America in your book is that it was easier to sleep with American fans than British fans, that British fans were more reserved when it came to that.
NASH: No sex, please, we're British.
GROSS: Exactly, right. And it sounds like you took advantage of that, in spite of the fact that you were - you married very young.
NASH: I did, but by the time I was - I came to America, I was in the process of divorcing my first wife, Rose. We weren't married very long. I was very young. You know, I didn't quite know what I was doing.
GROSS: You know, I think when John got married, his manager urged him not to do it because the fans - you know, cover it up because the fans will be resentful that you already are spoken for.
NASH: How silly.
GROSS: Did you get that kind of talking to or worry about that yourself?
NASH: No, I didn't because Allan Clarke had married his girlfriend Jenny a year or so before, and it didn't seem to affect our popularity. So it wasn't much of a big deal after somebody had already done that in the band. And besides, remember, we weren't - I didn't feel that The Hollies were sexual objects at all, in which, you know, that kind of thinking would have had some effect.
So it didn't - nobody talked to me, nobody tried to dissuade me from getting married at all.
GROSS: You didn't see yourselves as heartthrobs?
GROSS: Were girls screaming at concerts?
NASH: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, those times were insane. I mean yes, screaming girls, you know, screaming loud enough that you couldn't hear what you were playing, you know, having your clothes ripped off if you're trying to get through a crowd. It was quite, quite something.
GROSS: So a sexual question, if you don't mind. If this is too personal, you can just say so. Considering all the sex with fans, were sexually transmitted diseases a big issue, an issue at all?
NASH: Not at all. It never occurred to anybody. It just never occurred to anybody. I mean, you know, we were probably the last generation that could make love to someone without the fear of dying. It's not the same anymore, is it?
GROSS: My guest is Graham Nash. He has a new memoir called "Wild Tales." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Graham Nash. He has a new memoir called "Wild Tales," and it talks about his life, about his years with The Hollies and his years with Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
At some point you started to feel distant from The Hollies.
NASH: I did.
GROSS: And you write part of the reason was that when you started smoking marijuana, it had a profound effect on you. You write it jolted my curiosity onto an entirely higher plane. The Hollies, on the other hand, were strictly pub guys. They had their eight pints a night to get their jollies. I felt like we were starting to drift apart.
NASH: That's true.
GROSS: So can you explain how smoking marijuana made you feel distant from them and how marijuana was different than beer in your life and theirs?
NASH: Yes. I think alcohol is a depressive drug, whereas marijuana is not. I never got depressed when I smoked dope at all. It was only a joyful experience. And I'm not condoning, you know, my drug use, or Crosby's or Stephen's, you know. I go into great detail in the book about Crosby's, you know, spiraling down into cocaine madness.
But at that time, smoking dope wasn't that big a deal, and quite frankly I loved it. You know, it expanded my mind. It made me think about more profound issues. The Hollies were good at creating, you know, a two-and-a-half-minute pop song, you know, to be played right before the news, you know, kind of moon, June, (bleep) me in the back of the car kind of lyrics.
NASH: And then I - you know, hanging out with David and Stephen and Neil and Joni, I began to realize that you could write catchy melodies that would attract people, but you could talk about real things. And I began to change the way I wrote songs. I was trained to write good pop songs, and I took that sensibility and talked about what I consider to be deeper, more profound subjects.
GROSS: You became Joni Mitchell's lover, and her former lover was your band mate David Crosby, so...
NASH: Correct. Yes.
GROSS: (Laughing) That must have been a little bit awkward maybe, or maybe not?
NASH: No, not at all. It wasn't awkward at all.
GROSS: Why wasn't it awkward?
NASH: Because, you know, David had finished his relationship with Jon, and he always told me that if I ever meet, you know, this woman Joni Mitchell, you know, go and say hello because I've spoken to her about you. This is David talking. And that in fact happened when The Hollies played in Ottawa in Canada in, I think, late '66 or early '67.
And after the show the promoter throws the usual party where you're standing there with a plastic glass of awful wine, and you're trying to, you know, smile at everybody. And I was - I saw this blonde in the corner, and she was incredibly attractive. And my manager was nattering in my ear about whatever it was, you know, promoter and his wife's name and say hello to Georgie(ph) and all that kind of stuff.
And I say, look, stop talking to me, I'm trying to attract this woman. And he said, well, if you'll just listen, I'm about - I was trying to tell you that her name is Joni Mitchell and she wants to meet you. And that's how I met Jon.
GROSS: And then it was at Joni Mitchell's house that you first sang with David Crosby and Stephen Stills. Tell the story.
NASH: I'd traveled from London to Los Angeles to be with Joni for a few days. When I approached the house, it was obvious that there were other people there, which kind of made me a little hesitant. Anyway, I went in, and it was David and Stephen.
And I'd met them before. You know, Cass Elliot, our dear friend, had introduced me to Crosby, and Crosby of course had introduced me to Stephen. And then we parted ways because I was still in The Hollies and had to go back to England.
But this particular night in Joni's living room, David said to Stephen, hey, play, Willy, that song that we just were working on.
GROSS: Willy is your nickname.
NASH: Yes, my name is Graham William Nash, yes. And so they sang this beautiful song that Stephen had written called "You Don't Have to Cry," which was on the first CSN record. And they got to the end of it, and I complimented Stephen on writing a beautiful song. And I said, do me a favor, sing it one more time. And they sang it again.
And I said, OK, bear with me, one more time. Whatever vocal sound that Crosby, Stills and Nash has was born in less than 40 seconds, no rehearsing, no months' rehearsals, no years of rehearsing to get that vocal blend, it happened instantly, and we all knew it so much that we all actually stopped singing the song and started to laugh because it was silly.
I mean The Hollies and the Buffalo Springfield and The Birds were great harmony bands, you know. We knew what we were doing. But this was completely different. This was a vocal sound that we'd never heard before. And I knew at that moment that I would have to go back to England and virtually undo my entire life.
GROSS: Graham Nash will be back in the second half of the show. His new memoir is called "Wild Tales." Before we get to Crosby, Stills and Nash, let's get in one more song by The Hollies with Nash singing lead. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Graham Nash. He has a new memoir called "Wild Tales." In 1968, after his group The Hollies had several big hits like "Bus Stop" and "On a Carousel," Nash flew from his home in England to California to visit his girlfriend, Joni Mitchell. Stephen Stills and David Crosby were at Mitchell's home singing a new song called "You Don't Have to Cry." Nash asked them to sing it again, and finally joined in. He loved the harmonies they made and decided to move to California and form the trio known as Crosby, Stills and Nash.
On that day at Joni Mitchell's house, when you first joined in with Stills and Crosby, where did you see your voice - the third voice - fitting in with their harmonies?
NASH: I've always had a high voice. I learned from the Everly Brothers. And as a matter of fact, in 1992, in Toledo, Ohio, my phone rang in the hotel room. And it was unusual for me. People don't call me. And it was Phil Everly. I said, Phil, why you3 calling me in Toledo? He said because you're playing a certain building tomorrow, right? I said, yes. He said well, me and Don are playing it tonight. Do you want to come to the show? So I get on the Everly Brothers bus. I'm thrilled, of course, because I'm a huge fan, but I'm trying to be cool, you know. And we go down to the show. There's a sound check that they have, and we're eating rubber chicken and, you know, like at 5 o'clock, like all bands do. And Don looks over at me and he says, so what are you going to sing with us? Now, I'm dying inside.
NASH: It's been my lifelong dream. I'm so thrilled to be asked. And you must understand, Terry: I really wanted to pay them back for what their music had done for me in my life. I wanted to be good. I have a cassette of me and Don and Phil and their band singing "So Sad" in three-part harmony that thrills me to this day. I recently found it. I digitally - got rid of all the, you know, the cassette sound and the grey noise, and it's actually going to be part of the eBook of "Wild Tales." And I got permission from Phil to use it.
GROSS: Let's hear a preview of that song that's going to be on the eBook. This is my guest, Graham Nash, with the Everly Brothers.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SO SAD")
GRAHAM NASH AND THE EVERLY BROTHERS: (Singing) We used to have good times together. But now I'm feeling them slip away. It breaks my heart to see us part. So sad to watch good love go bad. Remember how you used to feel, dear? You said nothing could change your mind. It makes me cry to see love die. So sad to watch good love go bad.
GROSS: That's Graham Nash with the Everly Brothers, which originated as a cassette recording of Graham Nash's, and will soon be available on the eBook version of his new memoir, "Wild Tales."
So, that's a demonstration of where you fit in with the Everly Brothers' voices. And how did you transfer that to Crosby and Stills? Because they - were they - they weren't necessarily singing Everly Brothers harmonies, where they?
NASH: Kind of.
GROSS: Kind of?
NASH: I mean, two-part harmony is two-part harmony, when all is said and done. So, normally, what happens is whoever wrote the song usually takes the melody. You know, and in David and Stephen's case, you know, Stephen had the melody, and David had the underneath part. But when I came along, my instincts were immediately to go on top of those two voices, and that's what happened. And that moment is indelibly in my soul. That moment, that musical moment, when I first sang with David and Stephen, I will never forget.
GROSS: Now, did you sing the same way, the same harmony on the recording of "You Don't Have To Cry," which is the song that you first sang with them at Joni Mitchell's house?
NASH: Exactly the same.
GROSS: And why don't we hear some of that? This is Crosby, Stills and Nash.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU DON'T HAVE TO CRY")
CROSBY, STILLS AND NASH: (Singing) In the morning when you rise, do you think of me and how you left me crying? Are you thinking of telephones and managers, and where you got to be at noon?
You are living a reality I left years ago. It quite nearly killed me. In the long run, it will make you cry. Make you crazy and old before your time. And the difference between me and you, I won't argue right or wrong but I have time to cry, my baby. You don't have to cry. I said cry, my baby. You don't have to cry. I said cry, my baby. You don't have to cry.
In the morning...
GROSS: That's Crosby, Stills and Nash. It's the first song that my guest, Graham Nash, sang with Stephen Stills and David Crosby.
You know, one of the things that's always really striking about Crosby, Stills and Nash harmonies is that, I mean, I think it's fair to say you all kind of have high voices. So it's like maybe one of the highest harmony groups...
GROSS: ...you know, in terms of range...
NASH: So carefully put. Yes.
GROSS: ...in rock history.
GROSS: Did you all sing the high parts in your bands before getting together?
NASH: We chop and change a lot. For instance, in "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," you know, in the very - in the middle section, in the slow section, you know, Friday morning section, that's Stephen singing the falsetto. And then I'm under him, and David is under me. So we chop and change. We did the same thing with "Teach Your Children," also. It depends on what we've instinctively feel is called for, you know, so we chop and change. And Stephen has a brilliant falsetto, and David's got this beautiful, warm Welsh voice. You know, his family history is European. His actual complete name is David Van Cortlandt Crosby.
GROSS: So you're still performing with Crosby and Stills. How much is still left of your falsetto voices?
NASH: I don't think we're having any problems. It's kind of shocking to people, actually. I mean, you know, the truth is, Terry, I'm 71 years old now. And, you know, to be able to still sing and still have that high voice is amazing to me. I don't particularly do any exercises to keep my voice in shape. Obviously, we warm up before each concert. But I've never had to go out of my way to protect my voice. It's just a natural thing that I've always been able to do.
GROSS: Well, how did you avoid shredding your voice, doing so many concerts?
NASH: I keep it under control. It's the same with drugs. I kept it under control. You know, when I tried to deal with Crosby's drug problems that were affecting the band and affecting me musically and personally, I tried taking no drugs with David. I tried taking as many drugs as David. I tried taking more drugs than David. But it wasn't until David actually walked barefoot into the FBI headquarters in Miami many years ago and gave himself up that I realized that David had actually chosen life over death.
GROSS: My guest is Graham Nash. He has a new memoir called "Wild Tales." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: My guest is Graham Nash, who had hits with his British band, The Hollies, then moved to California to sing with David Crosby and Stephen Stills, and to be with his girlfriend, Joni Mitchell.
I want to play one other song. And I want to play a song you wrote, which is "Our House." And this actually comes out of an actual...
NASH: Well, it's an ordinary moment. What happened is that Joni and I - I don't know whether you know anything about Los Angeles, but on Ventura Boulevard in the Valley, there's a very famous deli called Art's Deli. And we'd been to breakfast there. We're going to get into Jon's car, and we pass an antique store. And we're looking in the window, and she saw a very beautiful vase that she wanted to buy.
GROSS: I should say, for anyone just tuning in, it's Joni Mitchell that Graham Nash is talking about.
GROSS: Go ahead.
NASH: Yeah. Excuse me. So Joni and I were looking in the window. I persuaded her to buy this vase. It wasn't very expensive, and we took it home. It was a very grey, kind of sleety, drizzly L.A. morning. And we got to the house in Laurel Canyon, and I said - got through the front door and I said, you know what? I'll light a fire. Why don't you put some flowers in that vase that you just bought? Well, she was in the garden getting flowers. That meant she was not at her piano, but I was.
NASH: And an hour later "Our House" was born, out of an incredibly ordinary moment that many, many people have experienced.
GROSS: So talk about the harmonies on this recording.
NASH: It's me and David and Stephen doing our best. That's all we ever do. You know, we're lucky enough to be able to do, you know, anything that we want to do, musically. And, you know, these two guys are incredible musicians. Crosby is one of the most unique musicians I know, and Stephen Stills has got this blues-based, South American kind of feeling to his music. And I'm this, you know, Henry VIII guy from England.
NASH: You know, it's not supposed to work, but it does, somehow.
GROSS: OK. This is "Our House," and this is Crosby, Stills and Nash.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUR HOUSE")
NASH: (Singing) I'll light the fire. You place the flowers in the vase that you bought today. Staring at the fire for hours and hours while I listen to you play your love songs all night long for me, only for me.
(Singing) Come to me now and rest your head for just five minutes. Everything is good. Such a cozy room, the windows are illuminated by the evening sunshine through them. Fiery gems for you, only for you.
(Singing) Our house is a very, very, very fine house with two cats in the yard. Life used to be so hard. Now everything is easy 'cause of you. And our la, la, la, la, la, la, la...
GROSS: That's Crosby, Stills and Nash singing the Graham Nash song "Our House." Graham Nash is my guest. He has a new memoir, which is called "Wild Tales."
So, at some point, Neil Young joins the group.
GROSS: And you objected to it. You didn't want him to join. Why not?
NASH: We had just created a very unique, three-part vocal sound, and we already had that first record. But what happened is this: Stephen, the musician that he is, played almost every instrument on that first record - apart from the drums, which was Dallas Taylor. Of course, Crosby and I played rhythm on, you know, Crosby played on "Guinnevere," I played on "Lady of the Island," etc.
The bass and the B3 organ and the piano was all Stephen. Now we know that we're going to have to go out and play live because we feel that we have a hit record in our hands. But what do you do? And I felt that we needed another musician because Stephen can't play everything, bass and B3 and lead guitar at the same time, obviously.
So I think that Stephen and Dallas had gone to England and they asked various people if they were interested in joining us, including Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Winwood but they already had their own careers going. So at dinner in New York, David and Stephen had dinner with Ahmet Ertegun, who is the owner and president of Atlantic Records.
And it was Ahmet that said to Stephen, you know, I know who you should get, man. I know exactly who you should get. You should get Neil Young back. Now, please understand that Stephen had just gone through two years of madness with Neil, you know, not trusting him to turn up, not, you know...
GROSS: In the Buffalo Springfield. Mm-hmm.
NASH: In the Buffalo Springfield. And was very reluctant to do that. But he understood that Ahmet understood that what Stephen and Neil brought in terms of their guitar playing against each other and with each other was something phenomenal. That if that was brought to Crosby, Stills, and Nash we would have something really, really unique.
But I'd never met Neil. I knew he was a fine writer but I didn't know whether I could hang out with him. I didn't know whether I could be his friend. And so I said, you know, before we make this kind of momentous decision here, because, as you realize, four-part harmony is very different than three part, I said I need to meet Neil. So I had breakfast with Neil on Bleecker Street in New York City.
And, quite frankly, after that breakfast I would've made him prime minister of Canada.
NASH: The guy was incredibly funny and he was very self-assured and he knew exactly what he wanted. And I said, do you know, so why do we want you in the band? I mean, we're great as we are. I mean, we thought we were great, you know. Why do we need you? And he looked at me and he said you ever heard me and Stephen play guitar together, man? And I knew from that moment that we needed to have Neil join.
GROSS: How did it change the harmonies?
NASH: It's more difficult to produce and to sing four-part. You know, you've got to start shifting parts around and stuff. Neil brings a darker edge to our music and I don't mean that in a negative way. I mean that in a - you know, it's more intense, you know? And that first album of Crosby, Stills, and Nash is kind of summery, kind of lots of palm trees in it.
You know, feeling, you know, a cool breeze through the canyons kind of music. Actually, Jimi Hendrix, when asked what he thought of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, he looked at the interviewer and said that's western sky music. And I thought, wow. That's pure brilliance.
Anyway, the point is that Neil brings a different kind of musical intensity to the band and the music of Crosby, Stills, and Nash and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young is very, very different.
GROSS: In the acknowledgements to your book, where you're praising your friends and your family, you describe Neil Young as, quote, "the strangest of my friends."
NASH: He is.
GROSS: What makes him strange?
NASH: The man is totally committed to the muse of music. And he'll do anything for good music. And sometimes it's very strange. I was at Neil's ranch one day just south of San Francisco, and he has a beautiful lake with red-wing blackbirds. And he asked me if I wanted to hear his new album, "Harvest." And I said sure, let's go into the studio and listen.
Oh, no. That's not what Neil had in mind. He said get into the rowboat.
NASH: I said get into the rowboat? He said, yeah, we're going to go out into the middle of the lake. Now, I think he's got a little cassette player with him or a little, you know, early digital format player. You know, so I'm thinking I'm going to wear headphones and listen in the relative peace of the middle of Neil's lake.
Oh, no. He has the - his entire house as the left speaker and his entire barn as the right speaker. And I heard "Harvest" coming out of these two incredibly large speakers louder than hell. It was unbelievable. Elliot Mazer, who produced Neil, produced "Harvest," came down to the shore of the lake and he shouted out to Neil: How was that, Neil?
And I swear to god, Neil Young shouted back: More barn!
NASH: Neil is a very strange cat.
GROSS: My guest is Graham Nash. He has a new memoir called "Wild Tales." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: My guest is Graham Nash. He got his start with the British band The Hollies and then became the Nash in Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Neil Young joined the group for their second album, "Deja Vu."
Well, you write in your memoir, "Wild Tales," that the love and sunshine that was in the first Crosby, Stills, and Nash album disappeared from "Deja Vu" because in one way or another, we were all tormented, all miserable, all coked out of our minds. What was your problem?
NASH: It was a very different experience. The first Crosby, Stills, and Nash record we were all in love with each other. I was in love with Joni. Stephen was in love with Judy Collins. David was in love with his girlfriend Christine. By the time we got to "Deja Vu," I was not with Joni anymore. Stephen was not with Judy Collins and Christine had been killed.
GROSS: In a car accident.
NASH: In a car accident, yeah. And so it was a very dark, bleak, emotional album. And it's a very different-feeling album. It's a fine record. "Deja Vu" is a fine record, but it's darker than the first one.
GROSS: You know, in your memoir you write about how you were all doing cocaine and while you were recording "Helpless."
GROSS: Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. You had to wait till the cocaine started to wear off because you were just going too fast from the cocaine...
NASH: Too fast.
GROSS: ...to sing a slow song like "Helpless."
NASH: A very slow - yeah. That's right. So Neil wasn't particularly a drug user and we had to - I think we recorded "Helpless" at something like 2:30 in the morning when we finally had come down enough to play at the speed that Neil wanted for his song "Helpless." But we made it. It's a fine track.
GROSS: When you realized that, as much cocaine as everybody was doing, that David Crosby had, like, a really serious drug problem, like a life-threatening drug problem...
NASH: Mm-hmm. Yes, he did.
GROSS: ...what did you think to yourself about what you could or couldn't do to try to intervene to save him? I think that's always really hard when you have somebody who you know is headed for trouble but there's a limit to what you can do...
GROSS: ...to stop them.
NASH: Well, what happened in this - what happened in this particular case is that David and I had, from the very beginning of our relationships, always wanted to be winners. We wanted to be victors; we didn't want to be victims of rock n' roll madness. And we swore to each other that we would never be in a position where we couldn't, you know, pick up the phone and book a studio and book engineers and musicians and tape and, you know, all that kind of stuff.
That's what we think is winning in this business. If you don't have the availability to use the tools of your trade, then you're already behind the eight ball. So we - I saw my friend, you know, losing it completely. I mean, you know, he was losing it to the point when he couldn't even sing and he couldn't write. And he was depressed all the time.
And one particular incident - we were recording in Los Angeles and his freebase pipe was on the amplifier. And normally what happens, you know, to warm up a band, you know, you just - somebody starts playing a groove and the piano player starts playing and the bass player does and the guitar player and we all start to jam, you know ?
And we would, in the middle of an incredible jam, it sounded incredible, but what was happening is that the amplifier was shaking because of the, you know, the energy in the jam and slowly but surely, the freebase pipe was heading towards the end of the amp. And it fell off at one point and smashed on the floor.
And David stopped the jam. He stopped us playing. And that was the point that I realized that I'd had it, that I couldn't do this anymore. Because we were supposed to win. We weren't supposed to be losing. And so, you know, it was a very dark time for me because my best friend, David, was completely losing it and I seemed to be powerless, you know? Yeah. Sad.
GROSS: So what did you try to do?
NASH: Like I said, I tried. I tried taking as many drugs as David or more drugs. You know, I tried to be out there with him.
GROSS: Why would that have been helpful, to take more drugs than him?
NASH: I don't know. You know? But that's what happened, you know. And, I mean, I wasn't that sane myself at the time, you know. Because, like I said, you know, we were all, you know, very high most of the time.
GROSS: Did you think he'd be safer if you accompanied him by doing it?
NASH: I did. I felt that if he felt that I was with him, that it would be a great help. You know, because what can you do? We were so high. A lot of people ask us if we'd have made better music or if we'd have made more music if we were straight. But I'll never know the answer to that question because it was what it was and even today it is what it is.
You know, we've obviously stopped the drug taking many years ago. And the older we get, the more that we tend to concentrate on our strengths and not our weaknesses. And the show that we did last night at the Royal Albert Hall, and we're going to do one tonight also, was a tremendous success. Personally, I think that we're better now than we've ever been.
GROSS: Crosby had a liver transplant. How is his health now?
NASH: Excellent. His numbers are very stable. I think the average lifespan of a liver recipient is about 15 years and Crosby's coming on 19 years now.
NASH: And so he's - and he's singing like an angel. It's blowing people's minds how strong David's voice is today.
GROSS: Well, Graham Nash, it's really been a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much.
NASH: It's been my pleasure, Terry. Thank you so much.
GROSS: And good luck with the rest of your tour.
NASH: And the rest of my life.
GROSS: And the rest of your life. Absolutely. That too.
GROSS: Graham Nash recorded in October. This year Nash published his memoir "Wild Tales." Crosby, Stills, and Nash will start an American concert tour March 4th, 2014. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.