“Me and Crosby realized really early on in these relationships that he and I had a special relationship the same way Stephen [Stills] and Neil [Young] had a special relationship,” Nash, who first met Crosby in 1966 while Nash was touring the U.S. with the Hollies and Crosby was still in the Byrds, explains to UCR. “Theirs was built on a love of guitar playing and interplay. David and I knew we had a [vocal] blend. We had something interesting to present to people. We would go out with a couple of acoustic guitars and play for two and a half hours, and it was great.
“So we knew we had something special,” he continues. “And we knew we had to celebrate that relationship by making an album. And that’s what we did.”
Graham Nash David Crosby came out April 5, 1972, as the first of what would be four album expressions of that partnership. It was part of a prolific four-year period that saw the release of the first two studio albums by CSN and CSNY, the latter’s live album, Four Way Street, and debut solo albums by both Nash (Songs for Beginners) and Crosby (If I Could Only Remember My Name). Fans apparently couldn’t get enough, however; Graham Nash David Crosby peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard 200, was certified gold and included the singles “Immigration Man” and “Southbound Train.”
Crosby and Nash are publicly estranged now – for good, according to Nash – but on the 50th anniversary of their debut duo album, Nash shared a few enduring takeaways about its 11 songs with UCR.
“We were on top of the world,” remembers Nash, who coproduced the album with Crosby and Bill Halverson at Wally Heider Studio III in Los Angeles. That, he adds, was primarily due to having “The Section” – guitarist Danny Kortchmar, bassist Leland Sklar, drummer Russ Kunkel and keyboardist Craig Doerge – serve as the core players on the set. “That was an incredible band,” Nash says. “We would never or very rarely tell those guys what to play. Crosby and I would play the song between us and tell them, ‘You figure out your best part to that, and let’s record it,’ and that’s what we did. We rarely told those guys what to play because they’re brilliant enough to interpret our music well.” Other players on the sessions included Dave Mason, CSNY bassist Greg Reeves, Flying Burrito Brothers bassist Chris Etheridge and Jefferson Airplane drummer John Barbata.
Crosby, Nash & Dead
Three members of the Grateful Dead – Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann – are featured on Crosby’s “The Wall Song.” “David used to live in Marin [County] and had a close relationship with the Dead,” Nash says. “He was a northern California guy at heart, even though most of the work we did with David was in Los Angeles. But he had a great relationship with Garcia and Phil and the boys, and it was a song I’d heard of David’s. And I loved the song. I knew he’d been messing around with it with Garcia, and he said, ‘Hey, play piano on this.’ I didn’t know the chords – to this day I don’t know the chords to ‘The Wall Song,’ but I found the notes and I managed to put a real silly piano part on there, and it was a wonderful experience.”
The Unexpected Track
Weighing in at 58 seconds, “Blacknotes” came from a Sept. 30, 1971, Crosby & Nash concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. “Were in the middle of the show and Crosby looked at me and said, ‘I have to leave for a minute,” Nash remembers. “Normally it’s to pee or get high or whatever it is. So I stood talking to the audience while David did whatever David left the stage to do.” The wait became longer than Nash expected, however. “I’m going, ‘What the fuck?,’ so I sat down at the piano and started gently playing the black notes of the piano – and there’s still no Crosby! So I performed and wrote that song live onstage at Carnegie Hall, and immediately after I finish the song David comes back – with Stephen [Stills]. He had seen Stephen up on the side and decided to go and talk to him and get him to come play with us … while I was talking to the audience. … I was just banging on the black notes, and that was that song.”
The Weird Noise
As they started working on Crosby’s “Where Will I Be?,” Nash says the duo felt “we needed a kind of weird sound” as part of the track. “We were aware of the glass armonica invented by Benjamin Franklin, in which he put a series of wine glasses on their side with a different amount of wine in each, and he had these little mechanisms that touched the glass to make a note. We wanted that kind of sound.” Nash and Crosby, however, did it one glass at a time – eight in all – “and then we could play with the faders, and it was a very interesting sound.”
Nash says “Girl to Be on My Mind” “was the last thing we did,” recorded early in 1972 after he wrote the song. “It was me sitting on the top floor of my Victorian house in San Francisco, in the Haight, overlooking on New Year’s Eve. I was alone, and I started to write this song about a girl to be on my mind. Nothing too complicated.”
The Angry Song
“Immigration Man,” a Top 40 hit that’s still a staple of Nash’s concerts, came from a protracted real-life encounter with a U.S. Immigration and Customs official. “The guy was really hassling me,” remembers Nash, who refers to the officer as “irritation man” at one point in the song. “I don’t know if he didn’t like my hair or my accent or that I was a musician. He was just making it as hard as he could … until some people recognized me and started coming up and asking for my autograph. Then he passed me through. But I was still angry – I am still angry.” Mason played the guitar solo on the track, which featured Reeves on bass and Barbata on drums.
Song for Stephen
Many fans thought “Frozen Smiles” was inspired by the CSNY experience and the sometimes turbulent relationships in the group, but Nash says it was really about just one of those relationships. “It was a song of me to Stephen,” he says. “We were laughing a lot of the time, but there was something about Stephen’s smile that wasn’t quite right, and he’d been taking an enormous amount of drugs. And I wrote this song ‘Frozen Smiles’ to my friend Stephen. It had nothing to do with CSNY. It’s just between me and Stephen Stills.”
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