Thursday, February 8, 2018

Graham Nash and The Hollies

In the case of someone like Jackson Browne, the kid brother of the Laurel Canyon crowd, you can take the history back to when the artist was 15 or 16; Browne having written "Fountain of Sorrow" in high school. But with Graham Nash, the story goes back to when he first sang with fellow Hollie Allan Clarke when the two were just five years old.  The rich, multi-part harmonies of the Hollies - Bernie Calvert, bass; Allan Clarke, vocals; Bobby Elliott, drums; Eric Haydock, bass; Tony Hicks, guitar; Graham Nash, vocals, guitar; and Terry Sylvester, vocals, guitar - sung over consistently sharp, backbeat arrangements, made them one of the most popular bands of the 60s. Indeed, the Hollies charted more hits on the Billboard Hot 100 from 1964 to 1975 than any other British band except The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five and The Rolling Stones. 

The two founding members of the Hollies were encouraged to play music for a living, the same way most postwar Brits did, through the skiffle craze of the late 1950s. Americans don't even know what that is (essentially folk with a jazzier tempo), yet it was the inspiration, in addition to the American bent, that brought the British Invasion to the states in the early 60s. Named after Buddy Holly, the Hollies got their start in the same place as the Beatles, Liverpool's Cavern Club in 1964.

Nash, Clarke, and Tony Hicks had already begun to perfect their signature vocal blend, and their songwriting, reaching the British Top Ten with the originals "We're Through," "I'm Alive" and "I Can't Let Go" (the latter two No. 1 hits). Yet it was Graham Gouldman (later of 10cc) who got them onto the American charts, first with "Look Through Any Window," then the Top Ten "Bus Stop." This gained the band greater creative control, resulting in 1967's For Certain Because LP of all original music, which finally got them a U.S. hit of their own in "Stop! Stop! Stop!" and led to hits like "Carrie Anne." (In the early 70s, without Nash, The Hollies would hit it big again with "He Ain’t Heavy, He's My Brother," "The Air That I Breathe" and "Long Cool Woman").

By 1968, the Hollies were in control of their own destiny, dabbling in heavy psychedelia, but a planned album of Dylan covers struck Nash as a step backward, and he soon left the band. "I was writing what I thought were decent songs that The Hollies were ignoring," Nash said. "They wanted to do an album of Bob Dylan songs in a Las Vegas kind of style, and I didn't want to do that, although I did 'Blowin' in the Wind,' which pisses me off to this day."

Given his annoyance with the ways things were going with The Hollies, it's hardly surprising that Nash was open to career alternatives; he didn't have to look far, when a happenstance meeting and impromtu performance took place in Joni Mitchell's Laurel Canyon living room. It left Nash thinking, "There’s something magical going on here."

"That's when we first sang together, in Joni's living room," Nash said. "Whatever sound Crosby, Stills & Nash have was born in a minute. We didn't have to rehearse, we didn't have to slog through – it happened in a minute. After that minute of hearing the three of us sing together, I realized a couple of things: one, that I would have to leave my band, because this was way more exciting than having people put you down all the time, and secondly, that I would have to leave England and come to Los Angeles to sing with David and Stephen."

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