Monday, February 22, 2021

CSN - Y, Too


In June 1966, Graham Nash and the Hollies met the Mamas and the Papas at a Hollies press party at Imperial Records. Nash hit it off right away with Cass Elliot and Cass who invited Graham to a Mamas and Papas recording session of "Dancing Bear" at Western Recorders on Sunset Boulevard. Fast forward to February 1968 where the Hollies played a Valentine's gig at the Whiskey a Go-Go. Micky Dolenz introduced the show and Stephen Stills and David Crosby were right up front. In April, Cass would introduce Nash to Crosby and Stills at her house in Laurel Canyon and the catalyst for CSN was set into motion. By the end of 1968, Nash took leave of the Hollies, content to consider his future from the restorative oasis that was Laurel Canyon, not to mention his Our House kind of life with Joni Mitchell. We've talked before about the haphazard way in which bands, particularly supergroups are formed. It was fifty years ago that the CSN's eponymous LP was released and none of its luster is lost 50 years on. "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," alongside "Wooden Ships," "Helplessly Hoping," and "Guinevere" sound as fresh today as anything by Lord Huron, Fleet Foxes or the new Americana sounds.

Interestingly, one of the most famous of the CSN debut tracks was "Marrakesh Express," a song Nash had written for the Hollies. He said he was in England reading about the middle eastern journeys of William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Here I quote: "So, I grab my wife, Rose, and we took the train down from Casablanca down to Marrakesh. All my pores were open. I was just soaking in this atmosphere." That in mind, listen to the track again to get the vibe and imagine the scene. He said, "I was carrying all these tunes in my pocket just waiting for the right moment." Donovan had fostered the notion that Nash could make it on his own, and in the meantime taught him to fingerpick. Nash found himself floundering in the Hollies who weren’t receptive to songs like "Marrakesh Express" or "Teach Your Children" and when he met Crosby, Crosby said, "Don’t even listen to what they are saying. They're totally fucked. I love those songs."

There is little on the LP that doesn't work. With its soaring harmonies and layered guitars, "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" is an epic opener, one that even FM overkill can't kill. "Marrakesh Express" is infectious, "Guinevere" is an ethereal masterpiece that delicately conveys the sense of drugged-up wonder in which Crosby was immersed at the time. And "Wooden Ships" is amazing.  The lyrics speak of a post-apocalyptic world when human beings finally realize that we cannot be enemies and survive. "Long Time Gone" is an angry yet heart-wrenching track on the assassination of RFK.  Crosby's delivery is impeccable. And finally, we get "49 Bye-Byes," a closer worthy of the awe-inspiring music that has come before it. 

Three months later, without any rehearsal time, the trio got together with Neil Young to play Woodstock. There are but a handful of important sets at Woodstock – Santana, Joe Cocker, Hendrix, but it was Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young who epitomized what Woodstock was all about.

Two interesting things. The band was at first introduced as Buffalo Springfield, which of course was inaccurate, and following an incredible set with just Crosby, Stills and Nash, Young milling about in the background of what is referred to as the acoustic session (only joining in for two songs), the rest of the show was a hard-rocking guitar-oriented session with Stills and Young taking the reins. The band, of course, would go on to release Déjà vu just a few months later, which remains one of rock's timeless gems and includes the popularized version of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock."

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