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The Oral History of CSNY's Infamous 'Doom Tour'

The band and key associates revisit a wild 1974 run of drug-fueled and ego-ridden gigs

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Joel Bernstein
June 19, 2014 12:05 PM ET

In the summer of 1974, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reunited after a four-year break to launch one of the biggest rock tours ever attempted at that point in time. "There was just so much money on the table," says David Crosby, "and there were sharks all around." There were also drug dealers, groupies willing to do anything to get close to the band and wounds from CSNY's first go-round that hadn't quite healed. 

Neil Young, who was coming off the back-to-back commercial failure of his albums Journey Through the Past and Time Fades Away, opted to steer clear of the madness and travel on a converted bus with his young son, Zeke. The other three lived like kings on the road, staying in the finest hotels, dining at the fanciest restaurants and snorting small mountains of cocaine backstage, completely oblivious to the fact they were getting robbed blind by assorted managers and promoters.

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Despite all the tension and debauchery, the quartet managed to take the stage every night and deliver marathon concerts that mixed classics like "Our House" and "Ohio" with newer cuts like "Don't Be Denied," "Revolution Blues" and "Hawaiian Sunrise." On July 8th, nearly 40 years to the day from the tour's kickoff, the band is finally releasing CSNY 1974, a 40-track box set taken from nine shows they professionally recorded. 

To commemorate the release, we spoke to every surviving performer from the tour besides a certain shaggy Canadian who's never been one to dwell on the past. We also talked to road manager Chris O'Dell and Joel Bernstein, a photographer on the tour and co-producer of CSNY 1974. This is their story:

THE DRUGS 

Chris O'Dell (Road manager): "When I got to San Francisco before the tour a bunch of people were sitting around a table. They were opening Marlboro packs, taking out all the tobacco, filling them up with pot and putting them back into the packets. We're talking about very detailed work because we had to get them through customs and have them look like they were never opened. Then they took Vitamin C capsules, filled them up with cocaine and we put them in a bottle. We carried around these things in a trunk and the band took stuff whenever they needed it. It was just a really druggy tour. I remember Stephen came in once and he was holding the biggest ball of cocaine I'd ever seen in my life. I just couldn't believe it."

Graham Nash: "We actually had a guy that was employed just to provide us with cocaine. We needed an incredible amount of energy to pull off that tour and I'm sure it helped in a way, but it is a very subtly destructive drug and there was a lot of it around. We were rock and roll stars at the height of our power and the height of our commerciality and the height of our ability to put asses on seats. We had it all. And sometimes you need to break that tension. Drugs and women were a part of that entire process."

Tim Drummond (Bassist): "The promoters supplied us with cocaine if we wanted it. I was like, 'I'm not putting this shit up my nose.' I was into cocaine back then, but I got my own. Then they all came to me wanting some of mine! I had to send somebody out to help these guys out. There was an ample amount. You could find it anywhere. I did my share, and I'm still here. It's all a matter of how smart you were. There wasn't any heroin, though. That took you the other way."

Joel Bernstein

David Crosby: "Cocaine came into the picture right when we started to make the couch album [in 1968.] The people who first gave it to us said it wasn't addictive. [Laughs] We were idiots. We didn't have a clue. Music is an elevating force. Cocaine and other hard drugs take everything down: the level of consciousness, the level of conception, the level of performance, the level of humanity, your ability to be empathetic, your energy, your spirit. All that shit gets dragged down. It's a horrible drug and it has a terrible effect on your psyche and your work. The more we did it, the worse things got. I hate the stuff. I hate the years I wasted doing it."

O'Dell: "One time they spilled cocaine on the carpet. They just got down on the floor and sniffed it off the carpet. I just went, 'Oh my God, this is so weird.' I'd never seen anything like it. They probably don't remember that."

Nash: "I started taking Percocet and Percodan, too. I call them 'I Don't Give A Shit' pills. Someone could have said to me, 'Hey, your leg's on fire.' I would have been like, 'I don't care, man.' We were just up all night. It was insane. I wouldn't recommend it to anybody because the cocaine/quaalude ride should be in the ride of horrors in the circus."

Stephen Stills: "As bad as things got, I don't even think it was the craziest tour I ever did. I had some overly lubricated solo tours later on, and then Manassas… For a few years of my solo career the bourbon king showed up and it was just messy. I don't run from it. I own it. It left my voice shot. It's cool now because I've gotten it back. I'm hitting the high notes again. The present for me is fine." 

Crosby: "I don't think any of the causes we espoused were wrong except for the drugs, particularly hard drugs. We were right about everything else: civil rights, women's rights, anti-war, anti-nuke…" 

REHEARSALS

Stills: "Rehearsing outdoors at Neil's ranch was my idea. I said, 'Neil, we’re coming to your ranch and we’re going to build a stage across the road from your studio because we’ve got to learn how to play outdoors.' He didn’t want all those people in his house, but it actually worked.

Bernstein: "Word got out about the rehearsals. They had a PA set up and they'd rehearse Monday through Friday. The sound travelled for miles, throughout the hills. I started seeing people who were walking down the road from all over. I picked up a hitchhiker that had flown up that morning from Burbank Airport to try and listen. They'd walk down the road and get to a gate barring the road. They just climbed the hills, got high and listened to everything. It was wild."

Hear Graham Nash's 'Pre-Road Downs' From CSNY 1974 Live Box Set

Stills: "I had just come back from coral diving in Hawaii. I was tan and really cut. There's an album cover of a solo album [1975's Stills] shot at those rehearsals. I look at it now and go, 'I want that body back!"I wore football jerseys before it was cool. People like Jann Wenner would always ask me, 'What's with the football uniform?' I'd say, 'We're in a football stadium and they're loud and colorful. And I like football.' The next year Mick Jagger shows up with a Philadelphia Eagles uniform at a show."

Courtesy Columbia Records

PLAYING STADIUMS

Nash: "The Beatles had done Shea Stadium and the Stones had done a couple of Hyde Park gigs where there were a 100,000 plus, but these was the first tour of this magnitude."

Russ Kunkel (Drummer): "Playing venues that big created a sort of circus atmosphere. There were just so many people. You have to remember, it wasn't just CSNY. There were opening acts like Joni Mitchell, Santana, the Beach Boys, the Band. It was an amazing bill. Can you imagine anything like that today?" 

Drummond: "The guitar duels between Stephen and Neil got really loud. I'd just wander between the amplifiers and do my thing so I could hear myself. I was lucky I made it through that tour without ruining my ears."

Joel Bernstein (Photographer): "I wish the communication between them was such that they could have sorted out the volume issues onstage instead of letting it be. There was this weird troglodyte notion, and this wasn't just a CSNY problem, that you've got to turn it up to eleven. That's not the case at all. You need to trust your PA mixer. When the volume did come down they were playing wonderfully. They didn't need to make it that loud."

Crosby: "We had good monitors, but Stephen and Neil were punching well over 100 db from their half stacks. Graham and I simply couldn't do the harmonies when we couldn't hear ourselves. Also, when you play a stadium you almost have to do a Mick Jagger where you wave a sash around and prance about. I can't quite do that. We did what we could, but I don't know how many people in the audience really got it. A lot of them were there for the tunes. When we'd start them, they'd hear the records."

Nash: "We're good at what we do, but when you can't hear it's easy to get out of tune. It was tough playing stadiums, but we'd committed. What could we do? It was exciting to walk out in Wembley Stadium, for instance, and see something like 90,000 people. We just had to suck it up and rely on the music. They're not coming to see Brad Pitt. We're not heart throbs. It was the music that we depended on and we consistently played real music."

Stills: "They didn't have video screens back then. I remember seeing the Beatles at Dodger Stadium. I thought to myself, 'There should be drive-in movie screens. What's wrong with these people?' Years later, I went to New York and tried to sell these pretty heavy-duty guys on how to do concerts. I said to them, 'You should have drive-in screens with a closed circuit feed of the show if you're doing things this big.' They looked at me like I was from Mars. Who knew that would become the standard for the industry? I was a very inventive twenty-three year old punk."

THE MUSIC

Drummond: "We had a shitload of songs. Neil was the greatest. He'd just pull one of out his ass or his hat and the rest of them would grab and hang on. That's what made it so fresh and exciting. It wasn't rehearsed or any of that shit."

Listen to an Unreleased Stephen Stills Track From CSNY's 1974 Live Box Set

Kunkel: "Sometimes there was a set list, but it changed a lot. There weren't many soundchecks. What you have to remember about these guys is that they're magicians and music is magic. We had arrangements for songs and we knew how they went, but when it came to solos there was no telling how long Neil would play. He would turn around to me while soloing and I'd see his eyes over the top of his mirrored sunglasses. It was like he was saying, 'I could die doing this solo. I'm going to give it everything I have, so you'd better go with me.' It was an incredible experience."

Crosby: "The advantage of having four writers is that you've got this enormously wide palette to work with. We were writing new songs every night. There must have been a dozen times where one of us would come in and say, 'Hey, I've got a new song. Here's how it goes. What do you think?' Take 'Time After Time.' At the end, of it, Neil and Stephen just walked on and started singing with me. Stephen was holding his little son Christopher. They didn't know the song, but they joined in. And then Neil… My God. 'Pushed It Over The End,' 'Don't Be Denied,' 'Mellow My Mind.' He knocked it out of the park over and over and over. He set the bar very, very high."

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