The Actual, Honest-to-God Reunion of Crosby, Stills and Nash
The album will be called simply CSN. Outside of keyboardist Craig Doerge, drummer Joe Vitale, bassist George “Chocolate” Perry and one track with drummer Russ Kunkel, the album is all their own work. It was coproduced by Ron and Howard Albert, the earnest young brothers who have had a hand in nearly everything that’s come out of the Miami studios since Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia” in 1970. The Alberts are quick, thorough and determined to make a Seventies CSN album. They are succeeding.
Tonight, with the instrumental tracks finished, the moment of truth has arrived—after four days of rehearsal, it’s time to record vocals. They’ve been singing all night, carefully bearing down to capture the harmonies.
Stephen Stills stands in the middle of the carrot-colored Studio B—the same gauche room where Eric Clapton recorded “Layla” and James Brown did “I Feel Good”—and madly smokes himself into a Marlboro cloud. He is on the crest of finishing a difficult, overdubbed vocal part on “Anything Crosby’s At All.” Graham Nash watches from Stills’ left. Crosby is lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling and calling out suggestions. “Hey,” he gripes. “I keep hearing the Average White Band gettin’ down in the next room.”
Stills ignores the gentle thumping and continues his last remaining line several times without much success. Ron Albert flicks down the intercom switch. “You’re flat, Stephen.” “I’ve made a whole career out of singing flat,” replies Stills. He returns to the line, tries more times, and then gets it perfect.
The Alberts, who’ve worked on most of Stills’ solo projects, begin to talk between themselves. They don’t know I’m sitting on a couch below their control board.
“Do you believe this?” asks Howard. “I don’t believe this.”
Ron chuckles. “Did you ever think we’d see the day when Stills worked this hard on a record? Is this for real?”
“He wasn’t this on top of it for the first Manassas, even, was he? That was a great album … the last classic record he made. …”
Stills walks in and the musing immediately stops. He plops on a stool between the two brothers to hear his playback. “You know,” Stills confesses out of the blue, “I’ve been getting away with murder. I think back on my solo albums, and there’s some good stuff here and there … but it’s mostly garbage, isn’t it?”
I can see the Alberts’ reflection in the studio window as they turn to each other. “Pretty much, Stephen,” Ron says agreeably.
Stills begins to laugh heartily, something his friends say he’s only recently capable of, until Crosby, still on his back in the next room, roars over the monitor: “All I wanna know is this—are we gonna have to give the AWB credit for percussion on this album?” Everyone cracks up.
They decide to knock off a bit and play me the 12 album tracks, chosen from a possible 17. All three stand and sing their unrecorded parts with the tape.
Here’s the rundown: “Shadow Captain”—Craig Doerge wrote the music, Crosby the words . . . instantly recognizable, streamlined CSN, clear and strong. “See the Changes”—classic three-part harmonies huddled around an acoustic guitar; Stills wrote and sang lead. “Carried Away”—a beautifully stark Nash piano song with interwoven harmonies. “Fair Game”— Cubano Stills, well sung and brandishing a killer acoustic guitar solo. “Anything At All”—a deeply felt Crosby composition about a man who will answer any question.” Cathedral” — Nash started this song on his 33rd birthday after wandering into Winchester Cathedral on acid. Intense. Side two: “Dark Star”—another great Stills song, overtly commercial and made for summer. “Just a Song before I Go”—a breezy love song from Nash (whispered Crosby: “The girls are gonna fall in love with him all over again. I hate it.”). “Run from Tears”—the best electric Stills in years, with chilling vocals and a fiercely real lyric about keeping his head above water. “Cold Rain”—written by Nash during the sessions after returning from his ailing mother’s bedside in England. Gray and moody. “In My Dreams”—Crosby stretches out with a sinuous acoustic tune. “I Give You Give Blind”—more excellent electric Stills. A sophisticated, assertive closing note.
I‘m just hoping that it … just slays everybody. I really want it to so bad, you know. For me, it’s kind of half out of responsibility to the kids and half ‘I’ll show ’em … thought we were washed up, didja?'”
Stephen Stills is a man with a reputation for being fucked up, coked out and/or fried to the gills. He concedes that he has done plenty to deserve that stigma, but, against incredible odds, he has survived. And his survival is one of the most important factors in the successful reunion of CSN.
To look at Stills today, at 32, you see a much different person than the gaunt, eager young man who confessed to the audience at Woodstock that he was “scared shitless.” His face has spread out and hardened since then. He often wears glasses. He is smaller and huskier than you might expect.
“Right now, I’m a cripple,” Stills says, taking a seat in the closet-sized mastering room at Criteria. “I’ve been sick through this whole thing. Then my back went … God knows what did that. It’s probably all psychosomatic.” He gets up to grab an ashtray and bangs his head on a tape machine. “Oh-ho. My body is rebelling. But … I’ve been working solid for six months. You know, the light is at the end of the tunnel. … I’m just hoping my poor body holds up long enough to get to it.”
Stills is just now recovering from a particularly devastating stretch of his life that began with the release of Long May You Run last August. First Neil Young dropped off the summer tour of the Stills-Young Band after only a month, allegedly because of a sore throat. Others have suggested Young was bored. Says Stills: “All I know is that he turned left at Greensboro. …”
I remember calling Stills on the road in Atlanta, the next stop after Greensboro, for some backup questions on a piece I was writing. I didn’t know the roof had just fallen in.
Stills, who was in a hotel bar, grunted something about wanting to be left alone and brusquely explained that Neil had disappeared and left him a goodbye telegram saying, “Funny how some things that start spontaneously, end spontaneously. …”
“I have no answers for you,” Stills had said then. “I have no future.” Chills. Two weeks later, still gamely making up on some canceled dates without Young, Stills’ wife Veronique Sanson, a singer/songwriter, filed for divorce. Stills ordered everything packed and moved out of his home near Boulder, Colorado, where the marriage started. He now lives in L.A. and has not been back to Colorado since.
“Lenny Bruce was right,” says Stills. “When you get divorced, the longer you’ve been married, the longer you throw up. I’m not over it yet. “I went crazy for two weeks, you know, but I picked myself up off the ground and went to the studio. I guess there wasn’t anyplace else to put my energy. It was like the coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons, just after he goes off the cliff … suspended in midair, scrambling to get back to the cliff.”
I am drowning
And I am fighting.
Is in me dying . . .**
“Run from Tears”
by STEPHEN STILLS
Stills started writing his best songs in many years, all of them passionately autobiographical. He also started to think about his still bitter friends, Graham Nash and David Crosby. Stills humbly showed up backstage, uninvited, at a Crosby/Nash show at the Greek Theatre in L.A.
NASH: “I hugged him. And it amazed me. ‘Cause I realized in the middle of the hug that the last time we’d met he’d wiped some very valuable work of David’s and mine … but it didn’t matter. We’re all incredibly changeable people, God knows, and Stephen had come with his hat in his hand. So fuck it. I hugged him.”
CROSBY: “After that last debacle, I looked at Nash like he’d lost his total mind. I thought he was just out of his fucking tree. Completely. Then I hugged Stills too … the pencil-neck wimp.”
Stills joined in for the last encore number, “Teach Your Children,” and his bruised ego soaked up the tumultuous reception. Afterward Stills and Nash, long the weakest link in CSNY, went out and got drunk. “He was really the Stephen that I had always hoped I’d see back again. I piled him back into his room at 4 a.m.” Crosby and Nash continued with a fall tour, as did Stephen with a series of solo acoustic concerts, but the reunion was already on their minds.
They met up in December, recorded some basics at the Record Plant in Los Angeles, then flew to Miami to finish the album. The key to the sudden harmony? “Everybody is a lot less sensitive,” Stills replies. “We have a common, realized interest. We took a tremendous gamble the first time with Nash quitting the Hollies and everything. … Music from Big Pink was out and all that … we really had to be good. And we were. We’re up against the same thing now. We’re taking a gamble with our reputations … the pressure’s on.”
I tell Stephen there are some who point to his lack of drinking as a major plus factor. He laughs tentatively. “I mean,” he says, “I’ve always been a cheap drunk.” He looks sheepish. “I’ve spent a lot of time drinking Scotch onstage and stuff … I just quit. It was seriously interfering with my ability to perform, to sing in tune. It made me braver, but I just wasn’t pulling it off. I sat in with the Average White Band, man, the other night and I had three gulps of Scotch and I was just blind. Just … completely … on … the roof. I have definitely quit.”
Directly after the CSN project, Stills will finish another solo album. He has asked Graham Nash to produce. After that, he says, he will concentrate on CSN indefinitely. He does not miss another guitarist, particularly Neil Young.
“The album we did was a nice avant-garde piece. I can see why it didn’t do better. We were a little off-hand about it. There were some special songs in there that we could have treated … a little more special. “Neil is Neil and CSN is CSN. That has always been true. I think Neil does” … Stills sighs … “what the hell he wants, you know. And he puts as much energy into it as … he wants. That can be 100% or it can be 75% … and he really doesn’t give a damn. My relationship with Neil is certainly not severed. I mean, none of us are into closing doors.”
There is always the specter of money looming over such reunions as this, just as it did when CSNY reformed in ’74 for an album … and a summer tour. The album never happened … but the question begs to be asked: is it for the money?