The Oral History of CSNY’s Infamous ‘Doom Tour’
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:
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.”
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…”
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.”
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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.”
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.”
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.”
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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.”
Stills: “‘Old Man’ was just beautiful after we put our harmonies on it. I just listened to a piano solo from that tour. I could have sworn we didn’t have a piano player on the stage and was I was like, ‘What? Who? I can’t play piano like that.’ Turns out I can.”
Nash: “We’d all written so many songs that it was hard to make a set list. We were constantly writing. During that tour I wrote a song called ‘It’s All Right.’ I decided to go onstage and do it even though the rest of the guys had never heard it. On the tape you can hear Stephen going, ‘What are the chords?’ I said, ‘Well, it’s kind of a D to a G and you go down to the A.’ I’m talking them through it and showing them the chords while we were performing. It was insane.
One of the reasons that Neil wound up having more songs on this box set than the rest of us is that he hit a writing spell that was unbelievable. He wrote ‘On The Beach,’ ‘Don’t Be Denied,’ ‘Pushed It Over the End,’ ‘Hawaiian Sunrise.’ He’d hit it. As a band, we only want to present the best face, which is why he’s got the most songs. David and Stephen haven’t complained yet, and it’s too late now.”
Nash (From his 2013 book Wild Tales): “Crosby took two beautiful women with him on tour… Often I would knock on his hotel door, which he kept propped open with a security jamb, and he’d be getting blown by both of these girls, all while he was talking and doing business on the phone and rolling joints and smoking and having a drink.”
Crosby: “That might have happened. But Nash’s book focuses entirely too much on me. That doesn’t mean I don’t love Graham, I do. He’s been an incredible friend to me.”
FRIENDS AND PEERS
Nash: “Somewhere in the Midwest, I think in Minneapolis, we were at the hotel after the show and Bob Dylan came by. Stephen and Tim Drummond immediately corralled him into a different room and shut the door. That wasn’t nice.”
Drummond: “He played us all the songs from Blood on the Tracks on acoustic guitar. We were on twin beds, across from each other. Oh God, I can’t tell you how great it was. At one point Stephen said something to him about the songs not being good. I was so Goddamn embarrassed. He was probably coked out. Dylan, being the arrogant man that he was said, ‘Well, Stephen, play me one of your songs.’ That was the end of it. Stephen couldn’t even find one string from another at that point.”
Nash: “Stephen walked out of the room and said to me, ‘Bob’s no musician.’ In the back of my mind, I also remember Stephen buying a Precision bass for Paul McCartney and telling him it was time to start playing a ‘real’ instrument and not his old Höfner. He’s saying this to one of the greatest bass players in the world.”
Kunkel: “My sister-in-law, Mama Cass, died in August during the tour. I was married to her sister Leah. I think we were in Houston at the Whitehall Hotel. I remember Graham sitting me down and telling me she passed away. She had a big role in their lives. She introduced Graham to Stephen. It was a very difficult day for us when she died. Thank God we were in the middle of doing something we couldn’t stop. The show that night is probably what got us all through it.”
Nash: “I think the tour made just over eleven million dollars, which of course was a lot of money in those days. We all got less than a half million each. It was obvious that between Bill Graham, the promoters and a bunch of others, they all had a good time. Let’s just put it that way. But I’m really not blaming anybody. It was forty years ago. What the fuck can I do?”
Crosby: “The main thing I learned about business from that tour is to always pay attention. Even when you’re making millions of dollars, somebody else might be making the same millions of dollars completely illegally at your expense while you weren’t watching. If there’s that much money involved, there are going to be sharks circling. That’s why we signed up with David Geffen. We got our own shark.”
Nash: “Everything was just so excessive. The CSNY logo that Joni [Mitchell] did was branded onto wooden plates and to the pillowcase in our hotel suites. There were leather luggage tags. There were private jets and helicopters. We didn’t realize we were paying for all of it.”
Stills: “Let’s just say that a lot of people had a lot of fun. Mick Jagger and Prince Rupert Loewenstein had a much tighter grip on how to do things at that time. Our whole tour was certainly lavish and people were being paid off the gross. There were so many people involved. I wish I could say I learned from it, but I’m pretty stubborn.”
Nash: “I probably spent 80 percent of my free time on that tour watching the Watergate hearings. I would have all three networks up on three televisions and watch constantly. Coming from England, I was just fascinated by it. I actually took great hope from it. I mean, it’s an incredible thing for the country to indict its president. I was very hopefully that the country would be able to steer itself back to normal living, whatever the hell that is.”
Crosby: “I remember Nash and I watching the hearings every single day. We hoped they were going to lead the country into a better era, but we’d already seen the cover-up on Kennedy’s execution and the second Kennedy’s execution. We did hope that somebody would rip the lid off this one because it was pretty blatant. There was so much evidence and it was so completely damning. We hated Nixon. He wanted to widen the war. We wanted to end it. We were elated when he resigned. We played at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City that night. You can hear the elation in our voices. The son of a bitch was gone. Of course, another one followed him.”
Stills: “I saw the cards all lining up for Nixon to resign before they could impeach him. I had friends in Washington. They told me that Barry Goldwater and Alexander Haig went up to Nixon and said, ‘Sorry dude, you’ve got to go.’ Who knows how close Oliver Stone’s movie was, but emotionally Nixon was pretty far out there. But his ego was such that he was going to fight until the end and then leave on certain terms so that you won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”
Hours before they took the stage at the Roosevelt Speedway for the final American show of the tour, President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon of all crimes related to Watergate.
Nash: “It was obvious from that moment that political deals had taken place. It was very disappointing to us all. We wanted Nixon to be responsible for his crimes. And, of course, when Kissinger was given the Nobel Peace Prize, that was like a slap in the face. The whole Ford pardon just stunk. It really did smell of political corruption and wheeling and dealing.”
Crosby: “Having Gerard Ford sworn in was not a blessing on the country. The guy had trouble finding a fork on the table. He played too much football without a helmet. The pardon was just business as usual. What do you do? Roll over and put up your paws and say, ‘Nothing I believe in matters?’ You don’t. You say, ‘This is a tougher job than I thought it was.’ We remained activists and we kept fighting.”
THE NEW LIVE ALBUM
Nine shows on the tour were taped for a possible live album, but band relations hit an all-time low shortly after the tour when Neil erased Nash and Crosby from a planned reunion album. A few years ago, Nash and Bernstein began the painstaking process of creating CSNY 1974.
Nash: “Our main feeling at the end of the tour was that we weren’t as good as we could have been. But when you really delve into the music, it’s there. Joel and I tried to uncover the gems. It was mainly David that called it ‘The Doom Tour.’ In a way, he was right. But it wasn’t that all the music was bad all the time. There were some brilliant, brilliant musical moments that I wanted to uncover.”
Crosby: “People have said to me, ‘How can you call it the Doom Tour if it was so good?’ I was talking about stuff outside the music when I labelled it that. I’ll admit it, we’re a little shocked at how good this music is. A lot of what we remember is stuff that went on around the tour, not what happened onstage. But when you’re confronted with the tapes and with the video you have to say, ‘Jesus, these guys were really kicking it here and pushing the envelope.’ I love that we had all these great songs. I love that we treasured them and treated them respectfully.”
Nash: “Joel and I listened to every single minute of music from every recorded show. I wanted the album to be the best representation of the experience of the show. Things were loud. Some of the vocals were out of tune, so I had to tune them. I did everything I could to make it sound as acceptable as possible. If I found one line that was flatly out of tune, I’d go to a different night, find the line in tune and put it there. We did a lot of work to make it feel like it was completely spontaneous and that you were witness to an ideal show.”
Bernstein: “If there was a mic pop or a wildly out of tune note or someone sings the wrong word or something that we can’t fix, we had to go find it somewhere else. We usually tried to find it within the performance we’re working with because everything is nominally the same in regards to leakage and whatnot. But sometimes we’d have to take vocals from other shows. That’s tricky and we did very little of that. The majority of the performances were recorded in one place. I don’t want people listening and trying to distinguish where the edit points are. We’re hoping that people will feel like we weren’t there.”
Nash: “We couldn’t find a good version of ‘Carry On’ and I didn’t want to put an inferior piece of music in there. If you believe me, we tried five times to find a ‘Carry On.’ We mixed five versions. We tuned five versions, but in the end it wasn’t there. With all other takes on the forty tracks, you know the best take when you hear it. We never found one with ‘Carry On’ and I tried my best since it’s one of our most important tracks and it would have showcased Stephen brilliantly.”
Bernstein: “We didn’t have a ‘Guinevere’ and Crosby was in shock. I said, ‘Well, David, you didn’t play it at any of the nine shows that were recorded.’ We wound up taking one from a Crosby-Nash concert in December of that year. That’s the only song we used that wasn’t from the 1974 CSNY tour.”
Stills: “A lot of stuff got left off because it was just garbage. And besides, how many times have we used ‘Carry On’ anyway?'”
CSNY 1974 comes with a DVD containing footage shot at Maryland’s Capital Center and London’s Wembley Stadium.
Bernstein: “I found footage from the Capital Center in Graham’s Vault. I was very surprised to find it and I have no idea how it got there. They were the first venue in the US to feature an in-house live, real time video system that projected beams – which were too small by today’s standards – to screens hung up near where the scoreboard is in today’s arena. There was a director, but it was semi-pro at best. It was recorded to open reel, one-inch tape. It’s a format that wasn’t used for very long. The show they taped happened to be one they audio recorded.’ Since the format was so archaic, it took a lot of work to get the footage together.”
Nash: “The footage is funky and not lit right and sometimes it’s too blue or too red, but I think that people would be very interested to see live footage of us from that time.”
Bernstein: “The cameras had tubes in them and the tubes were shaking with the bass. You can see the picture vibrate with the bass. It’s quite remarkable. With the case of Wembley, we were using the MPSC transfer from the original PAL Master. We have no idea where the master is.”
Crosby: “I wanted to call it What Could Possibly Go Wrong? You can’t say it without laughing. It would have been amazing, but I don’t think that everybody has as much of a sense of humor about themselves as I do.”