Graham Nash discusses the CSNY 1974 live box set

Jul 03 2014

by Joe Bosso, MusicRadar

Graham Nash chuckles and calls them “small audiences” – the crowds of up to 80,000 that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young faced during their 31-date concert tour of stadiums, coliseums and speedways in the summer of 1974. “Sure, it sounds like a lot, and it is a lot,” he says, “but we had already played Guinevere with one guitar and our voices to half a million people at Woodstock. We were like, ‘What’s 80,000 people? We can do this.’”

Inter-band tensions and flourishing solo careers had kept the four-piece inactive since 1970, but the promise of a big payday for what turned out to be the first extensive stadium run by any rock act proved too tempting to turn down. “There was a lot of money on the table, that’s true,” Nash notes. “But beyond that, we knew that we were good, once we concentrated. We were full of ourselves. We knew we could hit the front row and the back row.”

Mirroring the already legendary exploits of Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, CSNY’s ’74 tour was one of unbridled excess, with copious amounts of cocaine and pot fueling the band day and night. “It was insane,” Nash remembers. “We were completely high every moment. Cocaine, marijuana – oh, and sleeping pills, too, because you have to come down. You helicopter into Mile High Stadium, you do the show, and then you do the after-show party – it’s hard to sleep. But that’s how we were then. It was no problem to do four-hour shows. The music was strong enough to keep us going.”

And that music, detailing the works to that time of CSN, CSNY and the band members’ solo catalogues, is now stunningly preserved in a lavish three-CD/one-DVD collection, CSNY 1974 (due out July 8). Painstakingly compiled over a four-and-a-half-year period by Nash and co-producer Joel Bernstein (who was the official tour photographer in ’74), the 40-song package documents the group’s then-novel electric/acoustic/electric set format, vividly capturing the foursome’s widescreen harmonies on a cavalcade of classics and deep cuts, along with feral, snaggle-toothed guitar duels between Stills and Young.

Graham Nash sat down with MusicRadar in New York the other day to talk about the process of putting together CSNY 1974 and to recount the band’s time on the road 40 years ago. (You can pre-order CSNY 1974 at the band's official website or on Amazon. And be sure to check out Wooden Ships from the live set below.)

Was this project something that was thought about or attempted back in the ‘70s?

“Well, we knew we were recording the shows. We did multi-track recordings at nine of the shows and two-tracks at all of them. You can’t do much with a two-track, of course; it’s basically done and it’s there. After the last show at Wembley Stadium, we came back to America and had a meeting, and we listened to that gig. Honestly, it wasn’t a great show, not by our standards, so we kind of soured on the idea of putting out any kind of record.

“My own feelings were different: I always knew there was a jewel in there to be made; I knew we played brilliantly on some nights. Wembley Stadium was just not one of those nights. A couple of tracks from Wembley were great, and they’re on the box set. Somebody showed us a DVD of the Wembley performance, and to our way of thinking, it wasn’t great as a whole show. I didn’t want the fans to think that that’s how we were. I wanted to show them who we were and how we were – it took a bit of time.”

Were you getting comments from the other guys as you and Joel put the set together? With so many songs and three other people to please, the potential for problems could grow exponentially.

“The possibilities were endless. I kept the boys apprised of what I was doing. David and Stephen trust me. They know that I’m a democratic person, and I want everyone to shine on everything – it’s understood. And then there’s Neil…

“Neil wasn’t enthusiastic about revisiting the past. He never is, and I understand that. Having said that, with Joel Bernstein, I made a rough demo of the idea. None of it was mixed or fixed or anything like that, but there was an energy to it. I drove up to Neil’s ranch and sat him down and said, ‘This is what I wanna do.’ Once he heard what I had in mind, he said, ‘Right. Absolutely, go ahead. I can’t help you with it ‘cause I’m busy.’ I was a busy boy myself, but I wanted history to recognize that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were a really decent rock ‘n’ roll band.”

What condition were the tapes in? Did you have to bake any of them?

“I’ve been the one who’s in charge of archiving all of our tapes. For the last 30 years or so, they’ve been in a storage facility. It’s a Swiss system – very low temperature, halon gas protected. Everything was in really good shape – pristine. I didn’t have to bake anything, which was amazing. So that pleased me to no end.

“There are no overdubs on the record, none anywhere on the 40 songs. If something was out of tune, I would either tune or I’d find it from another show – I’d find something at roughly the same tempo and I’d put it on. I did a lot of sweetening, not necessarily in terms of tuning but in balancing the band. I mean, God bless [drummer] Russell Kunkel and [bassist] Tim Drummond – what an incredible rhythm section. And God bless Stephen, Neil and David for being able to sing and play like they did. We went from one song with an acoustic guitar to blazing rock ‘n’ roll.”

So how did it fall on your shoulders to be the band’s tape archivist?

“I just think I’m the only one with the patience for it.”