In Music

Graham Nash will play The Pabst Theater on Oct. 15. (PHOTO: Amy Grantham)

Graham Nash talks about his path to music and where it leads now

Because of his membership in the legendary Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young), it's easy to forget that singer-songwriter Graham Nash spent years honing his craft in The Hollies, a highly successful 1960s British pop band.

The Hollies quickly made a place for themselves on worldwide radio with their signature three-part vocal harmonies and solid songwriting abilities. Their first major hit, "Bus Stop," was followed by "Just One Look," "Look Through Any Window," "I Can't Let Go," "On a Carousel" and "Carrie Anne."

In 1968, Nash ran into David Crosby and Stephen Stills at a party in Los Angeles. They sang a few songs together, liking how easily their voices blended together. Nash was creatively frustrated with The Hollies, Crosby had just been fired by The Byrds and Stills' group, Buffalo Springfield, was falling apart. The time seemed right to try something new.

The Beatles' Apple Records turned down Crosby, Stills and Nash's first album, which ultimately stayed on the charts for two years and generated the hits "Marrakesh Express" and "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." In August 1969, the trio went on tour, performing their first show in front of an audience in Chicago. The next day, they were scheduled to play in a place called Woodstock. No one in the band had ever heard of it. Nash later called the experience a baptism by fire.

For the next two decades, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young would come together and drift apart, depending on the schedules and whims of the principal members. Graham Nash's output during this time included the albums "Songs for Beginners," "Earth and Sky" and "Innocent Eyes." His latest album, "This Path Tonight," was released in 2016. Nash's current path will lead him to The Pabst Theater on Oct. 15, but before then, Nash talked with OnMilwaukee about his journey to music.

OnMilwaukee: What was it like to grow up in Britain during World War II?

Graham Nash: My hometown is Salford, which is in Lancashire, but I was actually born in nearby Blackpool. During the war, pregnant ladies were evacuated to a hotel there that had been transformed into a nursery. Our family was very poor when I was young, but I don't think we knew it. When you survive two world wars under attack from the same enemy, you learn very quickly what's important and what isn't. "Don't complain to me that your coffee's a few degrees too cold!" That's what I learned as a kid.

When did you discover your love for music?

I was 13 and obsessed with Radio Luxembourg's Sunday evening programs that featured American rock and roll. I loved Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. After a while, I thought maybe I could do something along the lines of what they did. I loved Elvis too. He was Elvis. No one could do what he did.

At what point did you realize you could earn a living as a musician?

Right away, I think. The Hollies worked very hard. For five years, we'd leave our day jobs and pack our gear off to some nightclub out in the middle of nowhere. There we'd play three sets, usually winding up sometime after midnight. Our big break came when we played the Cavern Club in Liverpool. Ron Richards, who worked with George Martin, heard our show during the lunch hour and asked if we'd like to make some records at Abbey Road in London.

Obviously, the talent was there, but how much of your success came from luck?

I'm one of the luckiest men on the planet! I can't tell you how often I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Take Woodstock for example. I remember it as being chaotic, damp, muddy and iconic all at once. CSN had only played one show, and yet we were asked to perform. Right place, right time.

What are the shows on this tour like?

Simple, intimate settings, with a mix of favorite music from the early years, right up to the current album, "This Path Tonight." I've been opening the shows with "Bus Stop." The closing number can vary a bit from night to night. Last evening, we ended with "A Day in the Life." I have a great deal of passion for these songs. Even though "Our House" is 40 years old, I still see Joni in my mind while I'm performing it. I want to give the audience value for their money, and I love seeing them leave with a smile on their face.

You've always been willing to talk about your struggle with depression. That's a wonderful gift to other people who share that challenge.

It certainly is a challenge, and I imagine it affects everyone differently. Whenever I start a new project, my mind automatically moves to the end result! That can be extremely frustrating. I've had to teach myself to be more patient.

That sounds simple enough, but when you're part of a band like CSNY, where all the members have their lucrative solo careers, things might not move at the speed you prefer.

That's true, but I think that's all past us now. The music we made together is what it is, and if we never reunite, so be it.

Is there a chance of a reunion?

I don't think so. I haven't spoken to (David) Crosby in more than two years. I think we're done as a group. (Pauses). On the other hand, if Neil comes up with four great songs and says, "Let's go," I'd be there without even thinking about it. Never say never, I guess.


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