Throughout his nearly 50 years as a rock star, Graham Nash and his band mates in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young have written hundreds of songs. They have also recorded dozens of albums, both as solo artists and in various combinations of the super group. But through it all, Nash has maintained a particularly strong bond with David Crosby.
The duo performed 87 concerts in 2012 and is doing a total of 45 more shows this year, with one of the most meaningful slated for Sunday night at the Pasadena Playhouse. That’s when they will be performing a fundraiser for the Permanency Fund of Five Acres, the social services agency that has been helping children and needy families for 125 years, including an average of 6,500 families annually. It’s shows like this one that are a large part of what keeps life meaningful for Nash.
“We did a benefit in 2009 for the Grace Center, under the umbrella of Five Acres, and their work helping families and children less fortunate than we are is just incredible — for 125 years!” exclaims Nash, speaking from his self-described “paradise” Hawaiian home of 35 years. “The truth is that we are so lucky as people that we have always, all our lives, wanted to give back. You have to prioritize your time because you get asked to do lots and lots of benefits, obviously. Children, the environment and particularly anti-nuke programs are our priorities.”
Nash was born in Blackpool, England in 1942 and embarked on his music career at an early age, co-founding The Hollies in 1963. They found instant success with a string of classic hits, but as the other members shifted musical styles, Nash felt displaced and wound up making a bold move during a trip to the US in 1968.
It was then that famed singer Mama Cass Elliott of The Mamas and The Papas introduced Nash to fellow musician David Crosby, then of The Byrds, and they quickly became best friends. Crosby, in turn, introduced Nash to Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield and Neil Young, and the legendary foursome went on to become one of the biggest rock acts of the 1970s.
“We talk about reuniting CSNY constantly, and I’m completing a three DVD, four CD package of live recordings from our 1974 tour, when we were the first band ever to sell out a whole tour of baseball stadiums,” says Nash. “We averaged 61,000 people in attendance at 31 shows, so it would seem crazy not to go on tour next year to celebrate its 40th anniversary.”
While the members of CSNY have spent most of their careers playing in smaller combinations or as solo artists, Nash’s friendship and professional alliance with Crosby has endured the most. He stood by Crosby when he was famously suffering from a near-fatal drug addiction in the 1980s¸ and feels that they’ve complemented each other well musically.
“David and I share a couple things — an incredible passion for making music, and similar roots in loving the [musical group] Louvin Brothers from Nashville,” says Nash. “We come from similar musical backgrounds, though David is much more jazz influenced. Our harmony keeps us together, and we trust each other too. If David wants to sing a song a particular way, we’ll do it spontaneously.”
Nash is also an acclaimed and prolific photographer and notes that he started pursuing that passion at age 10, even before he delved into music. But perhaps his biggest passion, which overarches his endeavors in music and image-making, is political and social activism.
He co-founded Musicians United for Safe Energy in 1979, at the height of the nuclear-energy crisis occurring at Three Mile Island. He is also part of No Nukes, a group of top rockers who have been battling the expansion of nuclear power since the 1970s, and he was named to the highly prestigious Order of the British Empire for his services to music and charity.
“Basically, we are out there to entertain, and we understand that, but within that parameter we need to speak about things that people would otherwise ignore,” says Nash, who has 80 new songs ready to sift through for a new solo or Crosby-Nash CD. “People are more interested in Justin Bieber’s fucking monkey than in Bradley Manning or the 128 Tibetan monks that have burned themselves in the past year,” he says.
“You never know when the muse will hit you and obviously I’m writing songs that I feel are important,” says Nash. “Issues like love and compassion are important, so I love writing about those positive things. The other side of the playing card is that things are not so positive sometimes.”
Graham Nash and David Crosby will play a benefit concert for Five Acres at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. Tickets are $150 for general admission, with VIP tickets ranging from $500 to $750, with varying levels of VIP incentives. For general admission tickets, call (626) 356-7529 or visit pasadenaplayhouse.org. For VIP seats, visit fiveacres.org.
I won the title of "America's Funniest Reporter" in a national contest at the Laugh Factory club in Hollywood.
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