Q&A with Graham Nash, two-time Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee
Graham Nash says without intervention, it’s likely he could have ended up down in the mines in northwest England.
“Fortunately, I had parents who encouraged my passion for music, and that’s why I’m talking to you right now,” says the singer, songwriter and guitarist who has been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame not once but twice.
The choice to follow his heart was a good one. Nash has been crafting musical gems since his time with the pop quintet The Hollies, which he co-founded in 1962 in Manchester, England, with Allan Clarke. Together with Hollies guitarist Tony Hicks, the three wrote songs “Stop Stop Stop” and “On A Carousel,” which reflected the region’s Merseybeat flavor.
After leaving The Hollies in 1968, Nash further cultivated his skills as a lyricist with the folk-rock supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Nash’s stellar songwriting and the band members’ pristine vocal harmonies merged seamlessly on songs such as “Our House,” “Teach Your Children” and “Marrakesh Express.”
Nash has been on tour since last year in support of his ambitious 2016 album “This Path,” his first project of new music in about 14 years. He next plays The Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center in Plymouth at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 12.
Nash talked with NH Weekend about his photography career and painting, his songwriting skills, and how strife within CSNY may have kept the band from creating more music.
What was it like with The Hollies?
Pretty good, pretty good. You know, we were five kids from Manchester that escaped doing what our parents did and our grandfathers did. (The other options were to) go down the mine or go into the mill.
What was it like playing Liverpool’s Cavern Club, where the Hollies were discovered by a Parlophone Records executive in 1963.
Hot. Sweaty. Funky. Stinky. Dangerous and wonderful. Dangerous, because there was only one set of stone steps in and out of the Cavern. And when you got 300 people, you know, who ... wanna get out of there (at the end of the night), it was ... impossible. Very dangerous.
How did you write CSN’s “Just A Song Before I Go”? I heard some interesting stories about that.
There was a low-level marijuana dealer I knew in Maui at one point, and I was at his house, and he actually said to me, ‘You know, you’re supposed to be some big-shot songwriter. I bet you can’t write a song just before you go,’ because I had to leave his house and go to the airport and fly back to Los Angeles. And he didn’t really realize that he’d already given me the title of the song. I mean he bet me $500 I couldn’t write a song. Really?
Stephen Stills reportedly once described your song “Wasted On the Way” as being about three guys who didn’t talk to each other for years.
We spent so much time not talking to each other and not liking each other that we could have made a lot more music over the years. I know that we’ve written over a thousand songs. But you have to realize, of course, that it’s not how many, but how good.
But yeah, “Wasted On the Way” was a song I wrote because I didn’t think that we were being our best as a band. Lot of the music and a lot of love underneath the bridge.
Do you agree with the statement that you were the one who kept CSNY together?
If we’re a band and we’ve got talent, I want to get the job done, you know? Silly little arguments are just ridiculous, and I’ve always tried to keep my focus on the music. That’s what my job is.
Do you think some of your success was being in the right place at the right time?
Oh, I’m sure. Musicians are ... human beings, just like everybody else, and we go through being angry and we go through being attracted to somebody or falling in love. We’re normal human beings that write about what happens to us in our lives.
I know, particularly in my case, that if something is affecting me, it’s probably affecting a lot of other people who can’t express their voice right now. And that’s actually one of the reasons why I’m so proud to be an American citizen.
(Editor’s note: Nash, a political and environmental activist, holds a dual citizenship with the United States and the United Kingdom.)
How do you feel about the nation right now?
This is a truly wonderful country. It has its faults obviously, as we know, and it has trouble with the administration as we know right now. But I’m very optimistic, and I think that musicians can help make the world a little better. I have to say something; I have to speak my mind.
What have you been doing lately to speak your mind?
Painting. I just finished a tour with my guitar player, Shane Fontayne, and we’re about to start again the first week or so of July. So, I have a month off and I’m painting.
What’s your medium?
Whatever I can use. Right now I like acrylics, because oil paints take way too long to dry.
What are you painting right now?
Abstract. I just did my first landscape last night, as a matter of fact. Interesting. The truth is I have no (expletive) clue as to what I’m doing. And that’s kind of freeing, because you know people like Basquiat said, ‘Hey, paint like a child.’ Well, I can do that.
How did you get that great iconic photo of David Crosby in 1969?
He was just spacing out, sitting there, thinking, and I was across the room on a balcony above him and saw a beautiful shot of David. You see, he had no idea I was there. He had no idea I was taking his image, and that’s what I like.
As a photographer, I like to be invisible. I don’t want people knowing that I’m taking their picture, because, you know, you always turn your best side forward and you always want to look like Elvis. And I don’t like those pictures. I like pictures taken when no one has a clue I was there.